Alaska News

‘Erin’s Law’ Hangs On For a Bumpy Ride

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 17:46

It took until Day 22 of the 30-day special session for a sexual abuse prevention bill to get a hearing. And when it appeared before the Senate Education committee Tuesday, it was in a radically different form than the original.

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Of the three items on the special session call, legislation known as “the Alaska Safe Children’s Act” or “Erin’s Law,” should have been the most straightforward.

It’s not a multibillion-dollar question, like the budget bill, or a national-level political football like Medicaid expansion. The idea is to establish a sexual abuse prevention program in schools. It passed the Senate in the previous Legislature, and it passed the House this year with bipartisan support. Four separate versions of the bill had been introduced this year alone.

And yet, when a new version was unveiled by the Senate Education committee, the legislation became much more complicated — to supporters’ chagrin.

“We’ve taken a well manicured bill, and we’ve basically turned it into a junkyard.”

Cindy Moore is the mother of Breanna Moore, who was murdered by her boyfriend last summer and whose death became a catalyst for the dating violence portion of the bill. Cindy and her husband Butch appeared before the committee to plead with them to move the original version.

The document the Senate Education committee had substituted had ballooned the legislation from three pages to twelve, rolling in other bills on standardized testing and parental control. The new version also included a controversial bill that would prevent school districts from contracting with groups like Planned Parenthood, who provide abortions.

Butch Moore said the changes were inappropriate.

“To stamp this House Bill 44 with 17 cosponsors coming out of the House with items included in here of abortion and charter schools and boarding schools and all these other items … This House Bill 44 is designed to do two things. It’s designed to protect our children from being molested and raped and sexual and physically beaten and murdered like my daughter. That’s what this bill is.”

Perhaps most significantly, the new version cut to the heart of the original bill by making the establishment of these prevention programs optional. Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican and the bill’s sponsor, says the changes do not match her original vision for the bill.

“It does basically make the bill a suggestion. It doesn’t have any force of law behind it.”

Millett says she has not had a chance to review many of the other significant changes, but it is common for legislators to try to attach their priorities to a moving bill.

“You see this a lot, I think, at the end of session when legislators have their bills that haven’t made it fully through the process. They look for a vehicle to attach similar issues onto — that being education for this bill — to ‘Christmas tree’ as they call it a bill to get their bills passed and signed into law by the governor.”

While Millett is not exactly a fan of the changes, she says she will still support it because she does not want to lose momentum on the bill. She also thinks she can eventually strengthen the language instructing schools to teach sexual abuse prevention.

“Can we change that down the line? Yes. Do I want to see the Alaska Safe Children’s Act in statute and then work on making that change from ‘may’ to ‘shall’ next session and the session to go past? Yes.”

Much of the Senate Education hearing on the bill focused not on the original bill but on the new add-ins, which were supported by committee chair and Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy was not available for a follow-up interview to explain the changes.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Allows Legislature to Convene in Anchorage This Week

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 17:45

Gov. Bill Walker will allow the Legislature to leave Juneau and convene the special session in Anchorage this week.

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His spokesperson, Grace Jang, said in an email that the No. 1 priority is that lawmakers pass a fully-funded budget.

Walker last month called the special session for Juneau. However, legislative leaders yesterday announced plans to begin holding floor sessions in Anchorage Thursday, citing work on the Capitol as a reason for the move.

A memo from the Legislature’s top attorney says he believes a court would find that lawmakers could not legally convene the current special session outside of Juneau without Walker’s agreement.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 17:44

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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Murkowski: OCS Revenue-Sharing is ‘Simple Fairness’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants Alaska to get a share of the federal revenues from oil and gas development off Alaska’s shores. Alaska’s congressional delegation has tried before, but this time Murkowski hopes to harness the support of other coastal senators. The bill proved controversial at an Energy Committee hearing this morning.

‘Erin’s Law’ Hangs On For a Bumpy Ride

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It took until Day 22 of the 30-day special session for a sexual abuse prevention bill to get a hearing.

Walker Allows Legislature to Convene in Anchorage This Week

Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker will allow the Legislature to leave Juneau and convene the special session in Anchorage this week.

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Announces Community-Driven Transition Process

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz is developing a plan to transition into his new role. He says it will be created by a group of community leaders in his transition team and use input from public discussions and town hall-style meetings.

Hot, Dry Weather Fuels an Early Start to Fire Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wildland fighters are busy responding to new starts as hot dry breezy weather continues in the interior. Most of the human caused fires are being knocked down quickly, but a handful are requiring larger responses.

Rare Thunderstorms Move Through Southeast Alaska

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Rare thunderstorms in Southeast Alaska led the National Weather Service to issue a special marine warning Monday evening.

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns This Winter

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

Odds are you heard at least one person make a crack about moving the Iditarod to Boston this winter. It’s the second year Alaska had a mild winter while people in the Northeast got hammered. There’s a new weather pattern with a funny name that’s contributing to some of the mess.

Bandit the Runaway Wave Buoy Back in Service

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A popular, yet troublesome, ocean monitoring buoy went back in service this spring in southern Kenai peninsula waters.

Grocery Shopping to Cross the Stikine Icefield

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Explorers Børge Ousland and Vincent Colliard are in the midst of skiing the Stikine Icefield in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The journey is part of a decade-long project to traverse the world’s 20 largest ice fields. So far, they’ve crossed masses in Patagonia, Chile and Svalbard, Norway.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns This Winter

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 17:41

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, shown in red is sort of like a roadblock in the Jet Stream. The term was coined by “The California Weather Blog” – weatherwest.com. Photo: NOAA

Odds are you heard at least one person make a crack about moving the Iditarod to Boston this winter. It’s the second year Alaska had a mild winter while people in the Northeast got hammered. There’s a new weather pattern with a funny name that’s contributing to some of the mess.

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Last week the National Weather Service unofficially declared this winter as Anchorage’s least snowy on record. Four-thousand miles away, parts of New England also put this winter down in the record books — but for a record amount of snowfall.

Snowy in New England. Not so much in Alaska. To top it off — it’s been like this for two years in a row.

Enter: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. That’s right: “The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”

That’s what some meteorologists are calling a new weather anomaly that’s contributing to Alaska’s mild winters.

The Ridge is more or less a clog in the Jet Stream. Meteorologist Dave Snider of National Weather Service:

“The Jet Stream is the fast-moving river of air high above the planet that drives all the weather around the entire globe.”

It behaves sort of like a river.

“That super-highway was ridges and troughs — high spots and low spots — and in the low spots is where we find the low pressure, and in the high spots is where we find that more stable pattern is. And that stable pattern has set up across the West Coast of the United States (for) a long time during the winter. And that kept us fairly warm,” Snider explains.

Think of the Jet Stream like the Glenn Highway. There’s an accident. Traffic is blocked. Maybe one lane is sneaking by… but things are pretty much at a standstill. Snider Says that’s sort of the atmospheric equivalent of what the Ridge does to the Jet Stream.

“And sometimes when these patterns don’t move; these ridges and troughs kind of stay in about the same spot…. we get the same surface weather for quite some time.”

That’s the “resilient” part of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Incoming weather systems, like storms, either fizzle out when they get to the ridge or the ricochet off it like plinko chips.

“But as long as that ridge is sitting across the West Coast and British Columbia and the Yukon it more or less puts up a roadblock to any incoming weather.”

So what about our friends in New England?

“On a global pattern, if you’ve got warm weather somewhere you’re going to have to have the opposite, or the cooler side of that weather feature somewhere.”

NOAA climatologist Rick Thoman says the two regions are linked. “You can pretty much take that to the bank,” he jokes.

“In the winter, if it’s significantly warmer than normal in Alaska, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be cold in the Eastern Lower 48.”

While, scientists don’t completely understand the nuts and bolts of how the atmosphere governs surface weather, there is emerging consensus that warmer ocean temperatures, due to climate change, are contributing to changes in atmospheric powerhouses like the Jet Stream.

Down on the ground, that means there’s likely more weird weather in the forecast.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage mayor-elect announces community-driven transition process

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 16:11

Berkowitz stands before a portion of his transition team while announcing his plan during a press conference. Hillman/KSKA

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz is developing a plan to transition into his new role. He says it will be created by a group of community leaders in his transition team and use input from public discussions and town hall-style meetings.

“I’ve helped assemble this tremendous group of Anchorage residents with the idea that if we put together the right ideas at the right time we can have a profound impact on what happens with our city moving ahead,” he told a group of reporters during a press conference.

“And I want to make sure the ideas we have are inclusive, I want them to be innovative, and I want them to be good investments for our city.”

Berkowitz says the plan will include a timeline with short- and long-term goals. Within his transition team are five subgroups that focus on the economy and jobs, homelessness, public safety, administration, and Live. Work. Play. Berkowitz chose three leaders for his transition team: former Republican state legislator Andrew Halcro, Joelle Hall with Alaska AFL-CIO and CIRI vice president of land and energy development Ethan Schutt. They will host four different town hall-style meetings in different areas of Anchorage over the next six weeks.

“Being mayor can be a solitary job, but this is a community. And in order for us to move the community forward the mayor’s goals need to represent and reflect the community’s goals and the community’s values,” Berkowitz said.

“It’s going to be critically important for the city of Anchorage to have a transition document that reflects the goals of the city at large.”

Governor Bill Walker went through a similar process, but Berkowitz’s spokesperson said the mayor-elect did not model his transition after the governor’s.

The transition team will monitor the progress of Berkowitz’s administration after he take office to ensure that they are meeting the plan’s goals, he said. He did not announce any members of his administration. He takes office July 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Noorvik Man Faces Kidnapping, Attempted Sexual Assault Charges for April Attack

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 15:37

A Noorvik man faces charges of burglary, kidnapping, and attempted sexual assault after allegedly breaking into a neighbors home, attacking a woman who was walking by, and dragging her inside the house.

It all happened on the morning of April 4 in Noorvik—a community of fewer than 700 people about 43 miles east of Kotzebue.

That’s when court documents allege 28-year-old Johnny Nazuruk broke into a home in the Kobuk River community. Court records show he waited there for the woman to walk by, and then attacked her—before dragging her inside the broken-into house against her will.

A sworn statement from the woman Nazuruk allegedly attacked, as well as investigation from Noorvik village public safety officer John McCrary, say once Nazuruk pulled the woman inside, he threw her down and attacked her—punching and kicking her torso and head. Court documents say Nazuruk then tried to rip off the woman’s clothes. She continued to struggle—until he turned to take off her boots. That’s when the woman says Nazuruk “raised up slightly”—and she was able to “knee [him] in the groin” and run out of the house.

She fell on the steps leaving the home—and court documents say Nazuruk caught her leg and tried to pull her back inside. She screamed for help—alerting a local man walking by on his way to work. As the man approached, investigators say Nazuruk ran back into the house and locked the door. The man then walked the woman home.

Days later, she told her story to VPSO McCrary, who interviewed witnesses and sought to arrest Nuzurak—but by then he was already in custody in Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, arrested for a separate incident on charges of resisting arrest.

In all Nazuruk faces five felony charges for the alleged April attack, including burglary, assault, and attempted sexual assault. He also faces one felony charge for kidnapping and one for attempted kidnapping. Nazuruk’s criminal record includes multiple convictions for assault, as well as a felony burglary conviction in 2012.

He formally heard the charges against him in the Nome court Sunday, and had a first appearance for the Kotzebue court Monday. He remains in custody at AMCC.

Categories: Alaska News

Hot, Dry Weather Fuels an Early Start to Fire Season

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 15:32

Wildfire fighters are busy responding to new starts as hot dry breezy weather continues in the interior. Most of the human caused fires are being knocked down quickly, but a few are requiring larger responses.

The Bolgen Creek fire has burned over 500 acres along the Steese Highway, between Circle and Central, where Alaska Fire service spokesman Sam Harrel says its moving through an area that burned in 2009.

Harrel says that making it tough for the nearly 200 firefighters working to cut line, as they try to keep flames away from private property, including Alaska Native allotments and corporation lands. Another focus has been along the Steese Highway, which remains open. The cause of the fire is unknown, but suspected to be human. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says weather conditions are making it easy for people to accidentally start fires.

While most of this spring’s wildfires have been human caused, a few coal seam fires are burning in the Healy area, but as of Tuesday were not posing any serious threat. No lightning is in the forecast, but hot dry weather is expected to continue into the Memorial Day weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Man in Anchorage drug ring gets 3 life sentences

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 12:28

A man involved in a violent drug ring that operated in Anchorage has received three life sentences for his crimes.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that prosecutors say 40-year-old Stuart Seugasala, aka “Tone,” received his sentence after being convicted on drug trafficking conspiracy and kidnapping charges in January.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline also gave Seugasala a consecutive seven-year sentence for firearms offenses and concurrent 10-year sentences for violating health records laws.

According to court records, Seugasala ordered members of his drug ring to invade drug houses and loot competitors’ stashes.

Prosecutors say Seugasala was among a group that kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted two men for unpaid drug debts. They were arrested and charged following an 18-month investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

First lady: Libraries, museums are ‘necessities,’ not extras

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 12:27

First lady Michelle Obama says some people think of America’s libraries and museums as luxuries. She calls them “necessities.”

She says they help veterans find jobs, entrepreneurs build businesses and young people prepare for college.

Mrs. Obama on Monday awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to 10 institutions from across the nation.

Recipients include the Craig Public Library on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. It offers children science and reading classes and was the first public library in Alaska to provide a 3-D printer for patrons to use.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, was honored for its exhibits and research on slavery and the lives of people of African descent in New York City.

Categories: Alaska News

Drilling foes block Seattle port entry; city issues notice

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 09:25

Foes of Royal Dutch Shell’s use of a Seattle terminal to prepare for exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean have attacked on two fronts as a few hundred protesters blocked port entrances and the City of Seattle declared that Shell and its maritime host lacked a proper permit.

The city issued a violation notice late Monday afternoon, saying use of Terminal 5 by a massive floating drill rig was in violation of its permitted use as a cargo terminal. Shell’s host, Foss Maritime, can appeal that notice. Possible fines start at $150 per day.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says his company believes “that the terms agreed upon by Shell, Foss and the Port of Seattle for use of Terminal 5 are valid,” and Shell plans to continue loading its oil rigs. Foss Maritime spokesman Paul Queary says Terminal 5 “is permitted to tie up ships while they being loaded” and that’s what’s happening.

Categories: Alaska News

Indigenous game designers gather in California

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 09:24

Indigenous game designers, coders, and artists will be in Santa Clara, California on Friday to talk about the future of the native gaming industry.

Self-determination is the notion behind the Natives in Game Dev Gathering. Elizabeth LaPensee is an Anishinaabe, Metis, and Irish game designer.

She says this is the first event of its kind and she’s excited about it.

“To have a number of native people come together and give talks from game industry,” LaPensee said. “This has never happened before.”

Presentations range from incorporating native hip-hop into games, to using indigenous science teachings in game mechanics.

“We get to have these really robust, really exciting topics because we don’t have to just be talking about what’s out there already in commercial game industries,” LaPensee said.

Alaska will be represented by Ishmael Hope, one of the lead writers for the groundbreaking 2014 game, “Never Alone: Kisima Innitchuna.” He says by bringing his experiences from Never Alone to the conference, he hopes to open up honest conversations about where native game developers can go from this point on.

“It’s a chance to take that next step forward versus always trying to work through centuries-old divides and barriers,” Hope said.

The goal, say both Hope and LaPensee, is for indigenous gamers, developers, and designers to recognize their own potential. Someday, they’d both like to see totally independent native game companies, publishing companies, studios and more. Independent from code to console, says LaPensee.

“I hope that future generations will look back at this moment and see this work and will still carry on the ways in a way that they can respect the position we’re in now and where they’re going to be then will be much more vast, is my hope,” LaPensee said.

Categories: Alaska News

US House votes to maintain current USCG spending levels

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 09:18

The U.S. House has passed a bill to keep the Coast Guard operating at the current spending level.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says it includes Alaska-specific items he championed.

They include a ban on imposing civil liens against fishing permits to collect on debts. Young says the ban already exists in Alaska law but not in federal law.

He says it’s aimed at protecting the earning power of commercial fishing permit owners.

The House bill also includes the transfer of Coast Guard housing units in Tok, leftover after the closure of a Loran station. If the bill passes the Senate and becomes law, the property would pass to Tanana Chiefs Conference to operate its behavioral health clinic.

Categories: Alaska News

Rare thunderstorms move through Southeast Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-19 09:16

Lightning strikes over Juneau, June 17, 2013. Monday’s thunderstorms didn’t appear to reach Juneau. (Photo by Mikko Wilson)

Rare thunderstorms in Southeast Alaska led the National Weather Service to issue a special marine warning Monday evening.

The warning covered a swath of Southeast, roughly from Juneau to the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island.

Between about 5 and 6 p.m. Monday, a network of ground sensors detected more than 100 lightning strikes in the affected area and portions of western Canada, says Rick Fritsch, the weather service’s lead forecaster in Juneau.

“Boats of course, very susceptible because by definition, they’re out there floating on the water. They are the high spot,” Fritsch says.

The weather stayed clear in Juneau through the end of the warning at 7:15 p.m.; weather radar images showed the brunt of the storm system over Chichagof and Baranof islands, Chatham Strait and parts of Admiralty Island.

Juneau averages about one thunderstorm every two years, Fritsch says.

“This is kind of interesting because late Autumn going into the winter is normally when we see thunderstorm activity, coming at us from the gulf,” Fritsch says.

He says moist air from Canada combined with unusually high ground temperatures — Monday’s highs in Juneau were 16 degrees above normal — caused the atmospheric convection that led to the thunderstorms.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, May 18, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 17:49

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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Walker Threatens Budget Veto, Warns of Layoffs

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska is heading toward a government shutdown. That’s the message Gov. Bill Walker relayed to state workers, in a letter warning them of budget vetoes and layoff notices.

Alaska’s Capital City Braces for Potential Layoffs

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Of the 16,000 State of Alaska employees, more than a quarter of them work in the capital city.

Flooding Closes Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The northern end of the Dalton Highway is closed again. A month after overflow from the Sag River shut it down, spring melt water has made the only access road to the North Slope oil fields impassable again.

First Kuskokwim Restrictions Expected May 21

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Expecting another poor king salmon run, the first fishing restrictions are expected to go into effect May 21st.

Girl Dies After Boat Falls on Her

The Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers say a 3-year-old girl from lower Kalskag has died after a boat fell on top of her.

Thirsty California: A Potential Market for Alaska Water?

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity and in drought stricken-California, a thirsty client.

M/V Susitna Racks Up As Much As $1M in Rain Damage

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s would-be ferry, M/V Susitna, has suffered expensive damage, and now the Borough estimates repairs could cost as much as $1 million.

Conference to Focus on Traditional Knowledge, Resource Management

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets in Juneau this week. Tribal and other government officials and staff will discuss climate change, subsistence, Arctic policy and dozens of other issues.

Alaska’s First Cannabis Convention

Eric Keto, KSKA –Anchorage

Alaska residents and a wide variety of local and national retailers gathered at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage for the first large commercial event related to the impending marijuana production and sales.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Capital City Braces for Potential Layoffs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 17:45

Of the 16,000 State of Alaska employees, more than a quarter of them work in the capital city. On their lunch break, state employees at the State Office Building talked about their tentative employment future.

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Britten Burkhouse says her office at the Department of Health and Social Services was pretty quiet after getting the email from Gov. Bill Walker about potential state layoffs.

“I think we were all just dealing with the punch. Recuperating maybe a little bit. It wasn’t a very good thing on a Monday.”

Burkhouse isn’t surprised by the email. The threat of a government shutdown and layoffs has been a possibility since the legislature recessed at the end of April, but she says it makes the situation seem more desperate. She thinks Gov. Walker is doing the best he can, but,

“It’s come to the point where maybe he’s using state employees as leverage to kind of get the Legislature to act.”

Burkhouse is a grants administrator for the department. She says she makes sure nonprofits get money to provide services for Alaskans.

“State employees do more than just show up to work every day. We actually help protect the life, health and safety of Alaskans.”

Mike Lewis has been a state worker for 15 years. He’s the lead courier in mail services. Over the years, he’s made sure Alaskans get their Permanent Fund Dividend checks. He says the potential layoffs are all part of a game.

“This is what they do. It’s government. It’s politics. I don’t like politics because of this.”

And he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do, like contacting a legislator, to change the situation.

“It’s the big people up there that make all the decisions. I don’t think they care much about the little guys.”

If he’s laid off,

“I’ll go fishing, crabbing – all the things I can do when I’m off. If it’s only a week, it wouldn’t bother me that much, but if it’s longer than that it’s the financial thing.”

Twenty-three-year-old Mackenzie Merrill just wants to have job stability. Before this email, she says she was getting other ones about positions getting cut. She’s only an economist with the Department of Revenue for only eight months. It’s her first job out of college.

“I just signed a year-long lease and I want to work here and I want to save money for my future. I went to college. This is what I signed up for. Entering the state during a severe fiscal uncertainty has been disappointing.”

Merrill has a vacation planned in July anyway, when layoffs could begin. But she’d like to know that she has a job to come back to.

Categories: Alaska News

Thirsty California: A Potential Market for Alaska Water?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 17:41

In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity.

With a contract deadline looming that could terminate its exclusive rights, Alaska Bulk Water hopes to deliver on long awaited promises to ship tankers of water and to make California its first customer.
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Garry White came to Sitka in 2008 and has ridden the wave of the bulk water venture. But new developments in infrastructure and capital are giving him hope that bulk water shipments to California will happen this year. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

In April, California Governor Jerry Brown gave a speech in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The formidable snowpack, which melts to provide ⅓ of California’s water supply, was nowhere to be seen. The earth was brown and bare.

“People should realize we’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day – that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Brown says.

The Governor goes on to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in state history, cutting urban use by 25 percent.

“Water coming out of a temperate rain forest…frankly, I think our water is better tasting than anyplace else in the world,” said Garry White, the Executive Director of the Sitka Economic Development Association. “I’m kind of a water snob now.”

We’re driving through the Tongass Forest, which averages around 100 inches of rain a year. The bulk water (and emphasis on bulk) was enough to incentivize a short lived bottling venture, called True Alaska Bottling.

“It was on Alaska airlines. It got on cruise ships. It got into Hollywood movies,” said White. “If you look at the movie the Duplex,  Ben Stiller’s got a bottle of it sitting next to his nightstand.”

And California is exactly where White hopes to send Sitka’s water again. Not bottled in plastic, but delivered in ships.

We hop out of his truck. Unfurled at our feet, like a glittering blue carpet, is Sawmill Creek, the freshwater outlet stream from Blue Lake, which provides hydropower and drinking water to the city of 9,000. The water from Blue Lake is so plentiful that household use is not metered and so clean that it’s not filtered before it goes to the tap. While it sounds like an Evian commercial, for White it’s a business opportunity.

“It’s a tough venture, but if people are thirsty enough and need the water enough and it makes fiscal sense, it can happen,” said White.

Sitka already built the infrastructure to draw the water from the lake to the shore. It’s behind us – a giant red nozzle poking up out of the ground. From there, a floating pipeline will carry the water into containers or bags loaded on big cargo ships. Just like oil. Sitka set the price point for water at 1 cent a gallon and can legally export 95 billion gallons a year. If you do the math, that’s quite a bit of money.

“If we move all 9.5 billion gallons a year, that’s 95 million dollars that could come into this community,” said White. “That’s huge.”

The challenge, of course, is actually getting the water to market.

Sitka’s vision of a bulk water business began 15 years ago, when the pulp mill closed. The city acquired rights to the land and to the water and in 2006, signed a 20-year contract with True Alaska Bottling, which is now called Alaska Bulk Water.

We put in performance criteria that said after 24 months from the beginning of the contract, they had to move a certain amount of water or the city at their option could terminate the contract.

The 24 months passed. And?

“No water was moved,” said White.

So, the city renewed the contract, but under the condition that Alaska Bulk Water pay a non-refundable fee for water credits.

The contract has been extended four times (in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012) and to keep it, Alaska Bulk Water spent $1.5 million and must ship 50 million gallons by December 8th. Still, no water has been moved. But White says that recent developments give him hope that water will finally leave the island this summer.

“I’ve always been ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said White. “But when I see our current partners putting real money down to go out and put in a mooring buoy system and hire engineers to design it and going out and getting their Army Corps permit, doing all the right things and continuing to invest in the venture, then it’s no longer a 30,000 view of it. It’s starting to get down to the details.

Terry Trapp, the Chief Executive with Alaska Bulk Water, declined to be interviewed in detail for this story. But over the phone with KCAW, he said the company hopes to have the operation up and running this July.

In the meantime, White says there is a lot of trouble shooting to be done. For instance:

“When you show up to a receiving port with 10, 20, 30 million gallons of water, what do you do with it? Right? You got to have a place to store it. You got to be able to recharge aquifers. That’s a huge part of this venture that needs to be figured out.”

The bulk water ships are too large to dock, so the plan is to anchor them to mooring buoys in Sawmill Cove and run a floating pipeline that will carry the water from the shoreline system. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

In addition to storage on the California side, it’s unclear what kinds of ships will be used. If those ships aren’t flagged as American, their passage from Sitka to California violates the Jones Act, which prohibits the transport of goods by foreign vessels. White is looking to Alaska Bulk Water and several engineering firms to tackle these and other issues.

White also wonders if, even at 1 cent a gallon, water is too expensive to transport at a reasonable cost.

KCAW: What do you say to Sitkans who are like, ‘No way. No way is this actually gonna happen. This is crazy sounding.’

White: I’ve been in that boat. But as you see somebody work out any type of problem that’s a lofty goal, it’s encouraging to see those baby steps that get you closer down the path.

In order to hold onto this contract, Alaska Bulk Water pledged to ship $50 million gallons by December 8th of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Conference to Focus on Traditional Knowledge, Resource Management

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 17:40

The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets in Juneau this week.

Tribal and other government officials and staff will discuss climate change, subsistence, Arctic policy and dozens of other issues.

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Society activist Norman Jojola is natural resource manager for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Northern Pueblos Agency in New Mexico.

He says the conference will address the role of traditional knowledge in resource management.

“A lot of the Western knowledge tends to have them tell you what a certain species wants, what a certain species needs, this is how they’re going to survive. Instead of to me, as traditional knowledge would go out, look at the species, live with the species and let the species tell you what it wants rather than you telling it what it’s supposed to do.”

Some sessions will focus on fish hatchery operations and lead ammunition poisoning wildlife. Others will cover more recent issues, such as policing fracking and dealing with meth labs.

The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets Wednesday through Friday at Juneau’s Centennial Hall.

Another focus area is cooperative management.

Jojola says that’s important when tribes share borders.

“These animals have no sense of boundaries. And they’re going to move wherever they want to move and whenever they want to move. It’s always good that you have this cooperative effort in managing these resources because if you don’t, then you’re just fighting each other.”

The society began in the 1980s as a way to share information. That includes educating tribal youth about resource issues.

Categories: Alaska News

Biker randomly attacked on Chester Creek Trail

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 17:27

A man biking to work along the Chester Creek trail near the Goose Lake overpass was assaulted by a group of three young men on Monday morning.

APD reports that one of the youth was using a five-foot-long branch as a walking stick. As the biker passed him, he swung the branch and hit the biker in the face. The biker crashed, and the group of three men walked away toward East High School. The stick broke the victim’s nose and eye socket and fractured his skull.

APD spokesperson Anita Shell says it was a completely random act of violence. The group did not speak to the victim nor try to steal anything. She says she does not know if this was linked to the stabbing of a young woman in late March because that victim never saw her attacker.

Shell says they are seeking more information. The Monday morning attacker was described as about 15-years-old with short hair, medium build, and medium-brown skin tone. One of his companions was about 17 with short hair and curls on the top.

Categories: Alaska News

Girl Dies After Boat Falls on Her

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 16:49

Alaska State Troopers say a 3-year-old girl from lower Kalskag has died after a boat fell on top of her.

The accident happened on Saturday on dry land, in the community of Lower Kalskag about 90 miles northeast of Bethel.

Troopers say the girl, Gwendolyn Nayamin, had been playing on the 16-foot boat, which had been leaning against a home.

The boat toppled while she was playing on it. No foul play is suspected, and troopers have called it an accidental death. The girl’s body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Inside Alaska’s First Cannabis Convention

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 16:43

Alaska residents and a wide variety of local and national retailers gathered at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage this weekend for the NW Cannabis Classic. While smoking was prohibited, the trade show featured marijuana-oriented retail products as well as information sessions for hobbyists and business owners hoping to navigate the nascent cannabis market in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

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