Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, August 17, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:46

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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Shell Gets Final Approval To Drill Into Oil-Bearing Rock in the Chukchi

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

The Interior Department gave final approval to Shell Oil to drill into oil-bearing rocks at the company’s “Burger J” drilling site. The company has until late September to complete this summer’s exploratory drilling.

24 Apache Choppers To Nest At Ft. Wainwright

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The first U.S. Army apache helicopters to be based in Alaska are scheduled to arrive at Fort Wainwright this week. They’re part of a new unit that will include 24 helicopters and 400 soldiers.

Legislators Plot Their Next Move As Medicaid Rollout Looms

Associated Press

A legislative committee plans to meet Tuesday to discuss whether or not to challenge Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to expand Medicaid in Alaska.

Bethel Preschool Trashed by Vandals

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Vandals in Bethel smashed school district car windows and trashed preschool classrooms over the weekend.

VA Sec. Visits Point Hope, Kotzebue; Bush Vets Share The Woes of Accessing Remote Care

Emily Russell, KNOM – Nome

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, traveled to Point Hope and Kotzebue to address their concerns. Remote access to care and information are among the most common problem facing veterans in Alaska.

Staffing the Grill & State: Walker’s First Governor’s Picnic

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Bill Walker hosted his first Governor’s Picnic in Juneau on Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast.

2015 Dungeness Season: Lackluster Against 2014’s Harvest, But Still Average

Joe Sykes, KFSK – Petersburg

Southeast’s Dungeness summer crab season ended on Saturday. There aren’t any preliminary numbers yet but it’s looking as if this year hasn’t got close to the bumper season crab fishermen had last summer.

Roasting Twinkies And Other Wisdom From Kid Camp In the Togiak

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

The Togiak National Wildlife Refuge encompasses almost five million acres in southwestern Alaska. Each year, refuge staff organizes a high school science camp, conducted via float trip, to show area students a little sliver of the refuge in their backyard. Earlier this month, six students from Dillingham and Twin Hills floated the Pungokepuk River.

Dispatch From the Couch: Google Trekker Lets You ‘Hike’ the Chilkoot Trail

Greta Mart, KHNS – Haines

A century ago, to hike to the Klondike gold fields via the Chilkoot Trail meant a grueling trek carrying a required one ton of supplies–enough to last a year. Soon armchair hikers can breeze along the 33-mile trail virtually, in a few minutes, using Google’s Street View.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Gets Final Approval To Drill Into Oil-Bearing Rock in the Chukchi

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:38

The Fennica and its yellow capping stack in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on July 18. (KUCB/John Ryan photo)

The Obama administration approved Arctic oil drilling Monday.

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The Interior Department gave final approval to Shell Oil to drill into oil-bearing rocks at the company’s “Burger J” drilling site. The company has until late September to complete this summer’s exploratory drilling. Megan Baldino is a Shell spokesperson:

“Our plan is to make the most of the time that we have in theater, and whatever we don’t accomplish this summer, we can potentially… do in 2016.”

Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig began drilling on July 30.  But Shell couldn’t get permission to drill into oil-bearing layers until its missing icebreaker and the well-capping stack on its stern returned from the Lower 48. Greg Julian is a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

“Now that the capping stack is on hand, Shell is allowed to drill into potential oil-bearing zones, [at the Burger J site.]” BSEE spokesman Greg Julian said.

Federal inspectors have been living on board both of Shell’s Arctic drill rigs for the past two weeks of shallow drilling.

“Nothing noteworthy to report,” Julian said. “Things are going smoothly.”

That icebreaker, the Fennica, hit a rock on its way out of Dutch Harbor on July 3. It then sailed to Oregon for repairs. Greenpeace protesters swinging beneath a Portland bridge further delayed the Fennica. Environmentalists reacted with dismay to the Obama administration’s announcement. [Today’s/Monday’s] Approval of Arctic oil drilling comes a few days after the president announced that his upcoming visit to Alaska would focus on his push to fight climate change.

Annie Leonard is the head of Greenpeace USA.

“Obama’s relation with climate is a little schizophrenic… doesn’t make sense to recognize what a serious problem climate change is and then….drilling in the Arctic. You’re either on one side or the other.”

The President will visit Alaska at the end of this month. The White House video promoting Obama’s trip as part of his legacy of leadership on protecting the climate did not mention his Administration’s support for Arctic drilling.

Categories: Alaska News

24 Apache Choppers To Nest At Ft. Wainwright

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:37

The first U.S. Army apache helicopters to be based in Alaska are scheduled to arrive at Fort Wainwright this week. They’re part of a new unit that will include 24 helicopters and 400 soldiers.

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An Army AH-64 Apache Helicopter flies over U.S. Army Soldiers from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Charles Probst/Released, via Wikimedia Commons)

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Plot Their Next Move As Medicaid Rollout Looms

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:36

A legislative committee plans to meet Tuesday to discuss whether or not to challenge Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to expand Medicaid in Alaska.

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One point of contention is if the thousands of lower-income Alaskans who comprise the expansion population are a mandatory group for coverage or an optional group.

The federal health care law expanded eligibility for Medicaid, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 said states could not be penalized if they didn’t participate in expansion.

Some read the court’s decision as meaning the expansion population is optional and that legislative approval is necessary for giving the group coverage.

In July, Walker announced plans to accept federal money to expand Medicaid after legislators tabled his bill for further review. The targeted expansion rollout date is Sept. 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Preschool Trashed by Vandals

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:35

Vandals trashed preschool classrooms and smashed windows in 13 of the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s vehicles over the weekend.

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LKSD Superintendent, Dan Walker, says it appears people threw rocks at cars parked near the district office. Inside the M-E preschool they made an absolute mess.

“All of the toilets were clogged, the water was left running. We had several smart boards that were torn off the wall. There are computers that were thrown off onto the floor and a few computers that were missing,” said Walker.

A Bethel school was vandalized over the weekend. Photo: KYUK.

The preliminary estimates of the damage exceed $50,000 for the vehicles and at least $50,000 to the preschool. Bethel police are investigating. Walker is hopeful that the school’s camera system can develop leads in the case.

At least 13 of the school’s vehicles had their windows smashed. Photo: KYUK.

“Our technology folks are going thought video footage right now. I’d be surprised if we don’t have some footage. The question will be if we can identify people from the footage or get an idea of who we need to talk to,” said Walker.

After starting up the new school year last week, nearly fifty families with preschoolers are now waiting again for school to start. Walker says there is no firm timeline.

“Right now we’ve cancelled classes until further notice. Probably later this week we’ll have a better idea of whether we’ll be far enough along getting the building cleaned up so we can have classes next week,” said Walker.

Damages to the school and vehicles is pegged around $100,000. Photo: KYUK.

Before cleanup goes too far, Walker says his team needs to know whether the air is hazardous from fire extinguishers that were emptied. He says the district can’t simply move preschoolers to another classroom because the facilities have to be licensed.

“We have limited time with them anyway, and we want to do everything we can to maximize the learning time, so we’ll do everything we can to get the facility back up and open,” said Walker.

And in the meantime, Walker says the district wants to look at adding additional lighting outside and cameras.

Categories: Alaska News

Staffing the Grill & State: Walker’s First Governor’s Picnic

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:33

Gov. Bill Walker hosted his first Governor’s Picnic in Juneau on Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast. While serving up hot dogs and salmon, KTOO’s Elizabeth Jenkins asked picnic-goers what they’d do as governor for the day.

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Walker greets people at his first Juneau Governor’s Picnic. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The community lined up on a warm, sunny afternoon to mingle with state officials but also for the free food: hot dogs, salmon, and locally made ice cream. Gov. Walker was dressed for the occasion.

“Well, I’m wearing my cook outfit. My apron. My governor’s picnic apron and it’s the third time I’ve worn this outfit,” he says.

He says it can be tough doing double duty: serving the public filets of fish and being a politician.

“My problem is this: I like to shake hands and say hello to people and I have to wear a plastic glove and then I have to take it back off, put it back on, take it back on,” Walker says.

Brenda Calkins and her daughter are waiting in line. They’re inching closer to the governor but not sure what they’ll say as he serves them a piece of salmon.

“Yeah, I don’t know if I have anything. … I might have to think up a question in, like two seconds,” Calkins says.

In years past, the governor’s picnic has been held at Sandy Beach. This year, it’s on the UAS campus to highlight education and kids activities.

A fire truck is parked nearby for children to hop aboard. And like the food, there’s a line for that, too. Volunteer firefighter Steven Anderson is making sure everything runs smoothly.

“I’ve been doing this about five years. As much as I can I come out to the community events,” Anderson says.

What would he do if he was governor for the day?

“I don’t know much about politics and I don’t think I could change much for a day. I’d be kickin’ back in the mansion,” he says.

After thinking a few seconds, he says he’d work on increasing the budget for firefighting.

The Thunder Mountain High School football team also helped out at the event.

“Just kind of picking up trash, handing out fliers and at one point we were helping people find a place to park,” says left tackle Josh Quinto.

He has his own ideas about what he’d do if he were governor–more community events.

“I think at most, maybe throw a big party. I’d have different music everyday. Maybe some rock, country occasionally. So random stuff like Fall Out Boy or Nickelback, I guess,” Quinto says. “Definitely not the same food. Maybe something other than salmon, I don’t know like halibut. Fish and chips, those are always good.”

Picnic-goers lounge on a half-moon concrete bench, scraping food off paper plates and watching people play corn hole.

Andualem Fanta is watching the fun. He travels for work with Delta Airlines.

“I am originally from Ethiopia so I migrated to U.S. I lived in different state. But this my first time the governor invited everybody and having a good time,” Fanta says.

What would he do as governor?

“If I’m a governor, today? Serve the people like this. It could be a great opportunity to show you care about the people,” Fanta says.

From everyone, there was a variety of responses from dog racing, building a pipeline and making it permanently sunny in Juneau.

Brenda Calkins and her daughter make it through the end of the food line. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker ducked out for a photo-op with a costumed bear but first lady Donna Walker is still there.

“I didn’t know it was the first lady,” Calkins says with a laugh.

Which is what the Governor’s Picnic is all about. Getting to know your officials.

Categories: Alaska News

2015 Dungeness Season: Lackluster Against 2014, But Still Average

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 17:32

Southeast’s Dungeness summer crab season ended on Saturday. There aren’t any preliminary numbers yet but it’s looking as if this year hasn’t got close to the bumper season crab fishermen had last summer.

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Tor Benson and Leif Mattern prepare to clean down the boat one last time. (Photo: KFSK/Joe Sykes)

Crab fisherman Tor Benson is waiting to unload his final dungeness catch of the season at Icicle’s dock.

It was a slow day and while he says he’s still making money:

“It’s getting to that point where we might not. It’s a good time to end,” he said.

Benson’s boat reeks from the stench of rotting crab bait after a long day out in the Alaskan sun. And deckhand Leif Mattern, cleaning bait boxes at the bow of the boat one final time says he’s glad it’s all over.

“We’re all jaded from last year. Last year was a great season. It’s hard when you do that well and then you come back and it’s not so good,” he said.

Many crab fishermen say last summer will go down as legendary in the history of Southeast’s dungeness fishery.

Crabbers caught 4.06 million pounds earning a value of more than $12 million. That was more than double what they earned in the 2013 season.

And Benson says since fishing started in June he’s caught about 30 percent of the crab he brought in last summer.

“This year’s slow, last year’s an epic year, the best in a decade but that’s fishing, you have good years and you have bad,” he said.

And the numbers seem to show that rather than it being a bad year, the catch has returned to somewhere close to the average season yield. While the final week’s fish tickets have not been entered yet, the crab harvest through August 13th for the 2015 season is 2.56 million pounds, close to the 5-year average of just over 3 million pounds.

And Joe Stratman, who’s a crab biologist at fish and game says irrespective of the slowdown, crab quality has been good.

“We’ve had nice hard-shell crabs landed to processors. Crabs generally have been hard-shell and full of meat,” he said.

And much of that meat has been caught by an expanded fleet. Stratman says because of the bumper harvest last year, the number of permits reporting catches is 192, almost 30 more than average for the last five years.

While many of these numbers are preliminary it seems fishing hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.

And at Icicle’s dock a long, hard season has taken a toll on everyone. Juan works as an unloader at PFI and has dropped down from the factory to help take the crab up to be sorted for the final time.

I ask him if he’s pleased that the crab season is over.

“Yes,” he replies. “I hate crabs. No more.”

And with that he starts transferring the dungies into his tote and another summer crab season scuttles swiftly to a close.

Categories: Alaska News

VA Sec. Visits Point Hope, Kotzebue; Bush Vets Share The Woes of Accessing Remote Care

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 14:48

Walking among the old sod and whalebone houses on the edge of the Bering Sea, it’s easy to let the world around you fade away. We’ve come to Point Hope, Alaska, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

McDonald at a listening session in Point Hope. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM

The barrier between the old abandoned town site and the new community is the airport, which sees multiple small-plane departures and arrivals each day, though today is a bit different. Today a pearly white plane is parked on the runway. On the side it reads “United States of America,” which feels like a million miles away from where we are.

The official aircraft came all the way from Washington, D.C. to made good on a request from local. Leonard Barger, Transportation Director of the Native Village of Point Hope, wrote to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, last year requesting a visit to honor the community’s veterans.

Barger explained the importance of McDonald’s visit to the 49thstate. With the highest number of veterans per capita in the country, even the most remote communities throughout Alaska have vets. Along with Point Hope, Barger acknowledged the veterans in communities like Barrow, Point Lay, and Unalakleet. “All these people in Alaska, they’re going to Afghanistan,” Barger said, “they’re leaving their family, but they’re serving their country, they’re sacrificing their lives for us.”

At the listening session in Kotzebue, McDonald gave veterans a coin with his seal and signature. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM

Along with visiting Point Hope, McDonald also held a listening session that day in Kotzebue. It took Walter Sampson, a Vietnam vet living in Kotzebue, 11 years to get serviced by the VA in Anchorage, a 500-mile journey and a $600 plane ticket away from home. Sampson made sure to remind McDonald of the unique challenges that many of Alaska’s vets face in accessing the benefits they’ve earned.

“Remember that we’re in bush Alaska,” Sampson said, “we’re in roadless communities.” While Fairbanks and Anchorage have the clinics, the VA officers, and the hospitals, he stressed that, “for bush Alaska we’ve got nothing at all.”

Without the VA facilities and representatives, information has a hard time reaching vets in bush Alaska. Sampson expressed a feeling that many vets seemed to share. “As a veteran, do I really know who [the] VA is?” Sampson asked himself. “What benefits does it have for me?

Sampson is frustrated by the convoluted nature of the VA support system, which often requires multiple phone calls, website logins, and, in the end a system too complex for its own good. McDonald was quick to acknowledge those inefficiencies.

“Walter’s right,” McDonald admitted, “we’ve got too many 1-800 numbers, it’s too confusing.” With over 900 1-800 numbers and 14 websites that require different usernames and passwords, many vets get lost in the system before they ever get help. “We’re going to go to one 1-800 number, we’re going to go to one website,” McDonald promised, “it’s just too complex, we’ve got to simplify it, that’s what we’re working to do.”

But a simplified system is only one step towards getting vets throughout Alaska the benefits they deserve. With McDonald gone and many questions left unanswered, the support system that seems the most promising comes from within the state.

Chester Ballot, another Vietnam vet in Kotzebue, was trained in Anchorage as a tribal veteran representative and now works to sign up fellow vets to the VA. The Alaska VA also sent two representatives to both Point Hope and Kotzebue to sign up and inform vets of their benefits. So far the Alaska VA has sent representatives to 39 of the state’s nearly 300 villages.

Although McDonald is back in D.C., Leonard Barger hopes this will not be his last visit to Point Hope. Barger and other community members encouraged him to return in the spring to take part in a whale hunt, one of the many benefits of living on the edge of the Bering Sea.

McDonald greets veterans and their family members at the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Man Held On Non-Criminal Charges, Dies In Correctional Facility

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 09:23

A Juneau man died at Lemon Creek Correctional Center Friday morning, about 12 hours after he was brought in. Forty-nine-year-old Joseph Murphy was booked at the prison around 7 p.m. Thursday night and was being held on non-criminal charges.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sherrie Daigle says Murphy was being kept in a holding cell and was due to be released after 12 hours.

“I don’t know the specifics in this case and I can’t give any specifics in this case, but in general, people are brought in on a 12-hour hold if they are intoxicated and they can’t be on the street, but are combative and can’t go to a detox center. There also could be some type of behavioral health issues that people are brought in on non-criminal holds.”

In the past, Murphy had been found guilty of at least two misdemeanors for driving while intoxicated, according to online court records.

Daigle says Alaska State Troopers are investigating the death and the state medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy. She says it could take three to six weeks until a cause of death is known.

Corrections will do its own investigation, which Daigle says takes up to four weeks. She says those results are confidential due to attorney client privilege between the attorney general and Corrections, and they contain medical, security and personnel information.

Categories: Alaska News

Dispatch From The Couch: Google Trekker Lets You ‘Hike’ the Chilkoot Trail

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 08:57

Google Trekker brings Google Maps technology to the trail. Photo: Screen shot of Google Trekker homepage.

A hundred years ago, to hike to the Klondike gold fields via the Chilkoot Trail meant a grueling trek carrying a required one ton of supplies, enough to last a year. Soon armchair hikers can breeze along the 33-mile trail virtually, in a few minutes, using Google’s Street View.

“Welcome to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, home to the famous Chilkoot Trail,”  says NPS staffers Erica Francis and Elizabeth Blakeley in an informational video produced by the National Park Service. “Hiking the Chilkoot Trail can be highly rewarding; however, unlike many hikes, taking on the Chilkoot means crossing an international border and hiking 33 miles up isolated, physical challenging and potential hazardous terrain…”

But soon there will be another way to experience it. For the first time Google Street View is going off-road in Alaska. This month two Parks Canada staff mapped the entire Chilkoot Trail. They used a backpack-mounted camera system called the Google Trekker.

Parks Canada and Google agreed to partner a few years ago in creating virtual tours of many of Canada’s national and regional parks. The first Canadian park to appear on Google’s Street View was Nova Scotia’s Fortress of Louisbourg in 2013, and more than 100 wild Canadian places have been added since.

Klondike National Park Superintendent Mike Tranel says Parks Canada approached the National Park Service last fall to see if managers here were interested in joining a project to map the Chilkoot, since the Alaskan segment of the trail is managed by the NPS, and Parks Canada manages the Canadian side. The trail starts in Dyea and snakes up the Taiya River to Crater Lake and the headwaters of the Yukon River at Lake Bennett, British Columbia.

“If you can see it online, do you need to still come and do it?” asked Tranel. “You know, I think in in the end it will be good publicity for the trail and a way for people to see what it’s all about, what it looks like and I think it will spur more interest in coming to hike the trail.”

Tranel said the park service mulled over whether putting the trail online would result in more or fewer visitors coming to hike the real thing.  Currently between 2500 and 3000 people hike the entire trail each year.

Parks Canada spokesperson Christine Aikens says they wanted to create a virtual tour of the Chilkoot and other wild places so that people will better understand why these places are so special and encourage in-person visitation.

Mapping the Chilkoot with the heavy camera equipment was a challenge for the Parks Canada team, said Tranel. It was key to keep the camera level and correctly oriented, especially on the difficult Golden Stairs section. During the first week of August,  the weather cooperated and the mapping hike was on.

Tranel says he’s excited about the Street View mapping because it will pave the way for more detailed project in the works…a 1898 Street View version of the trail. Using archeological data and historical photographs and maps…

“We can potentially recreate what it would look like to travel over the trail in 1898 during the Gold Rush. So that’s something I think would be really cool, so doing the Google Street View of the 2015 view of the trail can help us with the ability to do that 1898 Google Street View idea,” he said.

Parks Canada’s Aikens says people can expect to see the trail on Google Maps in the coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Work To Contain 7,000-Gallon Diesel Spill In Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 08:51

A storage tank at Sitka’s Jarvis Street Diesel Plant failed over the weekend, spilling an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 gallons of diesel into Sitka Sound near the mouth of Indian River. Teams from the city, state, and Coast Guard are working to contain and clean up the spill — and to find out what caused it.

As of Sunday night, it wasn’t clear exactly how much diesel had actually made it into Sitka Sound.

The Jarvis Street Diesel Plant is owned by the city — it’s Sitka’s backup power station — and city Administrator Mark Gorman said the failed storage tank released about 30,000 gallons into a cement containment enclosure. Some portion of that — perhaps as much as 7,000 gallons — then leaked into the storm water system, which empties into the ocean at Eagle Beach.

Gorman said that though the release is near the mouth of Indian River, so far there’s no sign of diesel in the river itself, and the spill has been contained to Eagle Beach and the water near Cannon Island.

The Fire Department estimated that about 40 people from the city, Coast Guard, National Park Service and state Department of Environmental Conservation were on site Sunday, using boom and absorbent material to contain and soak up the spill. Speaking Sunday evening, Gorman said the efforts so far have had a visible impact.

“I was down at the impacted area this evening twice, and there’s certainly, you can smell it in the air, but there’s no sheen on the water at this point in time, so it seems to be dispersing pretty rapidly.”

According to a press release from the city, the Fire Department first received a call around 11 a.m. Saturday (8-15-15) reporting a heavy smell of diesel in the area near Eagle Beach. Assistant Fire Chief Al Stevens says the Department responded and found a small patch of diesel in the water, but couldn’t locate its source. He says responders thought the diesel had perhaps come from a fishing vessel in the area, and contacted both the state and Coast Guard.

The city then received a second call on Sunday, reporting a sheen on the water near Cannon Island. This time, the Fire Department traced the spill to a storm drain on Sawmill Creek Road, and eventually followed it back to the Jarvis Street Diesel Plant.

Around 1 p.m. Sunday, The Fire Department initiated its Incident Command System, marshalling resources from the city, state, Coast Guard, and National Park Service. Stevens says the leak was stopped around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, and teams worked throughout the afternoon to mop up the spill.  “It certainly is a big deal,” he said. But Gorman added that diesel is easier to clean up than, say, crude oil.

“Diesel is not oil. If this was an oil spill, I think 7,000 gallons going into the Sound would be alarming. It’s not good to have diesel going into the sound, but diesel does evaporate and dissipate quite rapidly.”

It’s not yet clear why the tank failed, or how the diesel leaked out of the containment enclosure. The city, state and Coast Guard are all involved in that investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Dead herring, poison mussels found on Unalaska shorelines

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-17 08:22

Dead herring on an Unalaska beach on Wednesday. KUCB/John Ryan photo.

Hundreds of dead herring washed up on Front Beach in downtown Unalaska on Tuesday.

“Hundreds of herring floating in the water,” Caleb Livingston, who lives nearby, said as he was walking his dog Hazel on the beach. “But what really got my attention was the few that drifted on the beach were not being eaten by the eagles, or seagulls or terns.”

Scientists have been receiving reports of dead and dying whales, birds and the small fish known as sand lance in the Aleutian Islands.

A dead Steller’s sea lion washed ashore in Unalaska in July with no wounds or other obvious causes of death.

Researchers think the killer might be toxic algae proliferating in unusually warm ocean waters.

Mussels taken from two different bays in Unalaska this spring have had levels of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning two to four times higher than the level considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Livingston said he doesn’t think the herring he saw on Front Beach were killed by toxic algae.

“I’m guessing that somebody shoveled them off a boat,” he said.

Herring are used as bait by crabbers and longliners.

Boats shouldn’t do that in close. If they’re going to get rid of this stuff, they should do it further out,” Livingston said. “It’s probably not that harmful, other than critters like Hazel gobbling on it, but it is a form of pollution.”

Caleb Livingston takes his dog Hazel for a walk on Unalaska’s Front Beach. KUCB/John Ryan photo.

Scientist Melissa Good with University of Alaska Fairbanks agreed, after a quick bit of beach forensics, that these dead fish were probably dumped in the water.

She said the herring had lost their scales, suggesting the fish had been poured through a chute en masse.

“Their fins are deteriorated while their eyes are intact,” Good said. “I think it’s probably bait fish that got dumped.”

Even so, Good said she will send herring that she and Livingston collected on the beach to an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation lab for analysis.

This spring, Good collected mussels from Captains Bay and Summer Bay in Unalaska to see if they had the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

She just got the results back: Mussels had up to 3.3 parts per million of the potent PSP toxin. That’s four times higher than the FDA’s 0.8 parts per million limit.

“Anything above that is unsafe to eat,” Good said.

“I would suggest people take caution and probably not harvest mussels or any other clams or bivalves within the Unalaska area because we are seeing high toxin levels for the previous spring months,” she said. “It’s likely these levels are higher now, after the summer algal blooms.”

In an email, Bruce Wright with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association said butter clams tested in June at Sand Point, in the Shumagin Islands, just east of the Aleutians, showed even higher levels of the toxin.

One of the largest algal blooms ever recorded has been spreading throughout the Northeast Pacific Ocean, from California to Alaska. Scientists believe a giant blob of warm water is fueling the harmful algal bloom.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, August 14, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 17:35

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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Mat-Su Vets Rail Against VA During Secretary’s Visit

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A listening session held Thursday night in Wasilla by the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs was dominated by complaints about the healthcare system for veterans. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, the VA is struggling in Alaska to rebuild trust as policy changes unfold from Washington, D.C., all the way to the state’s most remote clinics.

Climate Change, Not Arctic Drilling, Brings Obama to Alaska

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

President Barack Obama is coming to Alaska later this month. The White House released a video Thursday morning to explain why he will be the first sitting president to visit Alaska’s Arctic.

Doyon Announces New Oil & Gas Prospect Near Nenana

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Doyon plans to drill another oil and gas exploration well in the Nenana area.  It will be the third the company has sunk into the oil and gas rich basin.

LGBT Discrimination Claims Still Not Valid in Alaska Despite Federal Ruling

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Some of the most common types of discrimination LGBT people face are in the workplace and in housing. Despite this, Alaska’s statewide and Anchorage anti-discrimination commissions don’t offer protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. The commissions are not legally required to do so, and some activists see that as an injustice.

Governor Nominates Elizabeth Peratrovich As The Face of the $10 Bill

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Walker-Mallott administration has nominated a Tlingit civil-rights leader to be on the new $10 bill.

Earthquake Swarm Hits Yakutat

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

About 30 earthquakes have hit the Yakutat area this week. The Gulf of Alaska city, about 250 miles northwest of Juneau, is in a fault zone and quakes aren’t unusual. But this swarm is caused by calving glaciers in a nearby bay, not movement of the Earth’s crust.

AK: Sitka Cirque Lassos Sitkans Into The Show

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

The circus is coming to Sitka, but the performers aren’t from out of town. They are ordinary citizens, who in the past two years, have learned to climb, swing, and soar. Led by an aerialist with roots in Alaska, Sitka Cirque is dreaming up a new kind of circus that provides as much thrill to the participants as it does to the audience.

49 Voices: Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Zach Carothers is the bass player for Portugal. the Man. The band formed in Alaska, but now resides in Portland. Currently, they’re in LA recording material for their 8th studio album.

Categories: Alaska News

Sentencing trial begins in Anchorage hit-and-run cyclist case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 17:30

Melissa Holder testified during the sentencing hearing of Alexandra Ellis, who killed Holder’s husband in a hit-and-run last year. Hillman/KSKA

She was intoxicated at the time and fled the scene.

The state agreed to plea deal this spring that called for Ellis to serve one year in prison with three suspended. Community members and the victim’s family are asking the judge to overrule the deal made with the state and give Ellis a longer sentence.

Judge Michael Wolverton heard testimony from a scene reconstructionist, Jay Smith, who was hired by the defense. Smith told the court that evidence suggested that Ellis was reversing at 11 miles per hour while Dusenbury was cycling between 30 to 35 mph. However, Smith said most of the literature he used to develop those calculations did not look at situations where a cyclist was hit from the side as Dusenbury was.

Defense attorney William Ingaldson also said that Dusenbury’s reaction time might have been slow because he was cycling with earbuds in and had traces of THC in his blood.

“And if someone is under the influence whether it’s alcohol or say, marijuana, that person under the influence of marijuana’s perception time is going to slow down, isn’t it?” Ingaldson asked Smith.

“Yes,” Smith replied.

“That person who is 100 feet away from a truck might not stop in time. Might not take evasive action if the truck is turning, right?” Ingaldson asked.

“That is correct.”

Jay Smith stands before a photo of Jeff Dusenbury’s bike as it lay where he was hit and killed. Hillman/KSKA

The court also heard emotional testimony from Dusenbury’s friends and family as Ellis sobbed at her table. Melissa Holder is Dusenbury’s widow.

“Alexandra Ellis killed my best friend of 32 years,” said Dusenbury’s widow Melissa Holder, through tears. “He was my soul mate, my husband, and the father of my only child. In 32 years I had never gone more than 12 hours without hearing his voice.”

She also asked the judge to consider the implications of what she considers to be the plea deal’s light sentence.

“What kind of message does this send to our community? Please do not let Jeff’s death be in vain. We fail the youth of our community if we do not take this opportunity to send a clear message that taking the life of a person while driving irresponsibly is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

The hearing will continue on Monday with a confidential session. Judge Wolverton said he will chose the next public hearing date at that point. He also said he will consider “the thoughtful input” from the community shared through social media when deciding on the sentence.

Categories: Alaska News

Can We Call It Hoo-Brew? New Brewery Opens in Hoonah

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 16:32

On Saturday, a Hoonah microbrewery is opening its doors to serve the village a variety of craft beers. Kegs used to become scarce around the same time tourists did. Now fresh pints are guaranteed through winter.

Dan Kane and his business partner Todd Thingvall. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Todd Thingvall and his business partner Dan Kane have been working hard to renovate a 100-year-old house on pilings above water, the site of the new brewery and taproom. Both left good jobs to start the business. Kane says his kids asked if he was having a midlife crisis.

“There’s been a lot of sleepless nights,” Kane says. “I’m sitting in Anchorage at my house there and I have a good life. There’s a lot mornings I would be sitting there going, ‘Have I lost my mind, is this really what I want to do?’”

He’s been homebrewing for about 20 years. They met each other through their wives.

“Dan had beer so I instantly liked him. We hit it off ever since,” says Thingvall.

He pitched Kane the idea of opening the Hoonah brewery. They invested about $400,000 and are living upstairs. The long-term plan is to move the tanks to another site but for now, they’re on a patio above the water.

Usually stainless-steel fermentation tanks are labeled one, two, three.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“We decided, eh. Let’s stay with a Southeast theme and we went with keta, humpy, king, sockeye and coho. Of course, the king is the big seven barrel,” Kane says.

They’re cooled by a refrigeration unit that runs partially off solar panels. Electricity can be expensive in Hoonah and the panels could pay for themselves in a little over a year.

On the bottom of the king tank is a well kept brewer’s secret.

“You’re very lucky to see this. It’s called a sample valve. It allows you to take samples or actual drinks out of a vessel. So this is our pale which was the first beer that we made here,” Thingvall says.

He fills up a frothy golden glass of beer made with Cascade hops.

With no connecting roads, the Pacific Northwest hops and brewer’s yeast is shipped using FedEx. Thingvall and Kane say it can be nerve-wracking waiting for the delicate ingredients to arrive. Most need to remain temperature controlled. It travels from Seattle to Juneau, then over to Hoonah by small plane. A few weeks ago, their yeast was overdue.

“One great thing about a small town, even the postmaster, she knew exactly what I was looking for and it came in Saturday after their closing hours and she called us. And said, ‘Hey it’s here.’ And waiting for us to come pick it up,” Kane says.

They’ll serve pale ale, IPA and hefeweizen. A pilsner and stout are also in the works. Production will be about 500 barrels a year, and some of the kegs could be distributed to Southeast’s smallest communities like Gustavus and Elfin Cove–maybe eventually making its way to Juneau.

What Kane says they’re really looking forward to the most is experimenting with ingredients like Hudson Bay tea, a medicinal plant that grows in the muskeg.

“When it first hits your palate, it was more of light clean, crisp beer and then as it hit the back of your palate that’s when that tea just came alive,” Kane says.

It can be tricky getting FDA approval for ingredients that are locally sourced, but they say they’re up for the challenge. They want Icy Strait Brewing to reflect the community.

“Hoonah has a slogan: The little place with the big heart. And it’s true. The people here are wonderful,” Thingvall says.

And now it has a microbrewery to match.

Overlooking the taproom of Icy Strait Brewery. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake swarm hits Yakutat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 16:11

About 30 earthquakes have hit the Yakutat area this week.

The Gulf of Alaska city, about 250 miles northwest of Juneau, is in a fault zone and quakes aren’t unusual.

Two glaciers flow into Yakutat Bay. Glacial calving causes regular, but small, earthquakes. The Hubbard Glacier, right, sometimes surges, blocking off an arm of the bay. (Photo courtesy Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve)

But this swarm is caused by calving glaciers in a nearby bay, not movement of the Earth’s crust.

Alaska Earthquake Information Center Seismologist Natalia Ruppert says it happens all the time. But she says at least one of this week’s quakes were stronger than usual.

“Maybe the size of this particular ice chunk was very large and as it fell into the water it created lots of energy,” Ruppert said.

She says there’s no connection to the Yakutat Fault, and a block of the Earth’s crust that’s slowly moving under that part of Alaska.

Most glaciers are retreating and thinning as climate change increases melting.

Seismologist Ruppert says that could eventually lead to more quakes from moving blocks of crust.

“If the glaciers keep melting and if they keep losing the mass, the pressure on the surface of the Earth becomes less,” Ruppert said. “And so, on a very long time scale, the lessening of this pressure might actually influence the tectonic forces and the pressure on the faults in that area.”

Since Monday morning, 28 glacial quakes have hit the Yakutat Bay area. Another 11 hit Cape Yakataga, about 100 miles to the northwest. That’s as of midday Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

LGBT discrimination claims still not valid in Alaska despite federal ruling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 15:54

The U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission ruled in late July that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is illegal because it is a form of sex discrimination, which is already prohibited.

Some of the most common types of discrimination LGBT people face are in the workplace and in housing. Despite this, Alaska’s statewide and Anchorage anti-discrimination commissions don’t offer protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. The commissions are not legally required to do so, and some activists see that as an injustice.

“Just imagine if you couldn’t call the fire department because you were LGBT. I mean, that’s an analogy to make. If you are LGBT you should be able to call any state agency and get the same service,” says attorney Caitlin Shortell. She represented the same-sex couples that sued the state for the right to marry. “I mean this is an injustice that needs to be corrected.”

The Rainbow Flag is a symbol of LGBT pride. (Creative Commons photo by torbakhopper)

In December, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would treat gender identity as protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In early February, the U.S. EEOC Director of Field Programs sent a memo saying that complaints of discrimination based on gender identity should also be accepted under the Civil Rights Act. Federal and state employees already have these workplace protections.

And late last month, the federal commission ruled in a 4-2 vote that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace was illegal, too.

But the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission refer LGBT discrimination complainants to a toll free number for the federal EEOC.

When I called the toll-free number, I was directed through nearly three minutes of call options. To speak with a federal EEOC employee, on one particular day the wait was approximately 60 minutes.

Both the state and Anchorage commissions have work-sharing agreements with the EEOC and receive a portion of their budget from the federal agency. However, the funding does not require commissions to enforce civil rights laws as the EEOC interprets them.

“There’s a basis and a duty to already be taking these complaints and the commission should be doing that, without even amending our state and municipal human rights law,” Shortell said.

In initial interview requests for this story, the commission’s directors — Paula Haley for the state and Pamela Basler for Anchorage — both refused to be recorded and would not answer questions directly. Neither director responded to subsequent interview requests.

Gov. Bill Walker says he “[doesn’t] like any form of discrimination, at all.”

But disliking discrimination doesn’t mean he’s willing to change up the state commission members and director, who serve at his pleasure.

“At this point we don’t intend to address this issue. That shouldn’t be a surprise,” Walker said.

Walker says his administration will not introduce legislation on this issue or any other social issue. He says he’s not reviewed the priorities of the state’s human rights commissioners or the commission’s executive director.

“I don’t want to be judgmental about what the Human Rights Commission is or isn’t doing, but I will say that we are working on that issue ourselves,” Walker said. “It’s come up in the past, the issue of them having some venue to report, record circumstances where they feel they have been discriminated against.”

In an earlier written statement the governor said he’d leave it to the commission to decide whether to accept LGBT discrimination complaints, or complaints from any other class.

In other words, the state commission is actively choosing to not provide coverage.

Only two of the seven board members on the state Human Rights Commission could be contacted. Although neither would agree to be recorded, one stated that discussion surrounding LGBT discrimination protections has only come up a few times in the past few years.

The federal EEOC canceled an interview and declined to reschedule. In a written statement, an agency spokeswoman says neither the state or Anchorage commissions are required to accept claims that they don’t have jurisdiction over. And jurisdiction is based on their own assessment of the law, independent of the EEOC’s positions.

In an interview with KYUK’s Elllie Coggins in May, state commission director Paula Haley didn’t include LGBT people in her organization’s duties.

“So we have a very broad area of coverage and we protect people from discrimination based on race, sex, disability, age, marital status, so there’s a lot of coverage. Pretty much everyone in Alaska is protected by our laws,” Haley said.

Later in the interview, Haley said most of the complaints the agency receives deal with employment discrimination—a type of discrimination transgender people are most at risk for, according to a 2012 Anchorage survey on LGBT issues.

In a previous story for KTOO, Paula Haley said she’s only seen a handful of cases over the years.

“Very few people contact us because they’re concerned about discrimination based on lesbian, gay, transgender, queer issues, because they know we don’t cover those. So they don’t reach out to us because we don’t have the ability to help them.”

In the Human Rights Campaign’s 100-point 2014 Municipal Equality Index,Anchorage scored the highest at 35, Juneau at 33 and Fairbanks the lowest at 24.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says he, “everyone who lives in Anchorage has equal protection under the law.”

But later in the interview, Berkowitz said he was unsure of how the Anchorage commission currently handles these complaints and didn’t mention any specific plans to address the issue.

Categories: Alaska News

Doyon Announces New Oil & Gas Prospect Near Nenana

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 15:49

Doyon corporate logo.
CREDIT: DOYON

Doyon plans to drill another oil and gas exploration well in the Nenana area.  It will be the third the company has sunk into the oil and gas-rich basin. The Interior Regional Native Corporation is looking for a commercially developable deposit to supply local and broader energy demand.

 

Doyon CEO Aaron Schutt announced the new exploration well project at a press conference at the corporation’s Fairbanks headquarters.

“Last winter we ran an extensive 3D seismic program just west of the community of Nenana — about 50 square miles — to process the data. (We) got recommendations on next steps, and we’re very excited to announce the well.”

Schutt says the drilling, planned for next summer on land leased from the state about 7 miles west of Nenena, is between the 2 earlier Doyon explorations wells. The new well is being named after the Nenena Village Corporation: Toghotthele which draws its moniker from a local hill, something Doyon Board Chairman Orie Williams believes may benefit the project.

“Chief Peter John used to say that mountains are just something floating in the distance. And back in the old time days when they traveled the rivers they could see that Toghotthele hill floating out in the distance — a good place to camp. That was a major landmark, so there will be some spirituality to this well and some good luck coming with it.”

Doyon and other companies have explored the Nenana Basin for decades, but have yet to find a commercially viable oil and gas deposit.  Schutt says geology at the latest drill site looks promising.

“Looking at the structure in this location, we’re very, very optimistic. And you can see that we and our experts in particular put a one in two chance of a produceable gas field in this next well.”

Schutt says natural gas from the project could serve the local area and other parts of the state, noting Nenana’s location along the Tanana River, on which gas could be barged to villages.  Schutt won’t put a price tag on the project, but says state of Alaska oil and gas exploration tax credits are instrumental in pursuing it.

“Wild cat exploration is not for the faint of heart, and the state’s program is certainly a big part of Doyon’s efforts in the Nenana-Minto basin.”

Citing the state’s budget deficit, earlier this summer, Governor Walker cut $200 million in oil industry tax credits from the state budget, leaving another $500 million in tact.  State Representative Steve Thompson says the cut hurts smaller energy company projects.

Representative Thompson of Fairbanks says the credits are paid out on a first come first serve basis.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Nominates Elizabeth Peratrovich As The Face of the $10 Bill

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 15:33

Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Tlingit civil rights activist. Photo courtesy Governor Walker’s office.

The Walker-Mallott administration has nominated a Tlingit civil-rights leader to be on the new $10 bill.

The governor and lieutenant governor say Elizabeth Peratrovich fits the bill well. The U.S. Treasury is collecting nominations of women who were champions for democracy to put on the redesigned note.

Peratrovich and her husband Roy were leaders in the campaign for equal rights for Alaska Natives.

She’s most famous for her 1945 speech to the Territorial Senate during debate on a bill to prohibit racial discrimination in the state.

Speaking as an Alaska Native Sisterhood representative, Peratrovich addressed those referring to Natives as “savages.”

She said, quote, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.” The Alaska Civil Rights Act passed.

Walker, in his nomination, wrote that Peratrovich helped make Alaska, quote, “the nation’s first organized government to end legal discrimination.”

Categories: Alaska News

Overhauling Alaska’s Aviation Maps

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-08-14 12:00

Flying blind. No Alaska pilot wants to, but sometimes it happens. And sometimes it’s not on an established flight corridor. A new terrain mapping effort for aviators is underway.

HOST: Steve Heimel

GUEST:

  • Kevin Gallagher, USGS Core Science Systems
  • Nick Mastrodicasa, Alaska-DOT, project lead
  • Chris Noyles, BLM, Civil Applications Committee, Alaska liaison

LINKS:

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

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