Alaska News

Forest Service Proposes Mendenhall Glacier Fee Increase

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-13 16:43

Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The U.S. Forest Service is holding a public meeting tonight to discuss a proposed fee increase at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center starting with the 2016 tourist season.

Not only is the agency looking to raise the fee for the visitor center itself, but for the first time it wants to charge people for the use of some nearby trails.

Visitor center director John Neary says it would be the first cost increase at the facility since 1999, and would help offset federal budget cuts.

“What Congress allocates us is in rapid decline,” Neary says. “My budget – the Congressionally-allocated portion – has dropped 50 percent in just the last couple of years, not to mention previous drops.”

Under the proposal, the visitor center entry fee would go from $3 to $5, and a new $5 fee would be charged to use the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek Trail, the viewing pavilion, bus shelter and restrooms.

Other areas near the Mendenhall Glacier, including the Nugget Falls Trail, the Trail of Time and the East and West Glacier Trails would continue to be free. Seasonal passes would cost $10 and the fees would be waived during the tourism off season.

While reaction on some message boards has been largely negative since the proposal was announced last month, Neary says the written comments he’s received have been 2-to-1 in favor of the increase.

“I’m aware that there’s a significant amount of people that have concerns,” he says. “I’m not hearing from them by email. So that is the official way to comment is by email, by letter or by phone call directly to us.”

Or, he says, you can go to tonight’s meeting at the visitor center from 5 to 7 p.m.

The comment period lasts through Jan. 30. After that, the agency will consider all of the comments and make a final decision later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Placer Mining Big Business in Alaska, Report Finds

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-13 16:06

Placer mining operations bring in over $100 million a year in Alaska. (Photo: Alaska Mining Association)

Most placer mining operations in Alaska are small, but combined they bring in more than $100 million a year. That’s according to a new study from the Alaska Miners Association looking at the economic impact of placer mine operations across the state.

In 2013 alone, the report finds placer mining—or the mining of streambeds and other deposits carried by water or erosion for minerals—was active in nearly 300 operations around the state, about 30 percent of which are in Nome. Alicia Amberg, the deputy director of the Alaska Miners Association, said it can be difficult to describe a “typical’ placer operation, but many have elements in common.

Placer mining operations in 2014. (Image: Alaska Miners Association via the McDowell Group)

“Most of our placer mining operations in the state mine for gold,” Amberg said, referring to the new report. She added most are “in remote locations” not accessible by road, with miners relying instead on plane or ATV. “Our average amount of employees on the placer operations in the state are around four,” with many family-run operations, she added.

For years, placer mining has been a steady trade for small-scale operations, but exact numbers as to how many people engage in placer mining, and just how much money placer operations generate has been hard to know. The new study commissioned by the AMA from research firm the McDowell Group combines a statewide survey of miners with data from the Department of Natural Resources to shed light on just how big of an economic engine placer operations truly are.

“The big takeaway from this report is that there is a significant economic impact of placer mining in the state of Alaska,” Amberg said. “That’s jobs, revenue, money that is spent in our state, and that … placer mining truly is the seventh ‘large mine’ in the state of Alaska.”

The reports finds placer operations directly employ up to 1,200 workers every year. Most are seasonal jobs, and more than 70 percent of workers are Alaska residents. And the report says the operations pay well, too, with more than $65 million in goods and services spent keeping the operations going, of which nearly 90 percent is spent in-state.

Sale tax revenue from the City of Nome. (Image: City of Nome)

Barb Nickels with the Nome Chamber of Commerce said that is consistent with what they see on the ground in Nome during the busy summer mining season.

“The economic impact of mining to our Nome economy is certainly positive,” Nickels said, reading from a prepared statement. “Jobs have been created for many local residents. Multiple local businesses that provide goods and services have reported increased sales and income during these months. Even the businesses that offer the daily needs such as our grocery stores and restaurants have reported increased sales.”

That’s partially borne out by the City of Nome’s own figures, which shows a peak in collected sales tax during the summer, with the numbers generally peaking higher every summer for the last five years.

Deantha Crockett, the Executive Director at AMA, said even as placer mines disappear elsewhere in the country, the report shows they are still a viable mining option in Alaska.

“There are far fewer placer miners today in the United States than there were three or four decades ago, and frankly, 99 percent of them are in Alaska,” she said. “We’ve got this vibrant industry that, there’s a perception out there should be a historic practice … that’s not the case here in Alaska. It’s a healthy industry and it has really important economic impacts.”

The State of Alaska also makes money of active placer minds through royalties, taxes, claim rentals, and other fees, but the AMA cites “confidentiality issues and other data restrictions” as keeping an exact dollar estimate for that state revenue out of the report.

Categories: Alaska News

Path Cleared Through Kuskokwim Ice Jam For K300

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-13 15:53

Oscar Samuelson helped with clearing the ice jam near Kalskag. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Leary)

After a strange freeze up and a couple winter thaws, the Kuskokwim 300 will follow the Kuskokwim River exclusively from Bethel to Aniak and back on the same trail.

Race manager Zach Fansler says the giant ice jam below Kalskag near Coffee’s Bend has been cleared.

“They went through with an ATV and with a snowmachine to kind of test the depths, then they used preliminarily a dozer from Upper Kalskag, went through and kind of cleared an initial path, then they used a truck plow I think to go from Kalskag to Aniak to clear the initial pass,” Fansler said. “Then they followed that with some heavy-duty graders that were I think from the Traditional Village of Napaimute.”

Ice jam below Kalskag. (Photo Courtesy of BSAR)

The ice jam formed on the river in November and consists of about four miles of sheets and boulders of ice three to five feet tall. The Kuskokwim 300 is an approximately 300-mile long sled-dog race that usually includes some trails off the river, but with almost no snow on the ground and icy conditions, organizers decided to stick to the river. Clearing a trail through the ice jumble was made possible through joint funding and manpower from nine organizations and tribes in the area.

“It’s still bumpy and windy, were gonna keep working on improving it and the weather will help,” Mark Leary, a resident of Napaimute who was part of the crew said. ”If it snows it’ll get better, if it rains it’ll get better, and people driving on it more and more it’ll get better.”

Before they cleared a path through the ice jam, Leary says it was nearly impossible to get through it.

“Well it was hard and slow, there was no danger, there’s always some risk involved when you’re working on the ice but everybody that was involved is experienced,” he said. “We were just glad when we were through it, we were glad, everybody shook hands and we talked about how to keep working on it to make it better and safer for everybody.”

Leary says this is the third a jam like formed in his lifetime, and the first time so many village organizations have gotten involved. The Kuskokwim 300 race is scheduled to start Friday, Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. 31 mushers are signed up.

Learn more at the K300 here.

Categories: Alaska News

Meyer Decides Against Pierre Contract For Press Work

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-13 15:41

The incoming Alaska Senate president has decided against hiring a former state military affairs official to help the Senate majority press office this session.

Sen. Kevin Meyer last week told colleagues he had decided to hire McHugh Pierre on contract to work in the press shop. But details had not been worked out, and no contract had been signed.

Pierre last year was asked to resign his job as a deputy commissioner in the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs as part of a leadership change following a scathing report on problems within the Alaska National Guard. Pierre said he did nothing wrong.

Meyer told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Pierre could have become a distraction for the caucus.

Categories: Alaska News

Habitat Director Out, As Walker Administration Shifts Approach To Permitting

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 23:38

(Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

When Gov. Bill Walker took office, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was in the midst of overhauling its habitat policies. Management plans for 3 million acres of fish, bird, bear, and moose habitat were being rewritten in a way that could allow more development. The way Division Director Randy Bates described the approach in a 2013 interview with APRN was: “The idea is can we get to yes instead of can we justify no.”

Now, Bates has been removed from his position, and the new administration wants to reevaluate the state’s approach to land management. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The Habitat Division was all set to release its first batch of revisions in December. They were overhauling plans for the McNeil River refuge, a popular grizzly viewing destination, and for Potter Marsh in Anchorage and the Mendenhall Wetlands in the Mat-Su. But when Republican Sean Parnell lost his reelection bid for governor, all of that was put on hold.

The new Fish and Game commissioner, Sam Cotten, says there were concerns that the management overhaul would reduce the level of public involvement. He says he wants people to have a greater role in land management decisions.

“And it appears that wasn’t the practice in this instance,” says Cotten.

Because of that, Habitat Director Randy Bates has stepped down from his position. Gov. Bill Walker accepted his resignation on Monday, and is currently considering candidates for the vacancy.

Bates began changing his division’s approach to management plans in 2013. Before that, management plans involved a multi-phase review process that involved stakeholders working through the rules with state biologists. The plans often contained sections on local knowledge, on research, and on education and outreach.

The new approach would limit the opportunities for public involvement to one comment period, with plans released in a batch instead of individually. Only one plan – the plan for the Dude Creek Critical Habitat Area in Gustavus – has been edited in the new style, and the draft removed the mission of cooperating with the community and considering cumulative impacts of different types of human activity. Sections prohibiting oil and gas extraction and mining were also rewritten so permits could be issued for those activities.

According to an internal e-mail leaked to APRN in 2013, habitat biologists were prohibited from discussing changes with the public without prior approval.

Bates did not respond to e-mails to his personal and work accounts for this story. But previously he has said the changes were necessary to simplify the habitat rules and to give Fish and Game more flexibility with the management of sensitive lands. But Bob Shavelson, the executive director of Cook Inletkeeper and a critic of the approach, says the watered down existing rules.

“‘Streamlining’ is a code for substantive rollbacks. It sounds good — it’s all about efficiencies, and making thing more predictable,” says Shavelson. “But in 100 percent of the cases we see the term ‘streamlining,’ it’s really about rolling back substantive protections. And what that meant in this case was cutting Alaskans out of their rightful role in shaping these policies for our critical habitat areas across the state.”

Shavelson was part of a campaign to stop the revisions of the management plans. This fall, nearly 1,000 people signed a petition expressing displeasure with the new approach. Shavelson says the removal of leadership is a sign their message is getting through.

“This should be a public process,” says Shavelson. “It shouldn’t be happening behind closed doors. We want to have a discussion about the management plans that guide the protection of these special areas across this state.”

Bates is the second Fish and Game director to be removed since Walker took office. His resignation is one of a number of personnel changes that signal a shift from the Parnell administration’s approach to land management.

In December, the governor accepted the resignation of Doug Vincent-Lang, who directed the Division of Wildlife Conservation. Vincent-Lang was also involved with the special areas revisions and has attracted complaints from conservationists, who most recently opposed his decision to terminate a monitoring program at the Round Island walrus sanctuary.

That same week, Walker also installed Sam Cotten, a former Democratic legislator, as his interim Fish and Game commissioner. Cotten has openly criticized one of the Parnell administration’s major priorities, a permitting bill known as House Bill 77 that failed after conservation, fishing, and Native groups fought against it. Last year, Cotten cut an ad attacking former Natural Resource Commissioner and now-Sen. Dan Sullivan for promoting that bill.

Cotten says that when it comes to land management and permitting, the Walker administration does not plan to follow his predecessor’s lead.

“I think we’ll see a different approach there,” says Cotten.

He expects a replacement for Bates will be named later this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Adak Fish Plant Seeks Additional Operators

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 17:55

The community of Adak depends on its fish processing plant for jobs and tax revenue. But they’ve struggled to keep the lights on over the years.

Now, the plant’s latest operator is looking for new partners to help shoulder the financial burden.

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The Adak Cod Cooperative formed in 2013, when two businessmen with experience in salmon fisheries decided to branch out.

Adak’s processing plant opened in 1999 — two years after the Navy closed down operations on the island. (Photo via KUCB)

They signed a 20-year lease for the facility on Adak. And they agreed to pay more than $2 million to the city government for the equipment inside.

But after one season processing Pacific cod, the owners decided they couldn’t continue on their own.

Rudy Tsukada is the president for Aleut Enterprise, which owns the factory building. He says it presents a lot of financial challenges.

“From our perspective, that facility — I would not say it’s a huge moneymaker, if any,” Tsukada says. “It’s more of an economic driver for the entire community. And of course that includes fuel sales for my subsidiary [Adak Petroleum] as well.”

The high cost of energy has been a stumbling block for some tenants at the fish plant. When Icicle Seafoods walked away from their lease after just two years, the company cited concerns about the Pacific cod stock.

But Adak Cod Cooperative is still in the picture. Tsukada says they’ve been negotiating with large processing conglomerates and smaller businesses to take over operations.

As far as the landlord is concerned, Tsukada says Aleut Enterprise would prefer to have both.

“We have 15 to 20 million pounds of potential cod landings for the Tridents, the Icicles of the world,” he says. “But we also have room for things like specialty live crab, a decent halibut fishery, as well as a black cod fishery.”

Those products could be packaged up fresh and flown off the island, generating revenue from air freight. Adak city manager Layton Lockett says that’s especially important now that the community’s federal flight subsidies are up for renewal.

Alaska Airlines has been flying jets to Adak under a two-year, $4 million Essential Air Service agreement. Before it expires in October, the Department of Transportation is taking proposalsfrom interested airlines.

In the meantime, Lockett and Tsukada say the deal to operate Adak’s fish plant could be finished by the end of January.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 12, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 17:50

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

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Transportation Commish Ousted Following Defense Of Project

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The head of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Commissioner Pat Kemp, stepped down today.

Young, Credited With Effectiveness, Says Personality is Part of his M.O.

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska Congressman Don Young was sworn in today for his 22nd term, having missed the main swearing-in last week due to the death of his brother. Recent research by two political scientists say Young is one of the 20 most effective lawmakers in the U.S. House.  Nationally, though, he is more known for his big, sometimes brash personality.

Lonnie Dupre Becomes First Ever January Denali Soloist

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

History has been made on North America’s highest peak. On Sunday, Lonnie Dupre became the first solo climber to summit Denali in the month of January.

Juneau Assembly Considers Moratorium On Legal Pot Shops

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Assembly will vote Monday on two measures restricting the manufacture, sale and use of legal marijuana in the city.

Anchorage Legislators Consider Ways To Cut Capital Costs

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Before heading to Juneau, Anchorage Legislators are listening to community input on ways to cut state spending. They hosted a listening session on Saturday at the Loussac Library. Some community members urged the legislature to cut local capital projects, like the U-Med District Northern Access Road.

Adak Fish Plant Seeks Additional Operators

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The community of Adak depends on its fish processing plant for jobs and tax revenue. But they’ve struggled to keep the lights on over the years. Now, the plant’s latest operator is looking for new partners to help shoulder the financial burden.

News-Miner to Begin Requiring Electronic Subscriptions for Frequent Online Visitors

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner will soon begin charging a fee to frequent visitors to its website. The so-called “paywalls” are a growing trend in the U.S. newspaper industry, used by some as way to recoup revenue lost to online news sites. But many in the newspaper industry disagree over whether paywalls hurt or help online readership. And that disagreement is being played out between the Alaska’s two top news sites.

Ice Sculptures Take Shape In Downtown Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Artists wielding chainsaws and drills spent three days this weekend carving blocks of ice into salmon and sea-dragons in downtown Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Sculptors Bring Cubism, Chainsaws to Chunks of Ice in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 17:25
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Artists wielding sanders and drills spent three days this weekend carving blocks of ice into salmon and sea-dragons in downtown Anchorage, showcasing all you can create out of a one-and-a-half ton block of frozen water.

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The Crystal Gallery of Ice is comprised of a series of sparkling ice sculptures spread over the winding walkway of Town Square on Anchorage’s 6th Avenue, beside the Performing Arts Center.

Families and smartphone-photographers alike swarmed around two figures inspired by Pablo Picasso’s cubist paintings as the whirl of power-tools rose and fell.

“The piece is called ‘Symphony in Ice,’ says Carol Lewando, an art teacher with the Anchorage Public Schools, and one half of the sculpting team. “We wanted to make musicians, so one is a tall bass player, and the other one is a guitar–or you could say a mandolin, depending on the size.”

Lewando and her husband have carved a piece in the annual event for the last 15 years.  They were one of eight teams competing. And in between greeting students and acquaintances, Lewando is put the finishing touches on the glassy surfaces of the stocky guitarist while the sun set.

“Once we get pretty much finished then we start playing around with texture,” Lewando explained. “It’s amazing how all our pieces have all transformed from a 3,000 pound block of ice that was six feet tall by four feet by two feet–it’s just fascinating,” she added with a laugh.

The particular type of ice used in the Crystal Gallery is called “Arctic Diamond,” and was hauled down from Fairbanks by rail and road through corporate donations. The three day event is sponsored by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, drawing teams from all over Alaska, and from as far away as Harbin, China.

Lewando loves how easily ice can be molded into new shapes with chainsaws and chizzles, and the way sunlight, temperature, and wind all change the works from minute to minute.

“Really the reward is starting and finishing and not getting injured,” she throws in jovially, “and creating something beautiful.”

A sculpture of a mythological dragon titled “Kirin” by William Hartgrove and John Trescott took first place. But “Symphony in Ice” made off with the Carver’s Choice Award

Lewando hopes people will come look at the works now through February, as the weather reclaims each statue. Although with ice carving, that is par for the course.

Categories: Alaska News

State Transportation Commissioner Steps Down

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 16:59

The head of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Commissioner Pat Kemp, stepped down today.

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Walker’s spokesperson Grace Jang says Walker accepted Kemp’s resignation because their philosophies and objectives were not aligned.

On December 24th, Walker sent out an administrative order directing agencies to halt discretionary spending on six projects, and to submit funding status reports on the projects.

Jang says Kemp’s position on the Knik Arm bridge and the Juneau Access Road were at odds with the Governor’s position:

“Commissioner Kemp stated in his memo that he essentially is taking a different stance than the governor,” Jang said. “And, like I said, all commissioners serve at the pleasure of the governor.

For his part, Kemp says he didn’t resign, he retired. He says he had already emptied his desk when the new administration asked him to stay on as acting Commissioner. He says he thought the memo was a status report, not a position paper.

“I sent the memo to the governor and OMB director and just gave the facts on the two projects on federal payback and things like that,” Kemp said. “I had no idea i was not in line with the governor’s ideas.”

In his memo, Kemp said halting or delaying the projects likely will result in penalties from federal funding agencies. He said they’d been authorized by repeated Legislative appropriations, and are cost-effective opportunities to improve transportation.

Categories: Alaska News

Allen Moore Wins Copper Basin 300

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 16:23

Two Rivers musher Allen Moore has won the Copper Basin 300 for the third year in a row.

This is Moore’s sixth overall win in the mid-distance sled dog race. In the past, Moore has called the race the “mini-Yukon Quest,” for of it’s notoriously challenging trail and often extreme weather conditions.

This year’s race saw temperatures of 20 degrees above zero and warmer, with some snow falling Sunday along the 300-mile loop trail that starts and finishes in Glenallen.

Teams did not face any major weather, but warm conditions made for open water on the trail. In all 49 teams started the race Saturday. Three have scratched.

Behind Moore was Ray Reddington, Junior, placing second. Teams will continue to cross the finish line through the night and into tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Young, Credited With Effectiveness, Says Personality is Part of his M.O.

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 16:07

Alaska Congressman Don Young was sworn in today for his 22nd term. He’s starting the term a week later than his peers, having missed the main swearing-in last week due to the death of his brother.  But he’s ready to drop a passel of bills

“We will be introducing a whole bunch ‘em …. ANWR of course,” He said today, looking over his list. “Niblack and Bokan mountain area, Kiln drying bill, Alexander Creek recognition bill — we’re going to move that finally —  Alaska Native migratory bill, (and the)  Alaska national archives bill, Alaska Native Corporations conservation easement bill.”

If the past is any guide, he stands a better than average change of getting his bills to move through Congress.  In a new book by two political science professors, the Alaska Congressman is held up as one of the most able Republicans in House of Representatives.

“The reason we wrote him up in the book and list him among our top 20 representatives over the last 40 years, is that he keeps coming up in the top 10 in his party,” says Craig Volden, of the University of Virginia. He and co-Author Alan Wiseman wrote “Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress.” They analyzed all of the House bills introduced from 1973 through 2012 to gauge the legislative effectiveness of each member.

“So we traced what did they sponsor, how far did it move through the process, how was it reported on, what did they say about why they were pursuing the legislative strategies that they were, and so on,” Volden said.

He says Young scored highly year after year. He was 11th in his freshman term, out of nearly 200 Republicans. Eight times, according to their formula, Young was the No. 1 most effective Republican. When he chaired the House Natural Resources Committee Young was really at the top of his game, Prof. Volden says, even when compared to other chairmen.

“We traced all of the chairs of that committee and he was right on there with Mo Udall who famously ran that committee for more than a decade,” he said. “Committee chairs, we find, are effective for a variety of reasons. Some are effective because they draw attention to new issues or they reach across party lines and it seemed that in that position Rep. Young used both of those sets of skills.”

And yet, these aren’t the qualities that typically earn Young national headlines. He’s better known for his feistiness and for making brash remarks he sometimes has to apologize for. Even the animal heads in his office have drawn more attention than his legislative effectiveness. Professor Volden says these qualities weren’t part of the research. He credits Young’s specialization. In the book, Volden describes Young’s legislative strategy as “All Alaska, all the time.”

Zack Fields, spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party, says it’s not so impressive that Young specializes in Alaska.

“You’d certainly hope that he would since he’s the only Alaska member” Fields said.

Fields knocks the study’s methodology because it only looks at bills a member sponsors, so it doesn’t take into account other ways members exhibit their effectiveness, such as by convincing their colleagues to tuck a bill into must-pass legislation. Very few stand-alone bills pass these days, so Fields says it’s not a good measure of effectiveness.

Young says he’s not surprised by his high rankings, because he’s been keeping track, too. And he says if that’s not what he’s known for — well, that’s all part of his M.O.

“It is something I’ve used all my life, that I try not to appear — and it’s not hard to do — very bright. It throws people a little bit off,” he said.

Young says to achieve what he’s elected to do, he uses every wily tactic he can.

Categories: Alaska News

Lonnie Dupre Becomes First Ever January Denali Soloist

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-12 15:42

(Photo credit: John Walter Whittier)

History has been made on North America’s highest peak. On Sunday, Lonnie Dupre became the first solo climber to summit Denali in the month of January.

The news of Lonnie Dupre’s summit came early on Sunday afternoon. His support team received a message from Dupre’s GPS locator that he had made it to the top of North America’s highest peak.

This attempt to be the first successful January soloist on Denali is Dupre’s fourth. His previous tries were thwarted by bad weather high on the mountain. Last Thursday, Lonnie Dupre shared via satellite phone his thoughts on being held back by poor conditions.

“There’s nothing worse than having to stay put, especially when you have eighteen hours of darkness every evening. It makes for very long nights. And, of course, just always having the weather pull the rug out from under you when you were psyched up to go somewhere or do some climbing,” Dupre said.

The weather did eventually break, and allowed Lonnie Dupre to make a summit attempt on Sunday morning. According to his GPS tracker, he reached the summit just after 2:00 pm.

(Photo credit: John Walter Whittier)

After receiving the GPS notification, Talkeetna Air Taxi pilot Paul Roderick says he took a plane up in an attempt to spot Lonnie Dupre on the descent, which can be just as dangerous as the climb in the winter.

“We were concerned, because the winds were picking up, up high,” Roderick said. “It was gusting to thirty knots, and it didn’t look like a place you wanted to be.”

“From the report I just got, when he summited it wasn’t at windy, but he could feel it picking up, and he just raced off the top.”

Paul Roderick says he began looking in the area of the summit, fearing that Lonnie Dupre had been pinned down by the increasing wind. Then, with daylight fading, he started to look lower on Denali.

“We made it down lower, to about [17,000 feet], and we were getting knocked around pretty good…but luckily he had his headlamp,” Roderick said. “As I was looking at the [17,200 foot] camp, just maybe ten minutes out, we could see this light beaming up at us…It was a good thing to see.”

With weather potentially building to the south, Lonnie Dupre is not wasting any time in his descent.  Paul Roderick says Dupre left his camp at 17,200 feet before 4:00 a.m. Monday and could reach base camp at 7,200 feet by Tuesday afternoon, where he will await his flight back to Talkeetna.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Legislators consider ways to cut capital costs

APRN Alaska News - Sat, 2015-01-10 18:45

Before heading to Juneau, Anchorage Legislators are listening to community input on ways to cut state spending. They hosted a listening session on Saturday at the Loussac Library. Some community members urged the legislature to cut local capital projects, like the U-Med District Northern Access Road.

Legislators take comments in the Assembly Chambers at the Loussac Library.

Anchorage Resident Kalen Saxton told legislators that money should be redirected from the road project to the school district because the road would not help current traffic problems on Bragaw near East High or near the Alaska Native Charter School.

State House Minority Leader Chris Tuck from southeast Anchorage says funding for some local capital projects should be redirected.

“We’re not going to be able to fund every project, especially the controversial ones. So I think this is an area where we may have to hold back for a while and take care of the necessary needs that the public expects from us.”

Tuck says that includes the money for the $20 million U-Med Access Road and the $2 million South Anchorage High School Stadium. The controversial stadium was approved by the municipality’s planning and zoning commission last week. Tuck says state funds can be reallocated, though projects with federal funding are more complicated.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux from northeast Anchorage, who co-chaired the session, says she won’t comment on which Anchorage projects should or should not be funded.

“You know I’m just going to wait until we get down to Juneau and hear all about these projects. I’m not going to speculate right now about what I want to get rid of and what I want to make sure happens.”

LeDoux says she will also be looking closely at how the Anchorage School District is spending its money. Community members spoke both in favor and against increasing education funding during the listening session.

The state’s legislative session begins on January 20. Governor Bill Walker has already put funding on hold for six megaprojects including the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project, the Knik Arm Crossing, and the roads to Juneau and to Ambler.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 17:34

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

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Lawmakers Begin Releasing Prefiled Bills

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

In eleven days, the 29th Legislature will gavel in. In preparation, lawmakers have released the first batch of bills they plan to consider. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what’s been offered.

Halcro Files Letter Of Intent In Anchorage Mayor’s Race

The Associated Press

Former Alaska legislator Andrew Halcro has filed a letter of intent to run for mayor of Anchorage.

Juneau Resident In Paris During Attack On Charlie Hebdo Magazine

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau resident Henry DeCherney arrived in Paris on Monday as part of an extended holiday traveling in Europe. He was there for Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 12 dead and today’s dual hostage situation, which killed four. The two main suspects in Wednesday’s attack and an associate were killed as well.

Mat-Su Borough Seeks Railroad Funds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Hopes for state help for Matanuska Susitna Borough capital projects are plunging along with the price of oil, which is at about fifty dollars a barrel.  But, there is at least one piece of encouragement in the bleak outlook.

Blue Crest Plans New Onshore Wells, LNG Shipments

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The oil and gas boom continues in Cook Inlet. At the annual Kenai Peninsula Industry Outlook Forum this week in Kenai, new oil and gas player Blue Crest, based in Fort Worth, made some of the biggest announcements.

Alaska Skiers Placing Well In National Championships

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska skiers continue to post top results at the U.S. cross country ski championships in Michigan. Yesterday, Alaska Pacific University skier Rosie Brenan won her second straight title in chilly Houghton, Michigan, taking the women’s 20 kilometer classic event.  She was joined by thre APU teammates in the top 10.

APU skiers also fared well in the men’s 30 K race, with Lex Treinen in second, and 4 others in the top 10.

AK: The Art of Medicine

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Physicians spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix the human body. A group of young doctors in Anchorage recently had the chance to draw it instead. They are all overworked, over tired interns-midway through their first year of residency. But they spent a morning in an intro to drawing class in an effort to get them to think more creatively about their careers.

Essay: The Experience Of An Art Model

Valerie Waldrop

We’re heading deep into the AK archives for an essay on what’s its like to be an art model – bare naked in front of a room of artists. Local writer Valerie Waldrop was an art model in college to pay the bills.

Categories: Alaska News

In First Batch Of Early Bills, No Big Ticket Items

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 17:14

In a little over a week, the 29th Legislature will gavel in. In preparation, lawmakers have released the first batch of bills they plan to consider. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joined us to talk about what’s been offered.

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How is the Legislature’s workload shaping up?

The number of pre-filed bills is actually pretty standard. 59 bills and 4 proposed constitutional amendments were released today, which is comparable to the number of early bills filed in the past few sessions. A lot of are bills from the last Legislature that, for whatever reason, just didn’t make it across the finish line — like a bill that would regulate smoking in restaurants, bars, taxis, really any public or semi-public indoor space.

The thing that stands out to me, though, is that unlike the last Legislature, we’re not seeing any ambitious infrastructure bills in this early release. Last cycle, we had early bills to let the state build a small-diameter gasline on its own, or let the state move forward on the development of a bridge over the Knik Arm. Many of the bills offered this go round don’t even look like they’ll need a fiscal note to determine how much they could cost the state.

That’s almost certainly by design. With the state looking at a multi-billion dollar shortfall, any bill that isn’t going to be zero cost will face an extra level of scrutiny.

So, are most of these bills small-bore then?

That depends on your definition. A lot of them do seem to be pretty narrow in scope, like a bill to create a Great Alaska Earthquake Remembrance Day and legislation to exempt Alaska from daylight savings time. There’s one bill that caught my eye that would prohibit the manufacture or sale of cosmetics containing plastic beads — like those exfoliating body washes. (Apparently they’re mearly impossible to deal with when they end up in the water supply.)

But there are some pre-filed bills that tackle important issues even if they don’t cost money . Legislation known as Erin’s Law deals with the problem of child sexual abuse, and has a good shot of passing this Legislature. It nearly made it through last year, but was held up in what looked like a legislative game of chicken between the House and Senate, where the respective bodies wouldn’t advance legislation until the other side did what it wanted. It also didn’t help that it was originally introduced by a member of House’s Democratic minority, as minority bills often have a hard time of moving through the Legislature.

Now, two separate versions of the Erin’s Law bill have been introduced, one by the Democrat, Rep. Geran Tarr, who pushed for it last time, and one by House Majority Leader Charisse Millett. Because who introduces it matters, having a Republican in leadership push for it increases its odds of getting through.

Can you tell us about the constitutional amendments that are being introduced?

Well, an amendment to change the structure of the judicial council has been introduced again, by Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly. That amendment would have added more public members to the board and weakened the influence of the attorney representatives. It made it all the way through the committee process and was even scheduled for the floor, but it was ultimately pulled after it didn’t have enough votes from senators who were concerned it could politicize the way justices are selected.

There’s also an amendment that would strike the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman from the Alaska Constitution. Gay couples are already allowed to be married because of a circuit court decision last year, but this would clean the language up from the Constitution.

What we’re not seeing is any amendments to create dedicated funds for, say, transportation. There’s also no revival of an amendment to let public funds go to private schools. Of course, just because these things haven’t been filed yet, doesn’t mean they can’t come later.

Another batch of early bills will be released next week. Is there anything in particular you’re watching out for?

Well we know that the Legislature plans to deal with marijuana. Rep. Bob Lynn has said he wants to introduce legislation to keep marijuana retail sales far from school, and Sen. Lesil McGuire has said she’s thinking of legislation to create a marijuana control board. But the only bill released today that has anything to do with marijuana is one dealing with industrial hemp.

Because there’s a strict implementation timeline for the marijuana regulation initiative that passed this year, the nascent marijuana industry in this state will be keeping an eye on how quickly the Legislature decides to take up the issue.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Resident In Paris During Attack On Charlie Hebdo Magazine

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 16:47

Juneau resident Henry DeCherney arrived in Paris on Monday as part of an extended holiday traveling in Europe. He was there for Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 12 dead and today’s dual hostage situation, which killed four. The two main suspects in Wednesday’s attack and an associate were killed as well.

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Categories: Alaska News

Borough Seeks Railroad Funds

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 16:45

The price of oil briefly dipped below fifty dollars a barrel early this week, highlighting state budget concerns.  Governor Bill Walker has issued a statement putting six major state – funded projects on hold.. among them, the Knik Arm Crossing and the Susitna- Watana Dam. Both those projects were slated for the Mat-Su. Missing from the governor’s hit list, however, is a state appropriation for the final phases of the Port MacKenzie rail spur linking the Port with Alaska Railroad’s main line in Houston.

 John Moosey, Mat Su Borough manager, told a joint session of the Anchorage Assembly and the Borough Assembly on November 14 that it will take 120 million dollars to finish constructing the Port MacKenzie rail spur. Moosey told the panel that several investors are waiting, like California based WesPac, which is ready to build an LNG facility at the port, but the plan is contingent on rail link access.

“We need to have some funding to keep this in step.  Because if the WesPac project goes, they will need rail service in two years. And we are also working with REI, which has a Japanese market.  So, our problem with how the state has been dribbling out the money is that we can really not tell our customers when the rail will be complete.  It has always been our top priority every year for the past seven years. The legislature has been good at getting us the funds.”


 The legislative appropriation for the rail spur is at the top of the Borough’s wish list, approved by the Borough Assembly in the fall. The rail link between Houston and the port is necessary to make Port MacKenzie a viable economic engine for the Borough and the rest of the state, according to Moosey.

 But the Borough’s priority list,  and Moosey’s November comments, were made before oil prices went into freefall in December.

The total cost of the rail link is estimated to be 272 million dollars. Part of the spur has been completed, but the Borough needs the state to ante up more money to complete the job.

Within a month of his election, Governor Walker released a trimmed down version of the state budget that cuts spending by some 600 million dollars, with capital projects taking the brunt of the cuts.  

But  Moosey is not losing optimism concerning the rail spur appropriation, for several reasons.

“With this latest drop in oil prices.. we are very heavily dependent, as everybody knows, on state oil. By finishing up this rail project, it helps us to bring additional resources to the market to really give us a piece to help diversify the Alaska economy.So, with that, we think we have a great opportunity here.”

Moosey says the rail spur is 2/3rds  complete, and he is meeting today [Friday ] with LNG producer WesPac. WesPac wants to build an LNG plant at Port MacKenzie to ship LNG to Fairbanks, possibly competing with a state plan to truck LNG from the North Slope. Moosey says the WesPac project would be funded entirely by private money, cutting state costs in the process.

“There has been a push and quite a bit of investment on energy and planning on bringing North Slope LNG down to Fairbanks. And that investment was going to be at least 300 million $ from the state. The WesPac project which will bring to the city gate cheaper product, does not have a single dollar investment from the state of Alaska.  So that is one good point. ”

In December, Governor Walker announced a state agreement with Japan- based REI to construct an LNG export facility at Port Mac. The gas would come from Cook Inlet. Teddy Pease, a staffer at REI’s Anchorage office, says the shipments do not depend on rail access to the Port MacKenzie dock.

Construction of the rail spur has come under criticism by some conservation groups, notably Cook Inletkeeper, because of concerns about costs and about possible impact on salmon habitat.

 In August of last year, Joe Perkins, the Borough’s executive for the rail extension project, told the Borough Assembly that the rail project is over budget and behind schedule. Work on the rail link started in 2008, but Perkins said that the way it had been funded, through yearly legislative appropriations, had not worked to keep costs down.

“We had intended to have the train running by now, had we received sufficient funding to do that. So, we have had some impacts from delays in funding. Our construction management people are having to stay a considerable number of years past what we have anticipated, same thing with our engineering people. So, again, the way this thing has been funded with eight different appropriations and some more to come, has certainly increased our costs.”

 The rail spur construction was divided into six segments. Three are complete, and another near completion. Perkins said that a major cause of cost over-runs were delays spurred by litigation against the project filed by the Sierra Club and Cook Inletkeeper.  The lawsuits caused stop work orders which lasted months. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has since given the go ahead for the project.

Categories: Alaska News

Blue Crest Plans New Onshore Wells, LNG Shipments

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 16:44

The resurgent boom continues in Cook Inlet. At the annual Kenai Peninsula Industry Outlook Forum this week in Kenai, new oil and gas player Blue Crest, based in Forth Worth, made some of the biggest announcements.

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CEO Benjamin Johnson says they’ve partnered with a California company called Wespac to build a new LNG facility that would make natural gas available across the state.

“Put it in small containers that can fit on barges, on rail cars, on trucks, and basically provide a cheap alternative to diesel fuel that most of the communities in the state are using.”

Johnson offered few details about what communities might provide a market for the gas, when it could be available or for how much. He says bringing in someone else to produce the gas will get it to market faster.

“They (Wespac) will drill these gas wells and they’ll deepen some into the oil zones. They’ll also put the platforms and pipelines in place. And then at some point after they’ve reached a minimum return, or are able to get their money back, then Blue Crest will come back in and begin owning the assets and eventually end up the majority owner.”

Wespac will own the gas producing portions of the fields, located near Anchor Point, while Blue Crest will operate them and several onshore oil wells it plans to drill in 2015 and 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: The Art Of Medicine

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 16:42

(Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Physicians spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix the human body. A group of young doctors in Anchorage recently had the chance to draw it instead. They are all overworked, over tired interns- halfway through their first year of residency. They spent a morning in an intro to drawing class in an effort to get them to think more creatively about their careers.

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At first, Doctor David Silbergeld wasn’t sure what to make of the drawing class that popped up on his schedule.

“I think my first thought was, ‘uh oh,’” he said.

Silbergeld’s dad teaches art history, so he’s had lots of exposure to art. But the last time he remembers producing any of it was a long, long time ago.

“When I was 4 or 5 years old I used to do art my dad said was amazing, and I have not done anything since then,” he said.

Silbergeld is in his first year of the Alaska Family Practice Residency in Anchorage. Since July, he has been whizzing through a series of challenging rotations, working 80 hours a week and getting very little sleep. But for a month in the depth of the winter, all of the residency’s interns have a break of sorts called ‘trans-cultural medicine.’ It’s like an extracurricular holiday- a feast of lessons in things like cultural diversity, wilderness survival and nutrition.

And for three hours one recent morning – drawing.

University of Alaska Anchorage art professor Garry Mealor is teaching the class in figure drawing. He explains the students will have 90 seconds to draw each pose the model takes. He offers a few quick pointers – like how to get the proportions right (a human figure is about eight heads tall).

Then the model takes off her robe and more than a dozen doctors start to draw. Silbergeld is clearly enjoying himself, but it isn’t easy. He develops a coping strategy early on.

“I simply can’t recreate the human head or the human face in any beautiful or realistic way, so I’ve sort of given up on that and I’ve focused more on the torso or to some extent the legs, and I’m more pleased now that I’m doing that,” Silbergeld said.

(Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

This is the fourth group of interns to take the drawing class. Dr. Susan Beesley, an Anchorage pediatrician, came up with the idea. Beesley thinks medicine is both a science and an art. She helped start an arts program at her medical school in Colorado. And she wanted to offer a small piece of that experience to the Alaska residents. Beesley likes that it pushes them out of their comfort zone.

“I think it’s important to think creatively when your subjects are humans,” Beesley said. ”Humans don’t really follow textbooks all the time and I think if you can integrate a little bit of creative thought into your healing practice that it will benefit both the doctors and the patients.”

Beesley also hopes the class offers the doctors a different perspective after six months of looking at disease and illness in the human body.

“Now we’re asking them to just look at it as a piece of art and think about it as just beautiful and miraculous and something that they can enjoy,” Beesley said.

The morning’s last challenge is to use different erasers to create an image of the model on paper blackened with charcoal, which Mealor assures is “going to be messy, but fun.”

(Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Silbergeld spends the rest of class immersed in his final piece of artwork.

“It took an hour to get me okay with it but I’m okay with it.”

Silbergeld isn’t exactly sure how this class may affect his decisions as a doctor three months, or even three years, from now. But he appreciates the chance to spend a morning thinking a little differently than his typical doctor routine allows.

“I think classes like this are a good reminder that sometimes when you do that physical exam you do need to step back and get that broader image of the human body when you’re seeing patients,” he said.

As he packs up, Silbergeld decides to take several of his drawings home. He says he’s not exactly ready to frame them, but he doesn’t want to give them up either.

Categories: Alaska News

AK Essay: Barenaked

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 16:41

Nude is what is it is called. Nude is artsy and sophisticated. But when I crumpled onto the small wooden platform, I was just plain old naked. And then when I crawled the several feet between me and my robe, I was even more naked.

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Apparently, I am told by everyone I have ever told this story to that if one stands with locked knees for too long with locked knees, one faints. Apparently, everyone knows this. I wish I could say collapsing onto a wooden platform, while naked, was the hardest thing that happened as an art model.

It wasn’t.

Walking into the classroom for the first time, naked under my robe, was harder than pretty much anything else I’ve done. Wedding day – easy. Childbirth – pudding. Climbing mountains – yawn city.

The classroom door had a small glass window that I could peer through. I saw them all in there, waiting. I had applied for the job. I had agreed to work. I did want the best paying college job on campus, but I could not open the door. Staying behind the door meant I could still run away. I told myself it would be good for me. I tried to think of other things that would be good for me, but scary, tweezing nose hairs, eating eggs without toast. I still couldn’t open the door.

I told myself the artists didn’t know me. After all, I was one of many models. I would act aloof. I would pretend experience. I would feign boredom, ‘Oh, naked in front of strangers again.’

I opened the door. I walked in. I stepped up on the stage.

“Here’s the model,” the instructor said, “Let’s make her feel welcome, it’s her first time.”

I had been naked before. I was naked before. In fact, I had been naked in front of other people, a few. Sure, it was more like slinking naked in front of one person, or dodging naked in front of another. I had never stood face on in front of 20. And certainly not face on in the bright light that streamed through the windows and surrounded by hot floodlights.

“Model, model – we’re ready,” the instructor said. My sweaty hand pulled the robe tie. My shoulder shrugged the robe off and tossed it off to the side. And then I stood there and didn’t breath. And I’m sure I didn’t breath for at least a couple of minutes.

I did note that that not breathing could cause fainting, so despite the thundering heartbeat in my ears, the cold sweat on my neck and an intense need to urinate, I eventually took a breath.

And then I modeled.

Although the first time was quite traumatic, when I’m asked what the hardest part of the job was, it wasn’t being barenaked, it was not moving. Unless one is getting paid to sit, or stand, or lie down motionless, I don’t think one would ever try this. One pose could last for 45 minutes. Let’s say it’s a reclining pose, one arm down on my back, the other arm bent and resting across my forehead. The pose feels fine, for a minute.

Three minutes into it, my arm, resting on my forehead, becomes heavy. Five minutes into it, my arm becomes The Arm. Eight minutes, I begin to worry about nerve damage to the arm. Then I worry about nerve damage to the forehead.  At 12 minutes, I’m certain the brain is at risk.  17 minutes, breathing, trying to stay calm. 21 minutes trying to pretend I am somewhere else, somewhere without a log pressing on my forehead.

26 minutes and  I’m walking on a white sandy beach.  Breath in, Breath out. 35 minutes and I’m sure I will quit, no job is worth brain damage. 42 minutes and I think about tweezing my nose hair. 45 minutes and the instructor says, “That will be all, model.”

And then using the arm that is still my arm to pry the arm that is a log off the forehead and then placing the log next to the body and then trying to get up, trying to pretend that it is easy to get up.

Stepping off the stage numb, aloof and barenaked.

Categories: Alaska News