Alaska News

Two Volcanoes Under Watch in the Aleutians

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 16:42

Two volcanoes in the Aleutian chain have been showing signs of activity for years, but recent satellite images prompted the Alaska Volcano Observatory to raise its alert level and aviation color code.

Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

Satellite imagery shows elevated surface temperatures in the summit crater at Cleveland Volcano, roughly 140 miles west of Dutch Harbor. John Power is the Scientist in Charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“So, we’re seeing warm ground, increased thermal activity at the summit.  Some of the radar images that we have suggest that new lava has been extruded forming a small lava dome in the volcano summit crater.”

Scientists at the AVO have raised the alert level for Cleveland to ‘advisory.’  The aviation color code has also been set to yellow.

“We have heightened the alert levels at Cleveland so that folks are aware that there is the possibility of increased hazards associated with any eruptive activity that might occur beyond what’s apparently already gone on.”

Cleveland volcano has been extremely active for the past decade. Power says it’s one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian Chain. But the majority of that activity has come in the way of small, long-term, low-level eruptions.

A similar scenario is playing out roughly 125 miles to the east of Dutch Harbor at Mt. Shishaldin.

“What we see there is Shishaldin has a very deep summit crater and down in the bottom there’s activity going on. We see increased temperatures again in satellite imagery and we believe that there’s active magma pooling deep inside that summit crater.”

Shishaldin is the tallest volcano in the Aleutians, towering more than 9000 feet above sea level. The alert level there is currently set to ‘watch.’ The aviation color code is orange. Power says the volcano occasional emits small amounts of ash.  He says Shishaldin has been in a low-level state of eruption for over a year.

Despite the recent increase in activity, Power says there’s no indication of any major eruptions from any of the volcanic centers throughout the Aleutian Chain.

Categories: Alaska News

55 Homes Destroyed by Sockeye, According to New Assessment

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 15:47

Officials with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough say 55 homes were destroyed by the Sockeye fire. That number is more than twice last week’s estimate before responders had contained the blaze.

The original number came before crews had access to the worst affected areas.

“They’ve been able–over the last few days–to get out, and for 13 hours a day walk properties, look around,” said Borough spokesperson Patty Sullivan, “and… look at what was actually destroyed.”

In addition to the homes, assessment teams logged another 44 properties with substantial damage to outbuildings.

“Sheds, or green houses, or even out-houses,” Sullivan listed. “Sometimes valuable things were stored in sheds, such as dog sleds. So while it might be an out-building it might still contain very dear items.”

338 properties have been assessed within the fire zone, the majority–238–of them showed no signs of structure damage. However, there are still some remote properties officials have not been able to reach.

Borough officials are holding a meeting Tuesday on next steps in the damage assessment process for those affected by the fire at the Willow Community Center from 4-8pm.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Alaska Ablaze With Lightning-Ignited Fires

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 15:46

Smoke is spreading over a large area of the state, as wildfire activity grows. There were 56 new wildfires Monday statewide, and 238 active, mostly in interior and southwest Alaska.

One of the top priority blazes in the interior is the Rex Complex Fire, burning off the Parks Highway north and south of Anderson. Alaska Interagency Coordination Center public information officer Timothy Evans says the complex consists of two fires: the over 4,000-acre  Fish Creek blaze, north of Anderson, and the much larger Kobe Fire to the southwest.

Evans says firefighters focus is on structure protection, adding that some homes have already been lost.

Meanwhile, Evans says two fires north of Fairbanks, off the Elliot Highway prompted evacuations in the Eureka area, while another blaze far to the west, threatens the Yukon River village of Nulato.

The fire spotted into Nulato yesterday, but Evans says fire fighters were able to save the community.

Numerous other interior blazes continue to crop up daily, primarily due to lightning. Those close to structures are getting responses, while others burning unchecked in remote country send smoke into populated areas. The 13 thousand acre Blair Fire, 40 miles south of Fairbanks is blamed for a dense haze that blankets the city.  With so many wildfires raging, Division of Forestry spokesman Jim Schwarber says the response is getting more complex.

So far this season, just under 500 wildfires have burned 324,000 acres, an early season total Schwarber describes as relatively modest.

National Weather Service meteorologist Don Aycock says fire conducive weather is forecast to continue this week, and smoke is expected be an issue for several days.

Aycock says some weather anticipated for later in the week could help the situation, and that weather systems could bring rain to the eastern Alaska Range and interior, but its unclear if that will extend west to Fairbanks.


Categories: Alaska News

Crews Stage in Kalskag to Quell An Upshot in Wildfires

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 15:21

Fire officials are moving crews off the Whitefish Lake fire to Lower Kalskag as a staging area for protecting homes and other communities threatened by fires. Crews had been working to establish a fire line on the northern edge, but are now changing strategy.

More than 70 wildfires burn in southwest Alaska. Map from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Francis Mitchell is with the state Division of Forestry.

“They would be there available for quick response to Kalskag, Chuathbaluk, Aniak, because there are fires near those communities,” said Mitchell.

Crews removed hose from along the western interior line so that it could be redeployed for structure protection. The fire grew more than 1500 acres going into Monday. It’s not controlled and has gone beyond the perimeter.

There are now more than 70 active fires in southwest Alaska, and 20 started Monday from lightning.

Because firefighters and aircraft are dealing with hundreds of fires around the state, only fires that directly threaten communities or occupied structures will receive staff.

Mitchell says the Kalskag crew is stationed near the runway to be ready to move.

“Ever changing and fluid, that’s kind of the way operations are today. The focus is on getting the few crews in the southwest area at staging points where they can be quickly deployed to fires that threaten life,” said Mitchell.

In Crooked Creek, crews laid down hose, set up sprinklers, and prepped the town for point protection. Fire personnel will continue to focus on the western edge of the town, while securing multiple structures and sites. The fire is still 3.5 miles from Crooked Creek.

The Yukon village of Nulato was evacuated yesterday as a fast moving fire threatened the villages. Residents traveled by boat to Galena. KTUU reports that about 50 people evacuated, and another 100 sheltered in place. The airport is socked in with smoke, so the only way to travel is by boat.

Officials say one secondary structure has been destroyed and 100 home are threatened. A burn ban remains in effect for southwest Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Enviros: Shell’s Arctic Plan Violates Walrus Rule

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 14:38

Environmental groups say they’ve found a fundamental flaw in Shell’s plan to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and they’re asking the government to rescind its approval. In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the groups say Shell’s plan to use two drill rigs at once violates a 2013 Fish and Wildlife regulation aimed at protecting walruses. The regulation says rigs have to be 15 miles away from each other during exploration work. The sites Shell plans to drill are just nine miles apart.

“Shell and the government may have backed themselves into a corner that neither can get out of compliant with the existing rules,” says Michael LeVine, a Juneau-based senior attorney with Oceana.

The government insisted on Shell using two rigs per season as a safety measure. That’s so one rig could drill a relief well in case of a blowout, and also to shorten the number of seasons needed for exploration. LeVine says requiring Shell to just keep one rig idle isn’t a solution.

“The plan that Shell submitted contemplates two rigs drilling simultaneously,” he said. “It’s not clear whether the government has or could approve a different plan.”

An Interior Department official said today the Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing Shell’s program to ensure it complies will all laws and minimizes any disturbance to walruses.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the company is still working with the government on the terms of the letter of authorization it requires to begin operations.

“All of our permit applications are based on sound science,” she said in an email.

Shell has received most of the approvals it needs. It has leased two drilling rigs for its Chukchi Sea work. The Polar Pioneer is already en route from Seattle to Dutch Harbor.

Environmental groups have repeatedly challenged the Chukchi Sea leases in court. The letter sent today suggests they haven’t given up.


Categories: Alaska News

Innovative Summer School Class Helps Students Succeed, Together

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 12:54

Students working on presentations at Central Middle School. From left: Edward Hazelton, Draven Maynard, Alissa Steinbich, and Kayleigh Godbee. Photo courtesy of Aura Beatty.

What happens when you throw a mix of middle school kids who all learn at different levels into one class then hand them a couple of college-level texts? An innovative, collaborative approach to teaching that gets students to pay attention. That’s what happened at a summer school class at Central Middle School.

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Soon-to-be ninth grader Draven Maynard didn’t choose to go to summer school.

“I failed social studies, and my mom said that I should go to summer school,” he admits. “I’m guessing as kind of a punishment rather than actual keeping up with classes, I guess.”

It’s the start of the second week and Maynard acts low-key, almost apathetic. He says forced writing isn’t his thing but for this summer….

“I like the writing class because it’s actually– most of the stuff that they are covering are things that I don’t mind writing about.”

The topic? Omnivore’s Dilemma–how do humans decide what to eat, especially in a world with factory farms, huge variety, and a changing food culture.

Two weeks later, Maynard’s apathetic front has trickled way. He’s taken over editing the PowerPoint slides for a group presentation on the merits of genetically modified foods.

“I’ve been the person who’s been going to each one and re-writing them to sound better, I guess,” he says while typing on his school laptop.

“He’s a hard worker,” chimes in Edward Hazelton, his new friend.

The pair had never met before this summer because they go to different schools. “I didn’t know them. I just imposed upon their group of friends,” Hazelton quips.

“He’s a good friend, though. Don’t worry,” Maynard assures me.

The students are a mix. Some are on the gifted track. Others have individual learning plans. Some just fly under the radar. But in summer school it doesn’t matter. Everyone has the same lessons, the same expectations.

The class is working from the young readers edition of Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, though some kids are sneaking in chapters of the adult version on the side. They’re also reading articles that challenge Pollen’s arguments.

Teacher Aura Beatty says the material is sparking conversations. “And they don’t always all agree with each other, but they’re still talking and thinking about their world. And they’re making connections about their world and their role in it.”

Reading teacher Amanda Brueschke, who is collaborating with Beatty, says the high level of interest from the mixed up group of kids is pulling the disengaged students into conversations because they see value what they’re doing.

They’re also asking the students to read chapters from a college-level book about the history of uranium.

“And I have kids who are no where near that as far as their reading level, but they’re so interested because the other kids are talking about it,” Brueschke says.

The two teachers say their high expectations are helping the kids take ownership over their work and their group presentations. But some students, like Hazleton don’t really realize it.

“There’s always the freeloaders and then there’s the really hard workers and then there’s the middlemen,” he says, reflecting on typical school group dynamics.

He says he falls somewhere between the middlemen and the freeloaders, Maynard, the self-appointed group leader, doesn’t see Hazleton that way.

“He does try,” Maynard says assuredly as Hazleton chats with another classmate. “And we really appreciate it. He’s a problem solver. He thinks of things that could help him do better work, and I think it’s a good trait to have.”

Though the material is complicated, Maynard thinks its good for everyone.”I think everyone of every variety can be in this class and actually learn something.”

But some students, like Madison Hill, will never agree. She says she would never take a class like this again.

“I actually don’t like language arts,” she confesses, though she tests very highly in the subject. “I mean, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just not my thing.”

Anchorage Middle School Summer Academy ends this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire crews stage in Lower Kalskag

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 12:38

Fire officials are moving crews  off the Whitefish Lake fire to Lower Kalskag as a staging area for protecting homes and other communities threatened by fires. Crews had been working to establish a fire line on the northern edge, but are now changing strategy.

Francis Mitchell is with the State Division of Forestry.

“They would be there available for quick response to Kalskag, Chuathbaluk, Aniak, because there are fires near those communities,” Mitchell said.

Crews removed hose from along the western interior line so that it could be redeployed for structure protection.  The fire grew more than 1,500 acres going into Monday. It’s not controlled and has gone beyond the perimeter.

There are now more than 70 active fires in southwest Alaska, and 20 started Monday from lightning.

Because firefighters and aircraft are dealing with hundreds of fires around the state, only fires that directly threaten communities or occupied structures will receive staff.

Mitchell says the Kalskag crew is stationed near the runway to be ready to move.

“Ever changing and fluid, that’s kind of the way operations are. The focus is on getting the few crews in the southwest area  at staging points where they can be quickly deployed to fires that threaten life,” Mitchell said.

Upriver in Crooked Creek, crews laid down hose, set up sprinklers, and prepped the town  for point protection. Fire personnel will continue to focus on the western edge of the town, while securing multiple structures and sites. The fire is still 3.5 miles from Crooked Creek.

A burn ban remains in effect for Southwest Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Guide academy helps locals land jobs at sport lodges

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 11:44

David Parks Jr. gives some casting tips to his client Sarah Pearl in the Kulik River. Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

For the past seven years, a mosaic of organizations including Bristol Bay Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, and BBEDC have run the Bristol Bay River and Guide Academy to train local kids in the art of fly fishing. The students spend a week at a lodge learning to be guides.

Jet boats hydroplane up the Kulik River and floatplanes skip across Lake Nonvianuk as Kulik Lodge comes alive for a day of fishing. David Parks Jr. of Iliamna is one of the 15 students at the academy. He stands in the crystal clear water of the Kulik with Sarah Pearl.

Sarah: “Could we possibility catch something right now?” David: “Well, I am trying to teach you how to cast first.”

Pearl works as a housekeeper at the Kulik Lodge but today she’ll pretend to be a client so Parks can test out the fly fishing and customer services skills he’s learned this week.

Before this week, Parks had never fly fished. He always liked fishing but grew up only with a typical rod and reel.

“It was either that or ice fishing,” added Parks.

The first time he had ever picked up a fly rod was the first day of class.

“The next day we had to come out here and fish so I spent like half the time just swaying my rod back and forth just trying to get that perfect swing,” said Parks.

The students had a week long crash course in fly fishing and what it takes to be a guide.

“Like tying flies, and making leaders, and making sure we had all out customer service skills down,” said Parks. “Making sure we got it down in our heads.”

Sonny Peterson is the owner of Kulik Lodge. He currently doesn’t have any Bristol Bay locals working for him but says they add a great value to services that a lodge like his can provide.

“People come up there and ask where you’re from and your guide says he’s from New York or Florida, you know, it doesn’t sound as good if he says he’s from Igiugig or Nondalton,” said Peterson.

The Bristol Bay River and Guide Academy was founded in part by Tim Troll. He also is the head of the Bristol Bay Land Trust. Troll says the time is about right for locals to play a bigger role in the lodge industry.

“It took 70 years in the commercial fishery before locals really broke into the commercial fishery and now the lodge industry has been here about 70 years,” said Troll.

Troll also used to be the President of Chogguing Limited in Dillingham. The native corporation owns a sport fishing lodge and he says shareholders would often ask him why no locals worked in the lodge.

“And I asked the operator that and he said, ‘Well, I need guys who fly fish.’ And Bristol Bay wasn’t producing any local fly fisherman,” said Troll. “There were maybe a handful. So that sort of planted the idea in the back of my head that if we are going to serve the industry, we have to produce somebody who can fly fish.”

In 2008, Troll was finally able to see that idea come to live with the first guide academy. This is the 7th academy and roughly 80 students have gone through the program and 4 have been placed as permanent employees and a few other internships at sport lodges in the region.

Troll says that even if most of the students don’t get jobs at a lodge, they can learn about an industry that is all around them. He says many of these students may someday be leaders in their native corporations, which often own or lease land to lodges.

“Just understanding the industry, how it works, how it operates, and also lodges from the other side understanding what village corporations are all about,” said Troll. “And trying to deal fairly with everybody and make it work.”

He also says it’s a way for the kids to get exposure to people from all over the world.

“The business leaders of the world come here. You get to mingle with these people. And who knows where that could take somebody,” said Troll.

Troll doesn’t think the lodge industry will ever be a major employer in the region but it could be a significant one.

Sonny Peterson, owner of Kulik Lodge, says a major hurtle to hiring locals as guides is that the work is only seasonal.

“You know, a local kid here, it’s tough for them because once this is over, that’s it. And unless they can figure out something to do the rest of the year,” said Peterson.

“It’s hard to have just a seasonal jump with a box of Tide costing 30 or 40 dollars,”echoed David Parks.

Parks will be starting a new job at the post office when he gets back to Iliamna but he would love the chance to work at a lodge if he could.

“If I had a job that would allow me to take a month off in the summer. Maybe I’ll work in the schools. Work at the schools in the winters, be a guide in the summer,” said Parks.

Whatever career path lays ahead for Parks, it’s evident that this academy has left an impression on him. He smiles wide as he talks about his experience at the camp.

“The best part about it was catching that fish with that fly rod with a fly that I tied myself,” said Parks.

Each student at the academy gets a fly rod to take home. Even if it doesn’t work out that Parks can be a guide someday. He says fly fishing is a new skill he’ll enjoy showing off to his friends at home.

Categories: Alaska News

3 insurers plan to leave Alaska individual health market

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 09:35

Thousands of Alaskans will have to find a new insurer after a shake-up in the state’s health insurance market.

Aetna and State Farm plan to stop offering individual plans in Alaska and Assurant Health plans to leave the health insurance market altogether. Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier says the companies covered fewer than 6,000 policyholders at the end of 2014. Two major insurers remain for individual policies.

Wing-Heier says the division is trying to contact another company licensed to write individual policies in Alaska to gauge its interest but that company hasn’t written that kind of policy in several years.

Aetna said it looked at factors including whether it could provide affordable plans in making its decision. Assurant is looking for a buyer for its health insurance business nationwide.

Categories: Alaska News

Repair planned for small leak in trans-Alaska pipeline

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 09:34

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is working on a repair for a small crude oil leak found in a buried section of the trans-Alaska pipeline, but for now an employee with a rag suffices for management.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the Alyeska’s Fairbanks shop is building a metal sleeve to contain the leak in a fitting between two pipes.

The company reported May 29 that the pipeline had leaked 10 gallons but Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan says it is now dripping less than a teaspoon a day.

Currently the company is sending an employee to wipe the fitting twice a day to manage the crude oil.

The trans-Alaska pipeline has seen several spills measured in hundreds or thousands of gallons. Egan says the drip is unusual.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska unemployment rate at 6.8 percent in May

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 09:31

Alaska’s preliminary unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent last month.

That compares to 6.7 percent in April and 6.9 percent in May 2014.

Alaska has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state with the highest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month was West Virginia, where unemployment stood at 7.2 percent.

The state labor department, in a release, says Alaska’s unemployment rate began to decline temporarily last fall after a policy change in unemployment insurance eligibility. But the department says the unemployment rate has since returned to “typical” levels.

The U.S. unemployment rate for May was 5.5 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

Race to Alaska: ‘Soggy Beavers’ Slog Into Ketchikan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-23 09:00

Teams continue to arrive at the finish line in Ketchikan for the inaugural Race to Alaska, an engineless boat race that started in Port Townsend, Wash. By late last week, all the finishing teams had been on sailboats. But Team Soggy Beavers relied almost 100 percent on human power.

Team Soggy Beavers was all smiles as they were cheered at the finish line Thursday. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Imagine paddling.

It’s not easy, right?

Now, imagine paddling for hours at a time.

Now imagine paddling for hours at a time every day for 11 days, sometimes facing 35-knot headwinds and 15-foot swells.

That’s Team Soggy Beavers: Six young, obviously energetic, potentially crazy Canadian guys, who paddled a small modified canoe for 750 miles.

When they paddled past the finish line at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, they were all smiles, and delighted to crack open a six-pack of beer waiting for them on the dock, which they grabbed while officially ringing the arrival bell.

Team Soggy Beavers paddled into Ketchikan Thursday afternoon, the seventh team to finish the Race to Alaska. (Photo by Leila Kheiry.)

They held onto their cold bottles of Kokanee while talking to well-wishers on the dock.

“Did you get some sleep the last couple of days?”

Like three or four hours a day. We started doing short shore sleeps, but we didn’t plan on sleeping on shore, so we didn’t have tents, so we just had to do that during the day when it was warm and not raining. Then we slept on the boat, otherwise.

Tanner Ockenden said the euphoria of finishing had taken over, so he was feeling pretty good at the moment, despite the lack of sleep.

He says the race was more challenging than anyone expected, and the headwinds made a sail they brought along useless for much of the trip.

“We just kept slogging, having a good time and making horrible crude jokes. It just kept us going the whole way. We used the sail for the first time on the crossing from Vancouver Island to Cape Caution. That was exciting. After that, we used it a handful of times running with the wind, but I’d say 90 percent of our motion was paddling.”

One memorable moment was paddling through Johnstone Strait, where he said they pushed through 100 kilometers of solid headwinds.

“All of it was pretty neat. We paddled mostly at nighttime, actually. It was calmer and we had to keep warm in the night, so it was like, alright, we’ll paddle at night and maybe sleep on a beach for an hour or two in the sunshine. That was beautiful. We had phosphorescence the whole time. Every paddle stroke was like leaving a footprint.”

The team members say they all still like each other, and nobody got too cranky during the journey. If someone did get a little testy, the other just decided he was hangry, and would give him an energy bar.

Speaking of food, energy bars were a primary source of nutrition.

“We had a lot of energy bars. Occasionally, we’d pull over and grab some food at the marina if we had the chance, once or twice we did that. We brought a lot of dehydrated food, so if we had the chance, we’d make food on shore. But most of the time it was energy bars, sausage and cheese. I had two jars of peanut butter. That was nice.”

Team Soggy Beavers paddles past the finish line at Thomas Basin. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Among the greeters on the dock was Alan Carley of Team Por Favor. That three-person team was in second place for a long time, but in the end they were edged out for the second-place prize – by a margin of four minutes – by another sailing boat, MOB Mentality.

Carley, also a Canadian from Victoria, B.C., isn’t unhappy with the third-place finish.

“It was about comradery, it was about friendship, it was about the adventure of coming here. It was intended to be a little more of a cruise. It developed into a race. That was kind of accidental.”

Carley recalls one moment of the trip that stood out for him: a six-hour stop on a beach along the way.

“We stopped, we caught a fish, we barbecued it, and then we got three-hours sleep. That was definitely a highlight. For three hours, we were awake, catching fish and laughing, and got a three hour nap, which was really great, then we were back underway.”

That was the only time during their approximately 8-day sail that all of Team Por Favor slept at the same time. He says they each took individual breaks throughout the trip.

Carley adds that Ketchikan has been welcoming to all the arriving race teams.

“We’ve been tearing around in floatplanes, we’ve been running down here intermittently to cheer on the teams, and there’s even talk of more sailing.”

Speaking of more sailing, there are still Race to Alaska boats on their way to Ketchikan. The race doesn’t officially end until July 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, June 22, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 17:42

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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‘Fairbanks Four’ Suspect Paroled

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

One of four Fairbanks men fighting for exoneration from murder convictions was paroled last week.

Economic Report Assesses Potential for A Recession in Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The state released a report last week with the ominous title, “The Great Alaska Recession.” It’s written by Juneau economist Greg Erickson, who was commissioned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to produce a report on the economic impact of Medicaid Expansion.

GOP Presidential Candidate Announces Alaska Team

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Of the throng of Republicans known to be running for president, the state party says Marco Rubio is the first to announce an Alaska team.

Wildfire Threatens Nulato; Village Evacuates Upriver

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Dozens of new wildfires are burning around interior and western Alaska, as widespread lightning continues to cause new starts. An Alaska Interagency Coordination Center report listed 47 new fires Monday morning, with 186 active blazes state-wide.

Conflicting Water Rights at the Heart of Chuitna Mining Debate

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

PacRim Coal is proposing a strip mining operation on the west side of Cook Inlet, in the Chuitna watershed. It proposes removing the water completely from a tributary of the Chuitna River, which is a salmon stream.  On August 21st, there will be a public hearing in Anchorage about the reservation of water applications for the area near the proposed mine.

Breaking the Link Between Childhood Trauma And Suicide

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

About 200 people in Juneau have joined forces to break the link between childhood trauma and suicide. They took part in a two-day suicide prevention conference last week.

Online Map Keeps Tabs on the Lay of Juneau’s Cemetery

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A grease-smudged stack of 25 fading sheets of paper in a storage shed is one of only two copies of who’s buried where in Evergreen Cemetery. All the burials since 1986 are hand-written. Now that’s about to change.

Categories: Alaska News

Economic Report Assesses Potential for A Recession in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 17:41

The state released a report last week with the ominous title, “The Great Alaska Recession.” It’s written by Juneau economist Greg Erickson, who was commissioned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to produce a report on the economic impact of Medicaid Expansion.

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Categories: Alaska News

GOP Presidential Candidate Announces Alaska Team

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 17:40

Of the throng of Republicans known to be running for president, the state party says Marco Rubio is the first to announce an Alaska team. Anchorage political consultants Art and April Hackney have signed on to lead the Alaska campaign.

Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, drew some heat this spring when he unveiled his campaign logo. It dots the “Eye” in Rubio with an outline of the U.S. map, minus Alaska and Hawaii. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, promptly registered her objection via Twitter.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Threatens Nulato; Village Evacuates Upriver

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 17:38

The village of Nulato is beginning evacuations as the Nulato fire is approaching the new town settlement.

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The fire started on Sunday just a mile from the village. According to the Alaska fire service it was caused by lightning.

Volunteers are taking boats from Galena, about 40 miles upriver, to move people out of the village.

Galena-based missionary Jon Casey is in Nulato helping out with the firefighting response. He reports that the fire jumped a fire break created over the past day and winds are now pushing the fire closer to the main residential section of Nulato.

Smokejumpers are on the scene to assist local crews.

Categories: Alaska News

Breaking the Link Between Childhood Trauma And Suicide

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 17:36

Close to 200 people in Juneau joined forces Thursday to break the link between childhood trauma and suicide. They’re taking part in a two day suicide prevention conference. Day one focused on establishing the trauma-suicide link.

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The first day of the conference, “Trauma and Suicide: Breaking the Link,” attracted about 185 participants, mostly from Juneau. All the sessions take place at Centennial Hall and continue into Friday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

After analyzing data from state surveys on trauma and risky behaviors, Alice Rarig says she was taken aback.

“It shocked me to see that one in five young people think about suicide and that more than half of them have major problems with sadness or feeling alone or not having adults in their lives to talk to,” she says.

Rarig is a retired state health planner and a member of the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition. She says she’s also troubled by the amount of youth who’ve experienced bullying, violence, sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences.

The coalition identified childhood trauma to be a leading factor contributing to suicide in Juneau.

Patrick Sidmore is a planner with the state Department of Health and Social Services. He helped coordinate the Adverse Childhood Experiences study in Alaska. For the past 20 years, the national study has shown that traumatic experiences, like abuse, neglect or growing up with substance abuse, may lead to serious health problems into adulthood.

“In the original study, they looked at suicide attempts and adverse childhood experiences and it had the strongest correlation of any of the items they looked at,” Sidmore says. “For example, 80 percent of suicide attempts can be tied back to adverse childhood experiences. This is the rate similar to lung cancer and cigarette smoking.”

Sidmore says many scientists think adverse childhood experiences actually cause suicide. He says addressing trauma will help prevent suicide.

Shirley Pittz says one of the ways this can be done is examining the quality of relationships for kids. Pittz is an early childhood expert with the state’s Office of Children’s Services.

“What are we doing to support families so that they can have good nurturing relationships with kids? What kind of messages does our community give about the value of children and how we’re supporting kids? All you need is somebody who cares about you and that can get you through a lot, so how can we make sure that every kid has that?” Pittz asks.

The rate of suicide in Juneau is similar to the state’s. There were six suicides in Juneau in 2013, similar numbers in prior years. It peaked in 2007 with nine. The Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition formed the following year.

Walter Majoros is the coalition’s chair. He’s also the executive director of Juneau Youth Services. He says the number of suicides may have gone down, but “there are a lot of deaths that have occurred in recent years, particularly with people in their 20s, that have been drug overdoses, so we have to look beyond the real numbers to what’s actually happening,” Majoros says. “And so in that sense there are still a lot of deaths that are occurring within our community that maybe aren’t being labeled as suicide, but if you look a little deeper, I think they really are.”

Coalition member Alice Rarig adds the numbers don’t account for suicide attempts or suicidal plans and thoughts.

She says preventing suicide means also preventing other bad things

“We’ll probably reduce the fighting, the bullying, the unsafe sex, the self-harm through alcohol use and substances,” Rarig says.

On day two of the conference, participants will focus on putting their knowledge to work on a community level.

Categories: Alaska News

Ready… Set… Net! Bristol Bay Setnet Fishery Opens

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 16:55

Sockeye on ice. (Credit Mike Mason/KDLG)

Setnetters in the Nushagak Section had their first opportunity to put their nets in the water Sunday night. KDLG checked out the first hour or so of fishing, and we didn’t see many fish. But Dee Barker, who pulled up to Rebel, a Peter Pan tender, about 30 minutes into the first setnet opening in the Nushagak Section on Sunday night, says he had a couple fish in his net.

“We got four fish in nets so far. That I could see. And yeah, looking for a good season. Get the bugs worked out, this is a good time to do it. Early. Yeah. See what works, what you need to change. I thought we’d go out, maybe Tuesday. But we were ready, pretty much. I’d had, I got a new motor in the boat, and I brought it out, run it in the water, but we didn’t have this, first time we set the gear out. We still have some gear to put up on the beach.”

Barker was about the eleventh boat to get ice and water at the Rebel on Sunday.

Onboard the Rebel, Kris Straub says the tender gave out about 4 tons of ice in the first 20 minutes of the opener.

“Pretty much everybody that’s fishing is coming to get ice and taking care of their fish this year, and so it’s good with this extra heat. Yeah, it makes a way better quality and that’s what it’s all about this year.”

District Manager Tim Sands says that when the first drift opener in the district occurs will depend on the numbers from those first two setnet openings plus sonar and tower counts, and an aerial survey.

We’ll have more numbers and info from the opener later today.

Categories: Alaska News

Lightning Strikes Ignite Nearly 50 New Fires

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 16:11

Dozens of new wildfires are burning around interior and western Alaska, as widespread lightning continues to cause new starts. An Alaska Interagency Coordination Center report listed 47 new fires Monday morning, with 186 active blazes state-wide.

Among recent days new fires getting attention are 2 on either side of the Parks Highway near Anderson. Firefighters are battling what’s being called the Rex Complex fire. The report estimates the combined burn area at nearly 5 thousand acres. Fire Information Officer Andrea Capps says the fires have threatened populated areas.

Caps says the Nenana River lies between the fire and the community of Anderson, and response to the blaze is ramping up as a Type 2 management team from Washington State takes over operations and more resources are diverted to the fire along the Parks Highway.

Many of the other recent new lightning starts are in more remote areas of the interior, but a few are near villages. A new blaze that started Saturday near Northway along the Alaska Highway has quickly grown to 9 thousand acres. Tok area Division Forestry spokesman Jim Schwarber says winds are pushing the flames away from the village and parallel to the Highway.

“The concerns we have are the potential impacts of the fire on the travel corridor there — the corridor for traffic on the Alaska Highway,” Schwarber says. “We are making preparations to have flaggers and pilot cars on scene if safety requires their use to keep the traffic flowing there.”

Schwarber says there have been smoke impacts but so far the fire is far enough from the road not to be an issue. He says a management team has taken over the fire response.

The Card Street Fire near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula is 25 percent contained after destroying 11 structures. The Sockeye fire near Willow is now 79 percent contained.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Fairbanks Four’ Suspect Paroled

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-22 15:59

One of four Fairbanks men fighting for exoneration from murder convictions was paroled last week. The Alaska Native community gathered in Fairbanks over the weekend to welcome home Marvin Roberts.

Friends and family sang and danced to celebrate the release of Marvin Roberts. Roberts is one of the so called “Fairbanks Four,” men whose convictions for the 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman, have long been questioned. The three others: fellow Alaska Natives George Frese and Eugene Vent, and American Indian Kevin Pease remain jailed.  A request for post conviction relief, currently working its way through court, centers on new information pointing to others being responsible for the Hartman attack. The interior Native Community has increased support for the Fairbanks Four in recent years, something the 37-year-old Roberts recognized in brief comments at the weekend event.

Roberts has been in a halfway house in Fairbanks since last week, after transitioning from prisons where he spent the last 17-plus years. Speaking at the Saturday event, Tanana Chief’s Conference President Victor Joseph reflected on the bitter sweet feeling of many.

Joseph emphasized the importance of the event as a fundraiser for the Alaska Innocence Project, which along with other attorneys is working to exonerate the Fairbanks Four.  Their request for post conviction relief largely hinges on self-incriminating statements by two former Fairbanks men serving time for unrelated killings. Alleged statements by one of those men about the Hartman murder, remains under seal of attorney client privilege, a situation Innocence Project Director Bill Oberly calls very unique.

Oberly remains optimistic justice will prevail, pointing to Robert’s parole despite maintaining his innocent. Oberly is hoping for a ruling releasing he sealed statement prior to an evidentiary hearing scheduled for October.

Categories: Alaska News