Alaska News

ADF&G Online Store Streamlines Permitting Process

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 17:57

Getting your fishing and hunting licenses just got a whole lot easier. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has launched its new online store, streamlining the permitting process for many prospective anglers and hunters.

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The new store boasts several new features, including buying and printing your sport fishing and hunting licenses at home.

“When you finish your transaction, you are sent an email with your license attached to it, so you can print it at your convenience whenever you get to a printer,” Michelle Kaelke, the the licensing supervisor at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said.

Previously, when a customer bought a hunting or fishing license online, Fish and Game would process the application and mail the license.

King Salmon and duck stamps will also be printed directly onto licenses purchased online.

Kaelke says another change is allowing customers to purchase more than one license per transaction online.

“So, for your whole family, you can purchase all your fishing and hunting licenses in one transaction,” she said. “And, also, we have hunting and fishing lodges who purchase licenses for their clients, and so now they can purchase all of those licenses in one transaction.”

The new system also allows commercial fishermen to purchase their licenses online, which was not allowed in the past.

Kaelke says there is another major digital update in the works.

“Our next project that we’re working on is going to be selling, or showing your license on a mobile device, rather than any type of paper,” she said.

Though the exact numbers aren’t clear, Kaekle [Kel-Key] says Fish and Game expects substantial savings on everything from labor, to printing, to postage.

Categories: Alaska News

Public Comment Sought For Cooper Landing Bypass

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 17:57

The state department of transportation released its first draft of a plan to reroute the Sterling Highway around Cooper Landing.

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Officially, we’re looking at a draft supplemental environmental impact statement and draft selection for the Sterling Highway between mileposts 45 and 60. The long-sought-after Cooper Landing Bypass.

“We have four different build alternatives that just take a look at the area and offer different options of how to improve the highway,” says DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy.

The cheapest of all those options is of course to do nothing. But this particular stretch of highway has some problems. It’s slow and winding, there are a bunch of hidden driveways to dodge, it’s really busy in the summer and not the comfiest bit of driving for RV’s and semi’s, plus, it doesn’t meet certain federal standards for rural highways anymore.

The four alternatives range in cost from $250 to more than $300 million. One path would take travelers south of Cooper Landing over 3.5 miles of new road, including new bridges over the Kenai river and an additional one over Cooper Creek. Two plans would send the road further north and across Juneau Creek, while a fourth would also carve a path to the north, but avoid Juneau Creek falls and the Resurrection Pass Trail.

“We really do need the public to review this, to weigh in, give us their comments and then we can take that information forward and make a final determination with the federal highway administration,” McCarthy says.

The public comment period is open through May 26th, but in some ways, it’s been open a lot longer than that. The first draft plan for a Cooper Landing Bypass was drawn up in 1982. That was shelved and brought up again in 1994.  And since 2000, this current plan has been slowly put together. The project time line shows a decision on a bypass being made some time next year, with construction beginning as soon as 2018.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Would End Program Requiring Money For Art In Public Buildings

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 17:57

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would end a program that dedicates money for art in public buildings.

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Rep. Lynn Gattis applauds after introducing a guest on the House floor, Feb 26, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican, sponsored the bill, which gets rid of a requirement that one percent of funds for public projects, like schools and courthouses, go toward art. It would allow the Alaska Council on the Arts to spend their remaining fund balance over the next five years, but then shut down the program at that point. Gattis said she introduced the legislation because of the state’s $4 billion revenue shortfall.

“In no way am I saying that those artists should not continue their artwork and try to sell it,” Gattis said. “All this says is that the state will no longer be sponsoring them in the same manner.”

The “Percent for Art in Public Places” program was established in 1975, and the public testimony that was offered on Tuesday defended it. Democrats on the committee, like Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka, also argued that the program was needed for the character of the state.

“I think it’s really important that the places we live in and work in don’t look like buildings you could just find in Kansas or Ohio – nothing against Kansas or Ohio,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

While the size of the program fluctuates with the size of the state’s capital budget, the average annual cost is about $1 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 31, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 17:57

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

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Feds Move Shell Closer to Chukchi Drilling this Summer

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Shell’s effort to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea has cleared another hurdle. The Interior Department today approved the 2008 Arctic lease sale where Shell spent more than $2 billion to purchase drilling rights.

Gas Line Power Struggle Continues Between Governor, Legislators

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill meant to keep Gov. Bill Walker from spending money on an alternate gas line proposal. The action is part of an ongoing power struggle between Republican leadership and the governor over the state’s most high-profile megaproject.

Anchorage Democrats Offer ‘Emergency Fix’ For Alaska’s Oil Tax System

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With just three weeks left in the legislative session, a pair of Anchorage Democrats are offering what they describe as an “emergency fix” to Alaska’s oil tax system.

Kuskokwim Working Group Asks For Limited Setnet Openers

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A few months before the king salmon begin to enter the river, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to set recommendations for an early season of conservation.

Yup’ik Fishermen Case Likely Headed for Alaska Supreme Court, Federal Court

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Alaska Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision that Yup’ik fishermen who fished for King salmon during a state closure should be convicted. The decision was issued Friday.

ADF&G Online Store Streamlines Permitting Process

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Getting your fishing and hunting licenses just got a whole lot easier. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has launched its new online store, streamlining the permitting process for many prospective anglers and hunters.

Public Comment Sought For Cooper Landing Bypass

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The state department of transportation released its first draft of a plan to reroute the Sterling Highway around Cooper Landing.

Bill Would End Program Requiring Money For Art In Public Buildings

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would end a program that dedicates money for art in public buildings.

Official Day Of Remembrance for Good Friday Earthquake Becoming Law Across Alaska

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Lawmakers are passing bills to recognize March 27th as the official Remembrance Day of the Good Friday Earthquake that struck Alaska 51 years ago. In the Legislature, House Bill 35 is awaiting Governor Bill Walker’s signature. Independently, the Anchorage Assembly passed its own local version last week. Both efforts came about because of the same man.

Categories: Alaska News

Official Day of Remembrance for Good Friday Earthquake Becoming Law Across Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 17:27

View of a building destroyed in Anchorage, Alaska after the March 27, 1964 earthquake. (Photo: Doyle and Gloria Bushman papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage)

Law Makers are passing bills to recognize March 27th as the official Rembembrance Day of the Good Friday Earthquake that struck Alaska 51 years ago. In the Legislature, House Bill 35 is awaiting Governor Bill Walker’s signature. Independently, the Anchorage Assembly passed its own local version last week.

Both efforts came about because of the same man.

Chuck Volanti was only 24-years-old when Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America.

“I was working at the Alaska Air National Guard during the time of the quake,” Volanti said by phone. “That evening is an evening that I will never forget.”

Volanti was part of a four-man unit in the Air National Guard. Weeks after the quake, the crew was on a humanitarian mission to Valdez. As they flew out ahead of bad weather the plane went down, killing three guardsmen, as well as Adjutant General Thomas Carol, who was with them. Volanti was not on board, and is the only survivor from the office.

The seed for the Remembrance Day resolutions was planted when he visited Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in 2013.

“I wanted to put a wreath at the wall of honor, in memory of fallen comrades,” said Volanti.

In March of 2014, Governor Sean Parnell signed into law a bill recognizing March 27th as the 50th anniversary of the disaster. But as Volanti puts it, that was “law for a day,” and he felt that the deceased, as well as the survivors, deserved something more lasting. So he brought the issue back up with House Republican Charisse Millett of Anchorage.

“This legislation honors these people, it remembers these people,” Volanti said. “So in a subsequent conversation with Representative Millet I said ‘This is a date that should be, now and forever, remembered.’ And I said ‘Representative Millet would you kindly consider sponsoring a bill?’ which she did do.”

The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. But Volanti didn’t stop there. He mentioned the issue to Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who helped get a local version in front of the Assembly. Flags will fly at half-mast, and clergy in Anchorage and elsewhere have agreed to toll their bells to mark the date each year. They are symbolic steps that Assembly chair Dick Traini believes will carry forward the lessons learned after the quake.

“So the purpose of this is to just remind Alaskans about what happened in the past, and what will happen again,” Traini said by phone. “Because there will be another earthquake–it’s a matter of when it happens, not if.”

Traini hopes the official remembrance will help remind residents to take steps to prepare, like having a three day supply of food and water at home.

And though Volanti and his wife now live outside of Alaska, his work commemorating the quake isn’t over, even half a century later.

“One of the last things I have left to do is see some kind of a memorial…placed in Valdez in honor of this flight crew,” Volanti said. “Like I say, to me these men were more like family than a formal military command.”

The Anchorage resolution passed unanimously last week in the Assembly.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Move Shell Closer to Chukchi Drilling this Summer

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-31 15:32

Shell’s effort to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea has cleared another hurdle. The Interior Department today approved the 2008 Arctic lease sale where Shell spent more than $2 billion to purchase drilling rights.

A court challenge forced the government to re-examine the environmental impact of the sale. That’s why the feds are announcing their approval now of an auction that actually took place seven years ago.

The decision clears the way for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to officially consider Shell’s off-shore drilling plan. Shell hopes to send two rigs to the Chukchi this summer, with each serving as the relief rig for the other, in case of a blowout.

Shell drilled two partial wells in Arctic waters in 2012, in a season beset by problems. Company spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the affirmation of the lease sale means Shell can proceed with its plans for Arctic drilling, but it isn’t the final green light.

“Of course, that is all contingent on getting all the permits, legal certainty, then our own determination that we’re prepared to do it safely and responsibly,” she said.

In a written statement announcing the decision, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the Arctic “an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy” and says they are taking a balanced approach.

Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who filed the environmental challenge against the lease sale, says he’s disappointed in what he describes as a rushed process.

“But Interior still has time to make better decisions when evaluating Shell’s drilling plan. And we sincerely hope that it says no to that plan,” he said.

Grafe says he’ll continue to watch the regulatory process, which will include a public comment period on Shell’s exploration plan. He says each of his clients, mostly environmental groups since the Native Village of Point Hope dropped out of the lawsuit, will have to evaluate whether to continue.

Meanwhile, Shell has two drilling rigs underway from Asia, the Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer, a drill ship it also used in 2012. The rigs are heading into the North Pacific. A Greenpeace ship is in pursuit, with activists on board, blogging photos.

Categories: Alaska News

“Leave Alaska,” Assault on Property Leaves Sudanese Immigrants in Spenard Concerned

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:51

An incident over the weekend alarmed members of an immigrant community in Anchorage. However, officials are stopping short of labeling it a hate crime.

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On Sunday morning a vehicle outside a multi-family home was found with deflated tires and covered with hateful messages written in washable orange marker.

Debby Bock is a friend of the five men who live together in the building, all of whom are refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. Bock came over Sunday, and was shocked by what she saw.

“There was writing on every single window and every single side of both of the cars,” Bock said. “Things that said, ‘Not welcome,’ ‘Go home,’ ‘Take a hike,’ ‘Leave Alaska,’ ‘Go away.'”

The men called the Anchorage Police Department to file a report. But both they and Bock were surprised that the Department is treating the incident as a vandalism case, and could not spare an officer to respond in person.

“I called the police again,” Bock said, “and the dispatcher told me that they had taken a report over the phone, but no one was going to come out, and no one was going to take pictures.”

Community members in Spenard, where the incident took place, have made efforts in the last day to show support with men living at the residence targeted. But the men feel unsafe after what happened, according to Bock, and some are wondering if the assault on property constitutes a hate crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which monitors hate crimes, has not seen evidence that would involve the organization in the case.

“At this time the FBI is not investigating this as a hate crime. We are not a part of the investigation,” said Staci Feger-Pellessier, a communications specialist with the Bureau’s Anchorage division.

No comment was available from the Public Affairs office at the Anchorage Police Department, which was closed in observation of Seward’s Day.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Pot Grower Proposes Cannabis Exchange In Light Of New Law

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

Dean “Bear” Lari grows six marijuana plants.

In Haines, the borough assembly has decided to wait until the state finalizes legislation before taking any action on local rules on marijuana use and sales. But some residents aren’t waiting on the legislature.

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Dean Lari’s phone has been ringing constantly since he posted an ad on the Haines community website titled “Cannabis Exchange.” In it, he says, “with Measure 2 we now have a great and legal way to exchange marijuana strains.”

Lari sees the Cannabis Exchange as a way to get pot growers and smokers together to share experiences.

“I just saw this as a way to break the ice and say ‘hey people we don’t have to hide indoors, we don’t have to look when the cops drive by, we don’t have to spray air freshener when they open the door.’”

Lari, who goes by the nickname ‘Bear,’ grows six plants in his own home. You can tell when you walk in the door — the smell of marijuana permeates the place. Lari’s son is in the kitchen, trimming one of the plants. Lari shows me the small, brightly lit room where he grows a strain of pot called “Querkle.”

“I average about maybe three quarters of an ounce or maybe an ounce of usable pot[per plant.]” he says.

Lari says he smokes about an ounce of pot a week for medicinal reasons. He also uses it in smoothies. With six plants, Lari says he’s only able to provide pot for himself and one other medical marijuana user.

Lari thinks a cannabis exchange could help inform people who have negative views of marijuana.

“I want people that don’t smoke, people that don’t get high that are scared — come and see with your own two eyes,” he said. “You could take a drink, take a bite or take a hit. You’re not gonna die from it. But then you could speak from experience.”

Lari says there wouldn’t be any money involved with exchange.

“If you bring a couple of nugs, I’m gonna give you a couple of nugs. We’re just trading pot, we’re just exchanging pot.”

What about people who don’t have pot? “I’ll give you a nug,” Lari says. “I don’t mind sharing a joint with you.”

Lari says he’s consulted a lawyer to make sure this kind of exchange is legal. Juneau District Attorney James Scott said in an email that he can’t answer whether the exchange would be legal until the close of the legislative session. Haines Police Chief Bill Musser didn’t comment on the legality of it, but referred KHNS to the state statute.

“I’m not waiting for the legislature, I can assure you of that,” Lari said. “Because what I want to do has nothing to do with retail sales, it has nothing to do with wholesale growing. I’m community-oriented, non-profit.”

Lari sees a cannabis exchange as a precursor to something bigger. He wants to start a community garden where people pay for plots to grow their own marijuana plants.

Lari calls Haines the “pot-smokingest town” he knows. He says the approximately 63 percent of Haines voters that supported Measure 2 shows that.

“That means that every single person in this community has somebody in their circle of people they love that are smoking pot.”

Lari says in the week since he posted the cannabis exchange ad, the response has been “huge” and “unbelievable.” He says he’s heard from a number of people who are interested in learning more about growing their own marijuana plants.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer Takes First Step Toward Deep Water Dock Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

The City of Homer is taking its first step towards a long planned expansion of the city’s deep water dock. Earlier this month, the Homer City Council chose to award R&M Consultants of Anchorage the contract for a study to evaluate the project’s merits.

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Categories: Alaska News

Army Corps Of Engineers Preps For Summer Season

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

The Army Corp of Engineers are gearing up for the summer season of projects around the state.

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Chris Tew is the Chief of Contracting. He says the focus of their work has changed from building new facilities to remodeling existing military infrastructure, weatherizing and bringing aging structures up to code. Resource restrictions mean most of their projects this year will be military rather than in remote coastal areas, but he says climate change has meant a lot of work for the Corp in the past decade, especially in Northern and Western Alaska.

“It is a big deal for Alaska,” Tew said. “Climate change is certainly impacting our program and the citizens who live out in these remote areas.”

Tew says one such project will be at Cape Lisburne on the northwest coast where erosion is encroaching on an Air Force airfield and needs to be fixed. He says it will take around 20 million dollars and expects the design and bid process to conclude this summer with work starting in 2016.

Arctic infrastructure is a big priority as the Corp continues studying the rapidly growing need for larger and deeper port facilities at Nome and possibly Port Clarence.
Bruce Sexauer is the Chief of Civil Works for the Corp, he says as oil, gas and other resource extraction ramps up, bigger port facilities are necessary.

“This isn’t a place where they will be shipping a large amount of oil or other resources out of, rather this port facility is there to provide support to those vessels, say if one gets in trouble or needing to send supplies out to the oil wells or whatnot,” Sexauer  said. “This is a very supportive activity. If something bad were to happen, be able to do search and rescue more efficiently from Nome than down from say either Dutch or Kodiak.”

Sexauer says Kodiak and Dutch Harbor will always be important facilities in the winter when the arctic is impassable and it will be years before the port expansion plan is approved and authorized by Congress for funding. But the increase in activity in the arctic continues to build.

“The vessels that are waiting off of Nome,” Sexauer  said. “They started with just a few vessels a year, up to dozens, then up to over a hundred vessels a year that would need to wait or anchor off of Nome to come in and use the facilities there.”

Civil works projects need state and local investment, so Nome port expansion and building any infrastruction at Port Clarence would need a mix of hard to come by funds, but Corp Contract Chief Chris Tew says if the U.S. Navy moves forward with their stated goal of taking the military lead in the arctic in the next 15 years, some of that infrastructure funding mix would come from DOD.

“Yes, that would absolutely have to happen. Those are decisions that need to be made fairly quickly in order to get things teed up in order to do that within the next decade or so but I do think it’s possible,” Tew said. “Whether we want it to happen or not, it is happening and it’s not only going to happen within the coastal waters of Alaska but there are other nations that are going to work in the arctic and our ability to put infrastructure in place so this stuff is done as safely as possible seems to be in everyone’s best interest.”

Tew says other projects such as ongoing toxins clean up at former defense sites will continue across the state this summer at Northeast Cape on St Lawrence Island, the Susitna Gunnery Range in the Mat Su Valley and Umiat test well nine on the north slope.

Categories: Alaska News

Strong King Salmon Catch Means Early Closure For Southeast Trollers

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon trollers are heading back into port now that the winter season has closed. Thanks to strong catches of king salmon on the outer coast near Sitka.

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Troll caught winter king salmon (Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein)

The season was closed at midnight on Wednesday, March 25th. That’s the earliest closure on record by just over two weeks. “And the previous record for closing early was set 10 years ago, April 9th 2005,” Pattie Skannes, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s troll management biologist for Southeast.

The fishery opened in October. The season remains open until the fleet catches 43 to 47-thousand non-Alaska hatchery king salmon, or until the end of April, whichever comes first. It’s the seventh time since 2003 that the season has closed early. The department said the catch had topped 44-thousand non-Alaska hatchery fish the day before announcing the closure and expected to reach the upper end of that range once all the fish were landed.

Skannes said the number of trollers out fishing this winter has been above average for many weeks of the season. “So far we have 397 permits that have fished,” she said. “Catch rates have been well above average during most weeks. And price per pound is currently $8.73 and it’s down after being over 10 dollars a pound for several weeks. And this year’s prices are very similar to last years.”

Nearly three-quarters of the catch during the winter season came from district 113 on the outer coast near Sitka. Another 11 percent of the region’s harvest came out from Yakutat bay this season.
Spring troll fisheries targeting kings returning to Southeast Alaska’s hatcheries will be opening in mid April, May and June.

Meetings for those fisheries are planned around the region in April. The first is in Sitka April 2nd at 1:30 in the conference room at the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

Categories: Alaska News

‘There’s Nothing Left to Cut’: Fairbanks Assembly Gives School District $800K Boost

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a measure that allows the area school district to keep $800,000 that it would’ve been required to give back to the borough. Assembly members say the action was a small step toward helping the district cope with personnel and program cuts that district officials have proposed to deal with an $11 million state funding shortfall.

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Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison sponsored the measure, along with Presiding Officer Karl Kassel, to waive a provision in the borough code that requires the district to give back $800,000 at the end of each school year to go into a fund that helps pay for school maintenance.

Hutchison says it was a small but earnest gesture to help the district at a time when it’s struggling to deal with state funding cuts due to both plummeting oil revenues and falling enrollment.

“We felt this was certainly a time when the school district could use this extra 800,000,” Hutchison said.

The Assembly clearly didn’t need any encouragement before approving the measure with all eight members voting in favor. Assemblyman Lance Roberts was not present.

But several members of the public along with a few district employees, like North Pole Middle School teacher Vanessa Jackson, took the opportunity anyway to again testify about the urgent need to help the district at a time of severe fiscal contraction.

“There’s nothing left to cut at the school district without impacting the students in some negative way or the other,” Jackson said.

Laura Volmert, who has two middle-schoolers in the district, says although it’s a relatively small amount, the $800,000 would encourage district workers and parents before the Assembly begins work on the recommended budget that the district school board approved Wednesday.

“I feel like the borough Assembly has an opportunity right now to really show its support for education,” Volmert said. “I feel like this is the first opportunity that you have to show your support. There will be other opportunities down the line.”

The Assembly won’t finish work on the district’s recommended $274.9 million spending plan until mid-May, after the Legislature passes a state budget and the governor completes his review.

Also Thursday, the Assembly approved a measure that ratifies a new contract for about 50 unionized borough managers and supervisors.

The three-year contract with members of the Alaska State Employees Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sets an annual cost of living increase starting next year that’ll range from 1 to 2 percent, and annual merit increases of 1.9 percent through 2018.

The borough estimates those provisions will cost between $23,900 and $140,300 next year.

The borough estimates the contract’s health plan provisions will cost between $309,500 and $1.2 million in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 30, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:45

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

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APD Stops Short Of Calling Weekend Vandalism Incident A Hate Crime

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

An incident over the weekend in Anchorage has alarmed members of an immigrant community, but officials are stopping short of calling it a hate crime.

Haines Pot Grower Proposes Cannabis Exchange In Light Of New Law

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

In Haines, the borough assembly has decided to wait until the state finalizes legislation before taking any action on local rules on marijuana use and sales.

But some residents aren’t waiting on the legislature.

Alaska Senate Rejects Effort To Preemptively Ban Marijuana Concentrates

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When Alaskans voted to regulate marijuana, a discrepancy was created where possession of small amounts of the drug was legal and where possession of larger amounts meant higher level felonies. The Alaska Senate has passed a bill to bridge the gap. And in the process, they rejected a controversial effort to preemptively ban marijuana concentrates.

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A new report says that as Arctic ship traffic has increased, so has the number of Arctic ship mishaps.

Army Corps Of Engineers Preps For Summer Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Army Corp of Engineers are gearing up for the summer season of projects around the state.

Homer Takes First Step Toward Deep Water Dock Expansion

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The City of Homer is taking its first step towards a long planned expansion of the city’s deep water dock. Earlier this month, the Homer City Council chose to award R&M Consultants of Anchorage the contract for a study to evaluate the project’s merits.

Legislature Diving Into Anchorage’s Violent Crime, Potentially Bringing New Funds

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

With a spike in shootings and homicides in Anchorage since the start of the year, legislators in Juneau heard testimony on Friday about why violent crime appears to be rising. A local problem may bring new state funding for solutions.

Strong King Salmon Catch Means Early Closure For Southeast Trollers

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon trollers are heading back into port now that the winter season has closed. Thanks to strong catches of king salmon on the outer coast near Sitka.

Indigenous Leaders Adapt Western-Style Government While Retaining Traditional Approaches

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Northern indigenous people have adapted to western style government while retaining a traditional cooperative approach to leadership. That’s the finding of Quebec based political anthropologist Caroline Herve’.

‘There’s Nothing Left to Cut’: Fairbanks Assembly Gives School District $800K Boost

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a measure that allows the area school district to keep $800,000 rather than give it back to the borough. As KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, Assembly members say the action was a small step toward helping the district cope with cuts that district officials have proposed to deal with an $11 million state funding shortfall.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Passes Pot Bill, Without Concentrate Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:34

When Alaskans voted to regulate marijuana, a discrepancy was created where possession of small amounts of the drug was legal and where possession of larger amounts meant higher level felonies. The Alaska Senate has passed a bill to bridge the gap. And in the process, they rejected a controversial effort to preemptively ban marijuana concentrates. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, presented his amendment using images of marijuana candies and buildings consumed in fiery infernos.

“What drug is smoked in a glass apparatus using a propane torch to heat metal elements so the drug can be instantly vaporized allowing large quantities to be inhaled in a single hit? What drug is highly manufactured using volatile flammables and occasionally explodes in neighborhood labs?” asked Kelly, rhetorically.

Kelly likened the making of marijuana concentrates like butane hash oil to the manufacture of meth, and said that children would die if his amendment did not pass. While Kelly would have liked to have banned concentrates immediately, his measure was written to go into effect in two years — which is the soonest that legislators can fundamentally alter a ballot initiative, according to the state Constitution.

He argued that people were voting for legalization of the “leafy stuff,” not the sale of pot brownies, candies, and other forms of concentrates.

“If people knew what concentrates are, they would never ever vote for that,” said Kelly. “I’m convinced of that.”

Many members of the Senate disagreed. Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, pointed out that with 53 percent of the vote, the marijuana initiative was more successful than any single candidate for statewide office. She argued that the debate over whether concentrates should be allowed was a key issue of the campaign.

“What I believe is that the people, in the plain language that was presented to them, saw a definition that included the word ‘concentrate,’ saw a definition that included the word ‘compound,'” said McGuire. “There were 40 hearings across the state. There were eight of them held by the lieutenant governor alone just on this particular subject. And in almost every one of those hearings, it devolved into a debate over concentrates.”

Kelly’s amendment ultimately failed 14 to 6. The vote was an unusual one, with many Republicans voting against their colleague’s proposal.

An amendment that would have de-listed marijuana as a controlled substance also received considerable debate before ultimately failing. Supporters of the measure argued that because alcohol is not a controlled substance under Alaska law, marijuana should not be treated as one either, according to the initiative.

The marijuana crime bill, when considered in full, passed 17 to 3, with a bloc of Anchorage Democrats opposing it over the controlled substance language. It will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Diving Into Anchorage’s Violent Crime, Potentially Bringing New Funds

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 19:15

With a spike in shootings and homicides in Anchorage since the start of the year, legislators in Juneau heard testimony Friday on why violent crime appears to be rising, and what assistance state law-makers may be able to provide through appropriations.

Senators from Southcentral Alaska like Democrat Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage want to know what is driving the 33 shootings and 10 homicides in the city this year.

“What can we do? What’s the problem? And is it something we should be involved in?” Wielechowski asked. It’s why he and others requested a session to get background information and hear potential action items.

The Judiciary committee heard testimony on a range of issues, from drugs and gangs to staffing levels. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan explained to the body that reducing the size of the police force during his tenure was a necessity given the financial situation his administration inherited.

“We agree with virtually all the speakers about staffing levels,” Sullivan said by phone. “You guys right now are going through a big challenge regarding budget. Well, I went through that big challenge, too, when I came into office in 2009. And when you’re facing multi-million dollar deficits you have to take some steps to make sure your budget is in balance while also focusing on your priorities.”

Sullivan pushed back against perceptions that crime is on the rise. He cites statistics showing overall crime has been on a years-long decline in Anchorage. He also says the total number of crimes reported today is less than it was decades ago when Anchorage’s population was significantly smaller.

But Detective Jeff Bell offered a very different view, telling legislators the focus on Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics says more about the city’s approach to policing than it does about crimes taking place. Bell told lawmakers the type of proactive policing conducted by the city’s gang and theft units years ago works well, but does not necessarily look good on paper.

“You’re not going see those numbers in the UCR, because we don’t report what we don’t know, and we don’t know how many crimes were prevented by us being proactive,” said Bell. “And there’s just no way of measuring that.”

Bell is vice president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the officers union that has been critical of Sullivan’s controversial AO-37 proposal and the administration’s approach to public safety.

Based on the testimony, Wielechowski thinks the issue is fundamentally one of resources. He’s considering allocations in the budget like a grant to help cover costs from extra over-time. Although Wielechowski concedes that new expenditures are not an easy sell in the current fiscal environment.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Delays Vote On Pot Legislation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:08

The Alaska Senate has delayed a vote on its signature marijuana bill after saying they need more time to consider an amendment that would largely ban concentrates.

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Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said a “drafting issue” with his amendment caused the hold-up. The measure gives marijuana concentrates – like hash oil and edibles – the felony treatment, but includes an exception for concentrates meant for medicinal use. Because the Constitution bans the Legislature from tampering with ballot initiatives for two years after they go into effect, the ban on concentrates would not start until 2017.

Kelly says he’s offering the amendment now to send a message to the nascent marijuana industry.

“To have them spend money on display cases and processing and all that stuff – inventory, only to have it be illegal two years from now,” Kelly said. “This way it says, before you even start investing, this particular part of your business is going to be illegal. I just didn’t think it was far to the people who might be investing.”

This is Kelly’s second attempt to ban concentrates through the marijuana bill. The measure was briefly adopted during the committee process, but was removed after an outcry that it went against the spirit of the initiative.

Bruce Schulte is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and he lobbies on behalf of the marijuana industry. He describes the amendment as a “preemptive repeal” of the ballot measure.

“I would liken it to a legislative timebomb. They’re going to set this bomb in statute, and they’re going to light a two-year fuse on it,” Schulte said. “And they’re trying to guarantee that a legitimate marijuana industry will not develop. It cannot because nobody is going to go into business when they know that their entire business model is going to crumble on February 24, 2017.”

The amendment, and the full marijuana bill, is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Court of Appeals Affirms Lower Court in Yup’ik Fishermen’s Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:05

The Alaska Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision that Yup’ik Fishermen who fished during a state closure should be charged. The decision was issued today.

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In 2012, the thirteen defendants, all Yup’ik Alaska Native fishermen living a subsistence lifestyle, were convicted of violating the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s emergency orders restricting fishing for king salmon on the Kuskokwim River.

The defendants moved for dismissal of the charges, asserting that their fishing for king salmon was a religious activity, and that they were entitled to a religious exemption from the emergency orders under the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution.

The District Court said the state’s responsibility to protect the declining species of fish outweighed the men’s claim of religious rights.

Attorneys for the Yup’ik fishermen plan to appeal the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Interior Weather Turns Attention To River Breakup

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:04

This week’s warm weather is turning attention to river break up.

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National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb is tracking the factors that play into ice flowing out.

“Basically from Fairbanks eastward, it’s been kind of more typical winter, at least when you look at the ice thicknesses, and the snowpack on the ground,” Plumb said. “Versus further to our west and south. As you go into the western interior, the snowpack is well below normal, and this is the same case as you go south of the Alaska Range.”

Plumb says above normal snowpack in the Canadian Yukon will send a lot of water into the upper Yukon River, but a forecasted trend of warm days and cool nights should meter the influx, and promote a gradual break up. Plumb says ice thicknesses going into spring are, as usual, variable.

“Most of the lakes are running a little bit above normal thicknesses, where as some of the river sites are little bit below normal,” Plumb said.

That was the case on the Tanana River at Nenena at the beginning of March, but Nenana Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness says this week’s ice measurement of 35 inches was closer to the norm for this time of year.

“I think it’s a pretty average year,” Forness said.

Break up timing has a lot to do with weather, and the thermometer pushed 50 degrees in recent days.

“We are having extremely warm temperatures, so we’re thinking that the ice will go out early,” Forness said.

Forness says the earliest the ice has ever gone out at Nenana is April 20th. Last year the tri-pod tipped on April 25th. Ice Classic tickets remain for sale through April 5th.

Categories: Alaska News

Round-the-world Bicycle Traveler Stops Over in Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:03

Angelo Wilkie-Page. (Credit Angelo Wilkie-Page)

A South African adventurer pedaled a bike into Fairbanks this week, completing the first leg of a journey that will take him around the world twice over 8 years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Family of Four Starts 500-mile Trek to Kotzebue

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:02

The Higman/McKittrick family start their own journey from the Iditarod finish line on Friday. Photo courtesy of Betsy Brennan.

As Iditarod mushers were finishing their 1,000-mile journey, a family of four was just beginning their own trek from under the ceremonial burled arch. Bretwood “Hig” Higman, Erin McKittrick, and their two young kids Katmai and Lituya started their 500-mile trek from Nome to Kotzebue on Friday. Over the next few months, they plan to walk, ski and paddle up the Bering Strait.

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“We’re planning to head out around the coast and visit all the villages along the way and then end up in Kotzebue,” Erin explains.

As for gear, they’ve packed a lot of insulation, food, and creative ways to move across the land and water.

“We have pack rafts that we’re putting skids on and are going to be using as sleds, but we expect we’ll be paddling in them at some point,” Hig said. “The kids have skis that we can make into kick sleds. They can also ride in the raft sled or they can walk so we have all these different possibilities. Hopefully some combination of those will make for a fun, successful trip.”

Trekking is nothing new for this family. Erin and Hig met in college in Minnesota and soon got hooked on long-distance trekking. In 2007, they trekked 4,000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands, spending over a year in the wilderness. After having kids, they thought they’d have to put those long treks aside for a while, but instead their 6-year-old and 4-year-old come along for the journeys.

“We did a few little trips though with the kids and started saying, you know, this is quite possible and historically people traveled and did all sorts of incredible things with kids,” Hig said.

 And it’s a learning experience for all of them. Hig and Erin have backgrounds in geology and molecular biology respectively, and their expeditions allow them to see climate change right before their eyes.

“Going around Alaska right now and looking at the effects of climate change, you can go out and be in places and see changes that are happening on human time scales, in just a few years landscapes are changing, rivers are moving, new plants coming in, glaciers are retreating, all this stuff is happening really, really fast,” Hig said.

Through blogs, books and films, they hope to share their observations to help educate people about the effects of climate change. This time, they’re really interested in learning about sea ice changes, and they are always looking to learn from the people they meet along the way.

“We kind of almost look at it as a piece of gear now, something we carry with us is we carry a question,” Hig explains. “We’ve been asking everyone we can about what they think is coming up for the future of Alaska, what are we going to see in the next couple generations?”

If you want to keep up with Hig and Erin’s journey and meet the family as they pass through your village, you can go towww.groundtruthtrekking.org or find them on Facebook to follow their progress.

Categories: Alaska News

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