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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 4 min 29 sec ago

Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:18

Unknown product visible under nearshore ice on Dec. 12, 2014. (Photo: Sharon Nayokpuk, Shishmaref Environmental Program via Alaska DEC)

An oily sheen of unknown origin discovered along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

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The sheen was first discovered in June on the nearshore icepack by the Shishmaref Village Public Safety Officer. The VPSO reported the yellow liquid smelled like gasoline. That led to cleanup efforts and an investigation by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine exactly what the substance was, and where it came from.

Samples of the sheen—and from the community’s fuel tanks—were collected for testing at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. But the summer cleanup efforts ended with results still pending, and no source for the sheen ever identified.

Now the sheen is back—noticed by a local store owner and the VPSO last week. DEC officials say the unidentified substance again has the strong scent of gasoline. The unknown petroleum product was visible under nearshore ice as early as last Friday.

DEC spokesperson Ashley Adamczak said the agency is sending someone to Shishmaref Thursday to investigate. Adamczak said those samples collected over the summer will come in handy.

“We will be able to do a direct comparison with the substances that were leaching from the shore line last summer, and this event, and compare [them both] to the tank farm,” she said.

Adamczak said locals in Shishmaref have offered input on where the oily substance is coming from, and DEC is following up.

“There’s a lot of people there that have a lot more history of that site than we do,” she said about the investigation just now getting underway. “There’s a couple different floating theories that we have, and we are actually taking a metal detector device out there to do some investigation, to see if there’s any subsurface tanks or buried drums that are in the area.”

Adamczak said the idea of forgotten oil drums or fuel tanks was offered over the summer. “We’ll be working very closely with the people who reported that those might be there to determine those exact locations.”

The Coast Guard has hired waste treatment company Emerald Alaska to perform an on-site assessment.

Last summer’s cleanup resulted in about 30 bags of oily waste from absorbent materials laid out over an area of 1,200 square feet. About 100 gallons of the fuel-like substance were recovered, according to DEC officials on the ground in Shishmaref in July.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:17

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:16

(Image via FIRST RECORDS OF YUMA MYOTIS (MYOTIS YUMANENSIS)
IN ALASKA)

Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two new species previously unknown in the state. The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

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Bat research in the state has been accelerating over the last several years as scientists anticipate the spread of white-nose syndrome in bat species and the effects of climate change.

This surge in research uncovered two different bat species never-before-documented in Alaska.

Specimens of the Yuma Bat – or Yuma Myotis – have actually been in museum collections for nearly 30 years. But, they were incorrectly identified.

Link Olson is the curator of mammals at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. He says that’s largely because, on the surface, the Yuma Bat looks very similar to a more common, well-documented species called the Little Brown Bat.

“If I were to go down to Southeast Alaska and catch a bat that could either be a Yuma Bat or Little Brown Bat, without any other information or evidence, if I were to look at it, then let it go, or even if I were to take the measurements that you can take from a live bat in the hand, I would not be able to confidently identify it as one or the other,” Olson said.

And Olson doesn’t believe his colleagues would claim to be able to make the distinction either.

Though the two species might look alike, he says they aren’t closely related, which gives scientists other avenues to identify the bats.

“What we can do is collect tiny bits of tissue, and we usually do this from either the wing or the tail membranes because they heal very rapidly, and with that tiny little punch – or biopsy – of tissue, we can use very straightforward genetic techniques to identify these two particular species,” Olson said.

The second species previously unknown in Alaska is the Hoary Bat. Scientists don’t have any physical specimens of the species from within the state. But, they were able to detect the species by using ultra-sensitive audio equipment that can pick up the bat’s echolocation signals, which are typically outside of the human hearing range.

“These ‘bat detectors’ will record those and either display them in a typical sonogram so that we can compare them to known reference calls and hopefully identify them to species, which is what was done in this case, or they will divide that echolocation call by a denominator that literally breaks it down and divides it so in our hearing range,” Olson said.

Though the identification was successful in the case of the Hoary Bat, Olson says species can’t always be accurately identified by their echolocation alone.

The range of the bats is not known, but in the case of the Yuma Bat, Olson says specimens from other collections are from as far north as Baranof Island, and he suspects it might extend even further north.

“There’s no clear bio-geographic barrier that I can think of to this species until you get up to the Malaspina Glacier north of Yakutat,” Olson said.

There are plenty of other unknowns regarding Alaska’s bats – including where they spend their winters. Olson says that question still looms even for the better-documented Little Brown Bat.

This question is particularly pressing because bats are most-susceptible to White Nose Syndrome while they are hibernating.

As bat research progresses, Olson says citizen science has become a critical component, because many of the museums specimens were discovered by citizens, not scientists.

“Those old, dead bats are incredibly valuable scientifically,” he said. “Even if it looks rotten and crushed, there’s scientific value in that specimen.”

Olson says if you do run across a dead or dying bat, alert Fish & Game or a local biologist rather than picking it up yourself.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:15

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

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The Interior Department published the final regulation in a long running dispute between tribes, Interior and the state over an interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA in 1971 that held tribes in Alaska had lost that right under the settlement act.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller sued on behalf of four tribes and one Alaska Native individual in 2006.

“This is a huge, wonderful day to see Alaska tribes be able to fully exercise the right to have their petitions considered,” Miller said.

The district court for DC rejected the state of Alaska’s position that ANCSA required different treatment of tribes in Alaska. The state is appealing that decision.

Kendall Miller says one of the plaintiffs is the Chilkoot Indian Association that had land donated to it by a church. The 106 acres are in Haines and applying for trust status means local municipalities, boroughs or the state would not be allowed to tax any economic development initiatives the tribe may develop there.

Kendall Miller says the state could decide to drop the appeal now that Interior has adopted the court’s position that sided with tribes on all counts. Kendall Miller says numerous tribes beyond the plaintiffs have been preparing applications for requesting trust status. She says this land status could be considered Indian Country.

Categories: Alaska News

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:14

The Tulsequah mine sits above the Tulsequah River which flows into the Taku River.

Chieftain Metals Corp. has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

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Chieftain is trying to re-open the long closed zinc, copper and gold mine in British Columbia. The company filed an updated feasibility study with Canadian financial regulators earlier this month. It says the Taku is likely to be impassable about 23 percent of the time during the proposed barging season from May to September. Another 23 percent of the time, barges will need a tug to help navigate the river.

Chris Zimmer with the environmental organization Rivers Without Borders says the report is light on other details about the company’s barging plan.

“When you look at this, you just think, ‘Boy, how are they going to make this work?’” Zimmer says. “Because they’ve got to get concentrate out on schedule to get it on a barge and to get it down to a freighter in Seattle. And given the conditions in the river, I just can’t see how they’re going to be able to make this work.”

According to the feasibility report, Chieftain would need four custom-built tugs and barges to make the nearly 40-mile run from the mouth of the Taku to the Tulsequah.

The company expects to ship more than 867,000 wet metric tons of concentrate to market over the proposed 11-year life of the mine. At its operational peak that would be more than 93,000 tons per year. About 17,000 tons of supplies and fuel would be shipped up the river every year as well.

Zimmer worries what will happen if Chieftain misses a few barge runs and tries to make them up when river conditions improve.

“They’re probably going to try to run a lot of barges in a very short time to make up for that shortfall,” he says. “And I think they’ll probably push the envelope for what’s safe in the river there.”

Chieftain officials previously have said the mine would not be built unless there was a road leading to it from Atlin, B.C. In October, the company announced the road is no longer being considered. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has sued to stop the project, saying B.C. officials failed to consult them about an environmental permit.

Ron Maas is the former owner of Taku Glacier Lodge, and still owns about 150 acres up the river. He’s disappointed in Chieftain’s plan to barge.

“I just hate to see them tear up the whole damn country for a few bucks,” Maas says.

He remembers when former Tulsequah owner Redfern Resources tried barging on the Taku, and how the vessels would pass right by his property overlooking the glacier.

“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous place, and it is just a shame to have that barge coming by,” he says. “You can hear it, you know, five miles away.”

Lynden Logistics — one of the largest freight companies operating in Alaska — last month announced it had signed a non-binding letter of intent with Chieftain to provide barging services for the Tulsequah project. Officials with both companies have declined multiple requests for comment.

Chieftain is still seeking financing to reopen the Tulsequah. Cominco last operated the mine in 1957.

Juneau state lawmakers formed the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force in 2011 to address local concern over renewed interest in the mine. Rep. Cathy Muñoz says the city’s legislative delegation is still reviewing the updated feasibility study, and will talk about getting the task force back together early next year.

“It’s a high priority,” Muñoz says.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:13

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been able to get back in to a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and a fire that burned the wrecked rig occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:10

Charities are stepping up to help more Fairbanks families this holiday season. Organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 18, 2014

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:09

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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Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A mysterious oily sheen found along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two species previously unknown in the state.  The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Chieftain Metals has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has accessed a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and resulting fire occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3 near Petersburg.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau started moving into its new home this week.

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

Heather Penn, KUAC – Fairbanks

Charity organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for Fairbanks kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

Categories: Alaska News

Chevron Pulls Back On Beaufort Sea Drilling Plans

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:33

Chevron has pulled back on plans to drill for offshore Arctic oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea.

Chevron has leases in Canadian waters and notified the Canadian government Wednesday that developing its EL 481 lease tracts would not be competitive in the company’s anticipated future markets.

Categories: Alaska News

Sikuliaq Headed To Alaska Waters

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:32

The new University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel Sikuliaq is on its way to Alaska waters.

The 261-foot vessel had trials in the Great Lakes. It went through the Panama Canal, and on to Hawaii, Guam, and should arrive shortly at the navy submarine test center in Behm Canal outside of Ketchikan before crossing the Gulf to Seward and a commissioning ceremony.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim 300 Boasts Biggest Field in Two Decades

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:29

Exactly one month from the start of the Kuskokwim 300, 31 mushers have signed up for the race to Aniak and back. Race Manager Zach Fansler says it’s the biggest field in two decades.

“We’re really excited for this race. 31 teams is the most teams we’ve had sign up since 1994,” said Fansler.

Most of the sport’s biggest names like Jeff King, DeeDee Jonrowe, and Martin Buser will be at the line, along with fan favorite Lance Mackey. From Western Alaska, fans will see Pete Kaiser, plus Isaac and Nathan Underwood from Aniak, and Richie Diehl. Akiak’s Mike Williams Junior and Senior are back. Donald Towarak of Unalakleet is signed up, along with Nome’s Rolland Trowbridge and Tara Cicatello. Past champion John Baker and partner Katherine Keith of Kotzebue are set to race.

The 2015 K300 starts January 16th.

To pull off a successful race, Fansler says the race is looking for extra logistics help for housing mushers and trucking dogs, along with trail support.

“We’re checking for more mushers on the trail, we’re looking at safety, we’re looking at dropped dog situations, there’s a lot more transporting of food that needs to be done,” said Fansler.

There will be fewer dogs per team this year, as the limit was lowered from 14 to 12 dogs.

Leading up to the big race the K300 organization has set the date for their early season sprint race  later this month. Fansler says the 40-mile Holiday Classic, will be December 27th — that’s moved back a week due to bad trail conditions.

“We’re still looking to get some established trails, with the travel on the river that we’ve been seeing lately, and we’d like to get more snow, which I think is coming. Anecdotally speaking with some of the teams, not all of the teams are as trained as others, which is always a concern. We’re weighing these things heavily,” said Fansler.

Another race, the 100-Mile Challenge, was scheduled for December 27th and will be delayed to January 3rd. The Kuskokwim 300 begins January 16th in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:28

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3. The Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee has introduced two proposals to expand brown bear hunting near Petersburg.

The proposals will be considered by the State Board of Game at its meeting January 9-13 in Juneau.

Petersburg resident Bob Martin is Chairman of the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

“We like the brown bears to be relatively scarce on the island,” says Martin.

(Photo via Alaska Fish & Game)

Unit 3 is predominantly black bear country. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and are considered more dangerous when encountering humans.

“I think the motivation for these proposals is that in recent decades maybe. . .last 25 years, we’ve become aware that there’s bears on Mitkof Island,” Martin says, “and there is a brown bear hunting season in the Spring. It’s not really an intentional hunt on this island but it’s part of the larger Unit 3 hunting regs and it’s Spring only. I don’t think many people target brown bears but people do encounter them in the fall when they’re deer hunting.”

Both proposals would add a fall hunt every four regulatory years and by permit only. One would provide a fall hunt for just Mitkof Island and the other would allow for a fall hunt for all of Unit 3. Unit 3 includes the islands of Mitkof, Kupreanof, Wrangell, Kuiu as well as other islands. It does not include the mainland.

Martin grew up on Mitkof Island and said they assumed there were no brown bear here because they never saw them.

“We did have a lot of black bear around before the dump switched to a baler facility that ships out garbage but I was always under the impression and so was my family that this was a brown bear free zone and when you’re out berry picking and other such things you just kind of assumed that you just had to make a lot of noise and you’d be fine,” Martin says, “but then there have been a few incidents, two in particular, where deer hunters have encountered aggressive brown bears and then had to shoot them. And since then, I’ve heard that there are quite a few brown bears on the island, especially the South end.”

In the summer of 2012 there were two brown bears spotted near Petersburg, one at the Blind River Rapids and one at Frederick Point East. Then that fall, a third brown bear was shot by some moose hunters who said it was self defense.

Rich Lowell, Area Wildlife Biologist for Fish and Game, thinks the idea that there are a lot of brown bear on Mitkof Island might be rumor more than anything.

“There’s a lot of bad information disseminated,” Lowell says.

The State Department of Fish and Game opposes the brown bear proposals. Lowell says while they don’t have precise population estimates for Mitkof or Unit 3 brown bears it’s safe to say the number is relatively low. Brown bears move back and forth from the mainland to the islands and it is believed that there are just a few bears on each island except for Deer Island which is closer to the mainland.

Lowell: “And because the population is considered to be relatively low there are questions about the ability to have a sustainable hunt of those animals. And by mandate we are required to manage wildlife on a sustainable basis and therefore we need to ensure that our harvest of those animals is within sustained yield principals.”

Angela: “So in other words, you don’t want to open a hunt and have it last a year or two, you need to think about, can this hunt last ten, 20 years something like that?”

Lowell: “Sure. Sure, or longer.”

The proposals recognize that more hunters are out on the land in the fall looking for deer and moose, which would give them more opportunity to encounter and take bears. There has been a Spring brown bear hunt in Unit three islands for the last nine years. In that time, only four bears have been harvested. Three of the four were sows, something that the department wants to avoid.

“The fall season is when most of the females or sows actually get taken,” Lowell says. “The cubs of the year are venturing further from the sow and so we see a lot of sows get harvested in the fall or, you know, a disproportionate number that we don’t want to see with brown bears.”

The proposal that includes a brown bear fall hunt for just Mitkof Island received broader support from the local advisory committee. They approved it with an 8 to 2 vote. The proposal for establishing a hunt for all of Unit 3 passed 6 to 4.

The Board of Game will take up these two proposals and others regarding Southeast hunting and trapping when they meet in Juneau January 19-13.

The Wrangell Fish and Game Advisory Committee came up with a similar proposal to open a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3.

The deadline to comment on the proposals is December 26.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:22

Native art expert and teacher Steve Brown created the formline on the glass awnings encircling the Walter Soboleff Center. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute started moving into its new home in the yet-to-be-opened Walter Soboleff Center this week.

Chief Operating Officer Lee Kadinger hopes Sealaska Heritage Institute will be relocated by the end of January. The grand opening of the Walter Soboleff Center is May 15.

“Next door will be our new home,” Kadinger says from his current office at One Sealaska Plaza. “So every time you hear we’re having a Native Lecture Series, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Every time you hear that we’re having weaving classes, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Everything that we do isn’t going to be scattered around in different places or classrooms or meeting rooms; it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage.”

The building will have space for art exhibits, demonstrations and education. The main collections vault will be in the basement, the retail shop on the first floor, Sealaska Heritage offices on the second and office rental space on the third.

In the very center of the building, visible as soon as you enter, is a traditional clan house.

“If we want to have lectures in there, if we want to have presentation in there, if we want to have smaller performances in there – it’s really a flexible space. It’s a multiuse space and it’s an educational space,” Kadinger says.

The clan house front will be carved and painted by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. The inside will feature a carved glass house screen and two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

Other permanent art work includes 40-foot panels by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will go on the building’s cedar-clad exterior.

Formline design expert Steve Brown created the glass sidewalk awnings that are already installed.

Having raised around $20 million for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center, Sealaska Heritage continues to fundraise for added artwork and exhibits. Kadinger says more than a thousand individuals, businesses and organizations have already donated.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:04

The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in Alaska this fiscal year.

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The spending bill appropriates $50 million for construction work at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base. And another $50 million for design work a new radar facility elsewhere in Alaska to improve the missile-defense system’s ability to detect and track incoming enemy missiles.

The Missile Defense Agency will be placing 14 more interceptors like this at the Fort Greely missile base by 2017. The will bring the total number of interceptors at the base to 40. Photo from the Missile Defense Agency.

Matt Felling, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says those appropriations demonstrate the military’s confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense system after it succeeded to destroying a decoy in a test earlier this year.

“Just this past June, we had a successful interceptor missile test,” Felling said. “And I think that the military realized that we’re building a lot of momentum, to double down on the funding levels, to make sure that everything possible could be done to get our missile defense as strong as possible, quickly as possible.”

Felling says the funding will pay for continued work on Greely’s missile field 1, one of three at the base. It’s part of a $1 billion project  approved in 2013 to prepare the base for an expansion that would increase the number of interceptors there from the present 26 to 40 by the end of next year.

The other $50 million appropriation will be used to design a facility to house an advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar system. Felling says the military hasn’t decided whether to build that facility at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson, or at Shemya, an island in the far western Aleutian Island archipelago.

Those are the only major appropriations for military construction in Alaska. Felling says the spending bill also contains funding for smaller projects at Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“We have funding coming to Alaska at our military installations, he said. “We haven’t seen the dramatic increases, like we have seen in missile defense, in terms of construction on base, or construction, or maintenance.”

One proposed missile-defense facility did not get any funding in the spending bill – that’s for a second Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense installation that some lawmakers have proposed for the eastern United States. Congress approved language specifically prohibiting funding for that base in another piece of legislation passed last week, the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Alaska congressional delegation and other lawmakers have criticized in recent years, saying it’s an unnecessary installation. Felling says the authorization bill language, and $100 million appropriation for the Alaska missile-defense projects, means the proposal for the East Coast installation is dead – at least, for now.

“These bills are an affirmation of Alaska’s A.) location, in terms of defending America from threats abroad, and B.) of our ability, and our success story.”

President Obama is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:03

Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.

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If built, the industrial road would provide access to the Ambler Mining District, rich in deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse is the CEO of NovaCopper, Inc., a mining company that would benefit from the road.

“The Ambler district is a very special district,” said Neuwenhuyse. “It’s very high grade. It’s the sort of district that can provide jobs for generations because it’s very substantial. It’s been known about for a very long time and it’s always been the issue of access.”

But funding may also become a problem as the price of oil continues to fall.  This week, Alaska Governor Bill Walker slashed more than $100 million dollars from the capital budget including $8 million that would have gone toward the road project in fiscal year 2016. Van Nieuwenhuyse said he doesn’t necessarily see the cut as a set back.

“It’s a big wake up call. The state will have to make tough decisions,” he said. “This may be one of them. There may be other alternatives for finding the continued advancement of the EIS.”

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is still working on the application to begin a federal Environmental Impact Study. Mike Catsi is the Business Development and Communications Director for AIDEA.

Cats said the Governor’s recent cut hasn’t hindered what is already a long and arduous application and permitting process.

“This is a proposed budget it still has to go through the legislative process. We’ve been in communications with the Governor’s office about the project,” Catsi said, “so right now we’re moving forward. We still have money in our budget until the end of June, 2015.”

Currently, funding for the project is coming entirely from state dollars appropriated by the legislature, but Catsi said if that changes in coming years, there are other ways for AIDEA to find money.

“At AIDEA, we look at projects from a business perspective,” Catsi explained. “We have to build a business case to move forward with them, so when we make an investment and we’re looking at paying for the permitting or moving forward with that, then we would be looking at recouping those funds over the long term of the project,” he said.

The state has already spent more than $26 million dollars on feasibility and development studies since 2011. Catsi said information from those studies is available on AIDEA’s website.

This week, AIDEA invited a number of representatives from various tribal organizations and villages that could be affected by the road’s construction to Fairbanks. During an interactive presentation, the majority of attendees told AIDEA they believe more studies on the environmental and cultural impact of the road are needed.

Categories: Alaska News

Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:02

The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.

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Eighteen-year-old Brett Pauk was arraigned today on three charges: felony criminal mischief, felony burglary, and a misdemeanor theft charge.

Pauk’s alleged co-conspirator is a 17-year-old from Togiak. As a minor, he ia unnamed in court documents, but troopers say charges will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

At least $100 in cash and a pair of headphones valued at $160 were stolen from the clinic.

Troopers say the two men ripped electrical wires out of the wall in an apparent attempt to knock out surveillance, quote, “annihilating” the clinic’s communication and electrical systems. That damage has caused the loss of communication between the clinic and the Kanakanak Hospital, and the clinic may remain closed for several days as crews scramble to make repairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Broker Enrolls About 1K Alaskans In Latest Signup

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:01

A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.

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That includes renewals and new sign-ups. Aimee Crocker, operations manager for Enroll Alaska, says most of those enrolled by the broker this period have been renewals.

Overall enrollment figures aren’t yet available. Alaskans also can sign up themselves.

Monday marked the deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage beginning Jan. 1. People have until Feb. 15 to sign up for 2015 coverage through the federally run online marketplace.

Crocker says unlocking accounts for renewal clients has been frustrating.

She says website passwords were reset in April and some individuals have had to get temporary passwords or find documentation with their identification number.

Categories: Alaska News

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:59

As we’ll see, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be costly and sometimes dramatic.

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In much of Alaska, bridges, roads, buildings, and runways have been built on permafrost. That’s soil that became frozen during ice ages from 400 to 10,000 years ago, and a few feet down is frozen rock-hard year around.

Geophysics professor Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, said that due to human activity that removes the natural ground cover and warming temperatures, permafrost from the Brooks Range south is becoming unstable. He said when permafrost that’s a mix of ice and soil melts, the water often flows away and the surface sinks.

House sinking due to melting permafrost
(Credit kml.gina.alaska.edu)

“It’s not just everything sinking evenly,” said Romanovsky. “But there’s some dips and troughs and all kind of thing develops, which for infrastructure is the worst case scenario.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ chief of maintenance and operations Mike Coffey said as permafrost thaws, it takes more time and money to keep roads in shape.

“When it thaws, then we maintenance and operations spend just about all summer up north fighting the roller coaster ride,” said Coffey. “So, we’re removing pavement, re-leveling, smooth roads, then repaving or chip sealing back over the top to try to smooth roads out.”

Coffey said during most of the 32 years he’s been with the Department of Transportation, Fairbanks winters were cold.

“Historically in the fall they instantly, or very suddenly, went to below zero and they stayed below zero until spring,” said Coffey.

Now, Coffey said, warmer temperatures are changing maintenance requirements for Fairbanks roads.

“We’re getting freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw. We had a huge rainstorm in January; I think that was in 2011,” said Coffey. “It’s forced us to change the way we do our winter maintenance operations in that we’re actually now having to do anti-icing in the Fairbanks area, which 10 or 15 years ago probably wouldn’t have even been thought of.”

Jack Hébert is founder and CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. He said melting permafrost can also damage building foundations, putting houses at a tilt or out of square. Sometimes houses sink into the ground, or the soil subsides, leaving stairs dangling above the ground. But Hébert said there are ways to save a structure whose foundation is damaged.

“There’s ways that you can inject material where the ground is starting to subside,” said Hébert. “And actually — it’s called slab jacking — you can actually lift parts of the foundation that are failing that can either be done with a fluid, even concrete, or it can be done with a slab jacking foam, and that pushes the foundation back up.

Also in Fairbanks, some hillside residents have seen their wells run dry, and downhill residents’ have seen their basements fill with water as permafrost melts. Hébert said mortgage funders and some municipalities now require soil tests so homes are not built on permafrost at risk of thawing.

Climate change has some people hoping warmer summers and milder winters will become the norm in Alaska. Other effects range from disastrous to inconvenient.

Mike Brubaker, director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Center for Climate Change and Health, said people can prepare for the downsides of climate change by increasing local self-sufficiency  ̶ food, water, and energy security

“It’s something that’s always been a challenge and always been a priority for small rural Alaska communities,” said Brubaker. “And I think we just have to continue to work on that, and to make sure as opportunity presents itself through construction, through investment, through development that we’re making good decisions and helping to make our communities as climate resilient as possible.”

While there may be challenging times ahead, Jack  Hébert said he’s still optimistic for the future.

“We can learn and work together on finding ways to address this climatic change that we’re experiencing just as in many other ways we have to adapt to the times we’re living in,” said Hébert. “I think we’ve got the talent to do that up here. It’s going to take research. It’s going to take commitment. Working together, I think we can get there.”

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Sound Slayers: A Women’s Movement on Wheels

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:58

The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. The Sitka Sound Slayers got rolling two years ago and boast 29 members on their roster. But how did this former spectacle turn into a bonafide sport?

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Off the track, these 29 women are teachers, commercial fisherwomen and stay at home moms. But on the track, they are a force of raw female power.

Slayers: HotWheelz, La Femme Nikita, Ivanna Getonya, Kippered Smacks, I’m the Filthy Oar, Sin & Tonic, Sodium Chloride, Bev O’lution, Valkori, Chooser of the Slain…

Modern derby is very different than the derby of 30 years ago, with an increased emphasis on safety, regulation, and self-ownership (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Meet the Sitka Sound Slayers

Their logo is a skull with crossed halibut and gaff hooks. Yes, they skate in fishnets and lipstick, but also helmets and mouth guards. Roller Derby is tough to play and addictive to watch. Their last bout with the Garnet Grit Betties of Wrangell sold out in five days.

“I typically have very thick glasses and wear ridiculous dresses,” said Bridgette Whitcomb, a 7th grade science teacher.

“My goal in life is to be Ms. Frizzell by day. And so, like my students will see me and they’re like. ‘Wait. I know you. Who are you?’ And then they get really upset because they realize, ‘OMG, it’s Ms. Whitcomb.’

“I was missing athleticism in my life,” said Cori Schumejda.

Schumejda played basketball in college and is now the league president. She goes by Valkori and sometimes warms up with Viking horns on her head.

“There was that point where I felt like I had my professional life and then I was a mom,” said Schumejda. “And there was no little slice of that for me. I think women are looking for a place to be competitive.”

Players skate on a flat track, not a banked track, and safety is paramount. There’s no punching, no elbowing, no clotheslining. In other words, modern derby is not the derby you may remember from a few decades ago.

According to the National Museum of Roller Skating, it all started with a TV publicist named Leo Seltzer who losing money during the Great Depression. He decided to organize these marathon skating events and sold tickets.

The public loved it, even more so when players began exaggerating their falls and elbowing opponents. Seltzer tried to curtail this fake play, but it was too late. By the 1970s, Roller Derby was part-theater, part-wrestling. A raucous, rage-filled spectacle with staged fights and little regulation.

In this bout between the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and the Chicago Hawks (about 40 seconds in), one skater grabs another by her collar and slings her across the track into the medical bench. And she’s not wearing a helmet. The crowd goes wild.

Rebirth as a Women-Owned Movement

So how did Derby go from that, to this?

“Extraordinarily independent,” described Juliana Gonzalez. “Fiercely feminist as far as I can tell. And pretty unapologetic about where we see women in the world and where we see sports in the economy.”

Juliana Gonzalez (aka Bloody Mary) is the Executive Director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. In 2001, a grassroots league formed called the Texas Rollergirls. Gonzalez was one of the founding godmothers. When we spoke, she was in the locker room of Team Greece at the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas.

Globally, the WFTDA has roughly 400 leagues, representing about 25,000 athletes. Gonzalez explains that while Roller Derby has retained elements of its former self, the power structure is flipped. The female skaters run their own leagues, not an outside owner or a commercial interest. For Gonzalez, derby’s fundamental autonomy is why leagues are springing up around the world.

“Our sport is not designed with the intention of getting recognition from the sporting world,” said Gonzalez. “There is such incredible appeal to a movement that will say, ‘We stand for ourselves. We’re glad you like it. Join us.’”

Derby Finds a Home in Alaska 

And women in Alaska are heeding that call. There are member leagues in Wasilla,FairbanksAnchorage, and Juneau. In Southeast, there’s also the Ketchikan Rainforest Rollergirls and the Petersburg Ragnarök Rollers. The Slayers hope to one day join the WFTDA. But for now, they’re mostly savoring the house they’ve built at right at home.

“I really love Sitka’s audience because they just come alive and it really just breathes fire into the skaters,” said Courtney MacArthur. Her derby name is Bev’ Olution, a tribute to how the sport radically changed her life. She has a tattoo on her arm of a little girl praying to a Barbie doll.

“I always thought I had okay self-esteem, but looking back, it was like, ‘No.’ It was connected to all these unhealthy things,” said MacArthur. “I get my sense of self from a completely different place now and I take pride in completely different things, like being strong, being fast, being healthy.”

Roller Derby was invented by a man. No argument. But it is definitely women who are taking it back.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 17, 2014

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:57

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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What’s on Gov. Walker’s Federal Wish-List?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in the state this fiscal year.

Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road– gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at a time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.

Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.

Broker Enrolls About 1K Alaskans In Latest Signup

The Associated Press

A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.

Proposed Anchorage Ban on Commercial Pot Fails in Assembly

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

An effort to keep Anchorage out of the marijuana regulation process failed last night in the Anchorage Assembly after extensive public comment.

Meeting Teaches Immigrants How Proposed Reforms Affect The Immigration Process

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

About 50 people attended a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday aimed at teaching Alaska’s immigrants about President Obama’s proposed actions to help immigrants gain legal status. The main message of the meeting was that you cannot apply for any of the programs yet, but you can start preparing documents.

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Today we’ll hear the last in KNBA’s series on Climate Change and Alaska Natives. As Joaqlin Estus reports, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be dramatic.

Sitka Sound Slayers: A Women’s Movement on Wheels

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. There are more than a dozen leagues in the state, from the North Pole Babes to the Sitka Sound Slayers, with 29 members. And the derby they’re playing is not the derby of 40 years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

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