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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: 39 min 19 sec ago

Attorney General Says Tribal Protection Orders Deserve Equal Recognition

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:54

Law enforcement must uphold tribal protection orders the same as it does state protective orders, regardless of whether the order has been registered with the state, the attorney general announced in an opinion issued Thursday. The AG also encouraged the legislature to amend Alaska law to bring it into compliance with the Violence Against Women Act.

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Attorney General Craig Richards says the Violence Against Women Act clearly supersedes Alaska’s conflicting law requiring registration of tribal court and so-called “foreign” protection orders. The opinion basically affirms VAWA’s provision that tribal court and out-of-state protective orders need not be registered with the state in order to be enforced — a provision with which the Parnell administration refused to comply.

“I’m very excited to see this. I think it’s a step in the right direction in rural/tribal justice,” says Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska.

“It’s going to really, I think, have great impact and effect on our tribal court system and will have a great impact on tribal courts.”

Peterson says Tlingit and Haida is looking forward to more positive action from the Walker administration on tribal issues such as land into trust and transboundary mining.

Nick Gasca, associate council for the Tanana Chiefs Conference based in Fairbanks, also says that the opinion is an indication of the thawing relationship between the state and Alaska tribes.

“This again no doubt reflects his position that with applicable law instead fighting tribes at every case despite the fact that the law says otherwise at least in this case, that he’s moving forward to correct the department’s previous position and reconcile relationships with tribes.

The provision in VAWA requiring states to honor protective orders issued by other states and tribes was included when the act was first passed in 1994. When Congress reauthorized the act in 2013, a disagreement between the state and the Department of Justice regarding the validity of unregistered protective orders intensified.

In a December 2013 letter to Indian Law and Order Commission Chairman Troy Eid, then-Attorney General Michael Geraghty said that while tribal court protective orders must be registered with the state to be enforceable, Alaska State Troopers could — “without the formality of (s)tate court registration” — choose to enforce the order if “confronted with an emergency or tense situation.”

After a June 2014 meeting with Tony West — then an associate attorney general with the Department of Justice — Geraghty sent a follow up letter listing things the federal government could do to “help address public safety issues affecting Alaska Natives,” and Native youth. The letter requested more funding for tribal courts, prevention efforts and support for Village Public Safety Officers, among other things.

About a month later West responded to Geraghty’s letter. He acknowledged Geraghty’s suggestions, but focused on how Alaska’s law requiring registration of tribal protective orders was directly in contradiction to federal law. West offered to discuss with Geraghty way to bring Alaska into compliance with federal law and offered training on the provisions of VAWA.

The opinion doesn’t address tribal jurisdiction issues and does leave some issues left to be decided. Jacqueline Schafer, an assistant attorney general with the State of Alaska, says the nice thing about the opinion is that it doesn’t address issues regarding tribal jurisdiction. The opinion also makes clear that officers can enforce orders that are clearly intended to be protective orders even if they are not explicitly labeled as such.

“It’s really just saying that as long as the order is clear that the issuing court says that it had jurisdiction and that they provided due process and that the order meets the requirements of VAWA then the officer will enforce that order on the ground. It doesn’t matter if the order was registered or not.”

Schafer says there is no set protocol for a situation in which a victim claims to have a tribal protection order, but doesn’t have a copy of it and hasn’t registered it with the state. She says she could imagine the officer simply contacting the tribal court in that case to ensure that the order exists.

“That would be and easy resolution… it would be most protective…”

The opinion does mention that orders must meet the requirements of VAWA in order to be valid. One condition is that the order must provide the person the order is issued against due process. The also points out, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated a tribal court’s obligation to provide due process does not mean tribal courts must use the same procedures as state or federal courts. What constitutes due process could be a point of contention for someone who wants to challenge a protective order issued against them, but Schafer says this also is an area of the law that is yet to be determined.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, July 31, 2015

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:52

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

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Shell Begins Exploratory Drilling in the Chukchi Sea

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Arctic drilling is under way. Shell Oil confirmed Thursday night that its Polar Pioneer rig sent a drill bit spinning into the floor of the Chukchi Sea about 5 p.m. Alaska time.

Attorney General Says Tribal Protection Orders Deserve Equal Recognition

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Law enforcement must uphold tribal protection orders the same as it does state protective orders, regardless of whether the order has been registered with the state, the attorney general announced in an opinion issued Thursday.

At Least 7 Vehicles Involved In Fatal Seward Highway Wreck

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers say one person is dead and numerous others are injured in a highway crash involving at least seven vehicles, including a tour bus.

15-Year-Old Plane Crash Survivor Honored By Coast Guard

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The 15-year-old survivor of a plane crash near Juneau was recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday for helping to save the other three passengers despite his own injuries.

Yukon King Run Stronger Than Expected

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A stronger than expected run of Yukon River Chinook salmon is allowing fishery managers to loosen subsistence harvest restrictions on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river.

Strange Orange Robots Sail Into Dutch Harbor… Just What Are They Up To?

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Aquatic robots have been spotted in the Aleutian Islands.  Two ocean-going drones were seen sailing into Dutch Harbor Monday night with no one on board.

AK: At A Lonely Lighthouse, Cruise Tourists Bring A Welcome Dose of Noise, And Cash

Joe Sykes, KFSK – Petersburg

For most of the summer the three people who live in Five Finger Lighthouse only have each other and the local wildlife for company. They’re there to look after the lighthouse and do research on the humpback whales who surround the island. But that costs money. So for the first time this year they invited a cruise ship, laden with yoga loving tourists, to ferry its passengers onto their rocky shores.

49 Voices: Albert Gamboa of Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we’re talking to Albert Gamboa, who was fishing on the banks of Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage. He’s originally from the Philippines and has lived in Anchorage on and off since 1989.

Categories: Alaska News

Strange Orange Robots Sail Into Dutch Harbor… Just What Are They Up To?

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:47

Aquatic robots have been spotted in the Aleutian Islands. Two ocean-going drones were seen sailing into Dutch Harbor Monday night with no one on board. Just what are these orange robots doing out there–and should we be alarmed?

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These robots are 18 feet tall. Each one has a bright orange wing of carbon fiber sticking up from a floating platform. At sea, they look like oversized windsurfers.

Using the wind for propulsion, and solar panels for their electronics, they’ve been traveling thousands of miles in the Bering Sea all by themselves.

It’s almost like they have minds of their own.

But these robots are working for good, not evil–we think.

Saildrones Inc. CEO Richard Jenkins turns his back (unwisely?) on two of his creations in Unalaska. Photo: John Ryan/KUCB.

Richard Jenkins is their creator. He’s the CEO of Saildrone, Inc., in California.

Jenkins: “They’re autonomous. You send them waypoints and a corridor, and they won’t venture out of the corridor regardless of wind or tides. They’re self-controlling. You just need a human to tell them roughly where to go.”

Hmm. Self-controlling. Not sure I like the sound of that.

Jenkins came up to Unalaska to take his robots out of the water and send them home after a three-month science mission.

Jenkins: “On the mast there, that little square thing pointing down? That is a laser, so it is an infrared camera, you could say. What it does, it tells you the sea surface temperature at the very top micron of the water.”

Great. Robots with lasers. What could possibly go wrong?

If these self-controlling machines haven’t gone rogue, they’ve been using their instruments to measure temperature, acidity and 20 other conditions in the rapidly changing Bering Sea.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the University of Washington are collaborating on the high-tech project.

They say each drone can carry more than 200 pounds of scientific instruments. They can cruise the open ocean at up to 14 knots. They can boldly go where it would cost a lot more to send a ship full of human beings.

At a busy fishing dock on Unalaska’s Captain’s Bay, Jenkins says he launched the two sail drones from the very same dock in April.

Jenkins: “We sent them out of here into 45-knot headwinds. From here, they went to St. Paul, then up through the Bering Sea up to Nome, then over to Norton Sound. We mapped the Yukon delta. Then they sailed back to Dutch Harbor. So 4,500 miles on each drone.”

Jenkins says the last time humans surveyed the sea floor of the Yukon delta, the year was 1899.

Scientists hope new data from the drones can further human understanding of problems threatening Bering Sea fisheries. Problems like climate change, retreating sea ice and ocean acidification. Problems that humans, not robots, have caused.

Ryan: “Who’s more intelligent, your drones or you?”

“[Laughs] Drones, for sure. No, Drones aren’t intelligent. Drones are robots that follow simple rules.  They’re not able to make decisions for themselves. That’s all done back at base. You don’t want to have a whole heap of computer power on the drones because it’s a low power device. You only get so much energy from the sun, and computing power equals power consumption.

“This is just a pretty simple brain that actually just gets you from A to B and takes measurements.”

I guess that’s reassuring.

NOAA scientists say the drones’ biggest challenge isn’t subjugating the human race to their will, but dealing with cold water, limited sunlight and jellyfish.

Large numbers of jellyfish can clog the drones’ water intakes.

Isn’t that like War of the Worlds, where the attacking aliens were felled by bacteria?

Jenkins says his creations handled the jellyfish and algae and storms of the Bering Sea beautifully.

Jenkins: “If these vehicles can survive the Bering Sea, they can survive any place on Earth.”

Great. So if the drones do rise up against their masters, there’s no place to hide.

Next year, scientists hope to send the drones beyond the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean. Here’s Dr. Strangedrone, I mean, Richard Jenkins again.

Jenkins: “The Arctic is one of the cutting edges of climate change now. So getting to the Arctic to measure how fast the ice is melting and what happens to the ocean when it does melt is huge. Normally, that would be very, very expensive. You would need a big icebreaker. It’s a long way to go and very remote, whereas we can send these at very low risk and very low cost into some of harshest parts of planet.”

But what it the drones get sick of being sent to the harshest parts of the planet?

2001 movie clip: “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”

“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”

Of course, that’s just science fiction.

2001 movie clip: “I know that you and Frank were going to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”

In science non-fiction, Jenkins disassembles his sail drones on the busy fishing. He straps them down into their shipping crates on a busy dock. They don’t seem to put up any resistance.

Maybe they are just useful tools for gathering important data about our rapidly changing oceans.


Categories: Alaska News

At Least 7 Vehicles Involved In Fatal Seward Highway Wreck

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:34

Alaska State Troopers say one person is dead and numerous others are injured in a highway crash involving at least seven vehicles, including a tour bus.

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Troopers say the crash occurred earlier today on the Seward Highway in the Portage area south of Anchorage. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters says she doesn’t know how many people have been sent to hospitals other than three people in critical condition.

Anchorage police say the highway in the Portage area is expected to remain closed for several hours.

Categories: Alaska News

15-Year-Old Plane Crash Survivor Honored By Coast Guard

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:33

The 15-year-old survivor of a plane crash near Juneau was recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard Thursday for helping to save the other three passengers despite his own injuries.

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Jose Vasquez was on the Wings of Alaska Cessna that crashed into a mountain 18 miles west of Juneau, killing the pilot. Vasquez lives in Puerto Rico and was in Juneau visiting his godparents. All three and another passenger were traveling to Hoonah.

Coast Guard spokesman Grant DeVuyst says Vasquez used survival skills he learned as a Boy Scout.

“He had multiple injuries but he still went through many steps to make sure the other passengers got the help they needed,” DeVuyst says.

Vasquez had broken ribs and a collapsed lung, according to his godfather.

Jose Vasquez and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Dan Abel on Thursday. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Alaska)

Vasquez put layers of clothing around his godmother Sandra Herrera Lopez to preserve body heat. He lifted cargo boxes that had fallen on another passenger, Ernestine Hanlon-Abel of Hoonah.

DeVust says Vasquez then found three cell phones and called 911. He used a phone app to determine the latitude and longitude of the crash site and passed them on to emergency operators.

“When he heard one of the first helicopters from Temsco nearby, he started using smoke signals and then later when the Coast Guard helicopter arrived on scene, he started waving a silver thermal blanket to attract attention and that successfully vectored them in for what was the rescue of the passengers,” DeVuyst says.

He says Vasquez’s efforts accelerated the search and rescue.

“There was the emergency beacon aboard the aircraft, but without his precise location, because of how heavily wooded everything was, it would’ve taken longer for rescue crews to locate them,” DeVuyst says.

The Coast Guard honored Vasquez during a ceremony closed to media at Juneau’s Federal Building. DeVuyst says about 50 people were there, including family and friends, and Coast Guard personnel. His godfather Humberto Hernandez, another passenger on the flight, is a Coast Guard doctor.

Hernandez says he’s getting physical therapy. He has a swollen leg, back pain and will have to have some teeth removed. Wife Sandra Herrera Lopez had been medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He says she had several fractures to her head, arm, ankle, collarbone and ribs. She’s since been transferred to another hospital in Seattle.

Hoonah resident Ernestine Hanlon-Abel is still at Harborview. Her husband Tom Abel says she’s undergone multiple operations and has both legs in casts. He hopes she’ll be able to leave the hospital soon, but will likely stay in an assisted living facility before returning to Hoonah.

Vasquez is awaiting clearance from his doctor before going home to Puerto Rico.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon King Run Stronger Than Expected

Fri, 2015-07-31 16:32

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

A stronger than expected run of Yukon River Chinook salmon is allowing fishery managers to loosen subsistence harvest restrictions on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river. The better-than-anticipated run is still small by historical standards, but may signal that Yukon King stocks are beginning to rebuild.

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Nearly 65,000 kings had passed the state’s sonar counter near the U.S. Canada border at Eagle as of Wednesday, enough to exceed key milestones, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt.

The harvest sharing agreement divides the number of kings in excess of the escapement goal between Alaska and Canadian fishermen.

Schmidt says there has already been some king harvest by Alaska subsistence fishermen, including a reported 3,000 incidentally caught in the commercial summer chum fishery. She expects a similar conservative catch in Canada.

This year’s return is the second in a row that appears to show some movement toward rebuilding a run that once totaled 3 hundred thousand but has struggled for the past two decades due to over harvest and suspected environmental factors. Beyond the raw return number, Schmidt says this summer’s Yukon King run also showed another positive sign.

Schmidt says this summer’s kings are also bigger, cautioning that’s in line with a substantial contingent of larger age 6 fish returning.  She says a salmon research project near the river mouth is seeing more young Chinook than in past years, a potential sign more could come back in future years, depending on environmental conditions.

Categories: Alaska News

Trooper search warrant finds Nome pair with 21 pot plants, $32k in marijuana

Fri, 2015-07-31 12:08

An Alaska State Trooper cruiser parked on Nome’s Front Street in January 2015. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

Alaska State Troopers said two Nome-area residents are facing drug charges after they say they found an illegal marijuana grow in their Dexter and Triple Creek-area home.

Troopers with the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team—or WAANT—wrote in an online dispatch they executed a search warrant into a home outside the Nome subdivision Thursday.

It was the home of 53-year-old Anthony Shelp and 34-year-old Esther Olanna. Troopers said the investigation found 21 mature marijuana plants being grown in two separate areas of the house.

They also found six immature starter plants, about one pound of “bud” marijuana, and various pieces of grow equipment, including lights, timers, chemicals, and more.

Troopers said the pair was at the home during the search but were not arrested.

The nearly two dozen plants yielded about 2.3 pounds of dry, processed marijuana, which Troopers said has a value on the streets of Nome around $32,000.

A voter referendum decriminalized marijuana in November, changing state law to allow for up to six flowering marijuana plants and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. A 1975 state Supreme Court case, Ravin v. Alaska, saw the court rule that an individual’s right to privacy under the state constitution includes the right to use and consume a personal, non-commercial amount of marijuana.

Both Shelp and Olanna were already on release, with court-specified conditions, for prior offenses. Troopers said charges for the marijuana grow—including misconduct involving a controlled substance and violating conditions of their release—have been sent to the district attorney’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

The future of Alaska’s megaprojects

Fri, 2015-07-31 12:00

The six so called megaprojects that Governor Walker put on hold soon after taking office have already received millions in state and federal funds but would take billions to actually complete. Where would the money come from? If the state stops them completely will the federal money have to be repaid?

HOST: Lori Townsend



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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Health nonprofits strained by delay in grant payments

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:29

Some of Alaska’s social service agencies say they are feeling strained finances caused by delayed state grant funding caused by the Legislature’s late budget and expenditures on a new state computer accounting system.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that state health officials said Wednesday that the Department of Health and Social Services has only awarded about 45 percent of its grant, compared to nearly 96 percent of grants awarded at this time last year.

Department of Administration spokesman Andy Mills says the health department warned grant recipients about possible delays caused by the new accounting system in May. Those challenges were made worse when the legislature took extra time to pass a budget.

Health department officials say struggling nonprofits should contact program managers in state government for help.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA announces $445K settlement with North Slope Borough

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:27

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with Alaska’s North Slope Borough over alleged hazardous waste violations.

EPA officials said Thursday the borough stored more than 45,000 pounds of hazardous waste in Barrow without a storage permit required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Officials say the borough also failed to perform at least five hazardous waste determinations at the site.

The EPA says the violations occurred between 2012 and 2014.

Officials say the waste included antifreeze contaminated with benzene, corrosive solvents and other materials. The waste has been removed.

EPA spokeswoman Judy Smith says the borough has 30 days to pay a penalty of more than $445,000 as part of the agreement reached earlier this month.

Acting North Slope Borough attorney Teresa Bowen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Hoonah cruise ship dock to be completed in the fall

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:26

The future site of the new dock. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Hoonah will soon be getting more cruise ship passengers as it nears completion of a new dock at Icy Strait Point.

The town currently receives as many as 4,000 tourists a day on cruise lines like Celebrity. But arriving ships have to anchor offshore and tender passengers over with smaller boats.

Tyler Hickman, vice president of Icy Strait Point, says some vessels can’t accommodate that.

“For instance, I know that Disney doesn’t carry tenders on their ships so they don’t carry any tender ports. And so it certainly opens the door where it was completely closed to them in past. So I think it sparks interest on all the cruise lines,” he says.

For example, the Disney Wonder already has ports of call in Southeast and can carry up to 2,700 passengers.

Huna Totem Corp. owns Icy Strait Point, a historic cannery turned tourist attraction with a museum, gift shop and zip line.

Hickman says funding for the dock came from a public-private partnership.

“The city has brought $14 million that was a grant from the state and Huna Totem Corp. is putting another 8 million into it,” he says.

The dock is expected to be completed in October in time for next year’s tourist season.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska senators vote in favor of highway bill

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:21

Congress has averted a crisis in U.S. Highway funding.

The Senate passed a House bill on Thursday to keep the highway program afloat until at least Halloween.

Both Alaska senators voted for the bill.

It also includes an unrelated emergency measure for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress agreed to let the VA move up to $3.3 billion dollars from the new Veterans Choice program, which funds private health care for vets, to cover other account shortfalls.

Without the flexibility, the VA said it would have had to begin shutting down its own hospitals and clinics. Sen. Lisa Murkowski blamed the need for the emergency measure on the VA’s “poor organizational abilities.”

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s exploratory drilling commences in the Chukchi Sea

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:12

The Polar Pioneer drill rig arrives in Dutch Harbor. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska)

Arctic drilling is under way.

Shell Oil confirmed Thursday night that its Polar Pioneer rig sent a drill bit spinning into the floor of the Chukchi Sea about 5 p.m. Alaska time.

It came at the end of one of the most eventful days in the company’s eight-year effort to find oil in the Arctic Ocean.

More than 2,000 miles away, just a few minutes before the drill bit hit the sea floor, the company’s icebreaker Fennica managed to free itself from a blockade of protesters in Portland, Oregon.

Protesters had suspended themselves from a bridge across the Willamette River.

Others had taken to kayaks to block the exit of the Fennica.

Thursday morning, the Fennica approached the bridge, then turned around after a 15-minute standoff.

Shell’s Fennica vessel. Photo: John Ryan/KUCB.

A federal judge in Anchorage slapped Greenpeace with a $2,500 fine for every hour its activists blocked the Fennica.

By late afternoon, local police and the U.S. Coast Guard had disbanded the protesters. The Fennica set sail past the bridge and headed for Alaska.

Greenpeace called delaying the icebreaker for 36 hours a victory.

Activists say climate change and the risk of an oil spill make drilling in the Arctic Ocean a dangerous mistake.

Shell has begun drilling a 40-foot-deep cellar for housing a blowout preventer.

It can only begin drilling into oil-bearing layers beneath the sea floor after the Fennica arrives at the drill site in the Chukchi Sea.

Interior Department officials say they expect to approve the deeper drilling quickly once the Fennica has returned to the Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Anchorage mayors tackle two recessions

Fri, 2015-07-31 08:00

This week, we’ll be talking with two Anchorage mayors about two recessions. With us are Tom Fink, who took over the reigns of Anchorage in 1987, not long after a collapse in the price of oil, and by Ethan Berkowitz, who’s been in office just about a month now.

HOST: Zachariah Hughes


  • Tom Fink, former Anchorage mayor
  • Ethan Berkowitz, Anchorage mayor

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, July 31, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 31, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters

Thu, 2015-07-30 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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Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters With $2,500/Hr. Fine

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

A federal judge has found Greenpeace in contempt for blocking the path of an Arctic drilling vessel trying to make its way from Portland, Ore. to Alaska.

‘Shell No’ Protesters Turn Back the Fennica

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

“Shell No” is the theme of a protest happening right now as Shell’s Fennica icebreaker tries to head north after undergoing repairs in Oregon.

A Tale of 2 Murkowski Bills – One Partisan, One Not

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski passed two major bills out of the Senate Energy Committee today, each containing priorities she’s been working on since she became chairman of that panel.

Instrument Data ‘Another Piece of the Puzzle’ in Fatal Plane Crash

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the July 17 plane crash that occurred 18 miles west of Juneau.

Under Alaska Management, the Mosquito River is Open for Business

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Federal Government has backed down in a long running legal dispute with the State of Alaska over ownership of an eastern interior river.

Bethel Advances The Possibility of A City-Run Liquor Store

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council last night took one step towards a possible return to local option status. By a 4 to 3 vote, they introduced an ordinance, which, if passed by council next month would let voters decide in October whether to allow local alcohol sales solely through a city-run liquor store.

Ketchikan Borough To Vote on Tobacco Tax

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough has completed drafting an ordinance that would impose a $3-per-pack tobacco tax within borough boundaries. The ordinance also would tax other tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – at 75 percent of their wholesale price.

BC tribal protest stops mine exploration, for now

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Developers of a mine on a Taku River tributary have stopped work after an on-site protest by a British Columbia tribal government. The Taku enters the ocean near Juneau.

Wrangell Opens A New Cultural Center, Carving Shed

Katarina Sostaric, KTSK – Wrangell

The Wrangell Cooperative Association cut the ribbon on its cultural center and carving shed Saturday, completing the second phase of the tribe’s three-part Native cultural revival plan. The center will serve as a place for recreating eight sacred totem poles and for teaching Native arts.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Shell No’ Protesters Turn Back the Fennica

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:37

“Shell No” is the theme of a protest happening right now as Shell’s Fennica icebreaker tries to head north after undergoing repairs in Oregon.

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At about 6:30 this morning Shell’s icebreaker tried to leave drydock on the Willamette River. It turned back at the St. John’s Bridge, where hanging protesters and kayakers are trying to block its exit. Mereditch Cocks is a local organizer with a conservation group called Portland Rising Tide.

“Kayaks are attempting to blockade the Willamette River. I think there are probably 80 or 90 people out on the river in boats. And of course there are still 13 climbers that are hanging from the St. John’s Bridge, and they have been up there for 36 hours blockading Fennica. Let me hold my phone out for you — people are chanting and arrests are being attempted, but I don’t believe any have been made yet on the water.”

Protesters are using the Twitter handle #ShellNo to spread news about the movement.

Cocks has been hanging around the bridge since Tuesday. She says when they got wind early this morning that the Fennica was going to leave drydock, they tried to get as many people on the water as possible.

“The Fennica approached the climbers. There were probably a few dozen boats on the water…. and at that point it actually retreated back to dock,” she says.

At about 3:00 this afternoon Cocks says law enforcement was amping up its presence, which makes her think the Fennica may make a second attempt to head north in the coming hours.

“It just started to get pretty serious in the past hour or so when we really saw the first meaningful efforts to extract the climbers off the bridge.”

Cocks says the morale among protesters is strong. And many have pledged to get back on scene as soon as possible if they’re arrested.

Greenpeace is being fined $2,500 per hour the hanging protesters impede Shell’s Fennica vessel.

Categories: Alaska News

Tale of 2 Murkowski Bills: Bipartisan and Not

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:36

Sens. Cantwell and Murkowski speak to reporters.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski passed two major bills out of the Senate Energy Committee today, each containing priorities she’s been working on since she became chairman of that panel. One bill would lift the crude oil export ban and give states like Alaska a share of federal off-shore oil revenues. It passed on a party-line vote. The other is a national energy policy focused on efficiency, job training and modernizing the electric grid. It passed the committee overwhelmingly. Each bill reflects elements of the senator’s legislative style.

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Murkowski and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Energy panel, held a joint victory press conference after the committee approved the broad national energy bill. Cantwell says when she was first on the Committee, they couldn’t even pass a bill to prevent electric blackouts, even though the West Coast had already endured massive blackouts.

“And people kept saying, ‘Oh no we have to wait for a big energy package,'” Cantwell recalled. “No we don’t! The transformation in energy is happening much more rapidly. We should get what we can get done now.”

That kind of thinking — approve the essentials now, deal with controversies later – was the guiding principal Murkowski employed on the national policy bill. The bill is replete with unsexy stuff, like legislative housekeeping, to repeal out-of-date energy laws. Murkowski claims her favorite part of the bill is that it eliminates the need for the Energy Department to produce scores of useless annual reports. Murkowski says, sure, they could have aimed for more pointed legislation.

“But you know what? We haven’t updated our energy policies in eight-plus years,” she said. “And it’s just so past

The Senate Energy panel considered stacks of amendments. (Photo: Senate staff, via Twitter.)


Both senators say the nation’s energy infrastructure has to be ready to take advantage of new technologies – like new sources of generation and storage. To reach common ground, though, they had to convince other committee members to dial back on home-state priorities if they were controversial. Cantwell says it helped that Murkowski invited every member to present any bill they wanted to the committee. They held dozens of hearings on issues that never made it into the final package.

“People just took some of those regional issues that they desperately wanted to get, and said ‘yeah, I know if I put this in here, I might be able to win the vote, but then it’s never going to go anywhere,'” Cantwell said.

Of course, the lack of local priorities leaves the senators with few headline issues to go home and campaign on. Murkowski says pushing their individual agendas would not have been successful.

“If we hadn’t moved this out today, we would have been delivering 100 percent of nothing to our constituents,” Murkowski said.

The bill still faces an uncertain future on the Senate floor. The other bill the committee passed, though, is certainly more controversial. It’s got a long name: The OffShore Production and Energizing National Security Act, or for short, OPENS. It would encourage more off-shore drilling, and provide revenue-sharing for Alaska and other states. It would also allow Shell and other companies with leases in the Arctic an extra 10 years to develop them, beyond their lease deadlines.

Ending the crude export ban is part of this bill, too. Oil market analyst Jamie Webster, a senior director of research at the firm IHS, favors lifting the ban, and he says he’s been watching Murkowski take on the issue.

“A lot of us kind of nerdy types have been talking about oil exports for a while, but she was the first big political figure to come out and say ‘this needs to happen,'” Webster says.

Murkowski says the ban is outdated and harms the economy. Others, though, say it amounts to exporting refinery jobs and they worry it will raise fuel prices. Murkowski launched her effort to repeal the ban at the start of 2014, with a speech at a Washington think tank. Webster says she was pragmatic and realized it would take time to bring others along.

“She could have started to kind of push it right then, but instead very much took the stance of saying it would be the year of the report, which it actually ended up being,” Webster said.

Whether her patience will be rewarded remains to be seen. Several reports concluded that lifting the ban won’t boost prices at the pump, but no Democrats voted for the OPENS bill in the energy committee, some of them citing price concerns.

Categories: Alaska News

Instrument data ‘another piece of the puzzle’ in fatal plane crash

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:35

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the fatal plane crash that occurred 18 miles west of Juneau on July 17.

Wings of Alaska flight 202 crashed into a mountain about 15 minutes after departing Juneau on its way to Hoonah, killing the pilot Fariah Peterson. All four passengers survived.

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Chris Shaver is the NTSB investigator in charge. He says there were no reported problems at takeoff.

“In the only communication that the pilot had with air traffic control, which would’ve been at takeoff, she didn’t relay any issues,” Shaver says.

The plane is certified to fly under visual flight rules, which means it has to stay out of the clouds and maintain a visual reference with the ground for navigation. Shaver says weather conditions at the Juneau and Hoonah airports at the time fit visual flight rules. To determine what conditions were like in between, he says he’s pulled images from seven weather cameras.

Shaver says the plane’s electronic system had a feature that gives visual and audio warnings if the aircraft is approaching terrain. The plane split in two when it hit a large spruce tree at an elevation of about 1,300 feet above sea level.

“Where the separation happened probably played some factor in the survivability of the passengers,” Shaver says.

The engine is being sent to Anchorage for further inspection and the plane’s visual display units are being sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. A chip inside the display units will hopefully offer flight data, like air speed and altitude.

“We hope that we’ll get data all the way up until 1 to 2 seconds before the accident,” Shaver says. “It’s not going to answer the question of why did something happen, but it’s going to give us a much clearer picture of what exactly happened, at least, with the flight path of the airplane. So it’s another piece of the puzzle.”

Shaver says the final report determining probable cause of the Wings of Alaska crash won’t come out for another 12 to 18 months.

Categories: Alaska News

Under Alaska Management, Mosquito Fork is Open for Business

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:34

The federal government has backed down in a long running legal dispute with the State of Alaska over ownership of an eastern interior river. State ownership the Mosquito Fork of the Forty Mile River will open it up to new activity, including mining.

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The Mosquito Fork runs for about 80 miles before joining the main stem of Forty Mile near the Taylor Highway and historic gold mining community of Chicken. It’s within a National Wild and Scenic River Corridor, but this week the Bureau of Land Management dropped claims to the waterway.  Alaska Department of Natural Resources Chief of Operation for the Division of Mining Land and Water, Wyn Menefee says the move ends a drawn out legal battle.

“We were on our way to doing the full arguments in court, and BLM, at the last minute, after a lot of preparation time for the court case gave a recordable disclaimer of interest, which is something they could’ve done at the very beginning, before we ever went to litigation.

As a condition of statehood, Alaska was granted navigable waters, a determination the BLM has challenged on numerous waterways including the Mosquito Fork, despite what Menefee describes as solid evidence.

“We floated the river, we showed it’s navigable — clearly, now — we had evidence of commerce and trade on the river.”

BLM Alaska spokeswoman Leslie Elis Waters would not comment on why the BLM gave up fighting for the Mosquito Fork, saying the decision came down from the U.S. Justice Department, adding that that the BLM intends to cooperate with the state.

The Mosquito Fork is in a popular hunting, recreation, and placer gold mining area, where the BLM has contested some state issued mining claims. Menefee says confirmation of state ownership will open up the river to new activity, including small scale mining.

Menafee hopes that the BLM’s decision drop the fight over the Mosquito Fork signals a sea change in the larger battle over ownership of numerous other Alaska rivers.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Opens A New Cultural Center, Carving Shed

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:30

The Wrangell Cooperative Association cut the ribbon on its cultural center and carving shed Saturday, completing the second phase of the tribe’s three-part Native cultural revival plan. The center will serve as a place for recreating eight sacred totem poles and for teaching Native arts.

Dancers started the dedication of the Wrangell Cooperative Association Cultural Center with a performance in front of the new building’s gleaming cedar façade. A crowd gathered in the street for the grand opening of what is also known as the carving facility.

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Dancers kick off the grand opening of the Wrangell Cooperative Association Cultural Center on Saturday, July 25, 2015. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

Wrangell Tribal Council Vice President Richard Oliver said it is a place for local artists, carvers and entrepreneurs to develop their skills and trade.

“Our mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of our tribe,” Oliver said. “And it is also to help build a strong, unified and self-reliant membership.”

It is the second part of a three-phase plan to revive the Wrangell tribe’s assets. The first part was completed when the Chief Shakes Tribal House was rebuilt in 2013. The next step for the association is to carve replicas of eight totem poles that used to stand near the tribal house on Shakes Island. The cultural center is where carvers will work on that project.

Virginia Oliver introduced Tlingit elder Marge Byrd.

Photo: Katarina Sostaric/KSTK

“Cedar Rope Mother is going to help us bless the building right now. She is the one that had been holding the culture here in Wrangell for us,” Oliver said. “And she was holding on with a cedar rope, holding us all together so we could come here today so that you could be a witness to this.”

Together, they led a cedar bough ceremony to purify the new building. A long line of tribal members and spectators slowly circled the outside of the building, singing and brushing the walls with fragrant cedar boughs. When everyone circled the building, Byrd, Cedar Rope Mother, spoke.

“It’s like we always hear. We’ve been here for a long time. And we’ll always be here, as long as you hear our drum,” Byrd said. “We’re here, and we’re going forward. We have our new facility. We have our new Shakes house, and some other things going on ahead to keep our culture alive for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.”

Oliver explained cedar is a cleansing and purifying medicine of the Tlingit people. She said it is wonderful to see these ceremonies being revived in Wrangell.

“It’s powerful to me. I’m so glad that this is finally happening,” Oliver said. “And now we’re looking forward to the re-carving of our totem poles and putting up those totem poles and putting the other ones to rest.”

Sealaska board member Richard Rinehart Jr., who is from Wrangell, said he wanted to convey the regional Native corporation’s appreciation for the cultural revival that has taken place in the local Native community.

Tlingit elder Marge Byrd thanks project manager Todd White.

“It’s obvious, and everybody can see it,” Rinehart Jr. said. “Where for a number of years things seemed silent. Our old ANB hall had fallen into disrepair. Our totem poles were falling down. The totem poles are still down, but thanks to Rasmuson and a number of the other contributors, these things are all coming back to life.”

The Rasumson Foundation supports Alaskan nonprofits, and it helped fund construction of the cultural center and the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Rinehart Jr. also mentioned the role this cultural revival plays in the effort to push landless legislation through Congress to make the Wrangell tribe a federally recognized Native village.

Construction of the carving facility was completed last fall, led by Project Manager Todd White. It has already housed a major carving project and Native arts classes. Artists also use the building to sell their goods to tourists.

Tribal Administrator Aaron Angerman said it has been more than 10 years since they started planning the cultural restoration.

“It’s great to see that we’re this far and knowing that we’re going to be carving these totems very soon. And we made it this far from next to nothing,” Angerman said. “And I’m really confident these things will pay dividends to members of this community for decades and decades to come.”

After a series of speeches, it was time to cut the big blue ribbon tied across the front doors.
Kris Norosz of the Rasmuson Foundation held the ribbon down so Marge Byrd could cut it, and they welcomed everyone inside.

Categories: Alaska News