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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: 41 min 52 sec ago

Fecal Bacteria Contaminates Many Anchorage Waterways

Fri, 2014-07-25 10:58

 

Test results from samples at Cuddy Park pond. The blue dots are E. coli (photo courtesy of Anchorage Waterways Council)

It’s a beautiful day in midtown, and Thom Eley of the Anchorage Waterways Council circles the perimeter of a pond in Cuddy Park with his intern Robert Veeh.

Robert squats at the lakes edge and measures its temperature; it’s about 70 degrees fahrenheit. He then unwraps an eyedropper, sucks up 5 milliliters of water, and drips it into a small vial so it can be tested for fecal coliform, a bacterium found in human and animal feces.

If you find high fecal coliform counts, there’s only one way that’s getting in there,” Eley says, holding back a chuckle. “Some sort of poop is going in the water.”

Eley has monitored the pond in Cuddy Park—which is actually a part of Fish Creek—for thirteen years. He has found high levels of e-coli and other fecal bacteria in the waterway. His advice to park visitors: “Don’t fall in it, don’t get a mouth full of water.”

Fecal pollution has many possible sources, such as leaking septic systems, homeless camps, and duck droppings. But Cherie Northon, executive director of the Anchorage Waterways Council, says the most common vector is probably dogs. “There are about 70,000 dogs in urban Anchorage,” she says. “Every dog is going to poop maybe a half a pound. If you do the math, that’s 20, 30 tons a day, not a year but a day, that ends up on the ground.”

If dog owners don’t pick it up, all of that poop gets washed into the city’s streams and rivers. As of 2010, essentially all of Anchorage’s waterways were on the EPA’s impaired water list for high levels of fecal bacteria. “It’s an invisible problem, it’s not a floating piece of trash or an oil sheen,” Northon says. “The water looks crystal clear, and yet it’s carrying all of this bacteria.”

Fecal pollution isn’t uncommon in urban waterways, and it doesn’t harm fish or other wildlife. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested by humans, though, which is why Northon says Anchorage’s watershed needs to be cleaned up.

“We’ve gone down Campbell Creek, my husband fell off the back of our raft once, and in that situation you grab a mouth full of water….You’re not planning on it but you still get it in your mouth.”

State and local agencies are trying to remove fecal bacteria from Anchorage’s watershed in a number of ways, including erecting “mutt mitt stations” near lakes and streams, which hold plastic bags for dog refuse; regulating septic systems more carefully; and, doing regular street sweeps to reduce the amount of bacteria traveling in storm water.

Over the past few years three Anchorage lakes have been removed from the impaired water list, including Lakes Hood and Spenard.

Categories: Alaska News

Complaint Filed Against Anti-Marijuana Campaign

Thu, 2014-07-24 20:01

Sponsors of a marijuana regulation initiative have filed a complaint against their opposition, alleging that Big Marijuana Big Mistake has violated disclosure rules.

At issue is whether the owners of the anti-marijuana group’s public relations firm are serving in a volunteer capacity and whether the firm’s time is being properly accounted. Kristina Woolston, a majority owner of Northwest Strategies, has identified herself as a volunteer for Big Marijuana Big Mistake when serving as a campaign spokesperson, and her time working against the initiative has not been disclosed in any campaign finance reports.

Chris Rempert, a sponsor of the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes the anti-marijuana group is using that as a tactic to paint the initiative sponsors as outsiders.

“It’s very clear that they are willfully misrepresenting themselves to the public, to the media, and to election regulators because they think that will benefit them,” says Rempert.

Alaska law requires initiative campaigns to disclose their expenditures within a 10-day time frame, and the Alaska Public Offices Commission requires any sort of commercial services provided by volunteers to be documented as campaign contributions.

Northwest Strategies started working for Big Marijuana Big Mistake in mid-April, and the campaign’s first independent expenditure report was filed on May 27. None of the campaign’s independent expenditure reports make any note of Woolston’s volunteer time.

Woolston believes that the APOC complaint is a “distraction,” and that initiative sponsors are using it to divert attention from the $500,000 in funding they’ve received from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Woolston says she identifies herself as a volunteer because she is not a salaried employee of Northwest Strategies.

“Yeah, well, this isn’t my job. I mean the work that I do is volunteer,” says Woolston. “You know, I don’t work for Northwest Strategies. I work for Chenega Corporation. I understand the ownership issue, but it’s a family business. And really, they’re grasping here.”

The connection between Big Marijuana Big Mistake, Northwest Strategies, and the Chenega Corporation is a bit of a tangle.

The Chenega Corporation employs Woolston as their vice president of government relations, and it gave $25,000 to the Big Marijuana Big Mistake campaign using Woolson as a contact. Big Marijuana Big Mistake is also a client of Northwest Strategies, which Woolston and her husband Tim own. According to the expenditure reports that have been filed to date, Northwest Strategies has done $24,150 in work for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, with $19,150 of that amount yet to be paid.

Woolston says that when she identifies herself as a volunteer, she’s representing herself as an executive at the Chenega Corportation not as an owner of Northwest Strategies. She adds that Northwest Strategies has a $7,500 a month contract with Big Marijuana Big Mistake, but the amount covers hard costs only and she is not personally profiting from it. She says she and her husband are actually “losing money on this.”

“My husband and I both volunteer our time,” says Woolston. “Yes, we do have an agency that has a very small contract — really a drop in the bucket if you want to talk about numbers and what the opposition is being paid.”

But the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol takes issue with that logic.

“You can’t say you’re giving something away for free and then charge for it,” says Taylor Bickford, a spokesperson employed by the pro-initiative campaign.

Woolston says she still plans to identify herself as a volunteer when campaigning against the marijuana ballot initiative.

Categories: Alaska News

In U.S. Senate Race, GOP Rivals Lag Far Behind Sullivan

Thu, 2014-07-24 18:01

Campaign finance reports from Alaska’s U.S. Senate race show Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is increasing his financial lead over GOP rivals Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Lt. Gov. Treadwell raised just over $160,000 in the second quarter of the year. That puts him slightly ahead Miller, who raised $130,000. Meanwhile, Sullivan raised $1.2 million for the quarter, almost as much as the incumbent senator, Democrat Mark Begich. Unlike the other candidates, Treadwell has loaned his own money to the campaign, and he reports debts of $250,000. Treadwell says in a press release he’s pleased that 60% of his money comes from Alaska. Ninty percent of Sullivan’s contributions have been from out of state. Sullivan’s campaign, though, says he has raised more money within Alaska than his primary opponents. In fact, the nearly $200,000 he raised from Alaskans over the past three months is more than the entire second-quarter haul of either Treadwell or Miller.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Heavyweights Spar At Packed Debate

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:43

Alaska Common Ground drew an at-capacity audience for a debate on oil taxes at the Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage on Wednesday, July 24, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

It was standing-room only at an Anchorage debate on whether to keep the new capped oil tax rate or to switch back to a system where the rate goes up along with the profits. It was an unusually large – and even occasionally rowdy – crowd for the subject matter. But with voters deciding how they want to manage the bulk of the state’s revenue in less than a month, the stakes are high.

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Even after turning dozens of people away, the Alaska Common Ground forum on Wednesday night was still close to violating fire code.

The two-hour debate had State Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) and economist Gregg Erickson making the case for repealing Senate Bill 21 on one side. That law was passed last year as a priority of the Parnell administration, and it puts a tax ceiling of 35 percent on oil company profits.

The pair argued that tax rates historically have had little effect on oil production, and that Alaska was a profitable place to operate even when the state had a windfall system that taxed profits as much as 75 percent when prices were high. Erickson also accused the oil companies of using scare tactics by suggesting that the development of a natural gas mega-project depended on the failure of the repeal, and he recalled similar rhetoric used in 2006 when voters considered a gas tax initiative.

“The oil companies, particularly Conoco Phillips, paid millions of dollars for ads that said, ‘You pass this initiative folks, and there’ll never be a gasline,’” said Erickson. “Well, voters of Alaska took that to heart and declined to pass that initiative. Folks, we still don’t have a gasline, and they’ve been telling that same thing every time we proposed a change in the oil tax regime.”

The opposing side was represented by oil and gas consultants Roger Marks and Brad Keithley, who countered that tax incentives can encourage production and in turn bring in more state revenue. Keithley explained that the ACES tax system had a “Robin Hood” effect – redirecting state money from proven oil fields to areas that may not be profitable to produce.

The pair was also asked to explain why the oil companies were spending more than $10 million to defeat the referendum. The audience skewed in favor of the referendum, and Keithley’s response was met with some skepticism from repeal-friendly attendees.

“I don’t think the oil companies are scared. I think the oil companies realize the resource potential of Alaska. I think they realize the potential to develop additional oil in this state. And I think they see SB21 as a way that provides them an incentive to continue to bring investment to this state and continue to produce. They are investing the money in the public campaign to try to educate Alaskans on what the opportunity is,” Keithley said to some laughter. “And I would do the same thing if I were in business.”

Even after an hour and a half of the two sides going back and forth, answering questions from moderator and University of Alaska professor Gunnar Knapp and prodding each other, the audience still wanted to hear more. Knapp was only able to get to a handful of the 174 questions he said were submitted.

The oil tax referendum is one of the marquee issues of this election season. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker were both in the audience. Both have come out in favor of the repeal measure.

It will be put to voters on August 19.

Categories: Alaska News

Effort to Ban Commercial Set Netting Moves Forward

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:42

The push to ban commercial set netting moved another step forward this week. A Superior Court Judge in Anchorage ruled yesterday that the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance can begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, so voters can decide about the value of commercial set net fishing in Cook Inlet.

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Categories: Alaska News

Investigation Continues Into Tourist Train Derailment

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:41

An investigation continues into what caused a tourist train to derail along a mountain pass north of Skagway yesterday, injuring 19 passengers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Leaders Discuss Ambler Road

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:40

Tribal leaders are gathering interested parties, including state and federal officials, in the village of Allakaket to discuss the state’s proposed road into the Ambler Mining District. Upper Koyukuk River people are concerned about impacts to subsistence resources by the road, and mining development it would bring.

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Categories: Alaska News

Over 11,000 Alaskans Receiving Health Insurance Refunds

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:39

More than 11,000 Alaskans are getting refunds from their health insurance companies.

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As part of the Affordable Care Act, companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and wellness. If they don’t hit that target, they are required to send refunds to customers. The average refund amount in Alaska is $388 per family.

Premera Alaska has already sent checks to more than 6,000 current and former members. Spokesperson Melanie Coon says customers in Alaska didn’t use as much health care as the company expected last year:

“Our experience in Alaska has been that health care costs trends, especially in the individual market, can vary significantly from year to year,” she said. “So we like to be right on, but it’s always positive when you can say, ‘you know what, people didn’t spend as much so that’s your money and we’re giving it back.’”

Coon says the company also works to keep administrative costs down.

Kristine Kennedy is an Anchorage resident who used to buy an individual health plan from Premera. Earlier this month, she was sifting through her mail when she found a letter from the company. She says thought it was a survey asking her why she canceled her plan.

“I just assumed this was another follow up letter and I opened the envelope and low and behold it’s a refund check,” Kennedy said. “So for the first time in years, after watching our rates go up at least 15 percent per year, it was, ‘holy smokes, wow! Thank you, Affordable Health Care Act.’”

Kennedy’s refund was for $169.

The two other companies issuing refunds in Alaska are the MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company and Time Insurance Company.

Categories: Alaska News

Business leaders and Politicians Meet in Whistler BC for Economic Summit

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:38

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER, summit is happening right now in Whistler British Columbia.

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The annual gathering of business leaders and politicians from Western Canada and the Northwest states alternates between the two countries each year. Last year, meetings were in Anchorage. At least 11 of Alaska’s legislators are attending.

Gas and Arctic issues are a big focus this year. David Ramsey is the Northwest Territories minister of industry, tourism and investment and the newly appointed PNWER president. Ramsey say the Northwest Territories and Alaska have a lot in common: small population in a large area rich in resources – many of them stranded. He says the focus in the Northwest Territories has shifted to oil, because lower gas prices have left their McKenzie gas line proposal sitting on a shelf.

“At some point in time that might change, but for now I think we’ve got to switch gears and put our focus into oil and the prospect of an oil pipeline north from Alberta, which would get close to the Beaufort coast and then through the Yukon and then into Alaska and that’s the discussion that I think really needs to happen,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey says greening the supply chain is an important industry initiative because Alaska and Canada are on the front lines of climate change. He says alternative fuels and hydro development can help mitigate global warming and create jobs. He says a focus of his year-long presidency will be to encourage greater participation by Native communities.

“I’d like to see representatives from each of the 10 jurisdictions in PNWER have aboriginal leaders come to the conference and participate,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s very healthy for the organization to be doing that and also it helps connect the aboriginal leaders to a myriad of business leaders that they’re involved in PNWER and also legislators, decision makers.”

Ramsey says Arctic security and the current concerns with Russia are a big concern, saying it’s frightening that cooperation with Russia in the arctic may not be forthcoming. The PNWER summit wraps up tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Chum Bustling, But Causing Anger on the Yukon

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:37

With chum salmon surging through much of Western Alaska, commercial openings are having dramatically different effects from a price spike in Kotzebue, to frustration towards managers in the upper Yukon.

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Jim Menard oversees the Kotzebue subdistrict for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Even though it’s still early in the season, he says the commercial forecast for chum is already half-way met. But the high numbers may have more to do with economics than biology: though a decently strong run, the price offered by buyers in Kotzebue is up to 78¢ per pound.

Chum Salmon. (Photo: NOAA)

“The average price last year was 27¢—so we’re almost three times higher, which has resulted in a much greater fishing effort,” Menard said. Not since the price peaked back in the ’80s has he seen this many permits issued for commercial salmon fishing in the waters around Kotzebue.

But it’s a different story along the upper Yukon. During a teleconference arranged by the Yukon River Drainages Fisheries Association, fishery managers reported the first chinook—a healthy female—made her way to White Horse, Canada, yet another sign that the chinook run in Interior Alaska is nearly over.

That should mean openings for subsistence users targeting chums. But many callers, like Andrew from Fort Yukon, explained weather is keeping people from getting the fish they need.

“Water levels have been fluctuating a lot but slowly dropping to normal levels and below. Weather has been real cold and windy.”

Several callers from middle and up river communities, like Galena’s Fred Huntington, also challenged Fish and Game managers on decisions to open commercial fishing on the lower Yukon as upper river fishermen deal with lingering subsistence restrictions and thin chum returns.

“I’m not the only one I’m speaking for,” Huntington said during Tuesday’s phone call. “There’s a whole bunch of people up here pretty frustrated because they’re not able to fish, and right now the water’s so high we’re not getting any fish whatsoever. We’re already through the whole summer and I harvested three chums.”

Managers responded by explaining their decisions for commercial openings aren’t ignoring subsistence needs, but are making an effort to use different strategies along thousands of miles of river. Jeff Estensen with Fish and Game says the department is canceling a commercial opening planned in the lower Yukon because strong southwest winds over the last week-and-a-half pushed an early group of fall chum to the mouth of the river.

“We wanna be able to look at spreading the harvest out a little bit. And as we’ve been saying all along that we really are looking at trying to get some of these early fall chum upriver for subsistence. Just by skipping a couple periods in both districts,” said of the commercial closures, “this is gonna allow us to spread the harvest out a little bit.”

Those fall chum are genetically distinct from Summer chum: they’re bigger, more oily, and head further upriver to spawn, filling fishracks in the upper river all the way into Canada.

Summer chum, by contrast, don’t travel as far from the ocean to reproduce. And so far their returns in the Norton Sound have been strong enough for managers to extend commercial openings.

“The plan was to have like a super-period to try to mitigate for a lot of the foregone harvest opportunity on chum salmon at the start of the season when they’re co-mingling with king salmon,” explained area biologist Scott Kent with ADF&G. “We were trying to protect them at the front-end of the run. Now we don’t have to protect them so it’s like ok we can provide some more opportunities to make up for that.”

Recent high water and bad weather not only stopped most of Fish and Game’s counting project in the Norton Sound, Kent said, but it effectively halted the commercial harvest. So managers have shifted a 48 hour commercial harvest to this Thursday evening at 6 o’clock until Saturday for the entire Nome subdsitrict.

For more information on the commercial opening in the Nome subdistrict you can check here.

Categories: Alaska News

Japanese Fishermen Visit Alaska for Ideas on Sustainability

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:36

Visiting Japanese fishermen photograph salmon returning to the hatchery. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A group of Japanese fishermen is touring the Northwest United States to get an education in fisheries. The group’s first stop was Juneau where they toured the hatchery at DIPAC Monday morning.

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37-year-old Fumihiro Sugawara is a chum salmon fisherman in Rausu, which is located in the northeast of Hokkaido Island in Japan. He’s been fishing for 16 years.

He and 12 other Japanese fishermen are visiting Alaska for the first time.

“In the last few years, amount of their salmon and trout is declining, so they want to learn some of the idea from Alaska salmon fish industry and to enhance their business in Japan,” says Yoshimi Sato interpreting for Sugawara.

Sugawara says he learned a lot after touring DIPAC’s Macaulay hatchery Monday morning.

“He was impressed by the way they catch directly from their ocean and then release directly into ocean,” Sato says.

In Japan, hatcheries release juvenile chum salmon in rivers. In Alaska, they’re released in the open ocean.

The group also heard presentations by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Sam Rabung is the state’s hatchery program coordinator.

“Alaska’s hatchery program is unique and Alaska’s salmon fisheries are unique. We manage differently than just about anywhere in the world,” Rabung says.

Alaska’s fisheries are managed to maintain the wild stock population.

“It’s a really strange concept to a lot of people from around the world who are more familiar with just harvesting quotas. We don’t want to forego harvest opportunity and conversely, if there are unanticipated weak runs, we can rein things in,” Rabung says.

The more people from around the world know about Alaska fisheries, the better, he says.

“We think it’s important that other countries realize that our fisheries are managed sustainably. They always have been. It’s not new to us. It’s in our constitution and it’s one of the reasons we’re a state, and we think it’s important to spread that message,” Rabung says.

Shunji Murakami is traveling with the fishermen as the group’s main interpreter. He’s based in Japan and is a consultant for the Wild Salmon Center, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to protect wild salmon and the ecosystems they depend on.

“Alaska is such a rich country in terms of environment for salmon, but in Japan, 98 percent of our rivers are dammed and we have scarcity of wild salmon population,” Murakami says.

He says the group of young fishermen came to Alaska to learn from the best. The hope is they will spread the message of sustainability to others back home.

“We cannot apply Alaskan way of resources management a hundred percent to Japan but, to some extent, we can kind of learn from the resource management that’s going on here and apply that in Japan, where environmentally [it's] a little bit poor, to rehabilitate the wild populations,” Murakami says.

The Japanese fishermen want to expand their international market. One of the ways of doing that is getting their fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Murakami says that’s another incentive to make their fisheries more sustainable.

“So then they can make money and, at the same time, do the right thing,” he says.

The group travels to Sitka next to meet with the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. They’ll also go to Portland and visit the Bonneville Hatchery which is run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 24, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:26

Individual news 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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Oil Tax Heavyweights Spar At Packed Debate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

It was standing-room only at an Anchorage debate on whether to keep the new capped oil tax rate or to switch back to a system where the rate goes up along with the profits. It was an unusually large – and even occasionally rowdy – crowd for the subject matter. But with voters deciding how they want to manage the bulk of the state’s revenue in less than a month, the stakes are high.

Effort to Ban Commercial Set Netting Moves Forward

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The push to ban commercial set netting moved another step forward this week. A Superior Court Judge in Anchorage ruled yesterday that the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance can begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, so voters can decide about the value of commercial set net fishing in Cook Inlet.

Investigation Continues Into Tourist Train Derailment

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Gaines

An investigation continues into what caused a tourist train to derail along a mountain pass north of Skagway yesterday, injuring 19 passengers.

Tribal Leaders Discuss Ambler Road

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Tribal leaders are gathering interested parties, including state and federal officials, in the village of Allakaket to discuss the state’s proposed road into the Ambler Mining District.  Upper Koyukuk River people are concerned about impacts to subsistence resources by the road, and mining development it would bring.

Over 11,000 Alaskans Receiving Health Insurance Refunds

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

More than 11,000 Alaskans are getting refunds from their health insurance company. As part of the Affordable Care Act, companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and wellness.  If they don’t hit that target, they are required to send refunds to customers. The average refund amount in Alaska is nearly $388 per family.

Business leaders and Politicians Meet in Whistler BC for Economic Summit

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region or PNWER summit is happening right now in Whistler British Columbia. The annual gathering of business leaders and politicians from Western Canada and the Northwest states alternates between the two countries each year. Last year, meetings were in Anchorage. At least 11 of Alaska’s legislators are attending.

Commercial Chum Bustling, But Causing Anger on the Yukon

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

With chum salmon surging through much of Western Alaska, commercial openings are having dramatically different effects from a price spike in Kotzebue, to frustration towards managers in the upper Yukon.

Japanese Fishermen Visit Alaska for Ideas on Sustainability

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A group of Japanese fishermen is touring the Northwest United States to get an education in fisheries. The group’s first stop was Juneau where they toured the hatchery at DIPAC Monday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

North Slope Moves to Create Port Authority

Thu, 2014-07-24 13:01

Barrow, AK during spring ice break-up. (Photo by Steven Kazlowsk)

With Arctic activity escalating, the North Slope Arctic Borough is taking steps to protect its resources while developing its economy.

The Borough passed an ordinance to create a North Slope Port Authority on July 1, 2014. The Port Authority would create, fund, and operate port facilities and related activities along the North Slope coast.

“What’s driving [the project] is there’s a lot more activity in the Arctic now,” Paul Fuhs, a consultant on the project, explained. “So there’s concern that emergency response capability be in place but also that as development takes place, we want to make sure that the local people can economically benefit from the activity that’s going on.”

That development is an increase in Arctic marine traffic and resource extraction.

Fuhs said no port exists in the North Slope. He said docking facilities exist at Prudhoe Bay and Barrow, but most communities rely on crude means for unloading vessels.

“In terms of the other communities, it’s pretty much, you pull up with a barge, and you land on the beach, you put a ramp down,” Fuhs said, describing the docking methods for most of the Borough.

Fuhs said the Port Authority would create more efficient port facilities in coastal communities along the Slope, reducing living costs along the way.

“Some might be bigger than others,” Fuhs said. “It depends upon the circumstances. It depends on the vicinity, the water depth, how protected they are, how exposed they are to ice. And the idea is to really optimize the facilities for each community.”

According to the ordinance, the Port Authority would also protect subsistence resources, create local jobs, and provide emergency response.

The Authority would operate as a public corporation with a seven-member board with representatives spread across tribal, local, and regional entities. Fuhs said this inclusion consolidates ownership while creating flexible financial capabilities.

“It really helps provide unified approach for entities want to come to the North Slope and do business,” Fuhs said.

The initiative is being lead by North Slope Mayor Charlotte Brower. Advisor to the Mayor, David Fauske, said decisions governing Arctic development are being made remotely in Juneau or Washington D.C. Brower pushed the ordinance to bring these decisions to the people whose backyards the development is affecting.

Explaining Mayor Brower’s decision, Fauske said, “So many times we’re told what’s going to happen for the next phase of Arctic development, and this would just kind of give us a bigger seat at the table, a more permanent one.”

The decision to create a North Slope Port Authority goes to public vote this October.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 23, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-23 18:08

Individual news 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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Kuskokwim Fishers: Stop Commercial Openings, Call in Feds

Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group wants the state to end to all commercial openings for the remainder of the summer.  The say despite unmet subsistence needs the state has allowed commercial salmon openings. Some upriver fishermen are fed up with the state, and want the Federal Subsistence Board to manage the river from here on out.

Community Protests Enstar Rate Volatility

Anne Hillman, KSKA-Anchorage

Community members packed the hearing room of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska Wednesday morning in Anchorage. They pushed for consistent gas pricing from Enstar in response to a recent big jump in rates.

Judge Rules In Favor of Commercial Set Netting Ban

Alexander Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau

A superior court judge has ruled in favor of an initiative to ban commercial set netting for salmon in urban areas. Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell blocked the initiative sponsors from collecting signatures to appear on the ballot, based on a recommendation from the Department of Law that the measure would qualify as an unconstitutional appropriation. The state also argued that such an initiative would count as an allocation to sport fishermen and that it would erode the power of the Board of Fisheries.

State Releases New Guidelines for Mercury and Fish

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA-Anchorage

The state Epidemiology office has released a new mercury contamination risk determination for Alaska fish. The new guideline basically increases the number of Alaskan fish that they say can be eaten safely and without restriction. Ali Hamade, Environmental Public Health Manager for the state, says Alaska fish has a lot going for it.

Arctic Birds Show More Signs of Mercury

Thea Card, KDLG-Dillingham

A new study from the journal Waterbirds shows there’s an increasing amount of mercury occurring in birds in Alaska’s Arctic coast.

Canadian Environmental Officials Give OK to Mine NE of Ketchikan

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau

Canadian environmental officials just gave provisional approval to a controversial mine planned for an area northeast of Ketchikan. Their counterparts in British Columbia have done the same.

New App Out for Cup’ik Language

Charles Enoch, KYUK-Bethel

The Cup’ik language is about to get its biggest audience yet. A new app has been developed to help Cup’ik students learn their language and show it off to the world.

Dee Daniels Teaching Jazz to Fine Arts Campers

Robert Woolsey, KCAW-Sitka

The Dee Daniels Vocal Jazz Workshop is underway this week in Sitka.  For the last two years, Daniels has interrupted her touring and teaching schedule to live at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and coach a half-dozen students of widely-ranging ages and ability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Fishers: Stop Commercial Openings, Call in Feds

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:08

Fishers line up to unload at tender, Kelly-Mae near Napaskiak on Friday, July 18 during a six-hour commercial opening for chum salmon. (Photo by Sophie Evan)

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group wants the state to end to all commercial openings for the remainder of the summer. The say despite unmet subsistence needs the state has allowed commercial salmon openings. Some upriver fishermen are fed up with the state, and want the Federal Subsistence Board to manage the river from here on out.

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Bev Hoffman is co-chair of the Kuskokwim Salmon Working group, a group of stakeholders in the fishery that’s advising managers. On Monday she sent a letter to Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell asking her to stop all commercial fishing on the river and in Kuskokwim Bay.

“We have supported openings in other years,” Hoffman wrote. “But with the situation this year, every fish is precious. And here on the lower river we’re able to use the chums quite easily. They’re beautiful, they’re silvery, they’re fresh. Further up the river where they see the effects of whatever we’re doing down here, they just were frustrated so I supported a no commercial opener this year.”

State management biologist Aaron Potter said the department is transitioning to coho (silver) salmon management and will not hold any more commercial openings until they determine there’s a surplus of cohos. That’s after 18,000 chum salmon, 2,500 sockeyes, and 5,000 silvers and 29 kings were caught in commercial nets.

On July 9 the working group voted against a commercial opening because they said subsistence needs had not yet been met, particularly upriver. Only one member of the group dissented.

Nastasha ‘Jackie’ Levi with the Village of Lower Kalskag, about 100 miles upriver from Bethel does not think there should be commercial openings until subsistence needs are met for the Native people along the entire river.

“A lot of our people are still fishing,” Levi said. “There’s even some families that are just gonna start fishing. Most of our residents have not met their needs. We haven’t been seeing the number of fish that this Bethel Test Fishery is saying is coming up here. When there’s a commercial fishing we know in two days, more or less, that we’ll hardly see any fish,” Levi said.

Subsistence fishers are relying more heavily on chum harvests this year and many say coho or silver salmon will be needed to meet needs.

Some communities want the federal managers back in control.

The Villages of Lower Kalskag and Napaimute passed resolutions Monday requesting the Federal Subsistence Board take special action and, once again exert federal jurisdiction for management of the fishery. Federal officials had managed the king run after a request by Napaskiak traditional council.

Fish and Game’s Aaron Potter said if there is a harvestable surplus of fish, he is required by law to open for commercial fishing once escapement goals are met.

“Part of our mandate is to provide that opportunity,” Potter said. “We had a processor that was interested in buying. We had fishermen that were interested in fishing. We had our surplus. We had opportunities in that back end of the chum salmon run before the coho really started getting into the system. We would be doing a disservice to commercial fishermen in that entire industry if we did not provide a harvest opportunity,” Potter said.

In the letter addressed to Commissioner Campbell, Hoffman noted that Coastal Villages Region Fund loses millions subsidizing the commercial fishery.

Commissioner Campbell’s office said she was out on travel. Jeff Regnart, the Director of Commercial Fisheries with ADF&G answered for her, saying he had received Hoffman’s letter.

“We recognize the working group and their concerns” Regnart said. “We participate in all the working group meetings. We understood where their stance was on commercial opportunity, subsistence needs being met, during the meeting. This letter reiterates that. Sometimes we’re not always on the same page. But never stops us from continuing to work to be on the same page,” Regnart said.

Managers have held three commercial chum salmon openings on the Kuskokwim River, from Bethel downstream to the mouth since July 14. And there have been more than a dozen commercial openings for chum and sockeye salmon for the Kuskokwim Bay districts since the fishery opened earlier.

The Kuskokwim Working Group meets Wednesday (July 23) afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Community protests Enstar rate volatility

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:07

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Community members packed the hearing room of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska Wednesday morning in Anchorage. They pushed for consistent gas pricing from Enstar in response to a recent big jump in rates.

People packed the room to listen to Enstar’s explanation of the precipitous rate increase.

About 90 people filled the seats and stood in the hallway to tell theRCA their concerns about Enstar’s recent rate increase. The company is charging about 50% more for each unit of gas they sell from July to September. Resident Terry Saldana says she wants to know why.

“I understand that prices are going to fluctuate and go up and down but 48% to a newly retired person has a great impact on my budget.”

Carolyn Gardner testified before the Commission. She says she’s mad, and she wants the Commission to fix the volatility in prices. ”I think they should reconsider their okay of it. I mean it’s a ridiculously high increase.”

The RCA approved the increase in June.

Enstar representatives spoke before the commission and explained the jump in prices, called the Gas Cost Adjustment. Basically, Enstar over collected money from customers in the first quarter and then under collected in the second quarter. Enstar is not legally allowed to profit from selling gas.

In the past, the natural gas company only adjusted their rates once per year. Now they do it every three months because they have different types of contracts to buy gas from the producers, like Hillcorp and Bucaneer.

Enstar spokesman John Sims says that to make the rates more consistent throughout the year, they have to ask the RCA to change the rules that regulate how much they can charge for gas. ”So that’s one of the things we’re going to look at. we;re going to look at how that might impact our gas supply contracts, how it could impact our deliveries, and how it could impact the customers.”

Sims says in the meantime, customers can use Enstar’s budget billing system. Then, their bill would be exactly the same every month.

During the hearing the RCA discussed the possible need to investigate the way Enstar determines their Gas Cost Adjustment. In the end, they decided to give Enstar a few weeks to fix the volatility problem on their own. They will take up the issue again at the end of August.

The estimated average cost of natural gas for 2014 will be slightly higher than in was in 2013, but it’s still much lower than in 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Allows Set-Net Ban Initiative To Move Forward

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:06

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A superior court judge has ruled in favor of an initiative to ban commercial set netting for salmon in urban areas.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell blocked the initiative sponsors from collecting signatures in their effort to appear on the ballot. The decision was based on a recommendation from the Department of Law that the measure would qualify as an unconstitutional appropriation. The state also argued that such an initiative would count as an allocation to sportfishermen and that it would erode the authority of the Board of Fisheries.

Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter dismissed those arguments, finding that the initiative does not qualify as a give-away program and that it is a permissible regulatory measure.

The Department of Law is currently reviewing the decision to see if an appeal is appropriate. The Division of Elections will begin preparing signature booklets in the meantime.

The initiative is being sponsored by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, with the aim of getting it on the 2016 ballot. It is backed by key sportfishing interests, including real estate developer and major political funder Bob Penney. The group argues that set net gear should be prohibited to reduce the number of king salmon taken by the commercial sector.

The measure would shut down the commercial set netters who operate on Cook Inlet, the only region in the state that would be practically affected by the ban.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases New Guidelines for Mercury and Fish

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:05

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The state epidemiology office has released a new mercury contamination risk determination for Alaska fish. The new guidelines basically increase the number of Alaskan fish that can be eaten safely and without restriction.

Ali Hamade  Environmental Public Health Manager for the state, said Alaska fish has a lot going for it health-wise:

The benefits are really huge in terms of nutrients and if you catch the fish yourself there’s the sport benefit, there’s the cultural benefit,” Hamade said. “…so we really hope that people continue to make good fish consumption choices.”

In addition to the fish already on the unrestricted consumption list—including all types of Alaskan Salmon— the new guidelines determined that lingcod, certain rockfish and eight other fish species can be safely eaten by kids and women of child bearing age without restriction.

Categories: Alaska News

More Mercury Found in Arctic Birds

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:04

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A new study from the journal “Waterbirds” shows there’s an increasing amount of mercury occurring in birds in Alaska’s arctic coast.

Categories: Alaska News

Tourist Train Derails in Skagway; Injuries Minor

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:04

A tourist train derailed Wednesday afternoon north of Skagway and initial reports stated some passengers received minor injuries.

The White Pass Yukon Railroad runs scenic train tours between Skagway and Carcross, Yukon. Railroad president John Finlayson confirmed the derailment and said the company was still investigating the cause. He said did not want to comment on any injuries while passengers were being treated and evaluated.

Coast Guard Spokesman Kip Wadlow said Air Station Sitka helicopters were put on standby to assist, but were not called out.

Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau was notified and went into incident command about 3:45 p.m., according to spokesman Jim Strader. Shortly before 4:30 p.m., Strader said Bartlett received notification to stand down.

Skagway municipal officials and Skagway fire and police departments on Wednesday referred all questions about the incident to White Pass.

Skagway tourism director Buckwheat Donahue said he was told the incident took place near Summit Lake along the border with Canada. He said he was also told by White Pass representatives that trains were cancelled the rest of Wednesday and possibly part of Thursday.

The railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. Now it services as one of Skagway’s primary scenic attractions for visitors, traveling over White Pass between Skagway and Carcross, Yukon.

Categories: Alaska News
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