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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 11 sec ago

State economist says ConocoPhillips layoffs have broad reach

Thu, 2015-09-03 10:22

In wake of the announcement by energy company ConocoPhillips that it may cut about 120 jobs in Alaska, a state economist says the damage will be big.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development economist Neal Fried said Wednesday that he would not have been shocked if the number of layoffs announced was higher.

Alaska oil prices have dropped more than $28 per barrel over the last year, cutting into revenue for energy giants like ConocoPhillips.

Fried says beyond the actually energy employees that will lose their earnings, many contractors who work with ConocoPhillips for its repair and construction work in the oil fields are also at risk.

Despite the impact, Fried says Alaska has weathered dips in oil prices and energy job disappearing before.

Categories: Alaska News

The Chief gets a birds-eye view of rural food prices at Dillingham’s N&N Market

Thu, 2015-09-03 10:06

After a colorful visit in Dillingham on Wednesday — complete with highlights like being spawned on and busting a groove with local gradeschoolers — the president got a first-hand look at rural food prices at the N&N Market.

Obama visits the N&N Market. Photo: Clark Fair/KDLG.

Photo: Clark Fair / KDLG.

“One of the reasons we stopped by along with Ralph is just to highlight the fact that obviously this is a great grocery store, folks do great work, but because everything has to be shipped in, the costs for folks living in Dillingham and a lot of the villages along Bristol Bay end up being extraordinary,” the president said. ” You’re looking at prices that are double, in some cases, or even higher for basic necessities like milk, like orange juice, like other produce.”

The president went on:

“That’s part of the reason why the subsistence economy is so important and why fishing is so important.  But it’s also why folks like Ralph and some of the various tribal organizations are trying to do more economic development in the area in order to start making some of these things more affordable, but also having more locally produced stuff that can end up cutting prices and create jobs in the region.  So we’re going to be working on some ideas on economic development in the region.”

At one point during the visit, Obama got distracted by a baby, which he bounced up and down in his arms. The baby’s mother looked on incredulously, apparently shocked to find the president at her local market.

Eventually, the baby was returned. Obama quickly greeted a couple other customers.

“Hey, what happened to you, man?” Obama asked a young man with his arm in a sling. The president told the shoppers that it’s so nice to be here and repeated the pledge to bring Michelle and the girls back to the area one day.

The president then invited the press corps to stock up on any supplies they might need. “I’m going to be shaking some hands,” he said.

After spending about five minutes at the store, the visit to the N&N Market concluded and the motorcade headed back to the Dillingham airport.



Categories: Alaska News

Obama wraps up his Alaska tour on the front lines of climate change: the Arctic

Thu, 2015-09-03 09:13

President Obama ended his 3-day tour of Alaska on Wednesday with final along the western coast—first in Dillingham and then Kotzebue—where he officially unveiled new initiatives aimed at helping Alaska’s rural villages cope with climate change in the fast-thawing Arctic.

Wednesday night it was Kotzebue’s turn to say it: “The eagle has landed.” Photo: Kaysie Ellingson/Alaska Public Media.


An Arctic conference in Anchorage, hiking glaciers in Seward, and getting hands-on with salmon in Bristol Bay—all a prelude to President Barack Obama’s final stop on his tour of Alaska, which ended in Kotzebue last night. And when he landed, it was to an ebullient welcome.

As a regional hub for 10 remote villages about 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kotzebue is where Obama came closest to actually seeing the communities he’s touted throughout his trip as being imperiled by climate change. Communities like Kivalina, whose native village president Millie Hawley says sees the those impacts in the environment … and their food supply.

“We barely got any seal, the bearded seal is what we rely on year-round. Usually we get 80 in the community per year. This year, we got eight. We’ve lost the migration of the beluga, the changes in the migration of the caribou. Even thought we try to protect our children from worry, or fear, they sense that things are happening to their home.”

How to address a complex issue in a meaningful way? The president took to the podium at the Kotzebue junior and senior high school to outline plans for a joint tribal, state, and federal effort to help plan—and pay for—more than 30 communities in rural Alaska looking to relocate—or rebuild. Obama calls it “climate resilience.” The effort will be led by the Denali Commission, an independent federal agency that’s worked on Alaska infrastructure projects for nearly 20 years.

“This is going to cut through bureaucracy and red tape, frees up communities like yours to develop and implement solutions for events like coastal erosion, and flooding, and permafrost degradation.”

The Denali Commission is also bringing $2 million to the table for relocation efforts. And while “relocation” is the goal for communities like Kivalina, clean water and function sewer systems remain elusive for many rural communities. In his Kotzebue speech the president announced a revision on eligibility with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Alaska Village Program—opening the doors to more than 30 communities for water and sewer grants.

“You shouldn’t wait until disaster strikes. We should see if we can invest in communities before disaster strikes to prevent. And so today we’re announcing $17 million in USDA rural water grants for infrastructure projects in remote Alaskan communities.”

But is it enough? Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule lives in Kotzebue. The borough has fewer than 8,000 people spread out over an area larger than the state of Kentucky. Estimates put the cost of relocating just one village at more than $100 million with emergency evacuation roads costing as much as two million a mile.

“None of what we have on the plate, none of what many parts of rural Alaska are asking for, are things on a wish list. They’re things that people need.”

The president ended his trip with a tour of Kotzebue’s Shore Avenue, a reinforced roadway along the coast that local leaders held up as an example of engineering that overcomes climate challenges—something they say Alaska desperately needs more of. In his speech, Obama says fast action is essential—and he pledged the federal government’s support.

“There is such a thing as being too late. The effects can be irreversible, if we don’t act. And that moment is almost here. And you this better than anybody. I want you to know, as your president, I’m here to make sure you get the support that you need.”

Is it puppy love? The president nabs a snuggle with a pup named Feather. Photo: Matthew Smith / KNOM.

But before flying out—a final detour—a brief moment with Iditarod musher John Baker. The president donned a “Team Baker” jackets for a picture with Baker’s prize-winning pups—with the Commander in Chief even cradling a blue-eyed puppy named Feather. A quick photo posing behind Baker’s dogsled, and then a quick hop from motorcade to airplane before the president was gone.

Like many Alaskans, most in Kotzebue saw President Obama only at arm’s length. A handshake, or a glimpse as he walked amid a throng of secret service, staff, and reporters. But many say they’re happy he came—with the hope that making Kotzebue his final stop … will cause the conversation about the American Arctic to finally start.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015

Wed, 2015-09-02 18:36

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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Obama shares smiles, salmon and dance moves in Dillingham

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

President Obama began his tour of Western Alaska with a stop in Bristol Bay, landing in Dillingham just before noon. While Obama had sparkling clear weather for his tour around Seward yesterday, it was drizzly and a little chilly for the duration of the Dillingham stop.

In Kotzebue, excitement is high as the president ventures north

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

President Obama landed in Kotzebue just after 5 p.m. He is the first sitting president to visit the U.S. Arctic.

5 Chinese warships spotted off the Aleutians

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

As President Obama tours northwest Alaska, five Chinese navy ships have been spotted in the Bering Sea off southwest Alaska.

Shell drill rig is back on the grind after a brief storm-induced hiatus

Associated Press

The president of Shell Oil Co. says exploratory drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast is going well despite stormy weather last week that caused the company to halt operations for a few days.

Even with another icebreaker, US fleet pales against its Arctic neighbors

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

President Obama wants to beef up America’s fleet of ice-breaking ships.

President gives a small fiscal boost to village relocation efforts

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The White House announced today it will be adding funding and capacity for a wide array of programs in Alaska connected with global warming. The federal government is tapping the Denali Commission as the lead agency to address the relocation of coastal communities across Alaska.

Praying to see POTUS, even just a glimpse!

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage residents had their last chance to see President Obama this morning as his motorcade left the Captain Cook Hotel and headed toward JBER. His presence in downtown caused mixed reactions.

With a potential buyer in the Philippines, Mat-Su floats a ferry deal

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Mat-Su

The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s  ailing ferry MV Susitna is poised for sale to the Philippine Red Cross.

Dust settles on state’s new Douglas offices, but employee concerns haven’t gone quiet

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

After a class action grievance, a regime change, a year of renovations and buying hundreds of $8,000 workstations, state employees are finally moving into their new offices in Douglas. Although the dust has settled, concerns over the new layout have not gone quiet.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama shares smiles, salmon and dance moves in Dillingham

Wed, 2015-09-02 17:38

The president shares a smile on Kanakanak Beach in Dillingham. Photo: Clark Fair / KDLG.

President Obama began his tour of Western Alaska with a stop in Bristol Bay, landing in Dillingham just before noon. While Obama had sparkling clear weather for his tour around Seward yesterday, it was drizzly and a little chilly for the duration of the Dillingham stop. No mind, say residents: that’s what fishing weather is usually like in the region, and fishing was the main thing locals wanted the President to know more about while he was in salmon country.

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Categories: Alaska News

In Kotzebue, excitement is high as the president ventures north

Wed, 2015-09-02 17:37

Air Force One landed in Kotzebue just before 5 p.m.

President Obama is now the first sitting president to visit the U.S. Arctic. The President’s schedule is tight, the White House agenda notes he will speak at the Kotzebue high school around 6 pm and then tour the Shore Avenue project that has protected the westward shoreline from storm erosion. It isn’t clear how much or if he’ll have time to speak with local people. He’s scheduled to fly out between 8 and 9 pm.

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Tonight it’s Kotzebue’s turn to say it: “The eagle has landed.” Photo: Kaysie Ellingson/Alaska Public Media.

KNOM’s Matthew Smith has been reporting from Kotzebue for the last few days. I spoke to him earlier this afternoon and asked him about the atmosphere in the community

Categories: Alaska News

With a potential buyer in the Philippines, Borough floats ferry deal

Wed, 2015-09-02 17:31

The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ailing ferry MV Susitna is poised for sale to the Philippine Red Cross.

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The Matanuska Susitna Assembly untied the giant albatross from it’s collective neck Tuesday night, with a vote to accept more than  a million and a half dollars for the

MV Susitna. The unused ferry has cost the Mat Su Borough about two million dollars in storage fees since it’s construction was completed in 2012.

The ferry also needs one million dollars in engine repairs, since rainwater leaked into it’s stacks and ruined three out of four engines earlier this year.

At Tuesday’s Borough Assembly meeting, Assembly members approved a deal which had been received by the Borough on Monday. John Moosey,  Mat Su Borough manager,  says the offer is a serious one.

“At the end of the deal, the Phillipine Red Cross will get it for rescue purposes, humanitarian purposes, and the Borough will net approximately 1.5 million dollars. ”

Under the terms of the agreement, the Phillipine Red Cross will put down a deposit of $250,000 which will cover the Borough’s insurance deductible for the repairs to the ship’s engines.

The International Red Cross will front the Borough $60,000 to cover costs during repairs, and will put down an additional $750, 000, or half the purchase price, now. Contingent on successful repairs, and on an export permit, the Red Cross will fund the vessel’s  remaining $750, 000 purchase price. Moosey says it has not been easy getting a ferry deal

“We have probably for the last six months, we have entertained probably seven serious buyers. The offer that they have agreed to, and we try to get agree to, is that they will pay two hundred fifty thousand dollars up front. We would use that for our insurance deductible to get the engines repaired. If we can deliver the boat, and the engines are repaired, if anybody walks away, in this case if the Phillipine Red Cross walks away, they forfeit that money. So we know they are in for this.”

But there are  potential road blocks to the sale. The Borough still owes the Federal Transit Administration more than twelve million dollars to repay grants that the Borough accepted that were linked to the ferry’s successful operation. But ferry operations never took place, because of a dispute with Anchorage on where to build a ferry landing on the Anchorage side of Knik Arm.

The matter of the FTA debt is in negotiation at this time, Moosey says.

Moosey says the Borough needs to find a company that can make the ferry engine repairs. He also told the Assembly that the Borough has an insurance policy on the ferry with Lloyds of London, which expires August 31, and that company may decide to drop the Borough as a client if repairs don’t start soon.

“We have been sitting on the repair since January. And Lloyds of London said  ‘hey Mat Su Borough, what are you going to do? Are you going to fix it? If you are not going to fix it, we are not going to allow you have insurance after this term expires, because we are not going to insure a boat that doesn’t work.’ So they wanted a plan going forward, and timing wise, this was important to show them that we are moving forward, and we can continue our insurance.”

The 1.75  million dollar price tag is less than half the price the Borough initially asked for the Susitna, but in the past couple of years, various offers by potential buyers of the ship have not panned out. This is the closest we have come to a sale, Moosey told the Assembly on Tuesday.

He also says that federal prohibitions agains selling the vessel to a foreign government may be overcome, because the Red Cross is involved in the deal.

“You know, this is a humanitarian vessel.  It’s used for rescue, tsunamis.  I’ve heard they have well over a hundred and fifty major boating accidents in that area in a year.”

Moosey says that the Borough may seek the help of Alaska’s Congressional delegation if the federal government blocks sale of the vessel to a foreign entity.

Categories: Alaska News

Praying for POTUS, or at least a glimpse

Wed, 2015-09-02 17:09

Anchorage residents had their last chance to see President Obama this morning as his motorcade left the Captain Cook Hotel and headed toward JBER. His presence in downtown caused mixed reactions.

The last glimpse of President Obama in downtown Anchorage. (Photo Courtesy of Katie Pekkonen.)

Helen Ash stands on the corner across from the president’s hotel with her friend Carol Campbell, police patrolling in front of her, crowds growing behind her.

“We’re exhausted,” Ash moans. “Tell him that. We’re exhausted of trying to catch him.”

It’s day number three of Obama Watch.

“You know the process. You’ve been on this corner for three days, and you still haven’t seen him, so why did you pick this corner again?” I question.

“You see him very, very quickly. It’s a glimpse. It’s through black glass. They’re going fast,” Ash says.

“So you have seen a sliver.”

“I’ve seen sliver. Not enough to get a picture and to see his face.”

“Not enough to feel satiated, it seems?” I prod.

“Feel satiated?,” she laughs. “I think that’s a bit extreme.”

For Campbell, seeing the president and getting a picture to share with family is a very personal goal.

“My grandmother, my aunt and I pray for him everyday at 7:30. My grandma’s 94, and we do a three-way call and pray for him everyday,” she says. They started at the beginning of his presidency. “We just felt a desire for his well-being and his success. And he’s been very successful, praise God!”

But for others downtown, it’s a bit of a nuisance. Office workers carrying file folders try to cross the street and are turned back by police officers.

“No, we’re not going to be able to get across,” a man says.

“You can’t get to work,” another replies, saying she’ll vouch for him. “You’ve done your best.”

Tourists wave maps at police, trying to get to their departing buses, but they had few options as sidewalks closed for nearly an hour in anticipation of the president’s theoretically imminent departure.

Around the corner, in K Street Convenience Store, Ben Jones is selling coffee and snacks like any other day of the week.

“We haven’t got the chance to feed Obama, but we got to feed the secret service guys. Other than that it really hasn’t caused a lot of disruption. The court system’s been shut down and that’s a lot of our regular customers. Other than that we’ve been fairly steady with where we generally are on our numbers.”

Back on the sidewalk, a guy with a super-powered lens zooms in on roof-top snipers, roaming secret service agents, and curious maids peering out of windows.

Rayna Swanson glances at his camera screen then back to the white tent that shrouds the president’s car. She’s been waiting for six years to see Obama. She had tickets for his first inauguration but it didn’t go as planned.

“We waited for hours in the cold,” she recalls. “With a baby in our arms! And we got jammed up right before the tunnel. The infamous tunnel. So we’re trying to assuage our six years of trauma.”

Carol Campbell fiddles with her phone, hoping the battery will last, then suddenly one of the black cars turns on its lights.

“Oh God,” she utters, breathing fast.

Obama drives by and waves at the screaming crowd and Campbell scores her winning shot!

“My camera worked! I got!” she laughs and screams, showing her friend.

And then she’s gone less than a minute after the President. Back to regular life.

Swanson lingered a bit longer in the moment. “I just want to redo it one more time. Can’t he just come back, one more time? One more look? Oh, it was great.”

Categories: Alaska News

Dust settles on state’s new Douglas offices, but employee concerns haven’t gone quiet

Wed, 2015-09-02 16:16

After a class action grievance, a regime change, a year of renovations and buying hundreds of $8,000 workstations, state employees are finally moving into their new offices in Douglas. Although the dust has settled, concerns over the new layout have not gone quiet.

Brian Frenette is the regional supervisor for sport fish. He recently moved back into the renovated building and likes how the new space is flooded with light. Gone are tall cubicle partitions and dark hallways.

“Certainly is a lot brighter, there’s no question,” he said.

The state’s newly renovated offices in Douglas follow the universal space standards. Note the angled ceiling. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

But there are some design choices Frenette says employees find puzzling, like how the ceiling bows toward the middle.

“Lower in the center, higher on the walls and I don’t know what that is for. Other than to maybe give the impression that more light is being drawn to the center of the building.”

He said people think it’s a mistake but it’s intentional.

“I don’t understand it. Some people look at it awhile and say it’s making me nauseous. After a while you just get used to it.”

Some changes employees may not get used to. As a supervisor, Frenette gets his own office but most won’t.

The building has been redesigned for universal space standards, a cost and space saving plan implemented by then-Gov. Sean Parnell. Some work stations were whittled down to about half the square footage. Each cost the state over $8,000.

“Well there were a number of concerns our members had. Reduced space for them to work, less privacy,” said Jim Duncan, the executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association.

The union filed a class action grievance over the state office layout about two years ago, citing safety and health concerns for its members. But eventually reached an understanding with the Walker administration.

“The arbitration is still in place, we are just not moving it forward,” said Duncan. “We had an agreement, an understanding from the administration that they would complete the projects that were underway under the previous administration.”

The exterior of the state’s newly renovated Douglas Island Office Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The changes have already happened in Anchorage’s Atwood Building and a floor of Juneau’s State Office Building. Douglas now has 32 vacant spaces.

Andy Mills, a spokesperson, says the Walker-Mallott administration is evaluating if new standards are worth it. And he realizes if it continues, it could affect him.

“The space standards would actually entail me not having an office,” Mills said. “I certainly think that when you’re looking at difficult budget times, I think most folks understand you want to look at everything possible when it’s a decision between programs, people or space. But at the same time you need to be fair and respectful to the employees.”

He said some of the sacrifices, he wouldn’t mind. His floor of the state office building has outdated furniture and a tiny break room with no seating.

“If you came and saw it, it’s a fairly small room. It’s the size of a closet.”

The renovated offices, on the other hand, come with roomier break rooms and updated kitchen appliances. It’s designed to increase collaboration. But Mills says “universal space standards” does sound a bit drab.

“It sounds like it’s a gray box that might be uninviting. But the customizability of the systems furniture when folks get a chance to look at it is probably a little more versatile what they would have first thought,” Mills said.

With the push of a button, Brian Frenette demonstrates how he can raise his desk to work in a standing or sitting position.

He said the new layout has bit of learning curve. The front counter is intermingled with Wildlife Conservation and Sport Fish to provide easier access for the public. The Department of Corrections moves in this week.

But for some employees, he said there have been concerns.

I think what most people will probably tell you what they’re having to give up is separation–from their coworkers in order to get work done and not be disturbed,” he said. “Whether or not that comes to light as being a big issue or a small issue we’ll see as time goes.”

Frenette says they’re looking at white noise machines as a possible solution. The state has no immediate plans to roll out more universal space standards offices.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell drill rig is back on the grind after a brief storm-induced hiatus

Wed, 2015-09-02 16:02

The president of Shell Oil Co. says exploratory drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast is going well despite stormy weather last week that caused the company to halt operations for a few days.

Marvin Odum told The Associated Press safety will be the overriding determinant of whether Shell completes exploratory wells this year in the Chukchi Sea.

Federal regulators have given Shell permission to drill up to six exploratory wells in the Chukchi over two years.

Drilling is strongly opposed by environmental groups.

Shell in 2008 spent $2.1 billion on Chukchi leases and is attempting to confirm a massive oil field that could provide a 50-year supply of petroleum.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Arctic waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas hold up to 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Categories: Alaska News

5 Chinese navy ships spotted off the Aleutians

Wed, 2015-09-02 15:48

As President Obama tours northwest Alaska, five Chinese navy ships have been spotted in the Bering Sea off southwest Alaska.

Pentagon officials say three of China’s surface-warfare ships, a resupply vessel and a landing craft were seen in international waters off the Aleutian Islands.

Commander Bill Urban is a spokesperson for the Secretary of Defense.

“This is the first time we’ve observed People’s Liberation Army Navy ships in the Bering Sea. We do respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law. So, no reason why they shouldn’t be there.”

Urban declined to say how long the Navy has been tracking the ships or just where they were located in the Bering Sea.

International waters start 12 nautical miles offshore.

An unnamed U.S. official told the Associated Press the Chinese ships moved into the Bering Sea near Alaska after joining in a naval exercise with Russia.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama learns to shake a tailfeather, Yup’ik style

Wed, 2015-09-02 14:55

President Obama dances with and greets students at Dillingham Middle School on Wednesday, Sept. 2. Photo: Tara Young

At the Dillingham Middle School, President Obama was treated to a youth cultural dance performance. The gradeschool-aged children performed four Yup’ik dances.

Obama sat on the front row, grinning throughout the performance and clapping appreciatively. The rest of the crowd was similarly enthusiastic.

The children wore Native headpieces and attire and did an admirable job staying in unison as they sang and danced. Their adult leader, Sophie Woods, explained the songs and a little bit about their culture, telling the crowd that their native language is disappearing.

Photo: Tara Young

One song focused on honoring berries and another featured the lyrics “Don’t be afraid to play basketball.”

Obama jumped up and danced with the children during the last song. “I’ve been practicing,” he said. Clearly the president had taken a crash course on the routine.

Afterwards, he told the crowd that he’s so happy to be here and would try to bring Michelle and the girls back.

“Keep up your traditions even as you go out into the big world and learn,” he said.

Before departing, Obama posed for a photo with the kids, nearly causing a pile-up when he asked who would help him up.

The motorcade has departed the middle school and is rolling to an unknown location.

Obama greets gradeschool-aged children at the Dillingham School. Photo: Tara Young

Categories: Alaska News

In Dillingham, silver salmon earns spot in history as the fish that spawned on the president’s shoe

Wed, 2015-09-02 14:31

After about a 10-minute drive, the motorcade arrived at Kanakanak Beach. Rain was still falling on this very gray day, and Obama was in a black rain jacket, black pants and black hiking boots.The pool arrived to find Obama at the water’s edge of the rocky beach, chatting with two local fisherwomen.

Obama met with fishermen (and fisherwomen) on Kananak Beach in Dillingham. He called Bristol Bay “one of the most important natural resources the United States has.” Photo: Hannah Colton/KDLG.

“I’ve got to get some gloves so I can handle my fish,” Obama said. He donned orange rubber gloves and held up a large silver salmon for the press pool to see.

“I didn’t catch it,” Obama said. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m telling fish tales.”

The president handled several impressive fish as he continued his conversation with this fisherwomen. At one point, a fish started writhing, and Obama flinched.

“Uh-oh. What happened there?” Obama asked. “Did you see that?” The president told the pool that the fish was “spawning” and had gotten something on his shoe.

“Generally you don’t want fish spawning on your feet,” Obama said. “He said he was happy to see me.”

President Obama picked up a silver on the beach in Dillingham. Photo: Hannah Colton/KDLG.

Obama walked partway up the beach and met more local fisherwomen and fishermen. They began explaining the process of fileting the fish. At one point, Obama called out to the Secret Service, asking “Do we have a knife here? Or did we leave them all at home?”

Apparently knives were not permitted for this presidential demonstration, so Obama moved on to sampling salmon jerky, which he declared was “really good.”

One fisherwoman gave Obama a jar — it was not clear whether it contained salmon jerky — and the president asked the Secret Service “to make sure this gets back with me. Allen, don’t eat it now,” he said to an agent.

Obama posed for photos with the group at a fish rack displaying fish that had been fileted. Throughout the visit, the president continued to ask the group questions about how they prepare the fish, dry the fish etc. He joked about his affinity for salmon cakes and proudly displayed a shipping box with salmon in it.

Obama made brief remarks to the pool. He lauded the importance of the work the local fishermen do and said the scale of the fish that come through here is remarkable.
“That’s part of the reason why it’s so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource,” he said, adding that it’s not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it but for the entire country.

He said Bristol Bay is one of the most important natural resources the United States has.

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve shut off oil and gas exploration here,” he said. This line drew applause from the local group.
He said there are other threats to this environment that we’ve always got to be alert to as well.

As he wrapped up, Obama repeated that the fish jerky was “outstanding.”

Categories: Alaska News

Chinese warships in Bering Sea as Obama visits Alaska

Wed, 2015-09-02 12:23

A U.S. official says five Chinese warships have moved into the Bering Sea near Alaska after participating in a naval exercise with Russia.

President Barack Obama is in northern Alaska near the Arctic Circle to discuss climate change. But officials say the U.S. military has been aware of ships and has been tracking their movements for days. The official says the ships are operating in international waters and are not viewed as a threat.

The official says the U.S. believes this is the first time the People’s Liberation Army’s navy has operated in that region. There are three surface warfare ships, one amphibious assault ship and one supply vessel.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic leaders outline local priorities in letter to President Obama

Wed, 2015-09-02 10:49

Arctic waters seen from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Photo: NASA Goddard Center.

A celebration took place in Kotzebue as final preparations are made for President Obama’s visit today. And with the spotlight on the Northwest Arctic hub — for the first visit by an American president above the Arctic Circle — local leaders have drafted a letter outlining their vision for the Arctic’s future.

Putting to rest clean-up efforts and last-minute preparations, Kotzebue residents gathered at the community school for a potluck Tuesday night — sharing food, song, and culture with the dozens of visitors from the president’s advance team and relatives who came to see the historic visit firsthand.

A round of Native Youth Olympics games and music from the Midnight Sun Drummers and Dancers were the backdrop as locals gathered to talk about what they hope the president takes away from his trip. For elder Enoch “Attamuk” Shiedt, it’s changes in the land he’s seen first hand.

Shiedt has worked for years as a subsistence coordinator. He recalls his grandpa telling him when he was just nine years old that the warming trend will eventually hurt his people.

“And now it’s here,” Shiedt said. “It’s not only global warming — it’s the erosion that’s the worst thing up this way. We’re losing some of our villages.”

Linda Hadley — originally from Deering but now teaching kindergarten in Kotzebue — sees it more as a historical moment.

“I believe it’s a momentous occasion,” she said. “It allows the president to see what a community the size of ours in the Arctic is about.” She said that having someone of his caliber come and visit “provides our community a voice in the national conversation.”

But outside the school halls and across town, the region’s part of that conversation was taking shape in the form of a letter to the president, outlining local priorities from climate change to energy.

Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule was the first signature on the letter that includes tribes, Alaska Native corporations, local governments, health care providers, and more. On climate change, the letter points squarely to Kivalina — the community of about 400 on a barrier island along the Chukchi Sea coast.

“There are immediate needs for sure,” said Joule about the situation in Kivalina. “The community does need to get to safety. But more than that, the community needs to relocate.” Joule says this is not a time to be shy. “It’s a time for education — for Alaskans and for the people of the United States.”

Bearing the brunt of a changing climate, the shorefast ice that once protected the community from turbulent weather now forms later and later — bringing storms, flooding, and erosion. In just ten years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the village will be uninhabitable.

While details are still few, the White House has announced a plan to put the Denali Commission — an independent federal agency working in Alaska since 1998 — in charge of a new mitigation and relocation effort for communities across Alaska. It’s a partnership Tim Schuerch with Manilaq said is a good fit.

Schuerch said the Denali Commission has been a great partner in developing most of the village clinics in the region.

“We do have a lot of confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness what it comes to the Denali Commission, in terms of assisting us with our infrastructure needs, including those that are needed to respond to climate change,” he said.

The letter covers a lot of ground — outlining the need to develop a deep-draft port above the Arctic Circle and advocating sharing federal revenue from offshore oil drilling with local residents. In many ways it’s an academic breakdown of what northwest Alaska leaders say they’ll need for the future.

But Wayne Westlake, the president and CEO of NANA Regional Corporation, said it’ll take more than just a letter for Kotzebue’s voice to be heard. Westlake said he hopes the president gets the “feeling” of the region.

“There’s something here that is important not only to our country, but to the health of the people of the region,” he said. “And that’s what I’m hoping for — that he’ll get that feel that you can’t describe. He’ll tell his grandkids about it.”

President Obama begins his last day in Alaska with a morning in Dillingham. He’ll land in Kotzebue around 5 o’clock this evening, and should be flying back to Anchorage — and eventually Washington, D.C. — by 9 o’clock tonight.

Categories: Alaska News

Even with another icebreaker, US fleet pales against its Arctic neighbors

Wed, 2015-09-02 08:50

The Coast Guard vessel Healy is considered a medium icebreaker. President Obama has promised to speed up the acquisition of a heavy icebreaker for the Coast Guard’s fleet. Photo: USCG.

President Obama wants to beef up America’s fleet of icebreaking ships.

He made the announcement Tuesday before stepping on a non-icebreaking tour boat to see the glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Obama proposed to speed up construction of a heavy icebreaker by two years. He wants the new ship to be polar-ready by the year 2020, rather than 2022.

Obama also said he plans on working with Congress to expand the nation’s fleet of icebreakers.

The U.S. Coast Guard has two icebreakers in working condition, and just one of those two vessels is a heavy icebreaker — the Polar Star. By comparison, Russia has a fleet of about 40. Canada, Finland and Sweden each have six icebreakers or more.

The Congressional delegations of Alaska and Washington state have long called for more ice breakers. In an email, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office said Obama’s announcement is less a plan than an acknowledgment that the needs must be addressed. In an email, Murkowski spokesperson Matthew Felling said the senator “awaits seeing the priorities espoused today reflected in dollars in the President’s budget next year.”

One of the Coast Guard’s two working icebreakers is currently at 87.5 degrees north latitude. It’s a few days away from the North Pole on a science mission.

Chief scientist David Kadko with Florida International University says the polar ice has been thinner than anticipated. That’s allowed the Healy to burn less fuel breaking through the ice, and it’s made the work of the 51 scientists on board smoother. German and Canadian icebreakers are also cruising the Arctic for science this summer.

“It’s quite historic: three icebreakers from three different countries working together, and collaboratively,” Kadko said.

The three ships are working to get a baseline of conditions throughout the Arctic Ocean. They want that snapshot of the Arctic chemistry before the expected increase in shipping and resource extraction brings more pollution to the top of the world.

Climate change is the main theme of the president’s highly publicized three-day tour of Alaska. The president has not taken any questions from the media, and he is not expected to do so while he’s here.

The White House press office said Tuesday that Obama will increase ongoing efforts to chart navigation routes through the Aleutians and Bering Sea and more closely monitor sea level and sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

U.S. Coast Guard’s 2015 list of major icebreakers:

Categories: Alaska News

Obama Does Seward

Wed, 2015-09-02 04:29


President Obama, with a National Park Service interpreter, on Resurrection Bay. Photo: Liz Ruskin

President Obama is flying to Dillingham and Kotzebue today , the final day of his Alaska trip. The White House says he’ll announce a new role for the Denali Commission in helping Alaska communities respond to climate-change impacts. Yesterday, Obama indulged his sweet tooth in southcentral Alaska, and Mother Nature indulged him with stunning fall weather in Seward.

His morning began at Snow City Café, in downtown Anchorage, where he bought cinnamon rolls. Then he flew by helicopter to Seward. As the temperature rose to above 60 degrees, he walked the path to Exit Glacier,

“You guys have been seeing these signs as we’ve walked that mark where the glacier used to be — 1917, 1951,” he said at a wide spot on the trail overlooking the toe of the ice field, where a herd of journalists had stationed themselves. “This glacier has lost about a mile and a half over the last couple hundred years.  But the pace of the reductions of the glacier are accelerating rapidly each and every year.”

While the reporters were sent back to the trailhead and the press vans, Obama went on to film an episode of a reality TV show, “Running Wild with Bear Grylls.”

In the afternoon, the president stopped in at a gelato shop in downtown Seward called Sweet

Obama thanks Coast Guard medivac team on duty for his boat tour. Photo: Liz Ruskin

Darlings. Obama bought frozen treats for reporters and members of his entourage. The president took orders — “Chocolate? Cone or a cup?” –and then asked the shop staff to ring up the total. It’s not every day the president of the United States buys you ice cream, one reporter said.

Throughout the day, Obama’s motorcade passed crowds of well-wishers. Some held signs thanking him for restoring the name Denali to Alaska’s highest peak. A few protestors waved “Shell No” signs, but one large banner praised his decision to let Shell drill in the Chukchi Sea. It’s a policy green groups complain undercuts the main theme of the trip — Obama’s call to cut carbon emissions.

On the street outside the icecream shop, if there were critics in the crowd, they kept quiet. Obama reached across the security line to shake hands and greet children.

“Hey, you still have ice cream on you!” he told one boy.

“It’s not ice cream,” the boy said.  “It’s hot chocolate.”


At the Seward harbor, with sunlight shimmering on the water, Obama boarded a tour boat, the Viewfinder, to see Resurrection Bay and Bear Glacier.

Journalists followed in another vessel, and the two boat captains circled each other to line up the perfect shot for the cameras: Obama, on the bow, gesturing toward the river of blue ice. He shouted over to the press boat that the ice bergs in the water were as large as a Costco store.


Around 7:30 p.m., with the sun low and the mountaintops turning gold, the president’s motorcade to him back to the Seward airport. Before he boarded Marine 1 to head back to Anchorage and the Hotel Captain Cook for the night, Obama walked down the tarmac to thank two firefighters standing by in the cab of a  Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department truck. He also shook hands with five orange-suited Coasties, the medivac team on hand while the president was on the bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama on Exit Glacier: ‘We want to make sure our grandkids see this’

Tue, 2015-09-01 17:37

Obama stands in front of Exit Glacier near Seward. Photo: Liz Ruskin/APRN.

APRN’s Liz Ruskin is traveling with the President. She says Obama is on a tour boat called the Viewfinder, not a Coastguard cutter.

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President Obama is in Seward today. He landed early this afternoon in his helicopter, called Marine One and then hiked to Exit Glacier to highlight how much the rivers of ice in the state are retreating because of global climate change. He called the glacier “spectacular” and said, “we want to make sure that our grandkids can see this.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015

Tue, 2015-09-01 17:36

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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Obama on Exit Glacier: ‘We want to make sure our grandkids see this’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

President Obama is in Seward today. He landed early this afternoon in a helicopter and then hiked to Exit Glacier to highlight how much glaciers in the state are retreating because of global climate change.

Reactions to GLACIER trickle in

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

As the President continues to visit sights in Alaska during a trip focused on climate change and Arctic policy, reactions are to his speech at the close of the GLACIER conference are still forming.

Medicaid expansion begins in Alaska

Associated Press

The state began enrolling newly eligible residents in the Medicaid program Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Kotzebue prepares for a presidential visit

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

As president Barack Obama plans to shift his focus to western Alaska by midweek, residents of Kotezbue — the northwest Arctic hub of about 4,000 people — are making final preparations for the president’s historic visit above the Arctic Circle.



Fed judge subpoenas ex-EPA official in Pebble case

David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

A federal judge in Anchorage has ordered a former EPA official to appear in a case involving whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency acted improperly in the lead up the agency’s proposed restrictions against the Pebble mine.

Governor declares disaster in Sitka, opening new lines of relief funds

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

On Friday, Governor Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration for Sitka. On August 18th, seven landslides caused extensive damage to private and public property, including city roads and utilities. Three men died. And now that the worst of the emergency is over, the city is facing the question of how to pay for the response.

Bird flu monitoring underway as waterfowl season opens

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

Duck season opens Sept. 1. An outbreak of pandemic bird flu in the Lower 48 has wildlife managers monitoring migratory waterfowl nationwide, including in Alaska, where it has not yet been detected.

Presidential enthusiasm touches down in Seward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Crowds lined the Seward Highway below the city’s airport Tuesday morning, in anticipation of a glimpse of President Obama’s arrival. A glimpse was about all they got.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid expansion rolls out

Tue, 2015-09-01 17:35

The state began enrolling newly eligible residents in the Medicaid program today.

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That’s after the Alaska Supreme Court refused yesterday, to temporarily block the state from expanding Medicaid.

It was a victory for Gov. Bill Walker, who announced this summer he was expanding Medicaid without the approval of the Legislature.

Lawmakers sued after Walker announced he was going forward without their consent.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the request from lawmakers to halt expansion while a lawsuit moves forward. The Alaska Supreme Court on Monday agreed, saying lawyers for the lawmakers failed to show Pfiffner erred when denying the motion for a preliminary injunction.

The state expects about 20,000 low-income Alaskans, mostly childless adults, to sign up for health care under the first year of Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News