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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: 51 sec ago

Ketchikan Borough To Vote on Tobacco Tax

Thu, 2015-07-30 17:09

Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

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

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The Borough Assembly voted on July 6 to move forward with the idea, but it wasn’t endorsed by all Assembly members. In fact, the same motion failed in an earlier vote, when some supporting Assembly members were absent and not able to participate in the decision.

It was brought back for reconsideration, and in a 4-3 vote, the Assembly directed borough management to draft the ordinance.

It will be in front of the Assembly for the first of two votes at its next meeting, and likely will result in another split. Assembly Members opposed to the measure were unequivocal.

During the June 6 meeting, Assembly Member Jim Van Horn called in from Juneau, where his wife was finishing radiation treatment for lung cancer. Van Horn said he is a lung-cancer survivor himself, and lost his first wife to lung cancer.

“This insidious thing called cancer is caused by smoking, but at the same time, I feel that $3 a pack is too excessive,” he told the Assembly

Those opposing the tobacco tax say it’s a revenue grab, and Assembly Member Glen Thompson said that people on the right and left tend to like “sin” taxes.

“Conservatives like to legislate morality and liberals tend to like to control the economy, so this has something that both sides really like,” he said. “But the poor guy in the middle is the one paying the tax.”

Thompson suggested increasing a general tax, such as the sales tax, if the borough needs more revenue, rather than targeting tobacco users.

But those who support the tobacco tax say it’s a deterrent for youth who might be tempted to pick up the habit.

Assembly Member Allen Bailey said, “There’s has been more than enough statistics provided that has indicated that youth begin their cigarette smoking early age. And if they begin below the age of 18 or 16, the likelihood of them continuing their smoking habit throughout their live, is not only a cost to them, a cost to their family, and – as exemplified by one of the Assembly members here – it costs the lives of others.”

It’s estimated that the proposed tobacco tax would generate about $1.2 million a year in new revenue. The draft ordinance calls for directing up to 15 percent of that toward smoking-cessation programs. The rest would be divided between the borough and the City of Ketchikan, based on population.

The ordinance also calls for an annual report, showing how the proceeds of the tax have been used, and its effectiveness on reducing tobacco use in the community.

The next Assembly meeting is Monday, Aug. 3.

Categories: Alaska News

Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters With $2,500/Hr. Fine

Thu, 2015-07-30 16:06

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

Thirteen climbers suspended beneath a bridge on the Willamette River forced a Shell Oil icebreaker to return to its dock Thursday morning.

Thirteen Greenpeace protesters are suspended from the St. John’s Bridge over the Willamette River in an attempt to impede Shell’s icebreaker vessel from returning north. Photo: Liz Arnold, shared with permission.

At Shell’s request, Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage then fined Greenpeace $2,500 for every hour its dangling protesters block the icebreaker’s path.

The fine doubles on Friday and goes up to ten thousand dollars an hour over the weekend.

The icebreaker Fennica has been in a Portland shipyard since Saturday for repairs.

The Fennica got a three-foot gash as it left the deepwater port of Unalaska for its Arctic Ocean drilling site four weeks ago.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the company respects the right to protest its operations as long as protests are safe and legal. She says the Portland protest is neither.

Thursday afternoon, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said, for now, the protesters are staying in place. She said Greenpeace respects the courts, but it also respects the science that says Arctic oil needs to stay in the ground.”

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Silver Salmon Run Underway

Thu, 2015-07-30 10:26

Coho salmon are picking up at the Bethel Test Fishery. (Graphic courtesy ADF&G)

Silver salmon are running up the Kuskokwim River and managers say the coho at the Bethel Test Fishery will soon be more abundant than chums.

They say it’s too soon to predict the run strength, but they note that the very early data indicate the run is shaping up to be average. But the fishing effort on the silvers may be above average.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group managers asked fishermen for their best prognostication of how intensely people will hit silvers this year. LaMont Albertson of Aniak gave his report.

“It depends on the weather, it depends on whether they’ll feel they will be successful if they spend $7.46 on a gallon of gas to go fishing. We have to bear in mind we had a bumper crop last year of silvers up here. If you don’t consider last year, and you consider the years before, I think people are getting a lot more silvers that they’ve done before. We were really depended on silvers last year, and people harvested. I certainly took advantage and harvested a good number,” said Albertson.

Following a big survey in July, the rough numbers from state biologists show that middle river communities plan to catch about twice as many silver salmon as they typically do. That comes after a summer of unprecedented king and chum restrictions.

Kuskokwim Management Biologist Aaron Poetter said after the meeting that his team is not anticipating any drastic changes now to the subsistence rules, which is basically open with six inch nets indefinitely. The big question is when to make the call on a commercial opening, which would be the first of the summer for the Kuskokwim.

“We’ve consistently had commercial opportunities in the coho time-frame. [We may be] looking at an average to slightly more subsistence needs and an average to slightly better run. If we project it as such and assess it in the same fashion there’s really no reason we shouldn’t have a commercial opportunity. It may not be a three times a week like we do on in the bay districts, but we’ll look and see what we can provide,” said Poetter.

The silver run is quickly advancing. Historically, 50% of the silver run has gone past Bethel by August 8th. The last few days at the Bethel Test Fishery have been the biggest of the year.

“It really comes down to can we provide commercial opportunity? Commercial is a very important aspect of the fishery, especially in the lower river with a lot of participants. That income, while it may not be much compared to other salmon fisheries statewide, it’s still very important economic stimulus within this region,” said Poetter.

The group also heard early results of a feasibility study for using sonar technology to count fish in the lower Kuskokwim. Teams identified two sites. One is located at the confluence of Church Slough and the Kuskokwim and another downriver of Akiak. Test fishing goes alongside the sonar so they can identify species. Next year they hope to operate a full-scale sonar site for testing purposes.

Categories: Alaska News

Halibut Donated to Diomede, Gambell, Savoonga, and Wales

Thu, 2015-07-30 10:23

For four communities affected by this spring’s poor walrus harvest, help is on its way in the form of 10,000 pounds of halibut.

Nearly 200 boxes of the fish were delivered to Nome on July 29, according to Kawerak senior planner Donna James. She said the delivery is being sorted and will soon be distributed to Diomede, Gambell, Savoonga, and Wales.

The U.S. Coast Guard delivered 200 boxes of halibut to Nome. The fish will soon be shipped to communities affected by the low walrus harvest. (Photo: Donna James)

The halibut comes as a donation from SeaShare, a Washington state nonprofit that supplies seafood to hunger-relief efforts.

All four communities declared states of economic disaster after a spring harvest that Vera Metcalf called significantly worse than usual. Metcalf is director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission and worked with the communities to declare their disasters. She said the Commission reached out to the state of Alaska and the Governor’s Office for help, through Rep. Neal Foster and Sen. Donny Olson.

“Their staffs were really good about following up with our concerns, making sure the communities were aware that the State of Alaska and Walker’s administration were aware of the situation,” Metcalf said. “And this halibut came around and it was available and it’s free and the communities wanted access to that.”

The U.S. Coast Guard brought the frozen halibut to Nome free of charge, and James said Kawerak is working with Bering Air, Erickson Helicopters, and Ravn Alaska to organize free freight delivery to the four communities.

Although the donation is good news, Metcalf said it’s only a temporary solution as climate change makes hunting more difficult.

“In the event that another disaster is declared — What do we do? And how do we move forward? We need to come up with a long-term plan,” she said.

For now, Metcalf said the donation will be a big help, even if it doesn’t entirely solve the food shortages.

“I know it won’t fill the nutritional value that a walrus or other marine mammals provide, but it’s there and it’ll be put to good use,” she said.

The halibut will ship out as soon Kawerak can coordinate delivery with the different airlines. Kawerak will then distribute the fish equally to households in each community.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds ask cruise ships, boats to stay farther away from seals

Thu, 2015-07-30 10:20

Harbor seals rest on ice near South Sawyer Glacier in 2007. New federal guidelines suggest, but don’t require, vessels to stay about 500 yards away from the marine mammals to lessen disturbances. (Photo courtesy NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center)

Federal officials are asking cruise ships, tour boats and kayaks to stay far away from harbor seals in Alaska’s glacial fjords.

The marine mammals rest, sleep and birth their pups on floating ice. NOAA Fisheries says new research shows the marine mammals are much more likely to dive into the water when vessels approach the current legal limit.

NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle says that stresses the animals and lowers their chance for survival.

“They expend far more energy when they are flushed off the ice floes and that uses up their energy reserves and that’s very important if you’re an animal that lives in that icy environment,” she says.

The federal Marine Mammals Protection Act requires ships to stay about 100 yards away. New guidelines, which are voluntary, call for about 500 yards, if it’s safe to do so.

They also ask ships to be as quiet as possible, avoid causing wakes and make no abrupt course changes. They suggest vessels schedule tours for the early morning or evening, when fewer seals haul out.

“At this point, because they’re voluntary, we will be monitoring the vessel and seal interactions to see if these new voluntary approach guidelines provide sufficient protection for the seals,” she says.

NOAA Fisheries says its research shows about three-quarters of seals on ice dive into the water before an approaching ship reaches the current legal distance. Other studies found different numbers, but they still document significant disturbances.

The most popular fjords, in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, see multiple visits a day.

Speegle says the new guidelines, if followed, should help protect young seals.

“We certainly want to do all that we can to ensure that pups are not separated from their mothers during the nursing stage,” she says.

Calls to several companies offering fjord tours were not immediately returned.

Categories: Alaska News

Activists rappel off Oregon bridge to stop Shell icebreaker

Thu, 2015-07-30 10:17

More than a dozen activists rappelled off the St. Johns Bridge in an effort to stop a Shell Oil Arctic icebreaker from leaving Portland.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard says the protesters dangling off the bridge early Wednesday have enough water and food to last for days.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC icebreaker Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs Saturday. The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull

Leonard says delaying the icebreaker will give President Obama more time to reconsider giving Shell the last permit it needs to drill.

Opponents of Arctic drilling worry the area’s remoteness and rugged conditions will hamper cleanup efforts in the event of a spill, risking devastation to a fragile marine ecosystem.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Fairbanks cuts $20 million from budget

Thu, 2015-07-30 10:16

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has announced it will cut $20 million from its budget this upcoming year.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that some of the cuts come from 150 eliminated positions, reduced campus services and widespread consolidation. The detailed budget plans were released Wednesday.

UAF academic programs plan to slash 68.5 full-time positions, as well as 17 teaching assistants and adjunct faculty jobs. UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says students will likely see more crowded classrooms and fewer duplicate offerings of required introductory courses.

The cuts come as the greater University of Alaska system faces declining state funding.

This is the third year UAF has dealt with major budget gaps, which now total more than $42 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wed, 2015-07-29 17:53

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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Alaska Senators No Fans of Iran Deal

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Obama administration faced a tough crowd this morning as it defended its nuclear agreement with Iran in Congress. Both of Alaska’s senators are among the chorus of lawmakers who say the deal is bad for the U.S.

Psychiatric Facility For Vets Opens In Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The state’s first and only facility offering acute and long-term psychiatric care for the military held it’s official opening ceremony in Anchorage on Tuesday.

Conservationists Declare Victory in Court’s Tongass Road Ruling

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.

Jim Johnsen Named New University of Alaska President

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Tuesday appointed Jim Johnsen as the next university president.

Wrangell Doc Found Guilty of Sharing Child Porn

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Former Wrangell doctor Greg Salard has been found guilty of distributing and receiving child pornography. After closing arguments in the trial in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, the twelve person jury returned with a verdict after only an hour and a half of deliberations.

Saxman Regains Rural Status

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Organized Village of Saxman is now officially rural again. The Federal Subsistence Board voted during a work session Tuesday in Anchorage to return communities to the status they held before 2007.

Dalton Highway Gets A Post-Flood Facelift

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A contractor is expected to begin work soon building up a portion of the Dalton Highway severely damaged  earlier this year by overflow ice and flooding from the Sag River.

Report: Alaska Falls Short on Curbing LBGT Discrimination In The Workplace

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

The University of California, Los Angeles, published a report last week on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Love, Adoption and Raising 3 Kids With FASD

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservationists Declare Victory in Court’s Tongass Road Ruling

Wed, 2015-07-29 17:37

Aerial view of Tongass National Forest (Photo by Alan Wu/Flickr Creative Commons)

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.

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Malena Marvin, Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, says this decision underscores management that’s already happening.

“The Forest Service is already not planning sales in roadless areas and proceeding in the same direction as the rest of the country in preserving these areas for future generations. So we’re really seeing the final legal decision just guaranteeing that direction.”

“Roadless areas” are habitat for endangered species, subsistence hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, and sacred sites.

In 2001, the Department of Agriculture created the “Roadless Rule,” limiting road construction and logging on nearly 50 million acres of wilderness. But the Tongass National Forest was exempted two years later when George W. Bush was in office. “Economic hardship” for timber-dependent Southeast communities was given as the reason.

Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen says a coalition of conservation groups and Alaska Native tribes challenged that ruling.

“And argued that the agency hadn’t adequately explained its rationale for reversing course and deciding to exempt the Tongass from the protection.”

Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association believes the Forest Service has “monopoly supply” over the timber industry in the region.

“They won’t allow enough timber sales to keep our industry alive and we’re dying… It’s hindering all kinds of development for no good reason other than pacifying environmental groups but we hope to get it overturned eventually.”

The state can petition the Supreme Court to exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Alaska Falls Short on Curbing LBGT Discrimination In The Workplace

Wed, 2015-07-29 17:33

“WOG2009-12″ by heb@Wikimedia Commons (mail) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Last Wednesday, the University of California, Los Angeles, published a report on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Alaska is home to more than 19,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults, according to a Gallup poll.

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The report, published by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 17 out of Alaska’s 25 largest employers have corporate policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. At least 11 of them list gender identity as a protected class. Some of these employers include Providence Health and Services, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

The report also cites a 2012 web survey on LGBT discrimination in Anchorage.

According to the Anchorage survey, 44 percent of the respondents had experienced harassment and nearly a fifth had been turned down for a job or promotion. The survey found that transgender people are more at risk for housing and employment discrimination.

The report found that straight male workers’ income was 30 percent higher than gay male workers.

Christy Mallory co-authored the report, and says it took about a month to compile.

The report predicts that if non-discrimination laws were expanded, approximately six complaints of sexual orientation or gender identity employment discrimination would be filed annually in Alaska.

“So, six complaints is pretty low,” Mallory said, “that’s mostly because there’s a smaller population in Alaska than many other states.”

Mallory says their reports focus on the 28 states that don’t offer LGBT legal protection in the workplace.

In a 2011 poll, nearly 80 percent of Alaskans said Congress should pass a law to prohibit LGBT employment discrimination.

In 2002, Gov. Tony Knowles issued an administrative order protecting state employees from employment discrimination and harassment. There are no restrictions on the private sector.

Neither the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights or the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission processes discrimination claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Williams Institute says that this discrimination does take place, citing legislative testimony.

Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl is drafting a city ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the private sector, including public accommodations and housing. He says he decided to work on the ordinance after local residents discussed the issue with him.

“The recent recognition of marriage equality in all 50 states is a wonderful step forward,” Kiehl said,” but some of these folks were particularly worried that a person could get married on Saturday and show off the photos and be fired on Monday.”

Kiehl thinks broader discrimination protection would be better for everyone involved.

“Those items being included would help us to make Juneau both a welcoming and prosperous community, as folks can live and work here based on their contributions.”

Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, requiring the state commission to handle those complaints. Similar bills have failed twice before.

Categories: Alaska News

On Love, Adoption and Raising 3 Kids With FASD

Wed, 2015-07-29 17:32

Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.

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When you walk into the Lohrey household, kids seem to materialize out of thin air.

“We have five of our own and one foster, so six kids right now,” says the mom, Diane Lohrey.

The Lohrey family. From left to right: Elena, Kylie, John, Kristyanna, Diane (holding a foster child) and Emilyanne. Elena, Kylie and Kristyanna have all been diagnosed with FASD. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Two are biological, three are adopted and the foster child is through the state Office of Children’s Services.

“And they just called us a few minutes ago to see if we would take an 8-year-old boy, but we have no room right now,” Lohrey says.

They’ve already converted their garage into a comfortable bedroom. At least a dozen foster children have passed through the four-bedroom house since 2005, staying anywhere from one night to 18 months.

The Lohreys’ first adoption was Elena from Russia in 2004.

“Within two days, I knew something was wrong,” she says.

Elena was 21 months old. Lohrey says she was different than the other Russian infants getting adopted.

“She would stare at things. She didn’t know how to play with toys. She would play with a little piece of lint more than she would a toy,” Lohrey explains.

Years later, the Lohreys adopted biological sisters Kylie and Kristyanna from Juneau through OCS.

They receive a stipend from the state for the two girls, who are now ages 5 and 6, and any foster children that pass through. Lohrey is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is a highway engineer.

Elena Lohrey, 12, looks at pictures from an FASD Family Camp her family attended in Arizona earlier this summer. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

All three adopted kids were diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at the FASD clinic in Juneau. Medical professionals at the clinic require some kind of evidence that the biological mother drank during pregnancy in order to do the diagnosis.

That was hard for Lohrey. She pleaded with Kylie and Kristyanna’s biological mom, “‘Go to OCS and write down that you drank or that you drank before you knew you were pregnant. That is the greatest gift you can give these children,’ and she did it,” says Lohrey, crying.

Emilyanne, 21, is one of Lohrey’s biological children. She says the diagnosis opens the doors for getting help, “and for, like, other people to understand, they’re not just bad kids. There’s a logical explanation for why they are the way they are, and how to give more ideas how to help them and not discard them like trash.”

FASD is an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of disabilities, minor to severe. Lohrey says each of her three adopted kids falls in different areas. Issues include short attention spans, disorganization and being overly trusting. One of her kids has a tendency to lie and steal.

Elena, who’s also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, doesn’t communicate her own needs.

“She won’t voluntarily say, ‘I need something,’ or ‘I need help,’ or ‘I’m lost.’ So one of the things they told us is that she might need long-term care, that she might not be able to live on her own. And that was like – that hurt,” Lohrey says.

The Lohreys converted the garage into a bedroom that Kristyanna, 6, and Kylie, 5, share. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

It’s tough to accept that your child has a lifetime disability for which there’s no cure, Lohrey says. In most cases, you can’t tell by looking that someone has an FASD.

“A lot of times, you’re out in the community and your kids are doing something stupid and you’re embarrassed and some people will say really rude things to you, like ‘You need to control your child,’ and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing the best I can. You have no idea.’ And sometimes I would love to wear a shirt that says, ‘My child has FASD. Don’t judge us,’” Lohrey says.

The Lohreys did not set out to adopt three kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“And there are days when I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I had never adopted.’ I think that’s with your typical family, too. I think there are days where parents say, ‘I wish I didn’t have any kids.’ I think that’s normal,” Lohrey says.

She admits she may say it more than other parents, but there are times when she can’t imagine not adopting.

“Each little child that you adopt, each little child that you foster, hopefully you’re giving them something that will make this world a better place and better understanding and teach more empathy,” Lohrey says.

Lohrey sometimes blames the biological parents, but she knows that’s pointless. She says you can’t change the past. You can only focus on the here and now, and the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senators No Fans of Iran Deal

Wed, 2015-07-29 16:43

The Obama administration faced a tough crowd this morning as it defended its nuclear agreement with Iran in Congress. Both of Alaska’s senators are among the chorus of lawmakers who say the deal is bad for the U.S. and the region.

In the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican members were ready to pounce. Chairman John McCain of Arizona said the agreement would pave the way to a nuclear Iran and allow it to go on “shopping spree” for other weapons. Four Cabinet secretaries and the chairman of the joint chiefs defended the deal, saying it would restrict Iran and let the world know if it were cheating. If so, they said, the U.S. would snap economic sanctions back in place, and, through the U.N., trigger automatic international sanctions, too.

Three hours into the hearing, it was Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan’s turn to question the witnesses. Sullivan challenged Secretary of State John Kerry on a term “snap-back” sanctions.

D.S.: Is there a term called the snap-back provision in the agreement?

J.K.: I don’t think it’s specifically —

— No there isn’t. the word ‘snap back’ is not in the agreement …

–No but it’s created by —

— Let me make my point. I have a lot of questions and I don’t have a lot of time.

Sullivan says the term “snap back” is somewhat deceitful. He says he knows from his service in the George W. Bush Administration, isolating Iran economically wasn’t easy.

“That was a slog,” Sullivan said. “That wasn’t a snap. That took years to get countries to divest out of the Iranian economy. It’ll take years to do it again.”

Sullivan also suggested the deal leaves the U.S. impotent to punish Iran with sanctions for non-nuclear aggression it might commit.

“An act of terrorism happens. It’s big,” Sullivan said, setting up a hypotherical. “They kill more American troops. They blow up a consulate. It’s likely, I think it’s likely, that they’re going to do that in the next 10 years.  … We impose sanctions … . This is our power!”

But, Sullivan told Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the agreement says Iran will treat the reimposition of sanctions as grounds to stop holding up its end of the bargain.

–If we ever, ever impose so-called snap-back sanctions, isn’t the deal over? Where am I wrong on that question?

–Well, Senator, we would snap sanctions back once they violated the agreement …

Sullivan cut him off. He said he wasn’t talking about Iran violating the nuclear agreement, but other bad acts by Iran.

“Answer the question!” Sullivan insisted. “You didn’t answer it in the closed setting. You’re not answering it now!”

Secretary Lew’s take is that not all sanctions would end the agreement. Lew says the U.S. could still punish Iran for non-nuclear terrorism while leaving the deal in place.

Sullivan’s approach was in keeping with the tone of the hearing. It ended with pointed questions from two Republican candidates for president – Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz was especially testy in asking Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about a certain type of nuclear assault.

“It could kill tens of millions of Americans. Do you agree with that?” Cruz asked.

“It would depend obviously on the specifics,” Moniz said.

Cruz tried to pin him down, then called him out for equivocating.

“You’re refusing to answer the question,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski doesn’t serve on committees that have taken up the Iran nuclear agreement. She’s been busy crafting a national energy bill, but she’s been briefed on the Iran deal and says she intends to read it for herself. So far, Murkowski is highly skeptical.

“What I am hearing, what I am reading is giving me no greater assurance about the soundness of this agreement,” she said.

Murkowski says an alternative might be expanded sanctions.

“The president is trying to suggest that it is this or war. I reject that,” she said.

Congress has until late September to review the deal. Opponents seem to have the votes to pass a resolution of disapproval, but it’s less likely they can override a presidential veto.

Categories: Alaska News

In Blow To the State, Court Strikes Down Roadless Rule Exemption in the Tongass

Wed, 2015-07-29 16:32

A divided federal appeals court has affirmed a lower-court decision that would reinstate prohibitions on road-building and timber harvests in roadless areas of the nation’s largest national forest.

In a 6-5 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not give a reasoned explanation for reversing course and creating a special exemption to the so-called “Roadless Rule” for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The majority opinion ruled the Tongass exemption invalid.

In a dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Milan Smith Jr. wrote that elections have legal consequences. In this case, Smith wrote, the department followed President George W. Bush’s policy instructions in amending the Clinton-era Roadless Rule in 2003. Smith argued the department was not “arbitrary and capricious” in making the decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Advances The Possibility of A City-Run Liquor Store

Wed, 2015-07-29 14:04

Bethel City Hall. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

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

A possible vote on local option comes as the city appeals the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their formal protest of Bethel Native Corporation’s liquor store application. The surprise move by the ABC board led Council Member Chuck Herman to propose having the city be the only liquor seller in town.

“It put our status as a community into question, it’s unclear if now we’re going to be able to protest anything at all. It’s unclear if the advisory vote is going to matter. Those are the reasons. And secondary to that, we’ll be able to fund more police if necessary, we’ll have extra revenue to work with,” said Herman.

Local option includes provisions for additional local control, like limiting sales to residents of Bethel, that aren’t possible under private sales. The state liquor board will be here in October for a public hearing, following a new alcohol advisory vote expected to influence whether the council protests future liquor license. But that’s not guaranteed as four council seats are up for election.

Bethel resident Dave Trantham spoke out against the council advancing local option.

“If the people of Bethel want to go back into local option, they can start the same type of initiative that we had to get out of local option. It should be coming from us peasants, the grassroots, it should not be coming from you,” said Trantham.

Council Member Heather Pike reminded the council of what drove citizens out of of local option including the limits on importation and a database tracking purchases.

“I myself, I was tired of being treated like a criminal. I felt like I was a criminal when we were under local option, like ‘Momma can I go to the store?,’” said Pike.

Bethel left local option in 2009 and citizens voted again in 2010 to stay out while still rejecting local sales. That developed a liquor status that allows for unlimited importations and no local sales. It’s a middle ground that some call a compromise and others say creates a bootleggers paradise. A local option vote would change that reality. The path to the Bethels future status remaines uncharted.

Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was concerned about a very complicated ballot on October 6th.

“If someone’s first choice is to stay the way we are now, I’m not sure how they should they vote on this in the election. Should they vote no, no, no, no, yes local option or no, no, no, no, no local option and then possibly end up with private sales which are less restrictive?” said Albertson.

Gearing up for October, Council Member Zach Fansler has lost faith in in the board that has the final word on liquor licenses.

“Will they allow us to keep that status? We don’t know, they are judge, jury and executioner. They’re going to come out in October and they’re going to be the arbiter of what is best for Bethel. They have overstepped their bounds, they have put us as a community at odds with one another. They should never, ever, ever, have thought that was ok,” said Fansler.

A public hearing is scheduled for August 11th. The council can decide then whether to send the local option question to voters.

Categories: Alaska News

Saxman Regains Rural Status

Wed, 2015-07-29 13:21

Saxman Totem Park and Clan House. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.

The Organized Village of Saxman is now officially rural again.

The Federal Subsistence Board voted during a work session Tuesday in Anchorage to return communities to the status they held before 2007. That’s the year the board decided to make Saxman non-rural, an action that Saxman residents and other Native leaders have fought against ever since.

Theo Matuskowitz works for the Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage. He says the board took three actions yesterday (Tuesday) related to rural determination.

The first adopted a proposed rule that simplifies the rural-determination review process. The third action starts the ball rolling on options for determining communities’ rural statuses in the future.

The middle action is the one that makes an immediate difference to Saxman.

“They decided to go back to the pre-2007 final rule. Because, basically, everyone seemed pretty happy with the non-rural determinations there. It was after the 2007 final rule that people expressed unahappiness with their action. So, by the board deciding to go back to the pre-2007 rule, this makes Saxman rural once again.”

Matuskowitz says there are still some administrative actions that need to be taken before the action is published, but Tuesday’s vote makes it official.

Rural status for an Alaska Native community allows residents to subsistence hunt, fish and gather traditional foods and other materials.

Categories: Alaska News

Post-Flooding Gravel Work to Raise Dalton Highway

Wed, 2015-07-29 12:00

A contractor is expected to begin work soon building up a portion of the Dalton Highway severely damaged  earlier this year by overflow ice and flooding from the Sag River. It’s part of plan to armor the major North Slope oil field supply conduit against future ice and flood impacts.

Spring flooding along the Dalton Highway.
Credit Alaska Department of Transportation

Flooding and resulting washouts made the norther section of the Dalton Highway impassable for over 2 weeks in late May and early June before emergency repairs enabled the road to re-open. Now the State department of transportation is making upgrades, like elevating the road to prevent future damage, by adding a lot material to the road bed. DOT project manager Michael Lund says it’s taken much of the summer just to mine gravel for the work south of Deadhorse.

Dalton Gravel:  Q:”…

Lund calculates that the work will require about one hundred thousand truckloads of gravel. All the material is needed for a project that’s been extended 4 miles and raised an additional 7 feet in the worst ice and flood impacted area.

Dalton Extend:  Q:”…

The changes have upped the cost of the project from 27 million dollars to 43 million.  Lund says the investment will protect the hardest hit section from future trouble, but other areas could suffer the same fate.

Dalton Unclear:  Q:”…   

Lund adds that the DOT will stockpile riprap and gravel for readily access to make future flood repairs quickly.  Upgrade work on the next section of the Dalton, from milepost 405 to 414 is scheduled for next summer. Longer term projects are aimed at upgrading and paving the entire last 50 miles of the Dalton Highway.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell doc found guilty of sharing child porn

Wed, 2015-07-29 11:51

Former Wrangell doctor Greg Salard has been found guilty of distributing and receiving child pornography. The 12-person jury returned Tuesday with a verdict in U.S. District Court after an hour and a half of deliberations.

A third, lesser charge for possession was set aside, because receipt and possession of child pornography would essentially amount to double jeopardy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon said. Consideration of the “lesser-included” possession charge was dependent on a not guilty verdict on receipt.

Dr. Greg Salard during a Wrangell Medical Center Board of Directors meeting in December 2012. (Photo courtesy of Wrangell Sentinel, shared via KTOO.org)

Reardon said they were happy with the verdict. He said they felt they had a strong case with overwhelming evidence of Salard’s file sharing.

He said it’s not unusual for such cases to be built on circumstantial evidence rather than catching the perpetrator red-handed with the images still on their computer.

“We’re seeing more cases in which people download, view and delete,” Reardon said afterward. “High speed internet makes it practical along with the ubiquitousness of the images. They’re not hard to find.”

“We use fragments and footprints to build cases,” said Reardon, explaining how investigators dive deeper into a computer’s operating system to find a circumstantial trail of pornography sharing over peer-to peer networks.

Over the course of the trial that started last week, jurors received a crash course in peer-to-peer file sharing, data files, hash values, IP addresses, jump lists, program registries, temporary files, the resilience of deleted files and unallocated space on a hard drive. Jurors last week were briefly shown child pornography images that corresponded with video hash values found on Salard’s computer.

Jurors began deliberations after closing arguments at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday and returned with a verdict at 1:15 p.m.

Salard will be extradited to Louisiana to face a charge of aggravated rape after his sentencing in Juneau on Oct. 9. He faces a sentence of 5 to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each child pornography charge. He could be on supervised release the rest of his life or for as little as 5 years.

Closing arguments

Salard was arrested Oct. 15, 2014, after officers searched his Wrangell home and seized his laptop computer. Investigators never found child porn in the form of videos or images on his computer. Salard started a program to wipe the computer’s hard drive when agents arrived at his house.

Instead, federal prosecutors said there’s an extensive digital trail showing how Salard downloaded child porn through various peer-to-peer file sharing programs like Ares, and played them within Ares, Windows or VLC media players before deleting the files. He also used various disk wiping programs like CCleaner multiple times to erase all traces of those deleted files.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon said during closing arguments Tuesday that the evidence is overwhelming. He pointed to a series of important digital breadcrumbs that chronicle hundreds of pieces of pornography that Salard downloaded or shared between February and October of last year, or show how some of the files were interrupted during download. They even indicate the very last video that he played on his computer, less than two hours before agents executed a search warrant at his house.

“Be careful not to get run over by the freight train of evidence,” Reardon told the jury. “Be careful to not get to steamrolled by PTHC,” he said, referring to the pre-teen hard core acronym found in a key Ares data listing of downloaded files.

Reardon started his closing arguments in absolute silence that lasted three and a half minutes. He started the timer on his phone, gathered his notes, got up and slowly walked to turn off courtroom lights and then to the podium to put on a microphone. He then deleted some stock photos on a laptop he’d been using for the trial, shut down a trial presentation program and then started up a PowerPoint presentation for his closing argument.

He finally broke his silence by saying if he could do all that in less than 4 minutes, then it’s not unreasonable to think that Greg Salard spent 8 minutes destroying evidence and purging his computer before opening the door to federal agents on the day he was arrested.

During her closing argument, Assistant Federal Public Defender Cara McNamara never explicitly denied that there was ever pornography on Salard’s computer. However, she did emphasize that no pornography of any kind was ever found on Salard’s computer when it was seized by the FBI.

Instead, McNamara continued with her theme made during opening statements that questioned the qualifications of the case’s principal investigator, FBI Special Agent Anthony Peterson. She said he had no previous knowledge or experience in the interpretation of information.

McNamara believed that Peterson failed to follow best practices by immediately stopping the hard drive wipe and beginning an on-site examination of the computer, possibly altering the data. McNamara also said Peterson failed to properly document his human role in the investigation, such as not getting screenshots of a largely automated file sharing program and losing an important report from a forensic examination of Salard’s computer after a thumbdrive was corrupted.

“The Government is asking: ‘Well, just trust us,’” McNamara said. “That’s not good enough.”

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Alaska State Fair Readies for Lift-Off!

Wed, 2015-07-29 11:28

It’s the last week in July and in Haines, that means time for the Southeast Alaska State Fair. The annual event draws crowds and entries from around the state and beyond.

The Motet. Photo courtesy of artist, shared via KHNS.org.

Colorado-based band the Motet is one of nine headliners at the 47th annual fair. It runs Thursday through Sunday and the Motet hit the main stage on Saturday night. Vocalist Jans Ingber says this is the band’s first time playing the fair, and they are up for an adventure.

“Word got out that we were going to be up in Alaska. Because you know for some of us – it’s a journey to get up there. We play Salmonfest the night before we fly on three different planes to get to Haines,” said Ingber, adding that fair goers can expect some seriously funky dance music from the band.

Live music is a key feature of the fair – over 35 acts will play on three stages. They include local Haines and Skagway performers, and artists from Southeast and the Lower 48.

Fair Executive Director Jessica Edwards says one of the new offerings this year is a Sunday morning garden tour.

“We’re trying to dig in a little bit to the agricultural mission of our organizations. So getting people into people’s gardens and seeing what they’re doing, how they’re growing…there will be presentations by the growers…and an opportunity for people to see what other people are doing and what other methods are successful for them,” Edwards said.

Another new event is the Singer-Songwriter Showcase on Saturday. This is the chance for musicians to show off their talent in a less competitive setting than the juried Singer-Songwriter Competition held on Friday. The Southeast’s Got Talent show happens Thursday evening, with grand prizes of $400 for both the adult and youth categories. Edwards says that show is a fair highlight.

“I think our limitations are no dangerous acts, no animals and no fire. But beyond that…just anything goes. That’s been a super popular,” said Edwards.

Other fair contests include the Unleash Your Beast Adventure Run, the Wearable Art Review, the Haines Hustle 5K, 10K and Trail Half-Marathon, the Logging Show and the Fisherman’s Rodeo. There will be separate tournaments involving horseshoes, volleyballs and disc golf…and contests for the most loveable dog and best fiddle players.

And of course, you can’t have a state fair without exhibits of animals, vegetables, foods, arts and crafts.

“We’re really excited that we have some entries from around Southeast that we haven’t had before,” said Judy Heinmiller, who oversees the home arts exhibits. Entries for the beer and wine and preserved foods are already submitted and judged, but the baked goods entries don’t arrive until Wednesday to ensure maximum freshness. So far, she’s excited by the variety of preserved foods….

“We’ve got pickled beach asparagus…bull kelp pickles…a lot of dehydrated herbs,” Heinmiller said.

Ruth Headley  is the Fair’s town representative for Whitehorse. She says entries from Yukon quilters make the fair an international event this year.

“We have really never entered before. Someone came and invited us and said why don’t you enter and we went, we don’t know why we don’t enter. And so this is our first year and we managed to 23 I think entries. And next year we’re going to do even better,” said Headley.

Cyni Waddington is the town representative for Wrangell.

“Well, it’s kind of exciting because we just recently started doing our own fair to try to get more interest and we got some really cool exhibits this year…and then we will just box them all up from there and get them shipped to Haines…so we try to make it as easy as possible to get a good showing there,” said Waddington.

Sarah Lawrie from Sitka says she’s pleased with her town’s submissions, which include two wearable art dresses. One is made entirely of candy and the other is a 1920s-style outfit fashioned from wooden clothespins.

The exhibits will be displayed in the fairground’s Harriett Hall.

“During the fair, it’s super fun to go into the hall and just see everything. Some people are interested in seeing what won, some people are just interested in looking at what people create…it’s a nice way to get away from the hubbub action of the rides, the music – you can go in and be quiet and look at people’s art and creations,” said Edwards.

The hubbub arrives on Thursday, July 30th, starting at noon. Admission for all four days is $40 for adults. Senior and youth get in at half price. A shuttle for out-of-towners will be running from the ferry dock to the fairgrounds throughout each day.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. tribal protest stops mine exploration, for now

Wed, 2015-07-29 11:17

Tahltan First Nation elders and other tribal members protest exploratory drilling at the Doubleview Hat prospect site. It’s on a tributary of the Taku River. (Photo courtesy Tahltan Central Council)

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

The Hat gold and copper mining prospect is near the Sheslay River, a little more than 100 miles east of Alaska’s capital city. The Sheslay feeds into the Taku, a salmon-rich river used by commercial, sports and subsistence fishermen on the Alaska side of the border.

Vancouver-based Doubleview Capital Corp. has conducted exploratory drilling at the site for about two years. This summer, it ran into opposition.

“It’s just a very important place to our people,” says Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Central Council, which represents about 1,800 people in or from northwest British Columbia.

He says Tahltans have lived in the Sheslay area and some are buried there. He says it’s also an important place for hunting and fishing.

“That’s why we’re taking the position that we won’t be supporting any kind of exploration or mining activities in that area now or into the future,” he says.

Day and a group of Tahltan elders visited Doubleview’s Hat prospect drilling site earlier this summer. They spoke to workers, including tribal members, as well as company officials, about their objections.

“Thereafter the president and CEO made a commitment that the Tahltan workers would pack up and leave and that the camp would be demobilized and that he would aim to work with us more moving forward,” he says.

Doubleview officials did not immediately respond to interview requests. But a company press release acknowledges the meeting, as well as the shutdown, which it calls temporary.

Doubleview Capital Corp.’s Hat mineral prospect is the northernmost of its mineral development sites. (Map courtesy Doubleview Capital Corp.)

In the release CEO Farshad Shirvani says, quote, “Our aim is to resume drilling as quickly as possible. … We are consulting with our legal counsel to determine the best steps to take to allow drilling to resume.”

Plans for the mine, plus at least two others in the Sheslay area, have caught the attention of critics downstream.

“The mines themselves create the usual worries of acid-mine drainage into a major and very productive Taku tributary,” says Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

He says that could damage the river’s fisheries, especially sockeye salmon, which spawn and hatch in the area. He also points to plans to reopen an old access road.

“It’s this issue of the road becoming a can-opener for the region and leading to very, aggressive fast-paced development in an area that’s very critical for salmon habitat and First Nations traditional hunting and fishing as well,” Zimmer says.

The Tahltans are not the only tribal group with claims to the area. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has an extensive land-use plan negotiated with the provincial government that includes the Sheslay river and valley.

That plan shows at least part of the area open to some development. Taku Tlingit leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

The British Columbia’s Ministry of Mines issued Doubleview an exploration permit about three years ago. The agency says that came after consulting with the Tahltan and Taku First Nations.

Tahltan Central Council President Chad Day says that’s not the case.

He says Tahltan leaders are not opposed to all resource development. They negotiated an agreement this year with Imperial Metals’ Red Chris Mine, in the Stikine River watershed.

“It’s a controversial project for some people. But at the end of the day, we put all the terms past the Tahltan Nation and 87 percent of the nation supported the Red Chris co-management agreement,” Day says.

The mine began full production recently. Day says Tahltans are working at the mine site.

Imperial Metals also owns the Mount Polley Mine in central British Columbia, where a tailings dam collapsed last August. That sent billions of gallons of water and silt into nearby waterways. The Red Chris dam follows a similar design, though there are differences.

Categories: Alaska News

Jim Johnsen named new University of Alaska president

Wed, 2015-07-29 10:24

Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is the incoming University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has named a new university president after a months-long search for the right candidate.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports the university announced Tuesday that Jim Johnsen would replace retiring University of Alaska President Pat Gamble. Johnsen, who serves as senior vice president of Alaska Communications, will take over as president on Sept. 1.

Johnsen was selected as the sole candidate for the university’s top position in June. The board spent a month meeting with various groups across the state as they accepted public comment on Johnsen.

Earlier this month, Johnsen said he would focus on strengthening existing programs at the university.

UA said in a release that Johnsen’s five-year contract will earn him an annual salary of $325,000.

Categories: Alaska News

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