APRN Alaska News

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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: 15 min 49 sec ago

Boost in B.C. Mining has Alaska Fishermen Nervous

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:37

The head of British Columbia’s government has pledged to spur mining development in the western Canadian province, and that has fishermen in Southeast Alaska nervous. A group from Southeast flew to Washington D.C. this week to see how it can raise its voice in Canada.

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B.C. Premier Christy Clark is making good on a promise to break ground on eight new mines and expand nine others by next year. The increased activity has already brought more than 2,000 jobs to B.C.

“Well, if there’s any doubt that here in British Columbia we are in favor of mining …  I’m going to dispel that now!” she said to applause at a mining conference in January, as she announced plans to continue a $10 million tax credit to help finance mineral exploration companies. The province has already streamlined its permitting process, cutting in half the turnaround time for one type of mining permit.

“It has made a heckuva difference in raising revenue in B.C. and we’re going to keep doing it!” she said at the conference, speaking of the tax credit.

British Columbia now has more than 20 major mines and expansions moving through the permitting process. The largest, known as the KSM mine, would be about 45 miles from Hyder, Alaska. Brian Lynch of the Petersburg Vessels Owners Association says his group isn’t anti-mine, but they’re wary of the KSM mine and at least four other proposed projects in B.C. that are upstream from Alaskan waters.

“They’re huge, probably some of the largest mines in North America, if they go forward and we just have a great deal of concern,” Lynch said. “We want input because we have multi-million dollar fisheries on the U.S. side.”

Lynch was part of a group of five Alaskans in Washington this week to ask for help from the State Department and the Congressional delegation. Lynch says they’re concerned B.C. regulators may not be able to keep up with the new pace of mining and that water quality and fish habitat may suffer. A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she plans to raise the issue with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment declined several requests for an interview this week, saying it had no one available. But in an email, the ministry said an environmental assessment of KSM is underway and a decision is expected mid-year. The Ministry says U.S. and Alaska state officials have participated in a technical working group that provides comments for that assessment.

Dale Kelley, a Craig fisherman, came to Washington on behalf of the Alaska Trollers  Association. She says they haven’t been very involved in the Canadian process and have no particular reason to think they’d be rebuffed.

“But they don’t really have to listen to us,” she said. “So I think it would be nice to have a mechanism between the countries where, whether it’s our state or our federal government, can actually weigh in and have some authority for ensuring our interests are protected on the downstream side.”

The two countries have an International Joint Commission to work out boundary water issues. Lynch says as he understands it, the commission can’t help until a threat occurs, and by then it’s too late.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Days To Enroll In Health Insurance

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:36

Enroll Alaska Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says her staff have been working 12 hour days to accommodate people trying to enroll. They will be working through the weekend to help people get signed up. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The deadline to enroll for health insurance is March 31. If you’re still uninsured after that, you’ll likely not be able to enroll until November. And you’ll also have to pay a tax penalty.

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With only four days left, nationwide enrollments have increased. More than 6 million Americans have gotten health insurance under the Affordable Care Act as of Thursday. To maintain the momentum, the Obama administration is reaching out to as many people as possible.

Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Obama. Besides traveling to cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix to talk about the Affordable Care Act, she’s also been given a list of 10 states to call. She says others in the administration have been given similar lists.

“We don’t want to wake up on April 1 and say, ‘Somebody didn’t sign up because they hadn’t heard about this opportunity,’” Jarrett says.

The Obama administration wants to make sure that if you try to enroll for health care by March 31, you will get it, even if you haven’t quite finished the application process.

“This is going to be on the honor system. People who just verify that they began the process, but they haven’t had a chance to finish it yet, will be given a reasonable period of time to complete it. We don’t want to cut people off who are starting the process, particularly because we’ve seen a great increase in the traffic on our website just in the last couple of days,” Jarrett says.

According to Jarrett, 1.5 million people were on the healthcare.gov website on Wednesday. Even with the high traffic, Jarrett says the website is holding up really well, “but as more and more people are on the website, it’s possible that you could have to wait for a bit.”

Within Alaska, enrollment activity has also increased.

With the March 31 deadline just days away, Juneau’s United Way Navigator Crystal Bourland is the busiest she’s been since enrollment started in October.

“I think I’ve enrolled over 20 people at this point just in the last week,” she says.

United Way navigators in Alaska have assisted with more than 500 enrollments. Bourland says the people she’s been helping recently aren’t all procrastinators.

“Some people have just gotten lost in the website and some of the features of the website, or they’re trying to send in supporting documents or people that forgot their passwords two months ago and now are trying to get back in. That’s a big one,” Bourland says.

At Enroll Alaska, chief operating officer Tyann Boling says staff and agents have been working 12-13 hour days and they’ll be working through the weekend.

“But the appointments are filling up very quickly so people need to call us,” she says.

As of Monday, the health care broker enrolled over 1,900 people. Boling thinks another 200 or more have been enrolled just this week.

The deadline to enroll for health insurance is 8 p.m. Monday. Boling says Enroll Alaska agents will still be available after that for people who may experience a life-changing event.

“Say if they lost a job or they lose coverage or they have a child or they get married – any of these life changing events creates a special enrollment people where they can enroll,” Boling says.

And Enroll Alaska plans to work hard this summer thinking of new ways to reach out to the uninsured for the next open enrollment period in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Author Reflects On ‘64 Quake

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:35

The 1964 earthquake caused immediate devastation in many communities in Southcentral Alaska. In Seldovia, on Kachemak Bay, the story was different. The town didn’t initially notice much damage from the disaster. But that changed when the spring high tides came in.

Author Dana Stabenow was celebrating her 12th birthday with friends in Seldovia on March 27th, 1964. She told KBBI’s Aaron Selbig she was focused on opening her presents when the house started moving back and forth in a slow steady motion.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Disaster Response

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:34

A training participant checks the water flow at Hagevig Fire Training Center before putting out a controlled fire. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The first responders in any disaster like the Good Friday Earthquake will likely be the firefighters and emergency medical technicians. But even the routine fire or medical call can be physically taxing and rely on months, perhaps even years of training.

Capital City Fire and Rescue and the International Firefighters Association recently held a unique event in Juneau designed to demonstrate the rigors of the job to those unfamiliar with their routine.

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KTOO reporter Matt Miller learns how to operate a fire hose from his “shadow” firefighter Erik Goldsberry at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

It was a golden opportunity for me as I got to play firefighter for a whole day.

Many little boys and girls dream of becoming a firefighter, and this is the first chance I’ve had to dress up as a fireman since running home to see afterschool reruns of Squad 51’s Gage and DeSoto.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Captain John Krebsbach says their day-long experience is designed to show local policy makers and the media how to operate an effective fire department in any community.

“The purpose is to demonstrate the need for more staffing. That’s the whole gist,” Krebsbach said.  “There’s three main points that were trying to get out of this whole thing. That our jobs are time sensitive, labor intensive, and very technical.”

I’m at the Hagevig Fire Training Center in Juneau along with other invited participants.

Firefighter Joe Mishler helps place on Juneau Assembly member Kate Troll’s oxygen mask at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

I get to wear or use all the usual firefighters tools : the bunker or turnout gear, boots, helmet, Nomex fire resistant hood, and the SCBA or self-contained breathing apparatus. Those are the air packs used by firefighters when they enter a smoke-filled structure.

“Suck in, there you go!” advises CCF&R firefighter Erik Goldsberry as he helps me fit my mask and activate my SCBA. Goldsberry is my shadow:  my partner, instructor, and guardian angel all rolled into one.

I’m now wearing another 60 pounds.

I’ve already climbed a truck ladder, operated a hose for defensive fire operations, used a chainsaw to ventilate a roof, and entered smoke filled rooms to douse fires or find victims. But it is this next exercise that is the most revealing.

Juneau Empire reporter Emily Russo Miller performs chest compressions on a dummy during a CPR training exercise at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

“So, Matt? I need you to start doing CPR on this guy,” says EMT Travis Larsen, coordinator of the medical call scenario.

Something is wrong with the victim. We don’t know anything about underlying health issues yet, but his heart has stopped. We need to get it pumping again before we can get him into an ambulance for the trip to the hospital.

“Like this, Matt,” says Goldsberry as he shows me the proper hand placement and technique for CPR.

Goldsberry and I are helping with initial care.  He paces out a rhythm for me.

“It’s like this. One, and 2, and 3…”

City Assembly member Kate Troll assists a dummy during a CPR training at the Hagevig Fire Training Center with Joe Mishler. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

We’re not alone. Also responding in this scenario is a CBJ Assemblymember, a city employee, and a newspaper reporter and their shadows.

“You’re too slow, Matt,” Goldsberry says.

EMT Travis Larsen directs us to rotate positions, working with the heart monitor, administering medications, respirating the patient, and doing chest compressions.

“Going to charge it. Keep doing compressions,” Larsen calls out as the whine of a defibrilator rises higher and higher in tone. “

It’s my turn with the compressions.

“Keep going,” Goldsberry advises.

Participants rush the dummy into the ambulance as if it were a real patient at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The victim is really a mechanical training dummy that provides feedback to the portable heart monitors.

“Everyone’s clear?!” asks Larsen.


“Shock delivered. Back on CPR!” orders Larsen.

But I’m not going deep enough, I’ve lost count, and I have absolutely no rhythm.

“…19, 20, 21, 22, 23…” counts Goldsberry.

“He’s tired,” says Goldsberry when Larsen asks about the how many cycles have been completed.

The patient is eventually stabilized and we put him on a backboard to carry him out of the second-floor room.

“Lift with your feet,” advises Goldsberry.

Participants load the dummy into the ambulance where they will perform CPR on the patient while the vehicle is in motion. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

At 185 pounds, this patient may not be that heavy. But, still, it’s no wonder that firefighters frequently get injured on the job. Goldsberry says back injuries are at the top of the list.

“Imagine if this is a 350 pound man and how much harder that it’s going to be,” Larsen says. “Or, if he was in a bathroom?”

I get to step backward down the stairs, holding my end of backboard as high as I can.

“Hold him high, Matt!” Goldsberry says.

“You’re going to want to go higher and higher,” advises Joe Mishler, another firefighter shadow.

At the bottom of the stairs, we put the backboard on a gurney, wheel it out the door, and into the ambulance for the trip to the hospital.

Training begins at Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2013. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

This is why you usually see a fire engine following an ambulance to a medical call in Juneau. CCF&R officials say the number of EMTs and firefighters is only half what they need for the various apparatus and vehicles. The captain and engineer may be the only ones at the scene of the fire until other crews arrive or volunteers are summoned. And ambulance crews? It’s now very clear why two EMTs are not enough.

On the way to the hospital, Larsen communicates with the hospital while us four students in the ambulance bumble and fumble with administering medications and air, or continuing compressions.

“Boom, boom, boom” jokes Larsen as he half-sings out a rhythm. “Dun, dun, dun… Staying Alive! Staying Alive!”

I’m back at it, standing up while pumping away.

KTOO reporter Matt Miller climbs the ladder during the morning training at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The ambulance driver lets us know about potholes and most turns.

“Left turn!”

“Left turn, alright” repeats Larsen.

But a sharp turn and I lose my balance, nearly falling completely on top of the patient.

Finally, we arrive at the virtual hospital and get the patient inside.

“You guys have any questions about anything in general?” asks Larsen.

“Is he still alive?” I ask, half-joking.

Participants learned how to cut a ventilation hole in a roof using a chainsaw during the training. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Condition of the patient may be a little unclear, but I know for sure that I just got my butt kicked.

I’m all hot, sweaty and exhausted. What I don’t know now is that I’ll be stiff and aching all over tomorrow.

Captain John Krebsbach says participants of earlier exercises in the Lower 48 had similar reactions.

“They’re usually eye opening,” Krebsback says. “They didn’t realize how involved the job actually is. It is a hard job. It’s physically demanding.”

So much for my childhood fantasy. Playing firefighter was a serious reality check. This is not a job anyone can just walk into. I just experienced – in a matter of hours  – a taste of what the normal, entry-level firefighter goes through in a full year of training.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Shishmaref

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:33

This week, we’re heading to Shishmaref, on a barrier island in Western Alaska. The island is gradually sinking into the sea. Its 600 residents might be some of the first people in the world forced to relocate because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Tony Weyiouanna Senior is President of the Shishmaref Native Corporation.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 28, 2014

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:12

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

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Base Student Allocation Numbers Still Up For Debate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

While the Legislature is still hammering out how much money to put toward the base student allocation, the Senate Finance Committee has included a major injection of funds in their version of the operating budget.

Senate Passes Bill To Limit Access To Certain Court Records

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

If you’ve ever been charged with a crime in Alaska, it’s documented in an online database called “Courtview” that anyone can check. Landlords use it. Employers use it. Some people even use it while dating to see if their romantic partner has a criminal history. Soon, those searches could be limited to only cases where a guilty verdict has been reached.

Boost in B.C. Mining has Alaska Fishermen Nervous

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The head of British Columbia’s government has pledged to spur mining development in the western Canadian province, and that has fishermen in Southeast Alaska nervous. A group from Southeast flew to Washington D.C. this week to see how it can raise its voice in Canada.

Final Days To Enroll In Health Insurance

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The deadline to enroll for health insurance is March 31. If you’re still uninsured after that, you’ll likely not be able to enroll until November. And you’ll also have to pay a tax penalty.

Alaskan Author Reflects On ‘64 Quake

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

The 1964 earthquake caused immediate devastation in many communities in Southcentral Alaska. In Seldovia, on Kachemak Bay, the story was different. The town didn’t initially notice much damage from the disaster. But that changed when the spring high tides came in.

Author Dana Stabenow was celebrating her 12th birthday with friends in Seldovia on March 27th, 1964. She told KBBI’s Aaron Selbig she was focused on opening her presents when the house started moving back and forth in a slow steady motion.

AK: Disaster Response

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

The first responders in any disaster include firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Capital City Fire and Rescue and the International Firefighters Association recently held a unique event in Juneau designed to demonstrate the rigors of the job to those unfamiliar with their routine.

300 Villages: Shishmaref

This week, we’re heading to Shishmaref, on a barrier island in Western Alaska. The island is gradually sinking into the sea. Its 600 residents might be some of the first people in the world forced to relocate because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Tony Weyiouanna Senior is President of the Shishmaref Native Corporation.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Panel Proposes $100 Million In One-Time Education Funding

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:12

While the Legislature is still hammering out how much money to put toward the base student allocation, the Senate Finance Committee has included a major injection of funds in their version of the operating budget.

Where the House had proposed giving school districts $25 million in one-time education aid, the Senate Finance Committee has bumped that number up to $100 million to be divided among school districts based on their enrollment numbers. Their operating budget would allocate $100 million to schools during the 2015-2016 academic year as well.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who co-chairs the committee, said the number serves as a placeholder while lawmakers figure out how they want to adjust the funding formula.

“We want as a group to figure out education,” Kelly told the committee. “We may need some time to do that. This amendment gives us time, while we are not putting the school districts too much out on a limb as we make our determinations.”

The number could change if the Legislature settles on a more permanent fix for education funding by increasing the base student allocation. That’s the amount that each school gets for every student enrolled, and it has sat at $5,680 per child for the past four years.

Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed increasing the BSA by $85 per student this year, which adds up to a little over $20 million for the whole school system. His plan would build in future boosts to the BSA over the next couple of years.

The Democratic Minority in the Legislature has argued Parnell’s plan does not do enough to plug school districts’ budget shortfalls and avoid teacher layoffs. Their legislation would increase the BSA by $404.

The Senate operating budget is expected to come to a vote next week, and then be sent to the House so that differences can be worked out.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the projected cost of an $85 increase to the base student allocation.

Categories: Alaska News

AVO Puts Shishaldin Volcano On Higher Alert

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:02

After a week of unrest, Shishaldin Volcano in the Aleutians is being put on a higher alert level.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reported Friday that there have been explosions inside the volcano and elevated surface temperatures since March 18.

AVO head scientist John Power says that appears to mean there’s been a small eruption.

Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

“There is probably fresh magma or lava down inside the crater,” he said.

Power says there hasn’t been any lava seen on the rim of the crater or the sides of the volcano. Shishaldin also isn’t emitting any ash.

But Power says this could be a precursor to a bigger event.

“Little things happen like this happen at Shishaldin probably even more often than we’re able to detect,” he said. “They’re always, though – whenever you see some activity like this, there is a concern that it could, you know, escalate into something larger.”

He says Shishaldin is now on a “watch” alert level, which carries an orange color code. It had previously been on a yellow – or “advisory” level – since January.

Only one of the six seismic monitoring stations on Shishaldin is active right now. The others are offline, and there’s not enough funding available to repair them.”

Shishaldin is on Unimak Island, northeast of Unalaska. Of all the conical glacial volcanoes in the world, it’s the the most symmetrical. It’s also the Aleutian Islands’ highest peak, and one of the most active in the chain.

Its last big eruption was in 1999, when it sent an ash plume 45,000 feet above sea level. There hasn’t been any unusual activity there since 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish And Wildlife To Review Southeast Alaska Wolves

Fri, 2014-03-28 16:38

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review whether or not Southeast Alaska wolves should be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency this month announced what’s called a “positive 90-day finding” on a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf.

Steve Brockmann is Southeast Alaska coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We determined that there was substantial information presented, enough to make us think we probably should do a real status review,” Brockmann said Friday. He said the status review will look at the best available information on wolf populations.

Photo courtesy of ADF&G

The timing of when the review happens also depends on funding granted by Congress which limits the number of petitions the agency can review each year. “Recently that has been several years before we get that funding so we do have an opportunity here to well really take advantage of the time lag to get some conservation in place so we don’t have to list the wolf,” Brockmann said. “Honestly the Fish and Wildlife Service would prefer to leave management of the wolf with the state of Alaska where it belongs. We do have a responsibility to list it if it needs to be listed. We intend to work with our partners with the state and the Forest Service to make sure we don’t have to do that when the time comes.”

The petition to list the wolves was submitted in August of 2011 by two groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace. “Well we’re thrilled to finally have the finding. It’s come over two years late but we knew there was a strong case for pursuing a listing and we’re glad to see that the agency’s decided that our petition had merit,” said Larry Edwards, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka.

The groups argue that the region’s wolf populations are declining and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. In particular, they cite past and future logging on Prince of Wales Island and say wolves on POW are in danger of extinction. State and federal managers closed hunting and trapping seasons in late March on Prince of Wales Island because hunters and trappers had reached a target number of wolves on the island.

That’s a concern for Edwards. “We have some great concerns with how the harvest cap was set for that. We think it was set way too high and the illegal take of wolves wasn’t adequately taken into account. So there’s some significant management problems both in terms of logging and I think how Fish and Game has been managing as well.”

The groups also say two intensive management programs authorized by the state’s Board of Game last year for areas near Ketchikan and Petersburg will put further pressure on wolf numbers.

Doug Vincent-Lang is director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation. He said Fish and Game believes the department has sustainably managed wolves in the region. “We’re confident that any potential conservation concerns can be adequately addressed through existing mechanisms, including state regulatory mechanisms that are out there. Given that we don’t believe that wolves in Alaska are at risk now or threatened with the risk of extinction in the foreseeable future and as such we don’t believe that there’s a justification for a 90-day positive finding for wolves in Southeast Alaska and we’re disappointed with the service’s decision.”

The intensive management programs could mean state sponsored trapping of wolves in the two areas of Southeast, designed to improve the numbers of wolves’ main prey, deer. Vincent-Lang noted the two intensive management programs have not been implemented yet. “Part of the reason is that we’re collecting additional information, both on deer and wolf in those two small areas where the board had approved intensive management programs for the Department to conduct once we had that baseline information. We’ve invested a significant amount of money in the next 3-4 years to inform the development of a status review, which this 90-day finding kicks off in terms of looking at wolf abundance, wolf distribution and wolf genetic structure in Southeast Alaska.”

The finding kicks off a 60-day public comment period beginning March 31st. Fish and Wildlife will seek input and information on Southeast wolves. At a later date, the federal agency then begins a 12-month status review which leading to a decision on whether the animals should be listed as threatened or endangered. The agency determined a listing was not warranted for a prior petition submitted during the 1990s.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Insurers Brace For Confusion Over Deadline

Fri, 2014-03-28 13:15

Jeff Davis has a prediction for you:

“This is going to be the next shock wave.”

The President of Premera Alaska is referring to the March 31st deadline for signing up for health insurance. President Obama softened the deadline earlier this week, saying if you start signing up for insurance by the end of the month, you’ll be allowed to complete the process. But Davis is guessing many Americans assume after March, they’ll still be able to buy an individual health insurance policy off of Healthcare.gov.


“That’s a big, big change, and I suspect there are a number of people who aren’t aware of that at all and are just thinking, ‘oh I’ll just take care of this later.’ Well, later is going to be November.”

The next open enrollment period begins November 15th and runs through February 15th. Outside of those dates, only people with a “qualifying life event,” including getting married, or having a child, will be able to buy health insurance. Jason Gootee is Alaska’s regional manager at Moda Health, the only other insurer on the Alaska exchange. And like Davis, he is bracing for customer confusion on this issue:

“There’s going to be a lot of phone calls not just for us, but for other carriers as well saying, ‘what the heck do you mean I can’t enroll right now?’”

Gootee says the shift from ongoing enrollment to a set open enrollment period is part of what he likes to call “the new world order” of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

 This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.





Categories: Alaska News

Corporate Personhood

Fri, 2014-03-28 12:00

The issue of corporate personhood has been brought up repeatedly by callers to the show, and the chance to talk about it now arises with the creation of an organization that is asking political candidates to take a pledge to oppose it.  The legal implications are of course obvious with the current Hobby Lobby case and the Citizens United and Boy Scouts of America rulings that preceded it.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network


  • Gershon Cohen, We the People Alaska
  • John Havelock, former Alaska Attorney General
  • Callers Statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Seismologists, Lawmakers Call For Earthquake Early Warning System

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:06

In Congress today, a House subcommittee marked the 5oth anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake with a hearing focused on what scientists have learned from that event that can prepare the nation for the next big temblor or tsunami. Seismologists and several lawmakers said Congress needs to pony up for an earthquake early warning system.

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For people who study earthquakes, each major event serves as a lab experiment. Plate tectonics was a tentative theory before the 1964 quake, which also provided valuable insights about soil liquefaction and tsunamis. William Leith, an earthquake advisor for the USGS, says North America’s largest ever earthquake changed policy, too.

“Through the iconic scenes of houses broken apart by landsliding in the Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage, the ‘64 disaster demonstrated the importance of considering earthquake hazards in urban planning and development,” he said.

Leith was one of four scientists who testified today. They say one lesson the U.S. should have learned by now is the need to develop an early warning system for earthquakes, as other countries already have. USGS has spent $10 million over more than a decade to come up with a prototype for California, but it would take $16 million a year to build and operate a system for the whole West Coast. Professor John Vidale of the University of Washington says the Cascadia fault, for example, is set to deliver an Alaska-sized earthquake to the Pacific Northwest. Vidale says it’s likely to be detectable 1 to five minutes in advance.

“An early warning will forestall train, car and airplane accidents, halt surgeries, allow for bridges to clear, shut down elevators, open critical doors, warn schools and the population in general,” he said.

Vidale  says a magnitude 9 quake would cause an estimated 50 to 100 billion dollars damage. To some Congress members, the lack of will to pay for a warning system makes no sense. Here’s Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.

“We’ve spent $10 million – WOW! — since 1999,” DeFazio said, mocking the sum as low, in Congressional terms. ”We’re looking at a $100 billion problem in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve spent $10 million. You talk about countries like, I think you said Romania? Mexico? They’ve deployed early warning systems and the United States of America hasn’t? We have a prototype?”

One of the scientists said most countries develop a warning system only after a catastrophe strikes. New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt says Congress has been too stingy: ”And here the richest country in the world by far, undeniably, doesn’t act as if we have a future. One invest, one builds infrastructure, one sponsors research when we believe we have a future. Instead we just cut, cut, cut.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young says he and the late Sen. Ted Stevens were able to provide funds for tsunami warning, but he says he’s disappointed Congress has cut it back. As for earthquake warning, Young had a bit of low-tech advice for the panel.

“I do believe we can identify when an earthquake can occur. You have to buy a pheasant. It always worked back in California,” he claimed. “A pheasant will tell you when an earthquake is going to happen about five second before it happens.”

Young supports funding an earthquake warning system, too, but he says the Alaska disaster showed tsunami to be the more lethal danger.




Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Parnell Asking For Investigation National Guard Sexual Assaults

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:05

Governor Parnell is asking the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate cases of sexual assault in Alaska’s National Guard. In a press release, Parnell wrote he is “deeply concerned by reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard.”

The investigation follows a story from the Anchorage Daily News last October where alleged victims of sexual assault described an extensive problem in Alaska’s National Guard.

Sean Cockerham is a reporter with McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau. He broke that story and is reporting on the investigation. He says he began hearing about problems in the Guard last year.

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Categories: Alaska News

Choose Respect Campaign Marches Across State

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:04

Rep. Benjamin Nageak raises his fist in solidarity with the effort to reduce domestic violence in Alaska at the Choose Respect rally on the Capitol steps, March 27, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

On a sunny but blustery Juneau Thursday, around 150 people gathered and marched down Main Street, including Michael Uddipa, a Thunder Mountain High School varsity basketball player.

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“We are a team that chooses respect,” Uddipa said after marching to Marine Park with his team.

Although Gov. Sean Parnell’s Choose Respect campaign is geared towards eradicating domestic violence and sexual assault in the state, Uddipa said there are other ways to embody the message, which he and his teammates learn about from basketball coach John Blasco.

“We go over, like, what we can do if an opposing team tries to start a fight in the game and see which ways we can handle it without using violence. And we talk about how it is appropriate to compliment women and to not say anything too rude,” he says.

Lt. Kris Sell was one of many Juneau Police officers who marched Thursday. She says law enforcement is intricately entwined with domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We respond to so much domestic violence. We’re in the homes. We see the victims. We see the devastated expressions on the faces of the children who have witnessed it. And we watch the multiple generations that suffer when this is going on,” Sell says.

By participating in the event, Sell hopes to show victims that police officers support them and want to stop the violence.

“This is not okay. We may come from a macho culture but taking domination into the homes is a weak thing to do,” Sell says.

Choose Respect marches took place in more in 170 communities around the state. Throughout the year, these communities are invited to participate in state-sponsored domestic violence and sexual assault webinars that focus on education and prevention.


Categories: Alaska News

Governor Leads Valdez Choose Respect Rally

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:03

Governor Parnell led the Choose Respect rally in Valdez today.

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Categories: Alaska News

With Talk Of Minimum Wage Bill, Initiative Sponsors On Guard

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:02

This week, the House Majority Caucus released a new poll showing that about 70 percent of Alaskans support a citizen’s initiative to raise the minimum wage. Now, that’s got some legislators talking about making the change themselves. But initiative sponsors are not welcoming the possibility.

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The way the Alaska Constitution is drafted, legislators get a shot at tackling initiative subjects before they end up on the ballot.

Lawmakers are guaranteed a session where they can introduce similar bills if they want, vet them, and vote on them. If the Legislature passes a substantially similar bill, the initiative is rendered moot and does not go out for a vote of the people.

Majority Leader Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, says there’s a possibility that could happen with the minimum wage initiative, given its popularity.

“You know, there has been discussion on that. We haven’t come to a conclusion, but some people have the thought process of, ‘obviously the public very much supports it. And as representatives of the public, shouldn’t we just go ahead and do the will of the public?’”

Pruitt’s statement came during a press availability with reporters on Thursday, and it provoked a heated reaction from one of the initiative’s lead advocates.

“It’s just a crock. There’s really no other way to describe it.” says Ed Flangan, one of three former labor commissioners who is spearheading the initiative.

Flanagan is sensitive to the Legislature pre-empting ballot measures — the whole thing is a raw subject for him.

In 2002, a similar minimum wage initiative was certified to appear before voters. That spring, the Legislature passed a bill practically identical to the ballot question, bumping up the base wage to $7.75 an hour and pegging the rate to inflation.

The law didn’t last a year on the books before it was changed.

“They came back in one of the more cynical things a pretty cynical group has ever done — came back less than a year later — and gutted the minimum wage bill they just passed by repealing the cost-of-living index,” says Flanagan. “If they had not repealed that provision, the minimum wage in Alaska would be $9.53 an hour instead of $7.75. We wouldn’t have an initiative before the people right now to try to fix what the Legislature broke in 2003.”

This year’s minimum wage initiative would bump the base rate to $8.75 in 2015, and then to $9.75 the year after. Like the attempted 2002 initiative, this one chains the minimum wage to inflation. If citizens pass it, the language cannot be modified for two years.

Flanagan is worried that if this Legislature introduces a minimum wage bill in the final weeks of session, it would just be history repeating.

“We will start advertising immediately,” says Flanagan. “This will not go unremarked. People are going to know what they’re up to.”

Pruitt says lawmakers remember what happened, too. But he says the concerns from sponsors are misplaced.

“No one wants to be seen as just doing this for a political reason,” says Pruitt. “They want to make sure they’re really representing the people that they represent.”

A bill pre-empting the initiative is not a sure thing. House Speaker Mike Chenault says it’s not on his radar, and Labor and Commerce Chair Kurt Olson says his House committee has not been approached to introduce a minimum wage bill. A spokesperson for the Senate Majority says the caucus discussed introducing minimum wage legislation early on in the session, but such a bill is not currently under consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Rejects Ordinance Restricting Cell Tower Construction

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:01

An ordinance to restrict cell phone tower construction in the Matanuska Susitna Borough was rejected by the Borough’s planning commission last week, in a 5-0 vote. Commissioners said it did not go far enough in regulating the so called “tall ” towers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Moose Derbies May Be Allowed

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:01

A bill that adds big bull moose derbies to the list of games of chance that can be permitted by the state, passed the House yesterday. Representative Tammie Wilson’s bill would allow a municipality or non-profit organization to be permitted to sell tickets to hunters, and award prizes to those who kill moose with the biggest antlers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Gears Up For Statewide Disaster Drill

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:00

For the most part, Unalaska was shielded from the devastation of the 1964 earthquake. But there’s no telling if it will be next time. That’s why Unalaska and dozens of other communities around the state kicked off a series of emergency drills today.

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It’s been 50 years since the Good Friday earthquake rocked Alaska. It rattled some nerves in Unalaska, but not much else. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away.

Unalaska police chief Jamie Sunderland says the next big earthquake could be a lot closer.

“When you’re anywhere near the coast, of course, that can involve tsunamis,” Sunderland says. “And most of the deaths that occurred in ‘64 were actually due to tsunamis.”

That’s why Unalaska will be holding an imaginary earthquake and tsunami this week. It’s part of the statewide Alaska Shield exercise. The Alaska Department of Homeland Security designs a fake natural disaster every two years so law enforcement and local governments can practice their response.

Last time, it was a harsh winter storm and power outage. This year’s exercise is meant to commemorate the 1964 earthquake. Sunderland says Unalaska will kick things off Thursday morning with a tsunami drill.

“It’s going to involve us setting off the tsunami sirens,” Sunderland says. “We’re going to focus on evacuating the school during a school day.”

It’s a big operation: Four-hundred kids and teachers will be leaving the city schools and walking up to high ground. About 50 feet above sea level or a mile away from shore is considered safe.

The schoolkids aren’t the only ones who will be practicing. Some municipal employees are planning to head for the hills, and Sunderland says other residents should join in — even if the weather doesn’t hold out.

“You know, you might be miserable because you’re out in the elements but you’ve got to get up above the waves so that you’re not dead,” Sunderland says. “And of course, being a little wet and miserable is better than that.”

The next big exercise starts Friday morning, when an imaginary earthquake will hit. City officials will create an emergency command center. They’ll also open up an emergency shelter for affected residents in the gym of the Parks, Culture, and Recreation center.

Recreation manager Ben Bolock says that a few locals just finished taking a Red Cross class on emergency management at the PCR. They’re the ones who will be running the shelter — and Bolock says they’ll be put to the test.

“We have families set up to come in at noon time until about 3 and go through some scenarios — go through a mass feeding,” Bolock says. “We also have some animals scheduled to come in. We are talking to the school district about having a class come over.”

Bolock encourages all Unalaskans to visit the shelter at the PCR this Friday to sign in. There’s no need to stay overnight: That role will be filled by a handful of local teenagers. They’re going to camp out under the supervision of the shelter volunteers. On Saturday morning, the exercise will wrap up with one last mass feeding — a free breakfast, to reward the teens for their service.

For more information about the Alaska Shield exercise, contact the Department of Public Safety at 581-1233 or the PCR at 581-1297.

Categories: Alaska News

Jim Stone Recalls 1964 Earthquake Experiences

Thu, 2014-03-27 18:00

Fifty-years ago today, Anchorage resident Jim Stone was about 11-years-old. His father was in the Air Force and the family had moved to Alaska four years earlier. He says he remembers the family dog had been very nervous in the hours before the shaking started. When the quake struck, Jim says his mom was making TV dinners while he and his dad and brother were watching Fireball XL5 on a portable television on a roller stand.

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Categories: Alaska News

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