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: 11 min 38 sec ago

Troopers Say Woman Injured In Fairbanks In Officer Shooting

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:14

Alaska State Troopers say a woman has been hospitalized with apparently non-life-threatening injuries in Fairbanks after a trooper-involved shooting.

The woman was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Sunday evening after the incident at a Dale Road home.

Troopers say they responded to the home after getting a report shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday that a woman had pointed a gun at another woman.

Troopers say that during an interaction with the woman who reportedly pointed the gun, responding troopers fired at her, injuring her.

The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation.

According to troopers, the names of the officers are being withheld for 72 hours, as dictated by department policy.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Faces Murder Charge In Woman’s Shooting In Eagle River

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:13

A 32-year-old man is facing a murder charge in the shooting death of a 56-year-old woman in Eagle River.

Police say James Andrew Baker also faces two attempted murder counts after two others were wounded early Sunday morning. He is being held without bail.

Investigators say June Mary McCarr was found dead in a vehicle.

Police say the incident started when the vehicle owned by Baker was parked with six people inside using drugs. At some point for an undetermined reason Baker allegedly started shooting at the others.

All of the occupants then fled on foot except for McCarr. The two who were wounded were hospitalized in stable condition.

Police say Baker was later given a ride by a motorist and they’re hoping to make contact with that driver.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Prepare For New Route Through Interior Alaska

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:00

Willow musher Lisbet Norris prepares for the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

The Ceremonial start of the 43rd Iditarod filled Downtown Anchorage with dogs, fans, and snow trucked in from Goose Lake.

Unusually warm weather has hampered Southcentral Alaska’s winter snowpack and led officials to move the race start to Fairbanks for only the second time ever. The new route through the Interior will challenge even the most tenured seasoned racers as long-held strategies are scrambled.

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Light morning rain and temperatures in the upper-30s Saturday morning were yet another reminder: it hasn’t been a good season for mushers in Southcentral Alaska. Reliable training grounds like Willow, where many prominent veterans keep kennels, all the way down to Kasilof have been without good snow to put miles on their teams. That’s led many, like 2014 finisher Monica Zappa, to spend winter on the move.

“We’ve basically been living out of our truck, we haven’t been able to train at home on the Kenai Peninsula for 2 and a half months, so we actually ended up going to Wyoming,” Zappa said.

Monica Zappa makes her way through Anchorage during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

While the switch in start locations may seem like an advantage for Interior mushers clustered around Fairbanks, many teams moved up there for part of the season to take advantage of the snow. And with the first leg of this year’s route following smooth, fast rivers rather than the technical climb and decent through the Alaska Range in past years, veteran Richie Diehl says the terrain isn’t to any one region’s advantage.

“I’m from Aniak on the Kuskokwim River, so I love river traveling,” he said.

But long stetches on the Chena and Nenana rivers so early on present new challenges. Paige Drobny will be pacing her team in the first leg of the race.

“I’m gonna make sure to have my GPS on so that I don’t let them go any faster than 10 miles per hour, is my speed, because it’s flat and straight it’s really easy to let them run, and I think you can burn ‘em out if you do that,” Drobny said.

The other confounding variable is the distance between checkpoints. Iditarod mushers who design strategies around sprinting from one stop to the next will have a difficult time making it all 119 miles from Tanana to Ruby without stopping. And that, says Lisbett Norris, means making plans to camp.

“I packed an extra caribou skin, in addition to my regular sleeping pad, ’cause I want to be comfortable and cozy,” Norris said.

Brent Sass. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

There is one other long-distance sled-dog race where stretches on rivers and camping on the trail are the norm, and that’s the Yukon Quest. While Brent Sass of Eureka has only run the Iditarod twice before, he’s run the Quest 9 times and just a few weeks ago came in first.

“Yeah, camping out is one of my main deals, I love camping out on the trail, and I’ll be doing the same thing: building a big fire every stop I can,” Sass said.

Few mushers at the Ceremonial Start would reveal the details of their layover strategies—which is par for the course in a race where psychological advantages are their own tactic. But there are also some unknowns in the weather forecast, as temperatures are projected to drop to twenty below with a possibility of heavy snow. And for Kelly Maixner, changes in the layover rules are yet another variable to contend with.

(Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

“We do have a different option this year of taking our 8 before our 24,” Maixner said. “So I’ll just have to get out there and assess the situation, it’s kind of gonna be an on-the-fly race this year for me.”

In a year with so many adjustments, the one change that mushers across the board, like Hugh Neff of Tok, are looking forward to is the race’s first ever stop in Huslia, home to George Atla who passed away just last month.

“Ya know, George Atla is the greatest dog-musher ever, and we’re honoring his spirit this year,” Neff said.

The festivities were marred by the death of a sled-dog not involved in the ceremonial start. One of the dogs belonging to Lachlan Clarke, a race veteran from Colorado, got loose from the staging area at Campbell Tract, and was hit by a car several hours later.

The race’s official start is at 10 a.m. Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Voices on Homelessness seeks solutions to region-wide problem

Sun, 2015-03-08 23:16

Treating people who experience homelessness like people could help solve the problem. That was one of the solutions discussed by a group of community members who met on Saturday for the Northern Voices on Homelessness conference in Anchorage.

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The three-hour-long conference was a brainstorming session that brought together social service agencies, people who have experienced homelessness and others who are concerned about the issue. People teleconferenced in from Nome, Juneau, and Kodiak as well.

UAA Anthropology professor Sally Carraher helped coordinate the event. She says the idea was to look at homelessness from many different perspectives and together think of possible solutions.

“So we want to do a network that connects and services and agencies and real people and the public and connects them so we’re all speaking a shared language,” she explains.

The group includes people from northern Canada and throughout Alaska as well. Carraher says one thing that makes homelessness unique in the north is the sense that everyone should take care of themselves.

“And on the one hand I think that resiliency and that strength is really awesome about Alaska and northern Canada and Northerners in general. But I think it’s also kind of a barrier when trying to think about a problem like homelessness. You can’t expect individuals to each pull themselves out of this problem.”

So the community needs to remember that homelessness is just a circumstance and could happen to anyone, says Kaya Wolfe, who lived in shelters as a child and has couch surfed as an adult.

“These are people on the street, they’re not scenery, they are human beings. And I want to talk about their successes, I want to talk about their struggles, and I want to talk about hope for the future.”

Wolfe and other attendees spoke about reducing the stigma attached to being homeless so that people can more openly seek help.

Robert Alexie is a resident of Karluk Manor, Anchorage’s Housing First facility. He says that social service agencies and the public need to stop seeing people who experience homelessness as statistics and instead seem them as humans who need encouragement.

“You know, you want to say anything to someone, say ‘Hey, go up to Karluk Manor. Use the resources.’ A lot of people don’t want to use the resources.”

Alexie says not using resources is often an issue of pride but being directed to Karluk Manor is what saved him and his health. He says the staff at Karluk sought him out for housing and helped connect him to medical services.

“After almost 20 years on crutches, I’m walking without them. And it’s nice,” he pauses, thinking of words. “That’s what Karluk gave me, and there’s no way I can repay them. There’s no way.”

Housing First provides individuals with permanent housing without requiring them to seek treatment. Many experts see it as a successful solution for ending chronic homelessness.

More than fifty people attended the conference. Conference coordinators say this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Categories: Alaska News

Sled Dogs in Slow Motion

Sat, 2015-03-07 17:06

The dogs were ready to pull on this unseasonably warm day in downtown Anchorage at the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 6, 2015

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:52

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

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Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point.

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from the Bethel District Attorney’s office. His resignation comes on the heels of the Walker Administration’s firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the funding public media gets from the state.

As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make.

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away.

AK: Women Who Mush

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women. In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

Categories: Alaska News

Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:43

In a press conference March 2, 2015, Gov. Bill Walker holds up a copy of House Bill 132 that would limit the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s powers on the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline. House leaders introduced it earlier that day. The governor was adamant that the bill would hinder rather than help progress for the project by tying the state’s hands during negotiations. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez checks in with us on where the Legislature is on its timeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:42

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from his position at the Bethel district attorney’s office. His resignation comes about two weeks after the firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

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While working in the office Sunday, February 22nd, Stein received a letter, hand-delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

Stein says the letter said, “This action is being taken at the direction of the governor as part of the transition of the new administration.” The Governor’s spokesperson has so far declined repeated requests for an interview about why Stein was fired and maintains Governor Bill Walker can’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.

Carpeneti was tapped to be interim leader at the Bethel DA’s office after Stein’s departure. Stein’s last day is Monday, March 9th. Carpeneti’s last day is scheduled to be April 3rd.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:41

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:40

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the fundingpublic media gets from the state.

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As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make. 

In Dillingham, KDLG shares the airwaves with a commercial station and a few religious broadcasters. But once you get outside town, general manager Rob Carpenter says his public AM station is the only one on the air for miles.

“We are in the center of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska,” he says. “Our broadcast area is roughly the size of Ohio.”

It spans most of Bristol Bay’s 25 villages, and the areas in between, where residents travel to hunt and fish off the grid.

“We do messages to people who don’t have any other form of communication,” Carpenter says. “We’re the only one that can provide weather for the region, and there’s a lot of areas that are very remote, where there’s cabins and stuff where they can get no other signal.”

But KDLG isn’t technically a sole service station. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, that would have to be “the only primary broadcast service — radio or TV, commercial or noncommercial — within a 50-mile radius from the station’s transmitter.”

There’s only a handful of stations that fit that description in the whole country, and most of them are in Alaska. KUCB is one of them.

The state is hoping to spare sole service stations from major budget cuts. Tyson Gallagher is a staffer for Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, who proposed the 59 percent reduction for public broadcasting in the state House. If it goes through, Gallagher says they still want to make sure all Alaskans have access to information on the air.

“And so with our intent language, we’ve asked the Department [of Administration] to basically do their best to hold harmless those communities that have only one source of broadcast, being public broadcast, and look at a reduction of service of places that have duplicative services, first,” he says.

That could include the ability to stream radio online, which isn’t always possible in rural areas with slow connections.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission to implement any cuts. Brenda Hewitt has been on that board for 10 years. She says losing funding would likely lead stations to cut staff, and that could mean less local news content and original programs.

“You know, you could just put repeaters in every nook and cranny,” Hewitt says. “And then you would have to rely on maybe just national programming and national news, and you’d have one person there that would turn the light switch on and the knobs on and that would be it.”

Some of Alaska’s smallest public radio stations already rely on larger neighbors to help to fill out their daily broadcasts. KCUK in Chevak, for example, repeats programming from Bethel’s KYUK.

Though Bethel is home to more than one radio station, KYUK is the only broadcaster reaching thousands of people in villages across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It broadcasts in English and Yup’ik, providing services like travel warnings about the freeze and thaw of the Kuskokwim River.

“If people in Anchorage or any other urban area can imagine, it’s like someone needing to tell you whether or not you can drive on the roads that day,” says KYUK’s programming director, Shane Iverson.

Budget cuts and layoffs in Bethel would have a ripple effect, Iverson says, since his station shares local news with others across the state.

That’s why Brenda Hewitt, the public broadcasting commissioner, says it’ll be hard to separate the Alaska Public Radio Network’s rural and urban stations in trying to dole out cuts.

“We need everybody,” Hewitt says. “The small stations are the ones that give us the boots on the ground. They can send us the stories that we wouldn’t otherwise hear when you’re in urban Alaska — and we are a whole state. I mean, we’re not just Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.”

Juneau’s public radio station, KTOO, is part of a Southeast consortium called CoastAlaska, which covers about every size of media market Alaska has to offer. Executive director Mollie Kabler says the network has recently started selling its fundraising expertise to rural stations, including KUCB.

“It’s a fee-for-service arrangement, and it’s worked out great, because we know how to do the business of public media, and stations that are small … have just worked with us directly to do that,” Kabler says.

It’s just one way she says stations are trying to build up listener support and consolidate resources. As state funding declines, Kabler hopes that kind of change will help the whole system stay afloat.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:39

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away. His family says he died in Anchorage this morning. His family says he was around 88-years-old.

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John was one of the most respected leaders in the region. He is remembered for dedicating his life to the younger generation and encouraging the well being of Alaska Natives in the YK Delta. He advocated for the preservation of the Yup’ik language and for maintaining traditional values.

His funeral arrangements are still pending.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Women Who Mush

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:38

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women.

In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers, many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

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In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman ever to win the Iditarod. A grainy YouTube clip from coverage by CBS news shows a crowd gathered on Nome’s front street to greet Riddles.

Libby Riddles: “What I feel like is if I died now it’s ok.”

CBS: “And the Money?”

Libby Riddles: “The money? Maybe Hawaii that’s what I keep talking about. A box of dog biscuits for every dog on the team.  I don’t know. I can’t even believe it yet.”

The following year, Susan Butcher won the race and set a new speed record in 11 days and 15 hours.  Butcher repeated her win and broke her own record again in 1987. She went on to claim the championship twice more in 1988 and 1990.

But a woman hasn’t won the Iditarod since. In fact, the only woman to win another thousand-mile sled dog race in Alaska is Aliy Zirkle.

“I didn’t get into dog mushing to race or to win or to go, go , go , go, I got into mushing because I love dogs,” Zirkle said. “It’ so fun to travel with dogs who want to go and run more than you do.”

In 2000, Zirkle became the only woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Since then she’s tried to claim an Iditarod championship.

“Now, when you get competitive, and you learn to train these dogs like they’re athletes, then the sky is limitless,” she said.

Zirkle has come up short in the Iditarod placing second the last three years in a row. But does it really make a difference if you’re a woman when it comes to long-distance mushing?

“I would say that in the dog mushing world, most people want to beat Aliy Zirkle,” she said. “There are a few men that I could probably count on ten digits that want to beat me because I’m a woman.”

“It’s a level playing field,” Ryne Olson said. “There’s no advantage either way.”

Olson first started mushing in Alaska under the guidance of Aliy Zirkle.

“I mean you could argue that some of the stereotypical traits of women might help you in some ways and hinder you in others, but I don’t think I mean the sport of mushing there’s nothing stereotypical about it,” Olson said. “Everything is abnormal, I guess.”

Olson finished her first Iditarod in 2012. She was training a puppy team for Zirkle. Olson just finished a successful Yukon Quest with her own team of yearlings and young dogs. Olson placed third, ahead of Zirkle, in this year’s Copper Basin 300. Zirkle placed sixth. So even though Zirkle won’t have to look over her shoulder for her protégé in this year’s Iditarod, she expects to in the future.

“Ryne – my step daughter or adopted daughter or whatever you want to call her – she’s going to beat me,” Zirkle said. “She did beat me.”

But that rivalry is friendly.  The relationship among women who mush is something up-and-comer Kristin Knight-Pace says helped get her to the start line of this year’s Yukon Quest for her rookie 1,000-miler.

Paige Drobny at the Iditarod’s ceremonial start in 2013. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“I think the camaraderie between all of the women who are my friends who are mushers which – oh my gosh, there’s so many – they’re all around my age, they’ve all worked so hard to get to this point and now here we are about to jump off the ledge and do a thousand mile race and man the support system is incredible between all of them,” she said.

Knight-Pace also has Iditarod aspirations for the future.  This year, she helped train up a few dogs during her Yukon Quest run that will compete on Paige Drobny’s Iditarod team. But Drobny, a two-time Iditarod finisher, says they work well together not because they are women, but because they have similar philosophies on how to raise and race dogs.

“You know it’s not just the girls actually. I feel like everyone is super focused on dog care, smaller kennels and working with what they have,” Drobny said. “So yeah, there’s a bunch of women, but there’s also some men too that have the same devotion to their kennels so it’s a really  positive direction for the sport.”

Of the 25 women who will line out their dog teams at the Iditarod start line this year, at least half a dozen have the potential to finish in the top-20. And then there’s Aliy Zirkle who will try for her first Iditarod win- and the first win by a woman in a quarter century.  A group of young female mushers will likely be cheering her on.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:37

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

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Categories: Alaska News

Uber stops free rides, pauses operations in Anchorage

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:03

Uber is pausing operations in Anchorage and stopped offering free rides on Friday afternoon. But negotiations with the city are not over.

The Uber Pacific Northwest Operations Manager Bryce Bennett announced the decision in a blog post. He cited slow negotiations with the municipality about new regulations that would allow Uber drivers to charge for their services. “The city has dragged its feet and failed to provide a clear end-date for negotiations,” Bennett wrote.

Uber created an online petition to show public support for the service. More than 1,000 people signed within the first four hours of its creation.

Deputy municipal attorney Dee Ennis, who is working on the Uber case, says the muni and the company came to an impasse on issues of public safety. The city wanted Uber drivers to undergo fingerprinting, drug testing, and medical exams like other taxi drivers. Ennis says now it’s up to the Assembly to decide if they are willing to compromise on the issues.

“If the policy makers in the Assembly decide these things are important then we may never get to an MOU [memorandum of understanding]. If the city says, ‘Well if the consumer is aware that Uber doesn’t provide certain features, that it’s a consumer choice’ then we would proceed to an MOU.”

Assembly members will hear from the administration and from Uber during a March 18 public safety committee meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

What is the Iditarod?

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:04

Whether you’ve lived in Alaska for decades or you’re a newcomer to the state, you’re probably still curious about the “Last Great Race on Earth.” How long does the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race take to finish? Where does it go? What’s with all those dogs? Alaska Public Media answers all of your questions about the most popular sporting event in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Steve Heimel and Historical Context for APRN

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:00

Steve Heimel has been a fixture of the APRN system since its inception. After more than three decades of dedicated service to news, Steve is leaving the network for other challenges. From covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill to helping Alaskans understand the breaking news on September 11th, Steve has been a steadfast, credible and authoritative voice. Steve Heimel
is our guest on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Steve Heimel
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • 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, March 10, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:18

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Davidson gave a two-hour presentation to the House Health and Social Services committee on Thursday afternoon, walking the lawmakers through the potential savings and costs of expanding Medicaid. Even though the Walker administration no longer has a vehicle to accept federal funding for expansion, Davidson is optimistic that there may be other ways to advance the policy.

“We are certainly open to other opportunities to get this done, of course,” says Davidson.

Expanding Medicaid to cover Alaskans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has been a major priority for Gov. Bill Walker. In the first years, the federal government will cover the total costs of expansion, with 90 percent payment after that.

Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who chairs the House Health and Social Services committee, says he is friendly to the idea of expansion, but would like to see the policy come as part of a larger Medicaid reform bill.

“We’re looking for a way forward on Medicaid expansion that makes sense for all Alaskans,” says Seaton.

Numerous members of the Legislature’s Republican majority have stated they would like to see the issue of Medicaid expansion handled through a bill instead of the budget, and that they would like to see that bill come from the Walker administration.

A Medicaid expansion bill has previously been filed by a group of Democrats in the minority, but has not been heard. Seaton says the prime sponsor, Andy Josephson of Anchorage, first put in a request for a hearing last Friday. Seaton says there is no hearing currently planned for that bill, but that his committee will continue to hear more on Medicaid expansion from the Walker administration next week.

Categories: Alaska News

New Anchorage Museum “lab” sparks innovation

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:53

A student plays at the new Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

What do buckets, disco balls, circuits, and marbles have in common? They’re all part of the Anchorage Museum’s attempt to spark innovation in their new interactive exhibit.

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Four-year-old Anabel Lantzman wanders into the Anchorage Museum’s new Spark!Lab ahead of the other kids and sees balls and pipes hanging from metal rods. Buckets and a bingo ball cage stick out from the base. It’s like a tree of stuff.

A volunteer hands her a drum stick and Anabel tentatively taps the different objects. The bucket sounds like a drum and the pipes ring like bells.

Kids play in the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

“So, are you allowed to hit things at home?” I inquire.

“No.”

“How does it feel to hit things here?”

“Good.”

She giggles and wanders to the next station — creating a mini hydroponic garden with nylon, pebbles, and cotton. Soon a group of fourth graders joins her and the room erupts in noise as they call to each other and bang loudly on all of the objects, seemingly at once.

So why encourage such chaos?

“This is not just banging things that’s going on here,” says Arthur Molella, the director of the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian, which created the Spark!Lab. “This is all done with a purpose. Cause some of the same energies that are happening here — essentially this curiosity, a disciplined curiosity begins here and carries on through the rest of your life.”

Molella says that curiosity and creativity lead to innovation and invention. That’s why his center worked with educators to create the Spark!Lab. They’re helping museums around the United States set up their own localized versions. The Anchorage version, the sixth in the country, will soon include activities focused on the innovation required to live in the Arctic.

The students quickly disperse to the different activities around the room. Some design shoes, others use blocks, ramps, and mini xylophones to create an obstacle course for a marble.

Students play with marbles and blocks at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

Fourth grader Sandia Whalen is part of a group that’s trying to get a marble to go down a path, turn a corner and return to its start.

“But I don’t think sometimes it will work because there are things that are down at first but then go up but the marble can’t move up without being pushed,” Sandia explains.

“Because it’s not moving fast enough?”

“If it’s going fast enough then that might do it, but we have to make it go fast enough.”

Sandia is doing exactly what the exhibit designers intended — she’s problem-solving and innovating. Further down the table her classmate Matthew Hudson snaps together plastic pieces with wires embedded in them and connects them to batteries and propellers.

“It’s a circuit that’s really cool. Once you do it, this will spin around and go into the air,” he says, pointing at the propeller. “And it’s really cool.”

Students build circuits at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

He says now that he knows the basics, he’s ready to design his own. “My own circuit, it would be like a train. It would be like tracks. It would move the train and bring me ice cream whenever I wanted ice cream.”

The Spark!Lab will be around for at least two years but the space will permanently be dedicated to creativity and invention. The exhibit is aimed mostly at children aged 6 to 12, though it includes a toddler area, too. It opens to the public Friday, March 6.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Opportunities Hearing Continues Despite Widespread Closures In DC

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:09

In the nation’s capital, lawmakers fled to the airports ahead of a snow storm today that closed most government offices. But one U.S. senator held a hearing anyway. Scores of Alaskans packed into Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Energy committee for a hearing on Arctic opportunities.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Don Young’s Homeless Comments Draw Public Ire

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:08

On the other side of the Capitol, Alaska Congressman Don Young attended the only other congressional hearing on this snowy day in Washington, and he created a stir with a comment about homeless people.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was defending her budget to the House Natural Resources Committee. Young is no fan of Jewell, but he actually supported her department’s 2011 decision to delist the grey wolf from the endangered species list. Instead, Young turned his ire on Congress members who asked Jewell not to delist.

“The grey wolf in fact is a predator that’s killing the cloven hoof animals. And we’ve got 79 Congressmen sending you a letter,” Young said. “Haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district. I’d like to introduce them to your district. I introduce them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem any more. I yield back.”

In a written statement afterward, Young said he was employing analogy and hyperbole to point out that wolves are a problem for communities that have them. “If you misunderstood my comments,” Young said in the statement is office put out, “just imagine the impact a healthy wolf population would have on your own town, community, or congressional district.”

Categories: Alaska News

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