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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: 6 min 32 sec ago

Congress Subpoenas EPA For Documents About The Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-03-24 10:19

Representative Darrell Issa issued subpoenas to the EPA for documents about the EPA’s 404-C decision regarding the proposed Pebble Mine Photo from Darrell Issa.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives has subpoenaed the EPA for documents about the proposed Pebble Mine.

The subpoenas were issued by committee chairman Darrell Issa from California.

He’s asking for documents and communications relating to the EPA’s permit review, including any action under section 404-C of the Clean Water Act. The subpoenas come on the heels of a letter sent to the EPA Inspector General requesting an investigation into the EPA’s decision to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to stop the issuance of permits that would be needed for the Pebble Mine project to move forward.

The letter was signed by Representatives Issa, James Lankford from Oklahoma and Jim Jordan from Ohio.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fish Approves Kuskokwim Dipnets, 25 Fathom Net Restrictions

Mon, 2014-03-24 10:12

Kuskowkim fisherman will have the option to use dipnets this summer to target other salmon during periods of king salmon closures.

The Board of Fish unanimously approved the emergency petition Friday morning. They also found an emergency warranted in a petition to reduce the length of driftnets by half, from 300 feet to 150 feet.

That’s a conservation method that would allow more flexibility in management and allow fish to go further upriver. The two petitions came from the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.

Fishers will face unprecedented restrictions on subsistence salmon fishing this summer as managers attempt to bring more kings to the spawning grounds. With the dipnets, any king salmon caught must be released back to the river alive.

Area Management Biologist Travis Ellison told the board that there will be severe subsistence restrictions.

“To the point where subsistence harvest opportunity for chum and sockeye salmon could be reduced and impacted in a negative way,” Ellison said. “Having the ability to allow the use of dipnets for harvest of chum and sockeye salmon while live releasing king salmon, we’d have the ability to allow additional opportunity to harvest more of those chum and sockeyes without impacting the king salmon.”

The board utilized a state definition that allows for 5-foot circular dipnets. Board member Orville Huntington from Huslia spoke in support of dipnets.

“It’s obviously very hard times out there, regulations are confusing enough and I think it’s needed, it will conserve kings salmon and allow some very important catch during a time of year when it’s good to put fish away,” Huntington said.

The board moved to allow the fish and game commissioner to make the dipnet gear a permanent regulation. Otherwise there would be a 120 day window, placing the end of the emergency on July 21 if implemented immediately.

For the drift net restrictions, the idea is that nets half the normal length would be half as efficient. Ellison says that’s important considering the river’s fishing power.

“And when you have 50 fathom gillnets and several hundred boats at a time, could be potentially over 1000 boats at a time if we have short periods and there’s been long closures,” Ellison said.

The department sees more flexibility to allow more fishing time and potentially earlier fishing. It could also better distribute the harvest along the river, according to Dan Bergstrom from the Department of Fish and Game.

“It does provide a tool that could help spread out the harvest, because you have less efficient gear and more control on harvest instead of putting out the whole normal fishing gear that would go out there,” Bergstrom said.

The Kuskokwim working group will meet the first week in April and, with managers, attempt to finalize the schedule for summer subsistence salmon fishing.

Categories: Alaska News

As Public Testimony Floods In, Permitting Bill’s Future Uncertain

Fri, 2014-03-21 19:46

With less than a month of session to go, the Parnell administration is in a similar spot with HB77 as it was last year: Opposition came out strong and fast, key senators are on the fence, and movement on the controversial permitting bill has stalled.

You know a bill is in a tricky spot when even the lead advocate for compromise jokes about the legislation being cursed. Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, likened HB77 to a thirteenth floor on Wednesday.

“Perhaps in the future, we’ll retire the number HB77 and just skip from 76 to 78. I think in some ways the number is somewhat damned,” Micciche told reporters.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s bill was pitched as a way to make the permitting process more efficient, and it initially raced through the Legislature last spring. But tribal groups, fishing organizations, and environmental outfits came out hard against the bill, arguing it gave too much power to the Natural Resources commissioner and limited public involvement in the permitting process.

So, the legislation was effectively put in time-out. It got locked up in a procedural committee, while public hearings were held and a compromise was brokered. Administration officials and Micciche – whose vote is needed for the bill to pass – set out to forge a new draft without some of the more contentious elements. And they hoped public sentiment might cool down in the meantime.

That didn’t happen.

“I didn’t expect cheers. I didn’t expect people to be thrilled with the outcome of the bill. I mean the bill is the bill,” says Micciche. “But what I did expect is a fair shake.”

Since the new version of the bill was released two weeks ago, the Legislature has been inundated with phone calls, e-mails, letters, and petitions on HB77 from both sides. When all that testimony is printed out, you get a stack of papers six inches high – two inches in favor, and four against.

With the bill being such a charged issue and with a few weeks left of session, the bill has stopped moving. Public testimony was extended, and hearings for amendments keep getting delayed.

Some opponents think it’s past the point of compromise. Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat who serves on the Resources Committee, recently announced he would not be offering any amendments to the bill. He thinks it’s “too flawed to fix.”

“I would like a great big stake driven into the heart of this bill,” French told reporters.

Rick Halford, a former lawmaker who has come out as a prominent critic of the bill, says he too still has problems with the bill. He thinks some of the changes to the bill were “more in drafting style than substance.” He doesn’t see how the bill can be rewritten in the next month to satisfy his concerns.

“When one of the topics of the bill is how to limit public participation at the administrative level, that makes it a pretty difficult bill to sell,” says Halford.

And some of the interest groups on the fence see the bill facing an uphill battle.

Jerry McCune is the president of United Fishermen of Alaska, a seafood industry group that has concerns with the bill. He says UFA is committed to working with the Legislature and the administration on the bill, but they’re not there yet.

“In the short amount of time we have left, to digest any other particular changes and get it all figured out, I would say our membership probably wouldn’t support it at this time,” says McCune.

McCune says part of the problem is that the bill is so complex, people have not had time to figure out if any of the tweaks to the bill are meaningful.
Where the old version removed the right of individuals and groups to apply for water reservations to protect fish habitat, the new version does not exclude them but it does allow others to get “temporary use” access to a given stream until an application is approved. While 35 such applications are currently pending, the Department of Natural Resources has never granted a water reservation to an independent entity.

The new version also sets up a mechanism whereby the Natural Resources commissioner can issue general permits for activities that would not cause “significant or irreparable harm to state land.” Those permits would allow users who want to engage in that activity to do so without submitting their own paperwork. While the previous version of the bill did not require public notice of those permits, the new version has a provision for a 30-day comment period.

Much of the administrative language that existed in the previous bill exists in the current one.

“People are just so mixed up and confused now and trying to keep up with all this that they could probably write it on one page, and some people are not going to support it at this point.”

Even the administration officials pushing for the permitting overhaul see the massive scope as an obstacle at this point. Ed Fogels is a deputy commissioner with the Department of Natural Resources, and he was involved in drafting the bill.

“One of the issues that’s going on here is this bill is very big and attempts to fix a lot of small problems within DNR statutes,” says Fogels. “So when you look at the bill in its entirety, it gets confusing. You can’t really understand it without sitting down with the bill, with the statute book, and reading through it.”

Fogels thinks the new bill is responsive to the criticism DNR heard last year.

“I do think the changes that were made were good, solid changes that address the majority of all the issues that we heard,” says Fogels.

For his part, Micciche says some of the controversy may have been avoided if a different approach had been taken with the bill.

“Pull it back, change the number, break it up, deal with one issue at a time. It’s not where we are today, but I think people have become so focused on the number, and they’ve been so stirred up by people that I don’t believe are looking at the issue rationally that’s it’s difficult for them to see the bill for what it is.”

Micciche wants to see a few more changes to the bill before he’ll vote for it. But he thinks a lot of progress has been made, and he says he’s been getting as many e-mails in favor of the bill as he is getting against it. He’s also surprised by some of public outrage over the new version. Micciche says he’s been reaching out to some of the opponents who have sent him letters. He remembers one woman from Talkeetna.

“She sent me one of those, ‘Nothing has changed; I still hate you’ e-mails,” says Micciche. “We talked through the bill and found a lot of common ground. And by the time we were through, and she saw the changes, and we talked about it, explained how code works and things that had been there since statehood, and things that were essentially codifying practices that had been done in the past. We had a pretty good conversation.”

Micciche wishes he could have conversations like that with every opponent in the state. But there’s no way he can personally call thousands of people and walk them through the legislation. And with just a month left of session, a looming deadline only adds to an impossible task.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Highway Money Not an Easy Sell to Congress

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:29

The government of Canada’s Yukon Territory is asking Congress to pay for reconstruction of the Alaska Highway. Premier Darrell Pasloski  was in Washington last week to make the case. The United States and Canada agreed in 1977 to work together to improve the northern section of the Highway, as well as the spur from Haines Junction to the border near Haines. The U.S. agreed to pay for construction and Canada would pay maintenance and operation. Premier Pasloski says  the funding should continue.

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“This has been a great deal for the U.S. Taxpayers because the U.S. Congress has put up approx 25 percent of the money into this highway, however, about 85% of the traffic is U.S. traffic,” he said.

The U.S. paid more than $400 million before Congress stopped funding in 2012. Part of the Haines road still needs resurfacing, but the bigger challenge is a long section further north, where the road is on unstable permafrost.

Matt Shuckerow , a spokesman for Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the road is a vital link between Southeast and the Interior. But the U.S. Highway Trust Fund is stretched thin, so Shuckerow says  it’s not an easy sell in Washington.

“Members here in Congress have very little appetite to send money to places like Canada when in fact we lack funds to take care of our highway issues here in the United States,” he said.

Shuckerow says Young believes the U.S. should live up to its obligation to pay for the highway, but it will take sustained pressure from Canada, the state of Alaska and the Alaska congressional delegation.

Categories: Alaska News

Treadwell Announces Campaign Changes

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:28

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mead Treadwell has parted ways with his campaign manager.

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Spokesman Fred Brown says it “frees up a lot of room” for Treadwell to focus on other areas and frees up the campaign’s finances.

In addition to parting ways with Adam Jones, Treadwell also said one of his spokesmen, Rick Gorka, is also leaving.

Brown says Treadwell has a strong campaign structure. But he says Treadwell wants Alaska donors, and going that route, there’s a limit to what you can raise.

Treadwell said long-time friend Peter Christensen would take over day-to-day leadership of the campaign until a new manager is named.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fish Approves Kuskokwim Dipnetting

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:27

Kuskowkim fisherman will be able to use dipnets this summer to target other species of salmon during periods of king salmon closures. The Board of Fish approved the emergency petition this morning.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage And Alaska Railroad Celebrating 100th Birthday

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:26

Along with the centennial celebration for Alaska’s largest city, the Alaska Railroad is celebrating its 100th birthday. Anchorage historian and author Charles Wohlforth is writing the history of Anchorage for the centennial. Part of that work will include why and how the federal government got in to the railroad business in Alaska. The idea was to wrestle control of resources away from the “Alaska syndicate,” a private railroad and coal monopoly run by the wealthy Guggenheim and Morgan families.

Wohlforth told APRN’s Lori Townsend it was a political dust up that started in the Roosevelt administration and continued on through Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

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Categories: Alaska News

Valdez Museum Prepares Commemorates 1964 Quake

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:25

The Valdez Museum is commemorating next week’s 50th anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake with the launch of two exhibits.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Tenakee Springs

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:23

This week, we’re heading to the southeastern village of Tenakee Springs, a snowbird community, stretched along the beach of Tenakee Inlet. Don Pegues is mayor of Tenakee Springs.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 21, 2014

Fri, 2014-03-21 16:22

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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HB77 Stalls In Legislature

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With less than a month to go in the session, the Parnell administration is in a similar spot with HB77 as it was last year: The opposition is vocal, key senators are on the fence, and movement on the controversial permitting bill has stalled.

Canada Asks U.S. To Pay For Alaska Highway Reconstruction

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The government of Canada’s Yukon Territory is asking Congress to pay for reconstruction of the Alaska Highway. Premier Darrell Pasloski  was in Washington, DC, recently to make the case. The United States and Canada agreed in 1977 to work together to improve the northern section of the Highway, as well as the spur from Haines Junction to the border near Haines. The U.S. agreed to pay for construction and Canada would pay maintenance and operation.

Treadwell Announces Campaign Changes

The Associated Press

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mead Treadwell has parted ways with his campaign manager.

Spokesman Fred Brown says it “frees up a lot of room” for Treadwell to focus on other areas and frees up the campaign’s finances.

In addition to parting ways with Adam Jones, Treadwell also said one of his spokesmen, Rick Gorka, is also leaving.

Brown says Treadwell has a strong campaign structure. But he says Treadwell wants Alaska donors, and going that route, there’s a limit to what you can raise.

Treadwell said long-time friend Peter Christensen would take over day-to-day leadership of the campaign until a new manager is named.

Board of Fish Approves Kuskokwim Dipnetting

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Kuskowkim fisherman will be able to use dipnets this summer to target other species of salmon during periods of king salmon closures. The Board of Fish approved the emergency petition this morning.

Alaska Railroad Celebrating 100th Birthday

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Railroad is celebrating its 100th birthday. Anchorage historian and author Charles Wohlforth is writing the history of why and how the federal government got in to the railroad business in Alaska. The idea was to wrestle control of resources away from the “Alaska syndicate,” a private railroad and coal monopoly run by the wealthy Guggenheim and Morgan families.

Wohlforth told APRN’s Lori Townsend it was a political dust up that started in the Roosevelt administration and continued on through Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

Valdez Museum Prepares Commemorates 1964 Quake

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Valdez Museum is commemorating next week’s 50th anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake with the launch of two exhibits.

AK: Didgeridoo

Emily Files, APRN – Ketchikan

You might not expect an ancient Aboriginal instrument from Australia to find its way to Alaska. But walk around downtown Ketchikan on a warm day and you may hear 15-year-old Kinani Halvorsen playing her didgeridoo. She’s played the unusual instrument for three years. And she hopes to bring the didgeridoo into mainstream band practice.

300 Villages: Tenakee Springs

This week, we’re heading to the southeastern village of Tenakee Springs, a snowbird community, stretched along the beach of Tenakee Inlet. Don Pegues is mayor of Tenakee Springs.

Categories: Alaska News

The Graphic Novels of J Torres

Fri, 2014-03-21 12:00

J. Torres speaking in Unalaska on March 3. Photo by Luc Sevilla.

You may never have heard of “Teen Titans Go,” but that may be because you’re just too old to appreciate comic books.  Young readers across the state will be connecting with comic author and blogger J Torres, on the annual “Alaska Spirit of Reading” book club edition of  Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • J Torres, author
  • 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 25, 2014 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

AK: Didgeridoo

Fri, 2014-03-21 11:54

Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan.

You might not expect an ancient Aboriginal instrument from Australia to find its way to Alaska. But walk around downtown Ketchikan on a warm day and you may hear 15-year-old Kinani Halvorsen playing her didgeridoo. She’s played the unusual instrument for three years. And she hopes to bring the didgeridoo into the mainstream band practice.

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Here’s the response Kinani Halvorsen got from a boy in her 7th grade band when she played the didgeridoo a couple years ago.

“What the heck is that? And his jaw literally dropped. ‘Cause you wouldn’t expect that sound to come out of a little tube thing like this.”

The tube thing is actually not so little. Kinani is a tall girl, and the didgeridoo is a tall instrument. It comes up to her shoulders, at about 5 feet.

You can’t exactly play any Katy Perry or Macklemore on something like this. So why is a high schooler here in Ketchikan playing this ancient Aboriginal instrument? It all started with an Australian substitute teacher in Kinani’s fourth grade class at Houghtaling Elementary School.

“He brought in his didgeridoo and I thought, ‘Wow! That is coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’” she said.

Fast forward a few years. It’s 6th grade, and Kinani has been playing the trombone for a year.  She walks into McPherson’s, a local music store, and there on the shelf, is a didgeridoo.

“It’s really interesting to hear and see someone play such an intriguing thing like the didgeridoo,” Kinani said. “And it’s a memory that really sticks in your head. So when you see one, and you’re like hey, maybe I could play that, it’s a want you really get.

“I said no, no, no,” Krissy Halvorsen, Kinani’s mom, said. “Because she likes to pick up things like that and of course, they end up in the closet or elsewhere.”

Kinani swore to her mom that she wouldn’t throw the instrument in the closet. She brought it home and started practicing. Her older brother, Keelan, was upstairs.

Keelan: “I rushed downstairs because I thought it was a wild animal. Saw her with a long tube and was even more confused.”

Emily: “And then after you found out what it was and what was happening what did you think?”

Keelan: “I was entirely amazed. It was a beautilfulish sound coming from a stick, and I didn’t know how it worked so I asked a lot of questions.”

Kinani has been playing her didgeridoo for three years now. She’s had to teach herself, because there isn’t anyone else she know in Ketchikan who plays the didgeridoo. Her brother is impressed.

“She’s definitely improved a lot,” Keelan said. “It went from a semi obnoxious noise, to be honest, to something we all enjoy hearing.”

Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan.

The didgeridoo is over 1,000 years old. It’s still used to accompany song and dance in the Arnhem Land region of Australia.

“What really motivates me to keep playing is it’s such a unique instrument, unless you’re in Australia, you really don’t get a chance to see, hear, or play something like this,” Kinani said.

Kinani is in four bands. Three at Ketchikan High School, and one other outside school, called Sound Waves. She’s been on a mission to incorporate the digeridoo’s sound into more traditional music.

“We haven’t had occasion or any particular reason to hear her play it in here, because this is a big band that is mostly saxophones, trumpets, trombones, rhythm section,” Roy McPherson,  director of the Sound Waves band where Kinani plays trombone, said.

The didgeridoo is nowhere to be seen at a recent practice here.

But in a couple weeks, that’s going to change. Kinani has a didgeridoo solo in the band’s upcoming show, during “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book.

And she’s going to keep trying to play her didgeridoo in different settings. She’s attending the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer.

“And so I’ll bring it and I’ll talk to whoever’s running the class and I’ll say, ‘Hey I have a didgeridoo, is there anything I should bring it in for?’” Kinani said.

And If Kinani keeps spreading the sound of the unique instrument, maybe she’ll get fewer “What the heck is that?” responses, and more people saying, “Oh, that’s a didgeridoo.”

Categories: Alaska News

Seiners Land 4K Tons In Herring Season Opener

Fri, 2014-03-21 11:11

Seiners in Starrigavan Bay during the first opening of Sitka’s 2014 sac roe herring fishery. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The Sitka herring fishery had its first opening yesterday afternoon.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game declared the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery open at 1:45 p.m. The fishing area covered much of Starrigavan and Katlian bays, north of Sitka.

The opening lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes, closing at 4:20 p.m. The Department estimated that the fleet caught at least 4,000 tons of herring, and announced that there will be no fishing Friday (3-21-14), to allow processors to work through the catch.

If sold at last year’s price, today’s catch would be worth about $2.4-million to fishermen at the docks. This year’s price, however, remains unclear.

The total harvest level for this year is over 16,000 tons. Speaking with KCAW earlier this week, Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon estimated that it would take about four separate openings to reach the limit.

Officials gave the fleet two hours’ notice of the opening at 11:45 a.m. (Thu 3-20-14), after samples of fish tested in the morning found well over 10-percent mature roe, or eggs, in the herring.  10-percent mature roe is the Department’s threshold for a fishery. The most recent two samples came back with 12.5-percent and 13.1-percent mature roe, which is high even for the high-quality Sitka fishery.

The opening kicked off with a voice countdown from Gordon, on board the state’s research vessel, the Kestrel:

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, OPEN! The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. This is the Department of Fish & Game standing by, Channel 10.

There are forty-eight permit-holders in the lucrative seine fishery. On Thursday afternoon, most of those boats were concentrated in Starrigavan Bay, within sight of Sitka’s road system. People lined Halibut Point Road near Sitka’s ferry terminal, watching through binoculars and cameras as the fishery unfolded in front of them and spotter planes circled overhead.

Among the spectators were two women who identified themselves as Karen and Leanne.

Leanne: You’ve got your pilots flying, and you’ve got spotters actually looking down talking to boats, so you’ve got several people in the planes. And they just have to be very, very careful. They get special permission to work in this kind of airspace.  Normally you’re not supposed to fly that close to each other.”

Karen: It’s very exciting of  course when they do the count down and you see all the boats jockeying for position. And seeing what they catch — it’s actually amazing to see how many herring are in a net.

The Department of Fish & Game plans aerial and vessel surveys throughout the day on Friday (3-21-14), and will be issuing informational updates over the radio at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those can be heard on VHF marine radio, on Channel 10.

Emily Forman contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Witnesses Begin Taking The Stand In Yakutat Homicide Case

Fri, 2014-03-21 11:00

Robert Kowalski prepares to leave the courtroom during a break in the trial on Thursday. Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau.

Opening statements were held Thursday and the first witnesses took the stand in the case of a man accused of killing his girlfriend at a Yakutat lodge 17 1/2 years ago.

Robert Kowalski, 52, is charged with first and second degree murder for the death of Sandra Perry. The 39-year old woman was shot and killed at the Glacier Bear Lodge in July 1996.

Prosecutor James Fayette jolted the jury and spectators with his opening statements that included a vivid description of the fatal injuries sustained by Perry after a shotgun was fired at her head at close range.

“Blew her head off, clean off,” Fayette said.

That Kowalski was handling the shotgun when Perry was killed is not in dispute. But the question is whether he intentionally killed her or he knew his conduct could lead to her death, or whether it was an accident – as Kowalski claimed — that stemmed from tripping or a reaction after being startled by Perry.

Public defender Eric Hedland said the investigation by local police and state troopers was immediate and thorough.

“I think I will be able to establish that with any witness that is asked to give a rendition of an event, over time, there will be discrepancies,” Hedland said. “That’s true if you’re taking about an alleged victim, a dispassionate eyewitness, or the possible suspect. But the core facts that Mr. Kowalski described did not change.”

After opening statements, some of those who testified included Perry’s oldest son, a waitress and dinner cook at the lodge, and a lodge resident who was asleep in an adjacent room when Perry died.

Categories: Alaska News

UniSea Worker Accused of Two Assaults in One Day

Fri, 2014-03-21 10:54

A 20-year-old man is facing felony charges in back-to-back assaults at the UniSea bunkhouses this week — including an attempted sexual assault.

Police allege that Jose Sedona got into a fight on Tuesday, striking a man in the face. Sedona was a UniSea employee. Company security reported the fight to police.

Public safety director Jamie Sunderland says officers judged Sedona to be sober and took him into custody.

“Well, that was at 2 in the morning,” Sunderland says. “Later that day, Mr. Sedona was arraigned on his Assault 4 charges and released on bail later that afternoon.”

A few hours later, UniSea security contacted police and asked them to help respond to another fight — also involving Sedona.

Police allege that Sedona had tried to sexually assault a woman around 9 p.m. as she was opening the door to her bunkhouse room. They say that Sedona forced his way into the woman’s room and pushed her down, tearing at her clothes.

Sedona’s family members allegedly came in and tried to pull Sedona away. When police arrived, chief Sunderland says they came across a fight, with Sedona taking part.

“And he was struggling against what I believe is a couple of security personnel and possibly some family members all in kind of a big shoving, scuffle match,” Sunderland says.

Sunderland says that officers arrested Sedona — and again, he appeared to be sober.

Sedona was arraigned in Unalaska district court this morning on two counts of felony assault and one unclassified felony for attempted sexual assault. He was also charged with felony burglary, for allegedly forcing his way into a private room, and a misdemeanor for violating the terms of his release after he got out of jail on Tuesday afternoon.

Magistrate judge Jane Pearson set Sedona’s new bail at $50,000, with a third-party custodian to watch him at all times.

The judge heard comments from two members of the defendant’s family, who said that Sedona has a mental condition and needs treatment. UniSea security supervisor Juan Salazar told the court that UniSea has terminated Sedona’s employment and permanently banned him from their property.

The judge noted that Sedona appears to have no criminal record in Alaska or any other state.

Categories: Alaska News

Navy Subs Training In Arctic Ocean

Fri, 2014-03-21 10:21

A pair of Navy submarines are on maneuvers in the Arctic Ocean sea ice. One came up from the East Coast and the other from the West Coast.

The Navy says the “New Mexico” and the “Hampton” are testing Arctic capacities and their mission includes building an ice camp somewhere in the Beaufort Sea.

Categories: Alaska News

Paddle Making Workshop Illuminates State’s High Suicide Rate

Thu, 2014-03-20 17:54

Suicide rates in Alaskan communities are some of the highest in the country. Last weekend, the One People Canoe Society held a two-day paddle-making workshop in Wrangell. As part of the workshop, participants attended a behavioral health course on suicide prevention. Its goal is to bring communities together to both learn a traditional art and talk about a contemporary problem.

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Categories: Alaska News

Lessons from the Exxon Valdez

Thu, 2014-03-20 17:51

Dune Lanakrd, an Eyak fisherman turned activist. Behind him: Gene Karpinkski, president of League of Conservation Voters, and David Grimes.

Twenty-five years ago today, Alaska was about to mark the anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake, and, unknown to all, was less than four days from its next big disaster: the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Today in Washington,  environmentalists who’ve been dealing with the spill and its political effects for all these years met to publicize what they say are the lessons of the Exxon Valdez. 

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It was a media event, but at times it felt like a class reunion, if one were held at a funeral home. David Grimes, a prominent fisherman in Cordova in the early post-spill years, spoke in spiritual terms.

“(It was) incredibly, powerfully symbolic: It took place 25 years ago on Good Friday,” Grimes said, “in the myth, the day of sacrifice.”

Grimes says animals gave up their lives in North Slope crude, and through that, other parts of Alaska were saved. The spill pulled Congress back from the verge of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It also preserved acres of forest, because the government used settlement money from Exxon to buy land and logging rights.

Marine Biologist Rick Steiner, a fixture of spill news in the 1990s, is now an international oil spill consultant. Steiner says using settlement funds to protect habitat from other industrial damage is a positive lesson from Prince William Sound, one that he says applies to spills everywhere.

“And that’s been one of the sublime silver linings in the whole dark cloud of Exxon Valdez, to be honest with you,” he said.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council labels most of the species it is tracking as recovered, or recovering. Steiner put it another way:  most of the populations are still not fully recovered. Steiner says a big lesson from the Valdez is there’s just no cleaning up from a marine spill.  Once oil hits the ocean, Steiner says, it’s game over. And it’s not a question of money.

“All the guys in the orange suits, and clipboard and hard hats in the world, are not going to clean up a major off shore oil spill,” Steiner said. “It just won’t happen. What we need to do is prevent them.”

He and other environmentalists at the event say the risks of a catastrophic spill are so great that the U.S. shouldn’t allow drilling off sensitive coasts at all, particularly in the Arctic Ocean.

Adrian Herrera, head of the Arctic Power lobby in D.C., says no one wants to prevent a spill more than the oil industry. But the nation still needs oil, and Herrera says it’s better to get it from a well-regulated place like Alaska.

“The answer is mitigation and putting in place responsible the strictest rules possible to allow this to happen safely,” Herrera said.

The environmentalists, on the other hand, say broken promises are another legacy of the Exxon Valdez.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Nixes ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative

Thu, 2014-03-20 17:50

Despite all the fuss over the Save Our Salmon Initiative that passed by a narrow vote of Lake and Peninsula Boro Voters in 2011, that law is now officially null and void. That’s on account of a ruling from Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Wednesday, following a three-year long lawsuit brought by Pebble and the State of Alaska.

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Pebble and the state of Alaska filed separate lawsuits even before the contentious ballot measure went to the polls in 2011, but Judge John Suddock deferred judgment until after the election.

You may recall that when SOS went to the polls that year it passed by just 37 votes. Who voted in that election was itself the subject of a lawsuit, but putting that aside, when the initiative passed it became law in Lake and Pen, until Judge Suddock’s ruling Wednesday.

“In the conclusion of his decision, he wrote that he was ‘enjoining the enforcement’ of the SOS Initiative,” attorney Matt Singer, from the law firm Jermain, Dunnagan, + Owens, which represents Pebble, said. ”In plain language, that means the Initiative is void, like it was never passed.”

Judge Suddock’s 29-page ruling takes a few steps backwards at first, examining Pebble’s expected size and potential impacts, the details of which have prompted opponents to try and stop its development.

A 2008 statewide effort to do so, known as the Alaska Clean Water Act, was soundly defeated at the polls. So the 2011 SOS initiative focused on the borough only. It added a separate borough-specific permitting requirement that both the plaintiffs and defendants agreed would be co-equal with the state permits needed for the mine.

You may recall that the ballot’s sponsors said early on that SOS was a prudent way of avoiding the lengthy, costly state and federal permitting altogether, since the mine developers could bank on never getting the necessary borough permit.

With their lawsuits now merged, what Pebble and the state of Alaska argued was that the SOS-required permitting superseded the legislature’s constitutional authority.

“We have a constitutional mandate to responsibly manage our natural resources,” Singer said. “And under the constitution, the legislature has adopted a robust permitting process through the Department of Natural Resources. And what the judge held is that that is the process for determining whether or not a mine should be developed.”

Judge Suddock wrote that the SOS Initiative goes beyond “simply tailoring mining processes under the borough’s land use authority; it instead forecloses the state’s due exercise of its natural resources.” He went on to say that granting the kind of power implied under SOS to local governments would “Balkanize” the state’s natural resources policy.

As an anecdote, Singer says imagine if any one community along the pipeline passed an ordinance outlawing the pipeline in town:

“That would, you know, could potentially cut off the funding that runs our entire state. As Alaskans, we all have an interest in the responsible management of our natural resources. Not just mines, but oil and gas and fish and all the rest,” Singer said. “I think what the judge recognized here is we don’t want statewide resources to be regulated and dictated by one special interest group in one part of the state.”

The Bob Gillam-backed sponsors of the SOS Initiative were disappointed with Wednesday’s ruling. In a written statement, attorney Scott Kendall said the purpose of the initiative was to “ensure local voices had a seat at the table” discussing permitting for mines like Pebble in Bristol Bay. That’s a role, they argue, they don’t otherwise have.

Kendall said the sponsors strongly disagree with Judge Suddock’s ruling and may appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“Through this litigation the Pebble Limited Partnership sought to silence those local voices before they can ever be heard,” Kendall wrote. ”They may have succeeded temporarily, but the battle for Bristol Bay is far from over.”

Judge Suddock’s striking down of the Save Our Salmon Initiative is final, but the lawsuit isn’t entirely closed. Having won the case, the plaintiffs, they being Pebble and the state of Alaska, can now ask the judge to have the defendants, they being the Lake and Pen Borough and several initiative sponsors, pay up to 20 percent of the legal fees from the three-year-long court battle.

The plaintiffs haven’t said yet whether they will seek that compensation or not.

Categories: Alaska News

ADF&G Opens Herring Fishing In Starrigavan, Katlian Bays

Thu, 2014-03-20 17:49

(KCAW graphic/Robert Woolsey)

The Sitka herring fishery will open this afternoon.

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The Department of Fish & Game has announced that the first opening of the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be at approximately 1:45 PM today (Thu 3-20-14) in the area of Starrigavan and Katlian bays.

Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon announced at around 11:45 AM that he had collected four test samples of fish today that tested well over 10% mature roe, the Department’s threshold for a fishery. The most recent two samples came back with 12.5% and 13.1% mature roe.

Gordon did not say how long the fishery would remain open, but the Department’s goal is to ensure the harvest does not exceed the processing capacity in Sitka, which is now about 2,000 tons of herring a day.

Categories: Alaska News

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