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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: 3 min 28 sec ago

Legislature Weighs ‘Erin’s Law’

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:23

This week, Erin Merryn will be visiting Alaska to promote a law that provides age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children in public schools. Erin’s Law, named after the 29-year-old from Illinois, has passed in 11 states and is pending in 26 others, including Alaska. And we should warn listeners: this story talks frankly about sexual abuse and rape.

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A neighbor began sexually abusing Erin Merryn when she was just six years old.

Photo courtesy Erin Merryn.

“I was abused from ages six to eight and half, repeatedly abused by the neighbor up the street who was my best friend’s uncle who lived in the home,” Merryn said. “And what started off as fondling turned to rape as a six and half year-old. And like I said – didn’t know how to speak up and tell and we moved only to wake up at age 11 to now a family member abusing me. And that continued until I was 13.”

Merryn finally told a trusted adult after she found out her little sister was also being sexually abused by the same family member. When she was a senior in high school she published a book about her experience. When she was 25, she made it her mission to give kids the voice she never had as a child, campaigning for Erin’s Law. The law requires age-appropriate child sexual abuse training in grades K-12 in public schools. It passed in Illinois in 2013.  She says it’s important in every state because of national statistics that show one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused.

“In America alone there are 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Four million of those are kids,” Merryn said.

But only one in 10 tells their story, Merryn says.  In Alaska, experts say the percentage of children who are sexually abused is likely higher than in other states. Nearly 2,000 children were reportedly sexually abused in Alaska in 2013.

State Representative Geran Tarr, who represents the neighborhoods of Airport Heights and Russian Jack and Mountain View in Anchorage, is sponsoring House Bill 233, the Alaska version of Erin’s law to try and change those numbers. A constituent brought the law to Tarr’s attention while she was working on issues related to family health and safe communities and she realized it could help stop the persistent problem of sexual abuse in Alaska.

“Our rates put us in the top five for child sexual abuse and it’s such a life-changing and devastating problem that I became very motivated to work on this issue and look for opportunities where we could protect children and prevent that next generation of children from experiencing child sexual abuse,” Tarr said.

House Bill 233 would provide child sexual abuse training to empower children to speak up if something inappropriate happens, Tarr says, and train teachers and trusted adults to recognize signs that a child is being abused as well as help children out of unsafe situations. Tarr says the law would be a game changer because the training would reach more than 90 percent of Alaska’s youth who attend public schools and the adults who spend a lot of time with them.

“We’ve often been on the reactionary end of this problem. This problem being more broadly domestic violence and sexual assault. So we’ve been dealing with it through the court system. We’ve been dealing with it through victim services and domestic violence shelters,” Tarr said. “This is an opportunity to really try and get in on the prevention side of the equation and try to break that cycle and intervene at a time when you can more successfully prevent it from happening again.”

Tarr says the Alaska Children’s Trust and the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault support for the bill, among others. House Bill 233 has been referred to the House Education Committee, where Wasilla Representative Lynn Gattis is Chair. She says she believes the bill would be a step toward grappling with a difficult problem that is hurting Alaska’s kids.

“What we’re saying is, first of all, raise your hand and say Alaska’s got a problem,” Gattis said. “Number two: how are we going to fix that problem? Is this going to be a part of how we fix that problem?”

Merryn says she hopes so.

“I was informed the high rates of sexual abuse in Alaska and I was shocked,” Merryn said. “Anyone that tells me that sexual abuse is not an issue where they live in their community, they’re living with blinders on.”

She says it’s time for communities to put kids first and take those blinders off, and she hopes Alaska will be the next state to commit to Erin’s Law. Merryn will be in Anchorage talking about her law on Tuesday and Wednesday and in Juneau at the end of the week where she hopes to meet with Governor Sean Parnell and legislators.

Tarr has bipartisan support from 10 other legislators for House Bill 233. A Hearing is scheduled for the bill Friday at 8am.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski: Clean Water Act Rule a Threat to Development

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:22

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal today that critics say would expand the reach of the Clean Water Act to cover most creeks and wetlands across the country.

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The EPA says the rule would not broaden its jurisdiction. It says the rule just clarifies that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected, as are wetlands near streams. The agency’s website says it does not cover ditches or groundwater. The EPA plans a 90-day public outreach tour to explain the rule.

The EPA’s emphasis is on protecting seasonal waterways, which is a big issue in arid Western states. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski says it would have a large impact on Alaska, too, because the state has abundant wetlands. She says the rule could effectively give the federal government control over most of the state, threatening access and development.

Categories: Alaska News

Though Earthquake Detection Has Improved, Gaps Remain

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:21

Just five years after statehood, Alaska endured the largest earthquake recorded in North America. The quake devastated communities around the Southcentral portion of the state, but in the years that followed it also made Alaska the epicenter of extreme seismic studies.

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When the quake struck on March 27, 1964, earthquake detection was in its infancy and scientists didn’t understand much about the correlation between seismic events and tsunamis.

But, according the U.S. Geological Survey’s Peter Haeussler, a geologist noticed a particular pattern in the disaster’s aftermath, which has been the key to understanding how this type of event happens.

“As a result of this particular idea, which was brand new at the time and really quite revolutionary, we now understand that these plates are converging and coming together along the southern Alaska margin,” Haeussler said. “And this type of earthquake that occurred in 1964, we now refer to as a ‘mega thrust earthquake.’ It’s the largest type of earthquake on the planet and these are particularly devastating.”

The energy created when the tectonic plates converged was also found to be the driving force behind certain types of tsunamis – forging a scientific link between earthquakes and tsunamis for the first time.

Haeussler says this discovery gave scientists the fingerprint of the worlds-largest earthquakes.

“It occurred at a pivotal time in earth science history. It helped lead to this acceptance of this brand new theory of plate tectonics. It showed the world largest earthquakes are caused at these convergent margins where plates are coming together. It provided a mechanism for launching trans-oceanic tsunamis,” Haeussler said. “And, in many ways, all of the giant mega-thrust earthquakes are now understood in the shadow of what was learned from 1964.”

Though massive earthquakes are a relatively rare occurrence in Alaska, the ’64 quake emphasized the dire need for understanding and tracking seismic events.

“In 1964, there were two seismic stations in Alaska,” Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, said. “The closest one to the earthquake was in Fairbanks, and there was one in Sitka.”

Today, West says the state has around 400 seismic monitoring stations.

“About half of those are clustered on volcanoes in the Aleutians and the other half are distributed generally around the state,” he said.

West says the Earthquake Center’s ability to detect and pinpoint earthquakes varies widely depending on where in the state it occurs.

“Southcentral in sort of a triangle with Fairbanks as the apex, that area has, I think, very robust, very good monitoring,” West said. “And what that allows us to do, it allows us to detect smaller-magnitude earthquakes and it allows us to locate them with great accuracy.”

But, that’s not the case in more remote sections of the state. West says there has been an interesting sequence of five, magnitude four or larger earthquakes recently in the same spot in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“They’re quite puzzling to us and we are not able to get a good depth constraint,” West said. “So we don’t know if this is on some very shallow fault or some very deep fault; in fact we have little understanding of why they’re occurring because there’s an area up there the size of Oregon that has no instrumentation.”

Even though earthquake and tsunami science has improved by leaps and bounds in the years since the 1964 earthquake forever changed the Alaska landscape, there are still huge gaps to fill and a lot of ground to cover.

Categories: Alaska News

Valdez Earthquake Survivors Recall 1964 Experiences

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:20

The community of Valdez was devastated by the Good Friday earthquake. The giant tsunami that formed right after the shaking began killed 30 people gathered at the harbor and on the dock. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed the town. It took three years for locals to relocate from Old Town Valdez to where the new town site is today.

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Categories: Alaska News

Galena Residents Prep For Season Of Rebuilding

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:19

Galena residents are preparing for another season of rebuilding from devastation wrought by last year’s major break up flood. There was a major emergency response last summer, but much work remains to be done in the Yukon River community.

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Categories: Alaska News

Archivists Rally To Keep National Archives In Anchorage

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:18

Funding for the National Association of Records and Administration, or NARA, building in Anchorage has been chopped from the National Archives budget as a result of a $10 million budget cut. All federal records will be moved to a Seattle based facility beginning in September. Local archivists, historians, senators and residents though, are rallying behind efforts to keep the archives in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 25, 2014

Tue, 2014-03-25 17:13

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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House Passes Bill To End High School Exit Exam

The Associated Press

The Alaska House has passed legislation that would repeal the high school graduation exam.

The high school exit exam tests student aptitude in reading, English and mathematics.

House Bill 220, sponsored by Republican Pete Higgins of Fairbanks, terminates the exam as soon as the bill becomes law. It allows former students who earned enough high school credits to graduate to obtain their diploma even though they failed the exam.

Higgins says if the bill does become law, it will save the state $2.7 million in administrative costs.

The vote was 32-5. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Gasline Bill Could Include Rural Provisions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

With less than 30 days remaining in the legislative session, the Alaska House is considering gasline legislation that would advance a line from the North Slope to an LNG export facility in Nikiski. For rural Alaska, the bill includes funding that could send gas to communities hundreds of miles from the pipeline.

Legislature Weighs ‘Erin’s Law’

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Erin Merryn is visiting Alaska this week to promote a law that provides age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children in public schools. Erin’s Law, named after the 29-year-old from Illinois, has passed in 11 states and is pending in 26 others, including Alaska. A warning to listeners: this story deals frankly with sexual abuse and rape.

Murkowski: Clean Water Act Rule a Threat to Development

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal today that critics say would expand the reach of the Clean Water Act to cover most creeks and wetlands across the country.

Though Earthquake Detection Has Improved, Gaps Remain

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Just five years after statehood, Alaska endured the largest earthquake recorded in North America. The quake devastated communities around the Southcentral portion of the state, but in the years that followed it also made Alaska the epicenter of extreme seismic studies.

Valdez Earthquake Survivors Recall 1964 Experiences

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The community of Valdez was devastated by the Good Friday earthquake. The giant tsunami that formed right after the shaking began killed 30 people gathered at the harbor and on the dock. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed the town.  It took three years for locals to relocate from Old Town Valdez to where the new town site is today.

Galena Residents Prep For Season Of Rebuilding

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Galena residents are preparing for another season of rebuilding from devastation wrought by last year’s major break up flood.  There was a major emergency response last summer, but much work remains to be done in the Yukon River community.

Archivists Rally To Keep National Archives In Anchorage

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

Funding for the National Association of Records and Administration, or NARA, building in Anchorage has been chopped from the National Archives budget as a result of a $10 million budget cut. All federal records will be moved to a Seattle based facility beginning in September. Local archivists, historians, senators and residents though, are rallying behind efforts to keep the archives in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Lawmaker’s Birth Control Comments Spark Criticism

Mon, 2014-03-24 18:20

(Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

In the process of declaring “war on fetal alcohol syndrome,” a Fairbanks state senator was labeled as an enemy in the “war on women” by national media outlets for comments he made about birth control.

In an interview published by the Anchorage Daily News on Friday, Republican Pete Kelly said “Birth control is for people who don’t necessarily want to act responsibly” when asked if increasing access to contraceptives could help reduce the number of fetal alcohol cases in the state.

The Alaska Democratic Party seized on the remarks, and the story got picked up by outlets like MSNBC and the Huffington Post.

Kelly says his response was taken out of context — he believes binge drinking is irresponsible, and that it can lead to a fetal alcohol case if birth control fails.

“I don’t care if people use birth control, for goodness sakes!” says Kelly.

Kelly was also criticized for bringing up the involuntary commitment of pregnant women who consume alcohol. He stresses that “Empowering Hope,” the group of lawmakers and public health advocates behind the initiative, is not currently pursuing that policy.

“That’s not what we’re doing right now. This leadership group may, and probably will, discuss this. But that’s not part of our program right now.”

In a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, Kelly said the group behind the fetal alcohol initiative may eventually consider the role birth control can play in reducing instances of the disorder.

But right now, the initiative is built around a public relations campaign and an effort to establish community responders who can help pregnant women who struggle with drinking. One idea the group is considering is supplying bars with pregnancy tests. Kelly says it’s a form of micro-advertising.

“It’s a PR weapon,” says Kelly. “Clearly, if you have a bowl – you know a Plexiglas bowl – of pregnancy tests, that’s an advertising exposure in and of itself.”

Kelly also believes the tests could catch some pregnancies early and discourage women from using alcohol.

“What we assume in the pregnancy tests, is the best of people. That if they know they’re pregnant, they’ll stop drinking. And 90 percent of the people who know they’re pregnant quit instantly.”

Researchers from the University of San Diego will be tracking the efficacy of the pregnancy test campaign.

Jessica Cler, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, is not convinced that effort will work. The organization sent an action alert on Kelly’s comments on Monday. While Planned Parenthood supports increasing awareness of fetal alcohol syndrome, Cler calls the idea of distributing pregnancy tests to bars “ridiculous.”

“Better public health starts with reducing unintended pregnancies,” says Cler. “To do that, we need better family planning in our state, not pregnancy tests in bar-room bathrooms.”

Last year, the Senate added an amendment establishing a woman’s health program to a bill restricting Medicaid payouts for abortions. The health program would largely be covered by federal funds, and its addition to the abortion bill was seen as an olive branch to social moderates in the Legislature. The House Finance Committee stripped that amendment in February, and Kelly told reporters shortly after that his preference was to leave the family planning program out of the bill.

Kelly says the response to his birth control comments from groups like the Alaska Democratic Party are distracting from the goal of the fetal alcohol initiative.

“They’re sitting on the sidelines writing press releases and talking points, and we’re actually trying to address something that is plaguing Alaskan families,” says Kelly.

Kelly adds that he does not see the criticism affecting the initiative itself. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed two resolutions by Kelly expressing support for the initiative. Out of 20 senators, 19 are sponsoring one of the resolutions – urging the governor to expand substance abuse treatment programs for pregnant women and to increase screening of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The resolutions set the Legislature up to fund some aspects of the Empowering Hope initiative.

This is the second time in one month that a Republican state senator has attracted national attention for statements made about birth control. On March 6, Fred Dyson of Eagle River spoke against a proposal to institute a government women’s health program. He argued that access to birth control is not a problem in the state because Alaska Airlines can rush-deliver it to remote areas, and he said cost should not be an obstacle to getting birth control because “four or five lattes” could cover the monthly expense.

Categories: Alaska News

Ex-Secretary of State Endorses Sullivan in Tight U.S. Senate Race

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:19

Political advertisements can get mean, but two new TV spots in the race for Mark Begich’s U.S. Senate seat are trying for that warm, fuzzy feeling. Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice stars in an ad for Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. The ad aims to quash the argument of a pro-Begich super PAC that Sullivan belongs more to the Beltway than to Alaska. The ad describes Sullivan as a “tireless” defender of the country.

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“Now Dan faces political attacks because he wanted his family by his side. Remember that serving our country required some time in our Capital,” Rice says in the ad.

Sullivan was an assistant secretary of state under Rice from 2006 to 2009. The ad is from Republican Super Pac American Crossroads, which spent $180,000 to air it. Crossroads says the ad is its first in a Senate primary, and Rice’s first endorsement of any Senate candidate this cycle. Rice is due to headline a big GOP fundraiser for House Republicans this week.

Meanwhile, the Begich campaign is airing an ad showing footage of both the senator and of his Congressman father, campaigning across Alaska by small airplane, four decades apart.

“Mark was 10 when he lost his father,” Mark’s wife, Deborah Bonito, says in narrating the ad. “We’ve lost too many Alaskans this way. But Mark is clearly his father’s son and there’s nowhere he won’t go to listen and standup for Alaskans.”

The race is said to be tightening.  National data whiz Nate Silver says the incumbent has lost some ground, but he still favors Begich to win. A poll released today by New Jersey-based Rasmussen Reports puts Republican Mead Treadwell ahead in a match-up with Begich, but within the margin of error. In a Sullivan-Begich contest, the polling firm says voters are evenly split.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Exxon Valdez Memories From Alaska’s Capitol Still Fresh 25 Years Later

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:17

An otter covered with oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill – ACE6 (Photo by ARLIS Reference)

It’s been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in Prince William Sound.

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Twenty-five years ago, Marta Lastufka saw a puzzling ill omen at a party where a woman was giving readings with tarot cards.

“And everybody kept getting this scary card, it was like, the death card, or something,” says Lastufka, a page for the Senate Finance Committee. “She said, ‘You know, I don’t know what this means, but something is going to happen that’s going to affect all of you.’ And that was probably just a few days before the Valdez oil spill. And then we realized, oh, that was it.”

The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground 25 years ago today, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in Prince William Sound. Around the state Capitol Building, the memories for many are still fresh.

The spill brought a frenzy of activity to Alaska, including workers, reporters and profiteers.  Legislative aide Ron Clark had a front seat. He was a special assistant to Gov. Steve Cowper. Clark and the governor flew up to Valdez a few days after the spill.

After they got off the plane, Clark remembers the governor asking him, “Are you ready for this?”

“And I said, ‘I dunno, what’s this?’ He says, ‘You’ll see,’” Clark recalls. “The doors open and, like, two dozen Klieg lights flash on. All these camera lenses suddenly are trained on him, microphones being thrust at him, and people shouting questions, and, and, he kind of pauses before he wades into this, and he turns to me and says — ‘That’s ‘this’. This is what I meant.’ And he just — pwoo! — walked into this amazing scrum of press people.”

Clark says entrepreneurs came, too, by the thousands, clawing for a few minutes of the governor’s time to hawk their cleanup solutions. His voice tightens as he imitates the frantic tone: “Here, governor, here! Here’s the cure to the spill, here’s what you need to–this product is just what you need!”

He calls it a bizarre and surreal time. One man tried to sell nylon mesh bags full of chicken feathers as a alternative to oil boom. Within a few weeks, bankers’ boxes filled with spill-related mail lined the hallways of the Capitol’s third floor, Clark says.

“You know, there was a whole section on sea otters. You know, oiled sea otters: Clean them and release them? Kill them humanely? Every category of letter had a banker’s box, and we just had piles and piles and piles of these letters that just kept pouring in,” Clark says.

The impact wasn’t so immediate for Sen. Gary Stevens. He was in Kodiak at the time teaching history. There, the first weeks were part of an awful waiting game.

“I’ve heard people say anything that falls in the water in Prince William Sound is going to wind up on the beaches of Kodiak,” Stevens says.

The news reached Kodiak weeks before the clumpy oil balls fouled the beaches.

“It was just a horrendous experience as we watched that oil over time slowly move out of Prince William Sound and eventually hit the beaches of Kodiak. We knew it was going to happen, and it was just like one of those inexorable things that you know it’s going to happen, you know it’s going to happen, and then finally it does,” Stevens says.

Stevens remembers the sight of oiled birds, oiled animals and the oiled workers trying to clean it all up.

The workers at sea needed a way to clean themselves up, too. Rep. Paul Seaton was a commercial fisherman at the time and one of his fish tenders was repurposed for just that. He put an old house with a boiler and tanks aboard the ship to supply fresh water and serve as a decontamination unit.

“Because all these people were out there cleaning up and they had no place to take showers, or wash, or wash any clothes for the first part. And so we became the vessel that was out there providing cleanup for the clean-uppers,” Seaton says.

For the most part, the oil has come and gone. Still, Stevens says sharing these stories is important.

“Because it needs to be commemorated. It was something that we just cannot forget. It happened. It really happened, it’s a part of our history and we can’t forget the impact that the oil spill, the Exxon- Valdez oil spill had on Alaska,” Stevens says.

Categories: Alaska News

Survivors Reflect On 1964 Earthquake

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:16

This is an important week for anniversaries of big disasters in Alaska history. Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami. The 9.2 quake took lives and destroyed houses and infrastructure in Anchorage, Valdez, Seward and other communities.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rural Communities Get Help With Tax Prep

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:15

The Alaska Business Development Center spent last week coordinating free tax assistance across the state. Teams of two and three volunteers travel to small bush communities to help residents prepare tax returns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Political Group Calls For Action Against Rep. Gattis

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:15

A Washington, DC political group is calling for the state to take criminal action against Representative Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla).

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Categories: Alaska News

Cama-i Festival Wraps Up In Bethel

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:14

Photo from the Cama-i Dance Festival Facebook page.

The three day Cama-i festival wrapped up Sunday in Bethel. More than 20 dance groups from up and down the Yukon and Kuskowkin rivers and across north America came together to dance, celebrate, and this year, to heal.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 24, 2014

Mon, 2014-03-24 17:00

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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Legislature Weighs ‘Erin’s Law’ 

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

This week, Erin Merryn will be visiting Alaska to promote a law that provides age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children in public schools. Erin’s Law, named after the 29-year-old from Illinois, has passed in 11 states and is pending in 26 others, including Alaska. And we should warn listeners: this story talks frankly about sexual abuse and rape.

Congress Subpoenas EPA For Documents About The Pebble Mine

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

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

Ex-Secretary of State Endorses Sullivan in Tight U.S. Senate Race

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Political advertisements can get mean, but two new TV spots in the race for Mark Begich’s U.S. Senate seat are trying for that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Exxon Valdez Memories From Alaska’s Capitol Still Fresh 25 Years Later

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

It’s been 25years since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in Prince William Sound.

Survivors Reflect On 1964 Earthquake

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

This is an important week for anniversaries of big disasters in Alaska history. Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami. The 9.2 quake took lives and destroyed houses and infrastructure in Anchorage, Valdez, Seward and other communities.

Rural Communities Get Help With Tax Prep

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The Alaska Business Development Center spent last week coordinating free tax assistance across the state. Teams of two and three volunteers travel to small bush communities to help residents prepare tax returns.

Cama-i Festival Wraps Up In Bethel

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The three day Cama-i festival wrapped up Sunday in Bethel. More than 20 dance groups from up and down the Yukon and Kuskowkin rivers and across north America came together to dance, celebrate, and this year, to heal.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Would Help Fund Two Southeast Mines

Mon, 2014-03-24 10:24

Two Southeast Alaska mines could get close to $300 million in state support under a bill moving through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 99 authorizes the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to issue bonds for the projects. It moved out of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee March 20 and awaits scheduling on the chamber’s floor.

One mine is the Niblack gold, silver, copper and zinc prospect. The other is the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare-earth-element mine. Both are on Prince of Wales Island, southwest of Ketchikan.

The Niblack, shown above, and the Bokan-Dotson mines would get financing help from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority under Senate Bill 99. (Heatherdale Resources image)

Ken Collison is chief operating officer for Ucore Rare Metals, Bokan’s developer. At an earlier hearing, he told the committee rare-earth metals are needed for strong batteries and high-tech devices.

“For things like electric cards, hybrid cars, it’s critical. Because you have much smaller components, much lighter components. Same thing with military tech. It goes into aviation engines,” he said.

The metals are in short supply and federal officials are encouraging mine development.

The bill authorizes the authority to raise up to $145 million for Bokan through bonds. Another $125 million could go toward the Niblack mine and its ore-processing facility near Ketchikan.

Collison said mines need state support.

“The financial markets are such right now for the mining industry that it’s very tough. And this is going to show huge support from the state of Alaska. It’s going to make the financial markets and the rest of the mining community realize the state is open for business. This would be a big help for us in developing this project,” he said.

Bob Claus, who works for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the shortage of private financing should be a warning.

“The proponents of the project have not established that the potential mine is in any way a viable project, have not been able to attract private investment to their proposal and have not demonstrated that the mine, if developed, would benefit the communities on Prince of Wales,” he said in a letter to the Senate committee, addressing the Bokan mine.

“This bonding authority is a misuse of state funds to support a purely speculative and controversial project,” he wrote.

The funds were added to a larger bill making changes to an energy fund that’s also managed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Anchorage Senator Lesil McGuire sponsored the measure. She supported amendments drafted by Sitka Senator Bert Stedman adding the Southeast mines.

The bill must pass the full Senate, as well as the House, before it’s sent to the governor.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Announces Record Dividend

Mon, 2014-03-24 10:20

The Calista Corporation is giving out the largest shareholder dividend in corporate history. The Board of Directors approved a dividend distribution totaling $4.65 million.

This distribution equates to $3.50 per share, an eight percent increase over last year. Checks are expected to be mailed out by the close of business on April 15.

Chariman Willie Kasayulie says the business has succeeded by diversifying operations and making acquisitions.

In April 2013, Calista provided a shareholder dividend totaling $4.3 million. In December 2013 Calista also provided a distribution of more than $590,000 through the Shareholder-supported Elders’ Benefit. The corporation has distributed nearly $25 million in dividends since incorporation.

Categories: Alaska News

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

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