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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: 13 min 57 sec ago

Wolf hunting to resume near Denali National Park

Mon, 2015-08-10 10:10

Wolf hunting will resume Monday near Denali National Park and Preserve despite calls from conservationists to reinstate a “wolf buffer” near the park.

Alaska’s Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten closed the season at in May in an area to the north and east of the park after reports that two wolves were legally shot in the area.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the issue stems from a 2010 decision by the Board of Fame that removed a buffer zone around the northeast area of Denali National Park where wolf hunting and trapping was banned.

The buffer-zone debate has resurfaced as the park’s wold population wanes. A recent report from the National Park Service showed 48 wolves living in Denali, down from more than 100 ten years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

Colorado man found dead on Backers Island beach

Mon, 2015-08-10 10:08

Seldovia police are investigating after a Colorado man was found dead on a nearby beach.

KTVA-TV reports that two fisherman spotted the body on a Backers Island beach Saturday morning. They checked if the man was breathing and then called 911.

Seldovia police responded and declared 47-year-old Troy Dean Fisher, of Grand Junction, Colorado, dead at the scene. Fisher was temporarily working in the area.

Seldovia Police Chief Hal Henning says the body was transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy, but police do not consider the death suspicious.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska sees 5 million acres burned during 2015 fire season

Mon, 2015-08-10 10:05

Officials say the Alaska fire season this year has seen more than 5 million acres burned and is likely to become the second largest wildfire season on record.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that on Friday wildfires passed the 5-million-acre mark – or about 7,900 square miles – and by Sunday that number had already risen by more than 56 square miles.

This summer’s total is only 13,000 acres sort of the acreage burned in 1957 – the second biggest season ever recorded.

Fires remain active in dry areas of the western Interior, southwest Alaska and the Seward Peninsula despite rain in most of the state.

Beyond Alaska’s fires, fire managers are expecting a request for help with blazes in the Lower 48 as fires blaze across many states.

Categories: Alaska News

Immersive Tlingit language program begins at UAF

Mon, 2015-08-10 10:04

The first Tlingit language immersion program has ended after a week of activities in Sitka.

The Sitka Sentinel reports that things wrapped up Saturday for the 63 language speakers that traveled from across Alaska, Canada and the lower 48 to attend the workshops.

Program organizer Heather Powell says there are only about 100 Tlingit speakers total.

Participants made traditional drums, performed plays and puppet shows of Tlingit legends and discussed correct pronunciation, vocabulary and structure.

Most activities were in the Mt. Edgecumbe High School student union building. Language teachers were paired with learners for most activities. The group played bingo entirely in the Tlingit language on Thursday.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Sealaska Heritage and Sitka Native Education Program have helped create the immersion program.

Categories: Alaska News

Miller Energy charged with inflating company’s value

Mon, 2015-08-10 10:03

Miller Energy Resources Inc. and two of its former executives have been charged with inflating the values of the company’s oil and gas properties in Alaska by more than $400 million.

The Peninsula Clarion reports the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the charges Thursday against the company’s former Chief Financial Officer Paul Boyd and its most recent CEO David Hall. An accountant from New York was also charged for his role in auditing the company.

Miller Energy, which manages its operations in Anchorage, acquired its Alaska properties for $2.25 million in 2009 and later reported them at a value of $480 million.

Hall, who is no longer the company’s CEO, denies the accusations.

Each of those charged in the case has 20 days to respond to the allegations.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal agency launches website to help universities, colleges deal with campus violence

Mon, 2015-08-10 09:59

The Office on Violence Against Women has launched a website aimed at helping colleges and universities deal with sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus.

The Office on Violence Against Women this week launched a website aimed at helping colleges and universities deal with sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus. The office, which is in the U.S. Department of Justice, calls the site a “comprehensive online clearinghouse.”

An introductory video on the site features Bea Hanson, principal deputy director of the office. She says the site includes information from a variety of sources focused on prevention, policy and other topics.

“It’s designed to provide campus administrators, faculty and staff, campus and community law enforcement, victim service providers, students, parents and other key stakeholders with the resources needed to enhance campus safety,” Hanson said.

The website was launched  nearly a year after the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office announced it would beinvestigating post-secondary institutions across the nation — including the University of Alaska system — to determine whether they are handling reports of sexual violence according to federal law.

An Aug. 5 list from the Department of Education shows 129 institutions are under investigation. The department says the list includes institutions that are being investigated for cause and others that are subject to a compliance review. An attorney for the university told KTOO in September that their investigation fell into the latter category.

In February, the University of Alaska launched a survey to determine if sexual assault on campus was a bigger problem than they knew and how well they were handling it. The survey was sent out to 15,000 randomly selected students, faculty and staff who can respond anonymously. A university attorney said the results of the survey would not be published.

Categories: Alaska News

Why SEARHC thinks paying for 8 weeks of parental leave will save money

Mon, 2015-08-10 09:54

Insurance will give SEARHC members more flexibility in health care and generate revenue for the Native medical organization. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A Southeast health provider has adopted what may be the most progressive parental leave policy in Alaska. At least two experts say they don’t know of another employer in the state with a comparable benefit.

The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s isn’t as far-reaching as Netflix’s new 1-year paid leave policy, but it may start a trend.

Ann Stepetin is due to deliver her fourth child in February. She and her husband had already decided she’d only take two weeks off from her payroll job at SEARHC.

“Because I didn’t think we could afford to be off any longer,” Stepetin says.

Then, she went into work one day and that plan drastically changed.

“You can see me getting emotional, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was such a blessing,” she says.

SEARHC’s new parental leave policy lets Stepetin take eight paid weeks off instead of using her accrued leave.

“Having that in place does give me more of a relaxed feeling to prepare emotionally more or less for the baby rather than stressing about the finances,” Stepetin says.

And that’s exactly what SEARHC executives hoped the new policy would do.

“We want that family to be really focusing on the new child, the new addition to their family, and to not have to worry about any of the other issues,” says Peggy Kadlec, SEARHC’s interim head of human resources. “It’s an important time of bonding.”

SEARHC has about 650 employees in communities throughout Southeast Alaska; most are concentrated in Juneau and Sitka. Kadlec says the health organization wants its employees to have work-life balance.

“We believe our employees that are healthier, happier, will be here at work more frequently, provide the better kind of service into our community and at the end, (it) saves money,” Kadlec says.

She says people who take an active role in health and families have less health issues.

“If our employees are out less for medical reasons, our costs are reduced and we can transfer those dollars to programs to help them as well.”

Kadlec is excited about the new parental leave policy. So is Joy Lyon.

“Because that might pave the way for other organizations to see how successful that is,” says Lyon, executive director of theAssociation for the Education of Young Children in Southeast.

She says it’s critical for the time after childbirth to be as stress-free as possible.

“When you add the extra stress of trying to get back to work, find childcare, figure out your feeding schedule, that just adds such a layer of stress,” Lyon says. “Babies are little sponges for stress, so they’re going to be feeling that stress. Continuous stress inhibits the child’s ability to learn and grow so it has a really long-term impact.”

Ironically, AEYC does not offer paid parental leave to its employees.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires most employers with 50 or more workers to guarantee up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a new child, among other reasons.

AEYC only has 10 employees, but follows these guidelines, like many other employers.

“Being a small nonprofit we just don’t have the ability to pay the extra the whole time,” Lyon says.

Most state and municipal employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child. People who take family medical leave often use accrued time off to get paid.

Dan Robinson, head of research and analysis for the state Department of Labor, says the agency doesn’t have any research on paid parental leave in the state. That could change. The department has applied for a federal grant to look into it.

“It’s very possible that there will be state legislation, that a legislator will say we want to require employers to pay for parental leave, we want to make that paid. In that case, those questions could likely come our direction,” Robinson says.

At SEARHC, parents of new children can still access 12 weeks of Family Medical Leave after the eight weeks of paid parental leave. Ann Stepetin isn’t sure if she’ll dip into it.

“I haven’t thought that far yet. Eight weeks is a blessing compared to the two that I was planning on doing,” Stepetin says.

She says she’ll start with that and see how it goes.

Categories: Alaska News

New York-based investors buy majority stake in Ravn

Mon, 2015-08-10 09:28

New York investors are now majority owners of the Ravn Air group, which mostly serves rural Alaska.

J.F. Lehman & Company, a group of private equity investors active in aerospace and maritime businesses, recently announced the new ownership structure. The deal was firstreported by Alaska Dispatch News Thursday.

Longtime Alaska aviator, Bob Hajdukovich and his family, who previously owned half of the company that owned Ravn’s assets, HoTH, are now the only Alaska owners.

Jim Tweto and Mike Hageland, were part owners of the three airlines operating under the Ravn name, Corvus, Hageland and Frontier.

Ravn has a fleet of more than 70 planes flying to 100 destinations throughout the state. Alaska business monthly ranked Ravn the 22nd largest company in the state last year by its 160-million dollars in revenue.

Categories: Alaska News

Missing pilot, passenger in Knik Arm plane crash ID’d

Mon, 2015-08-10 09:26

Seth Fairbanks. (Facebook photo)

Alaska State Troopers have identified the missing pilot and passenger in the Knik Arm plane crash as 29-year-old Seth Fairbanks and 23-year-old Anthony Hooper, both of McGrath.

The Piper PA-18 Super Cub crashed Friday near Anchorage’s north border. Fairbanks grew up in Bethel and his parents still live there.

His father, Grant Fairbanks, says someone called 9-1-1 from the crash with his son’s cell phone.

“It was Seth and I’m sure it was Seth and I’m sure he called 9-1-1 and said, ‘We’re from McGrath and the plane’s upside down in Cook Inlet and we’re standing on the wings’. I have not heard the recording yet, but that 9-1-1 call went to the Bethel Police Department and they passed it onto the Rescue Coordination Center at Elmendorf,” said Fairbanks.

Fairbanks says the Rescue Coordination Center immediately dispatched planes to search, but it was around midnight and they couldn’t locate survivors.

Searchers found wreckage of the plane just after 6 a.m. Friday near Birchwood Airport, partially submerged on the mud flats. On Saturday the wreckage was taken to Birchwood Airport where the NTSB was investigating. The search expanded over the next few days, but there was still no sign of survivors. On Sunday, officials with the Rescue Coordination Center suspended their search, but members of the Fairbanks family were still searching by air and on foot.

Fairbanks says his son had lived in McGrath for eight years. He says his son was flying in for his sister’s reception in Anchorage after her wedding at the family’s Holitna homestead.

“He worked for a heavy equipment company and was a gold miner. He’s got two daughters up there and so he was part of the McGrath community,” said Fairbanks.

About 30 people searched the Cook Inlet area, but Fairbanks says his hopes aren’t high. He says people don’t survive in that water for more than a half-hour. The family is planning to hold memorial services.

“We’re going to have a memorial service here in Anchorage sometime in the next couple of days. And then we’re going to go to McGrath and have one there because he loved everybody in McGrath. And then we’re going to have one in Bethel when we go back in. You know, people call up and say, ‘what can we do?’ and I just say, ‘hey, hug your children – that’s all they need to do,’” said Fairbanks.

Sunday, Troopers said one of their helicopters was still searching the area.

The Alaska office of the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Message In A Bottle Washes Up On Kenai Shore After 9 Years Adrift

Mon, 2015-08-10 09:04

Nearly nine years ago on Christmas Eve, a German sailor in the north Pacific sent out a message the old-fashioned way: rolled up in a bottle. After almost a decade at sea, the message was found by a marine debris clean up crew in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Collected in Kenai Fjords National Park during a marine debris cleanup at Porcupine Cove. Where do you think this bottle has traveled over the last 9 years? NPS Photo/M. Decker

Monika Decker says the bottle stood out from other plastics they’d collected. It was half-painted yellow, possibly to catch a mariner’s eye. And there was something in it:

“At first I thought it was a stem from a spray bottle… until I saw a tied scroll!” she says.

The paper tore a bit as she and her coworkers were unraveling it, but the message was clear…. sort of:

“I wish you a good day. This is a sailor, me in the middle of the ocean. This on the ocean means we were N 42 degrees, 41′. E 169 degrees, 62′ in the Pacific on 24.12.2006 Christmas Night.”

The sailor left his address in Germany, asking to be contacted if anyone ever found his message.

And here’s where the story gets even more interesting: of all the people to find the bottle, Decker speaks German. She penned him a note in his native tongue and sent it out using a more modern tactic: the postal service.

Decker is still waiting to hear back from her new pen pal.

UAF marine science professor Tom Weingartner says the bottle likely hopped on the North Pacific Current, which brought it to the Gulf of Alaska. From there the bottle crossed onto a shelf and was swept inshore into the Alaska Coastal Current, which is pretty speedy as far as ocean currents go, Weingartner says.

According to GPS coordinates jotted down on the note, the bottle was set adrift in the north Pacific, northeast of Japan.

Categories: Alaska News

“Stop the Violence” Walk Asks Community to Pay Attention

Sun, 2015-08-09 22:36

Rally goers ask the community to stop the violence on Sunday afternoon. Hillman/KSKA

After two recent shooting deaths of local teenagers, more than 60 people marched through the rain in East Anchorage on Sunday afternoon to raise awareness of violence in the community.

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The crowd sang “Keep calm everybody, and put your guns away. Stop the violence!” The sentiment was echoed on their matching black t-shirts as they marched near the site where 19-year-old Preston Junior Clark Perdomo was shot dead last week.

Among the crowd was resident Allie Hernandez, who moved to Anchorage in 1997 because it was a safe place to raise her kids. She says now, she’s scared.

“This is why we’re walking,” she says between deep breaths. “We have a lot of parents here walking because we’re scared for our kids. We don’t want to see them dead. We don’t want to bury our kids no more. So if we have to walk five miles or six miles, even though I’m not in shape, girl, we’re doing it!”

Summer Yancy walked wearing a set of charms representing friends and family who were impacted by violence. She said Anchorage is so close-knit that everyone is affected by the recent shootings. One way to stop it is to speak candidly with youth about gun violence.

“Let’s have real scenarios of what this looks like when you’re in a real situation,” she said, when talking about ways to facilitate an effective conversation. “With[in] a group of kids and there’s one person in that group that wants to be irresponsible with their gun and all the sudden everybody is sucked in… it can happen to very good kids as well.”

Nineteen-year-old Brennan Gregiore-Girard said he grew up on the east side of town and gun violence doesn’t faze him.

The attendees of the Stop the Violence rally pose for a photo. Hillman/KSKA

“I mean when I hear about it, it doesn’t shock me any more, which is sad to say because we shouldn’t be in an environment where kids should feel that way, but it’s the sad truth.”

He said he thinks kids need to take responsibility for their actions and for the situations they place themselves in.

“I’ve always felt like I could talk things out. My mom raised me that way and my dad raised me that way. And I’ve always wrestled and done combat sports, so it’s not one of those things where I’m scared and all that,” he explained. “But why should I put my hands on someone to stop the violence? Because when you kill someone, you’re not only killing them.” You’re killing a piece of everyone they knew, he said.

The community group We Are Anchorage organized the walk to show a unified front for saying no to violence. They hope to encourage people to start actively watching out for their communities and speaking up.

Categories: Alaska News

Freeride Tour To Come Back to Haines in 2016

Fri, 2015-08-07 17:03

Snowboarder Flo Orley in the Haines competition. (Dom Daher/Freeride Facebook) Shared via KHNS.org.

An international free skiing and snowboarding competition that took on Haines slopes this year in its first-ever Alaska stop is coming back next year. The Freeride World Tour officially announced the 2016 schedule in late July.

The competition wasn’t easy or cheap for Freeride organizers. Unpredictable weather conditions caused three delays. It raised fears that the athletes had come all this way for an event that wouldn’t happen. But after about two weeks of waiting, skies cleared and the competition happened March 23nd.

“Haines is by far the most expensive stop for them,” said Haines Borough Tourism Director Leslie Ross.

She says Freeride spent about a million dollars on the Haines competition. Many of the competitors and organizers are European, making travel expensive. And the mountains aren’t accessible by ski lifts or hiking – all the participants needed to be helicoptered in.

Because it’s so expensive, Ross says the financial side of the Freeride’s next visit to Haines is up in the air.

“So they still are looking for sponsorships,” she said. “They haven’t received that much at all.”

Ross says she and the chamber of commerce are looking for local and regional businesses that could sponsor parts of the Haines visit. She says Freeride is also continuing to look for sponsors, and that they have a contingency plan to compete in British Columbia if the finances don’t work out.

Ross explains why the organizers are trying again for Haines despite the obstacles.

“Our mountains and our snow. We’re becoming world-known for our snow and our skiing. And this is definitely a push again that the athletes want to come here.”

“I think it’s every skier’s dream to once at least come here and ride these incredible mountains,” said one of those athletes — Swedish skier and 2012 Freeride champion Reine Barkered.

When Barkered and the other athletes, organizers, video and broadcast production staff, and other personnel were in Haines, they added up to more than 100 people. For some local businesses, it was a welcome influx of customers in the off-season.

“You know a fair amount of businesses close down in the winter or have significantly reduced hours because there is not enough business for them to stay open,” said Chamber of Commerce president Kyle Gray. “I mean, if we can have an event or something like that that gives more businesses a reason to stay open, that’s just more money we’re gonna be able to make as a community.”

Cheryl Katzeek is the front office manager at Captain’s Choice Motel, which rented out 32 of their 40 rooms to Freeride participants.

“It was really great for us and we’re glad to hear that they’re coming back,” Katzeek said.

The other four stops in the Freeride 2016 tour are in Europe – Andorra, France, Austria and Switzerland. The date currently scheduled for Haines is March 17, 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, August 7, 2015

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:59

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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Newtok Tribal Governance Dispute Settled By Federal Panel

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A federal appeals panel has sided with the new leaders in a tribal power dispute that has complicated efforts to relocate a badly eroded village in western Alaska.

Budget Cuts Tighten Local Law Departments in Southeast

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Fewer crimes in Petersburg could be prosecuted in the near future. At least that’s what the Petersburg Borough fears might happen with budget cuts to the regional D.A.’s office.

3-Year-Old Child Shoots, Kills Himself In Anchorage Home

Associated Press

Officials say a 3-year-old boy shot and killed himself inside an Anchorage home.

Troopers Puzzle Over Plane Found On Knik Mudflats Sans Pilot, Passengers

Associated Press

A small airplane was found Friday morning on Knik Arm mudflats near a small Anchorage airport but state and federal authorities say they don’t know who was on board.

Juneau Swimmers Bring Home Gold From Special Olympics World Games

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Two Juneau swimmers returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles with five medals.

Special Olympics Athlete Returns Home in Kodiak to Fanfare

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Twenty-seven-year-old Kodiak resident Brittany Tregarthen represented the United States in powerlifting at this year’s Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.

Unified Voice Needed for Federal Response to BC Mines

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says Alaskans need a unified voice to push the federal government to question mines across the border in British Columbia.

AIDEA Shares Info On 16 Interior Energy Project Proposals

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has released some details on proposals to supply natural gas to the Interior Energy Project.

SEC Charges Miller Energy Execs With Cooking the Books

Associated Press

Miller Energy Resources Inc. and two of its former executives have been charged with inflating the values of the company’s oil and gas properties in Alaska by more than $400 million.

AK: Like A Seafaring Santa, Kachemak’s Mailman Always Hits His Route

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Like many rural areas, the south side of Kachemak Bay doesn’t get traditional mail service. Instead, its communities rely on a mail boat to deliver to small postal drop offs. It’s the kind of job that attracts a special type of person who’s willing to make the trek across the bay, rain or shine, snow or ice, twice a week, every week, year-round. There the mailman takes the shape of a 60-something ex-fisherman who’s been on the job for nearly 30 years.

49 Voices: Brandon Hall From Resolution Brewing Company in Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we’re talking with Brandon Hall, the head brewer at Resolution Brewing Company, which opened a few months ago in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood, who first came to Alaska with the Air Force after college.

Categories: Alaska News

Newtok Tribal Governance Dispute Settled By Federal Panel

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:39

A federal appeals panel has sided with the new leaders in a tribal power dispute that has complicated efforts to relocate a badly eroded village in western Alaska.

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Tom John, a tribal administrator with the new council, called Newtok Village Council, says he learned of the decision via email this morning and it’s a relief.

“Yesterday, August 6th [they] finally made their decision who is [the] legitimate Newtok tribal government. I’m very elated to here, finally – I’ve been concerned, worried, couldn’t sleep. Hopefully I’ll have a good night sleep tonight.”

The Interior Board of Indian Appeals stepped in to review a 2013 ruling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that said the sitting tribal council no longer represented the Yup’ik community of Newtok for bureau funding purposes.

The old council appealed the decision, which gave local power to a new group that claimed to be the rightfully elected council. The appeals board says in its Thursday decision that the old faction “failed to submit any evidence in support its own claim of continuing authority.”

The power dispute stalled millions of dollars in government funds for the flood-prone village’s efforts to move to higher ground. John says now the hard work begins.

“Pretty soon we will have a Newtok planning group meeting at Anchorage with different agencies, with state agencies, federal, FEMA and all the agencies that we’ve been meeting [with] in previous years. I think we’ll have more positive attitude getting funds to make this relocation happen.”

Andy Patrick, who leads the Newtok Traditional Council was contacted for this story but he refused to comment.

Categories: Alaska News

3-Year-Old Child Fatally Shoots Himself In Anchorage Home

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:37

Officials say a 3-year-old boy shot and killed himself inside an Anchorage home.

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Police received a call just after noon on Wednesday reporting the shooting at a home in southeast Anchorage. The child was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators concluded the child fatally shot himself with a gun he found inside the home.

No charges have been filed, but the case has been sent to the District Attorney’s Office for review. There were three adults in the home at the time of the shooting.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Icebreakers, One Port, Two Very Different Missions

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:36

The Fennica heads north. Photo: John Ryan/KUCB.

Shell Oil’s Fennica icebreaker departed Dutch Harbor for the Chukchi Sea on Thursday afternoon. That’s a day and a half after it arrived from Oregon.

The Fennica’s now headed north, on the 1,100 mile voyage to Shell’s drill site.

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The Fennica’s arrival in the Chukchi Sea has been delayed by about a month, after it ran aground in Dutch Harbor on July 3. It then went through repairs and protests in Portland.

The Fennica has to be in place in the Chukchi Sea before the Interior Department will let Shell drill into oil-bearing rocks beneath the sea floor.

Interior Department officials said they expect to quickly approve the deeper drilling once the Fennica and its safety equipment are on site.

But there’s another icebreaker sitting in Dutch Harbor.

The Coast Guard vessel Healy readies itself for a northward trip in the name of science. Photo: John Ryan/KUCB.

It’s the Healy, the Coast Guard’s largest ship. It’s scheduled to depart on Sunday on its way to the North Pole. It’s helping an international team of scientists study the rapidly changing chemistry of the Arctic Ocean.

Phoebe Lam is part of that team. She’s a geochemist from the University of California at Santa Cruz. The scientists will bring up water samples from the depths to see just what the Arctic Ocean is made of.

“I’m measuring particles and the chemical composition of particles. A biologist would call them plankton, a geochemist calls them particles. It’s the same thing — it’s just stuff in the ocean.”

….So is a whale just a really big particle?

“Yes. I hope not to get them because they’re hard to process.”

Lam says studying chemistry is like doing forensics. It helps you understand what happened when you weren’t there to see it yourself.

Sceintists can use obscure elements and isotopes to figure out questions like how fast the Arctic Ocean is taking up industrial greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

This is the Healy’s second Arctic mission this year.

The first mission focused on testing equipment practicing search and rescue in polar conditions.

The Coast Guard only has two icebreakers in working condition. But it’s trying to expand its capabilities in the Arctic.

Captain Jason Hamilton says the mission in July encountered more sea ice than they were expecting, so the Healy detoured to the west.

“One of first rules of icebreaking is if you can avoid it, avoid it. When you break ice, it’s more fuel. It is harder on the hull; it’s slower. So if you can take the path of least resistance, you take the path of least resistance.”

This week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the overall area of Arctic sea ice for July was below average. The center says the Northern sea route across the Arctic is now open.
The Healy is one of three icebreakers cruising the Arctic for science this summer. The international collaboration also includes scientists on board Canadian and German icebreakers.
They aim to get a baseline of conditions in the Arctic before the expected increase in shipping and resource extraction brings more pollution to the relatively pristine region.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Puzzle Over Plane Found On Knik Mudflats Sans Pilot, Passengers

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:35

A small airplane was found Friday morning on Knik Arm mudflats near a small Anchorage airport but state and federal authorities say they don’t know who was on board.

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Alaska State Troopers in Palmer took a call just after midnight reporting a downed airplane west of Birchwood Airport. The airport is near Anchorage’s north border.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center launched airplanes to search and the small airplane was found at 6:10 a.m. about two miles northeast of the Birchwood Airport.

No pilot or passengers were with the downed airplane.

Troopers say the downed airplane may have left from the McGrath area. No flights have been reported as overdue. Troopers say a search is continuing.

Categories: Alaska News

Special Olympics Athlete Returns Home in Kodiak to Fanfare

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:33

Brittany Tregarthen and Dan Canavan. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Twenty-seven-year-old Kodiak resident Brittany Tregarthen represented the United States in powerlifting at this year’s Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. She went from winning gold on the state level to earning recognition on the world level. And with so many competitors from around the world and even more people in the audience, she says this went through her mind before the competition.

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“I felt very nervous in the first place,” she says. “But I actually remembered something what my best friend named Jason Gaysheen, from Omaha, Nebraska, he told me on the phone once that ‘You can do this’ and I actually did it.”

She won a silver for benchpressing 110 pounds, fourth-place for deadlifting 160, and she also brought back a bronze in squats and a second bronze in the combination of lifts overall.

And she says she got a surprise after flying back into Kodiak Monday night.

“When I got home, everyone in Kodiak was at the airport, and they were hearing – waiting for me to come in – they were hearing clank, clank, clank of my metals,” says Tregarthen. “And I got a special gift, and it was amazing. I can’t believe it.”

That was another surprise from Dan Canavan, the Special Olympics volunteer community director in Kodiak.

“I got this picture frame from Dan,” says Tregarthen. “And it has my photos on it and red roses, flowers, stuff, and I didn’t realize the whole crew was there.”

Canavan says the Special Olympics mirror the source of its name closely. The competition is fierce, and the athletes bring impressive talent from their various countries.

“I think what it did was raised that awareness that through sports, that we are serious athletes, competing at a very high level and really vital members of the community,” says Canavan. “I think Kodiak gets that and they support us in a big way.”

He says the local Special Olympics athletes will work towards qualifying for the next World Games.

Categories: Alaska News

Unified voice needed for federal response to BC mines

Fri, 2015-08-07 16:32

Guy Archibald of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, left, discusses issues with Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell, right, during Thursday’s transboundary mine meeting in Juneau. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says Alaskans need a unified voice to push the federal government to question mines across the border in British Columbia.

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Addressing a Thursday meeting of tribal, business and conservation leaders, he said the state will share its knowledge and ask for input on mines near rivers that flow into Alaska.

He said it’s time for more than words:

“You can scream, all you want. You can go to the governor. … But that’s not the way we should do it. We’ve had too much of that,” Mallott says.

Critics accuse state officials of keeping them in the dark about B.C. mining projects, which they say will threaten Southeast fisheries.

They’ve also asked the state to push the federal government to bring the issue before the International Joint Commission, which addressed U.S.-Canada water disputes.

Commission expert David La Roche said that’s unlikely, because Canada has shown no interest. But he said a U.S. State Department request for a panel examination would catch their attention.

“Not because you’re going to get one. But because it would finally and officially serve notice that the U.S. federal government is really taking this issue seriously, which has yet to occur.”

Mallott met this summer with U.S. and Canadian officials and said they viewed the transboundary mine issue as local, not international.

But he told those at the meeting that the state will keep trying, as well as push for more access to British Columbia’s permitting process.

“We will be fully engaged. But this administration wants to be in constant touch with the voice of Alaska’s people. And in this instance, with those [in] leadership, individuals, institutions that are in this room.”

He didn’t define how that would work. But he said he looked forward to finding way to combine efforts.

At a meeting with Southeast tribal leaders the previous day, he offered direct involvement with the state’s transboundary mine task force.

We’ll have continuing coverage of the issues raised at the meetings in future reports.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts Tighten Local Law Departments in Southeast

Fri, 2015-08-07 15:25

Fewer crimes in Petersburg could be prosecuted in the near future. At least that’s what the Petersburg Borough fears might happen with budget cuts to the regional D.A.’s office.

Everyone knows the story by now. Very low oil prices caused state budgets cuts in all branches of government.

What that means for prosecuting crime in Southeast was conveyed in a recent e-mail from Juneau’s District Attorney, James Scott, to local police departments. He said the state attorneys will still look at each crime on a case by case basis but minor mistakes in reports will likely put the case to the bottom of the pile.

James Scott is a District Attorney in Juneau. Photo/Lisa Phu, KTOO

“So what I find myself and what other lawyers find ourselves doing is taking that file that has the minor mistake in it that in the past we would have rectified in an afternoon and putting that file aside and turning our attention to another file that doesn’t have that mistake and that needs to be processed in a timely manner,” Scott said.

Scott said he’s not being critical of local law enforcement offices—he knows everyone is busy—but he wants officers to know how they can help prevent hang ups.

Petersburg Borough Manager, Steve Giesbrecht, conveyed the message to the borough assembly at their last meeting.

“They don’t have the staff and will make decisions based on—even if it’s a good case—if it takes a lot of work and is not significantly important, they will dismiss it,” Giesbrecht said.

The Department of Law cuts include three full-time positions in Southeast: an assistant D.A. in Juneau, a law office assistant in Juneau and an assistant in Sitka. That leaves just three lawyers in Juneau to prosecute cases in Southeast.

Petersburg Assemblyman, John Havrilek, pressed the borough manager for what it might mean locally.

“Is it like there are arrests that the police aren’t going to make for certain things,” Havrilek asked, “or what’s that picture look like?”

Giesbrecht said that Petersburg has a great relationship with Scott but with his office being so short-staffed he’s going to find it difficult to maintain his presence here.

“He’s very clearly said, ‘Look, I’m not going to make as many trips to Petersburg. In fact, there may be long periods of time where I’m not available to come’,” Geisbrecht said.

Kelly Swihart, Petersburg’s Police Chief, said the reality is that Scott lost a third of his attorney staff and 50 percent of his support staff.

“So, cuts are going to have to be made somewhere,” Swihart said. “We’re kind of waiting to see how it shakes out.”

Swihart said, so far, no Petersburg cases have been declined but he would like to follow Scott’s suggestions and do more preparation locally before submitting cases to Juneau. He said they recently consulted with a retired prosecutor on a complicated case to make sure they were on track.

“So if we can get all those boxes checked before we send a case to the D.A.’s office hopefully there will be less questions later and that dismissal rate won’t go up,” said Swihart.

And essentially it’s up to the local PD as to what gets sent to Juneau. Not everything constitutes a crime.

“There are cases where we can write a simple ticket, they go pay their fine at the office and they’re done with it rather than go through that criminal process,” Swihart said.

In the Juneau D.A.’s office, Scott is trying to continue to do his work as usual even though his caseload went up one-third overnight.

“We have more balls in the air than we’re used to,” Scott said. “I’ve been with the Department for about 17 years and I’ve just never seen a situation where we have as much work as we have and as little staff as we have to handle it but so far we’re getting by.”

Department of Law budget cuts haven’t just hit Southeast Alaska. The D.A. office in Barrow was closed down and cases from that region are now being prosecuted in Fairbanks.

Another safety measure that Petersburg is looking into in light of budget cuts is a Neighborhood Watch-Crime Stoppers program. That would allow local residents to voluntarily watch for crime in their neighborhoods. Assemblyman John Havrilek is spearheading the effort. He would like to get training for residents who are interested in participating.

Categories: Alaska News