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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: 29 min 9 sec ago

Nearly $1 Billion Needed To Modernize Rural Sanitation Systems

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:28

Members of the Legislative Bush Caucus were told last week in a “Lunch and Learn” session on rural sanitation almost a billion dollars is needed to build, replace, and maintain rural sanitation systems. But, the gap between the level of need and funding is widening.

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State and tribal representatives told members of the Bush Caucus it would take about $900 million to do what’s needed to bring modern sanitation to all Alaskans.

Last year the state put about $9 million and federal agencies put $51 million toward rural sanitation in Alaska. The combined $60 million is less than half of allocations 10 years ago.

David Beveridge, the director of project management at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, or ANTHC, says Alaska is competing with other states for its share of a shrinking pool of federal funding.

“If you look through the village safe water program, it gets matched with federal dollars on a 25-75 percent ratio,” Beveridge said. “So for any 25 dollars the federal government will kick in the 75 dollars. So that’s been a big component of the funding in Alaska and that’s gone down.”

The issue is one of public health, according to Bill Griffith, the Facility Program Manager for Village Safe Water with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He told Legislators recent studies show Alaskans without clean water and flush toilets experience dramatically higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

“Those rates were anywhere from 5 times greater to 11 times greater in villages in Alaska with less than 10 percent of homes served,” Griffith said.

And Griffith says, a significant number of Alaskan communities are un-served or under-served.

“There’s about 30 villages around the state that don’t have running water and sewer to any homes, coupled with about a dozen or so communities that have what we call small haul systems where they use trailers to bring water to homes and then they use different trailers to pick up sewage,” he said.

Climate change is adding to the magnitude of the issue.

“We’re at Noatak right now where part of the ground under the water plant is frozen and part of it is becoming unfrozen,” Gavin Dixon, who manages a Rural Energy Initiative for ANTHC, said. “There’s 15-inches of differential in the facility. So the building is cracking, and falling apart. So it’s an issue that’s happening now and it’s happening in a lot of different communities.”

Dixon says energy audits show that investments of an average of $80,000 per community for little fixes would return much more in energy cost savings in just four or five years. He says those savings in energy costs would boost local economies and cut state spending for power cost equalization subsidies.

Rep. Neal Foster, of Nome, says improving rural sanitation would boost the state’s economy. And he says Legislators would create an uproar if they experienced the same conditions.

“Boy, if we ever took every toilet out of this building, you know it would be a revolution we wouldn’t stand for, people, essentially living in a third-world type situation,” Foster said. “So I think it’s something that needs to be made a priority. I think that we have to bring people at the lowest rungs up before we can move forward as a state.”

Agencies and tribes are collaborating to improve operator training and reduce operation costs. And they working with the private sector to create innovative designs well suited to Arctic conditions.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors En Route To Nome

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:24

Fifty-three racers are taking on Alaska’s vast wilderness under their own power as part of the the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik to Nome. It’s billed as the world’s longest ultra marathon by bike, foot, or ski.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 2, 2015

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:22

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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Gov. Walker, Republican Leadership Tangle Over Proposed LNG Line

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since Gov. Bill Walker was inaugurated, he and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have traded reams of angry letters and testy press releases. Now, their paper battle has transformed into outright hostility in dueling press conferences. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is on the line to talk about the disagreements over a proposed natural gas line.

Groups to sue Port of Seattle over Shell drilling fleet

The Associated Press

A coalition of environmental groups plan to sue to stop Royal Dutch Shell PLC from use Seattle’s waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

Nearly $1 Billion Needed To Modernize Rural Sanitation Systems

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Members of the Legislative Bush Caucus were told last week in a “Lunch and Learn” session on rural sanitation that the state needs almost a billion dollars to build, replace, and maintain rural sanitation systems. But, the gap between the level of need and funding is large.

State Auctions Off Enormous Number Of Caribou Antlers

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game held its annual hide and horn auction in downtown Anchorage yesterday, selling off all the leftover animal products the state comes to possess while managing Alaska’s wildlife. This year, an enormous number of caribou antlers went to bid, the result of a trafficking case stretching from Juneau to the Northwest Arctic village of Selawik.

Drones Don’t Fly At Alaska’s Board Of Fish

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, in action over the weekend banned the use of unmanned aircraft to aid in salmon fishing.

Below Average King Salmon Run Expected on Kuskokwim

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The state is expecting a bigger run of king salmon on the Kuskokwim this summer, but still well below average.  State managers say they expect strong conservation measures to continue in 2015 to ensure enough fish make it up the river to spawn. They’re seeking early input to make the season a success.

Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors En Route To Nome

Evan Erickson, KSKA – Anchorage

53 racers are taking on Alaska’s vast wilderness under their own power as part of the the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik to Nome. It’s billed as the world’s longest ultra marathon by bike, foot, or ski.

Exploring The Dena’ina Past, Present And Future

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage is celebrating its centennial this year, but the area has been inhabited for centuries longer by the Dena’ina, who still live in the area today.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups to sue Port of Seattle over Shell drilling fleet

Mon, 2015-03-02 16:36

A coalition of environmental groups says it’s planning to sue to stop Royal Dutch Shell PLC from use Seattle’s waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

The Port of Seattle earlier this month signed a two-year lease for 50 acres across from downtown Seattle to Foss Maritime, whose client is Shell.

The groups allege that the port violated state environmental laws when it did not do a review. The groups including Sierra Club and Seattle Audubon Society are holding a news conference Monday.

The port’s CEO has said that the lease complies with environmental regulations and will bring in about $13 million in rent over the two years. Eight vessels would be moored at the terminal.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Will Limit Rigs to One Moorage, Say Port Officials

Mon, 2015-03-02 16:34

Local officials say Shell Oil has agreed to keep their drill rigs tied up in just one location each in Unalaska, as the company looks to return to the Arctic this summer.

In their request to use state tidelands, Shell listed Wide Bay, Nateekin Bay and Summer Bay all as potential moorage sites for the Polar Pioneer. Now, they say the latter two will be back-ups, for use in emergencies only.

That’s according to Rick Entenmann, with the Alaska Marine Pilots. He says he met with Shell’s marine  team in Anchorage last week, and posed concerns that cycling the rig through all three areas would obstruct vessel traffic.

Wide Bay, at top left, would be the primary moorage for the Polar Pioneer. The other two options would be used only as back-ups. (via Shell Oil)

“I’m just clearing the air there that they weren’t planning on putting the Polar Pioneer anywhere but Wide Bay,” he says. “That’s the big one, because she’s got eight anchors out, and she takes up quite a bit of space. So Wide Bay would be out of the way as far as major traffic is concerned.”

He says the vessel would only move to Nateekin or Summer Bay in case of disaster — like if a disabled vessel needed to tie up at the emergency mooring buoy in Wide Bay.

“The other two — I understand they need something on paper,” Entenmann says, “and hopefully that’s all we get, what’s on paper.”

He says Shell also told him their Noble Discoverer drill ship would stay in one place, too — in Broad Bay, just south of Wide Bay, except in emergencies. And he says both ships will take their anchors with them when they move. He expects the rigs will stay in Unalaska for at least a month this summer before heading north.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino confirmed that the company’s marine team met with Entenmann, but declined to discuss other details.

“We continue to engage with the pilots and the port as well on the back-up contingency mooring locations for Shell’s assets,” she says. “It’s a dialogue that we really appreciate and we value.”

Public comment on the moorage plan closed on Wednesday. Candice Snow, at the Department of Natural Resources, says they got a comment from the city of Unalaska about the meeting with Shell, and two more from residents with similar concerns about the mooring locations.

Snow says it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before the permits are finalized — even as some of Shell’s fleet makes its way to Unalaska. That leaves time for one last visit from Shell representatives. The city has asked them to come out in mid-March to go over the final details for the summer season.

Categories: Alaska News

New Technology Proves Vital To Alaska’s National Weather Service Forecasters

Mon, 2015-03-02 12:52

Today we’re doing the weather. Dave Snider is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He does a daily statewide forecast for public television stations.

The final product you see is full of graphics, but inside the massive TV studio it’s just Snider and a single green screen.

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“It is a little wonky at first when you’re looking at yourself moving one way and you’re going the other way,” Snider said. “But most of these kids now, if you could play Minecraft, they could do the green screen just fine.”

Snider has been a weatherman for 18 years, three of which he’s spent in Alaska. He says forecasting up here is unique; not only is the weather harder to predict, it’s more important to get it right.

“Rain in the Midwest is different for impacts than it is for Juneau,” he said. “If it’s raining and windy in Juneau you might not be able to fly in. And that’s it for the day.”

Luckily, Snider says the technology that goes into meteorology has improved dramatically, a lot of it just in the past 10 years. That creates a more accurate forecast, and a longer range.

“You know, one to five days out you can be pretty good,” Snider said. “Six to seven days, modestly good. After that you’re starting to look at trends a little more.”

And that is an incredible feat when you consider the history of weather forecast.

A quick weather 101; Aristotle is often credited for being the first weather man. He wrote a book titled Meterologica in 340 B.C. The book was used as an everyday weather encyclopedia until Galileo created the first version of a thermometer in the late 16th century. It turned out that almost all of Aristotle’s theories were wrong.

So for nearly 2,000 years people were relying on a book that was, for lack of better words; just wingin’ it. Certainly we had plenty of advancements since Galileo’s time as well, but what changed in the past decade to make weather forecast so accurate?

For that answer we head back to the home base of the National Weather Service. Mike Ottenweller is a tech guy at the NWS, and he spends a lot of time looking at satellite images. He says not only are there more satellites transmitting at higher resolutions, but the weather models that people like Ottenweller create to predict the weather are very polished.

“And these models over time have been refined again and again with different physics and algorithms so that ultimately they’re producing the best results,” Ottenweller said. “We’re coming into an age now where we are seeing hurricane models that are vastly outperforming what they used to do 10 years ago. So that’s a good example of where technology has taken us.”

And how could we credit any kind of 21st century advancement without mentioning social media? Ottenweller says the National Weather Service often uses updates through Facebook or Twitter from their volunteers around the state.

“And that allows us to verify whether or not there is snow falling in a certain location or high winds are occurring,” Ottenweller said. “And if they’re not occurring we can change the forecast to reflect exactly what is happening so that’s really led to significant improvements in forecast and a lot more frequent updates when there needs to be an update.”

I can’t figure out if it’s hilarious or tragic that Aristotle was no match for Facebook, but Dave Snider assures me that meteorology will likely never be an exact science. And maybe it’s fitting that he says it in an almost philosophical way.

“One flap of the butterfly wings on Saturday could mean that by Monday and Tuesday the storm is moving left instead of right,” Snider said.

Categories: Alaska News

Below Average King Salmon Run Expected on Kuskokwim

Mon, 2015-03-02 10:27

2015 is predicted to be a below-average king salmon run. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

The state is expecting a bigger run of king salmon on the Kuskokwim this summer, but still well below average. State managers say they expect strong conservation measures to continue in 2015 to ensure enough fish make it up the river to spawn. Leading up to the season, managers are seeking early input to make the season a success.

On the bright side, state managers are confident that the Kuskokwim drainage made the escapement goal in 2014, a year with a weak run and unprecedented early season fishing restrictions. This week they announced their 2015 forecast of 96,000 to 163,000 king salmon, up from the 70,000 to 117,000 they predicted last year. Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim area salmon management biologist.

“Again, it’s going to be a well below average run, based on that, so we certainly need to be, again, conservative in the 2015 season,” said Poetter.

The 25-year average is double the forecast size, around 243,000 fish. King salmon have been in decline for several years. The fishery was federalized last summer and saw directed king salmon fishing closed, except for a brief “taste” through community permits. Heavy salmon restrictions were in place for May and June. Poetter says he and his colleagues have not decided on any specific restrictions at this point.

“If the forecast does come to fruition we should have a few more Chinook in the river than the 2014 season. It’s a forecast; we won’t really know until the season begins. If we start with an early season closure, like in 2014, it’ll give us the opportunity to be conservative for our approach to the season. It’ll begin to give us an idea of how the run is coming together- the strength of it,” said Poetter.

The Board of Fish will consider proposals in March for gear changes during king salmon conservation periods. One would require that whitefish nets be staked, another could limit the length of nets, and a third changes rules for fishwheels. Poetter says the department is hosting three days of meetings in Bethel, March 25th through 27th.

“We want to hear from the fisherman. We’ll talk about what the 2015 season could look like, and what we learned in 2014. We’ll have the Board of Fish meeting out of the way prior to the meeting, and we’ll have a better landscape of what our tools look like and what we can do,” said Poetter.

One day is set aside for a fisherman’s meeting. Another day is for the annual inter-agency meeting, usually held in Anchorage, to review the latest research. Another day is a meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.

Categories: Alaska News

Drones Don’t Fly At Alaska’s Board Of Fish

Mon, 2015-03-02 09:26

Not all drones are alike. This unmanned aircraft — now banned by the Board — is just large enough to carry a camera. (Flickr photo/Don McCullough)

The Alaska Board of Fisheries closed some waters near Angoon to purse seining in order to improve subsistence harvests, in action over the weekend.

They also shot down the use of unmanned aircraft to aid in salmon fishing.

The closure was intended to improve access to sockeye salmon in freshwater systems important to the subsistence harvest in Angoon.

During committee work earlier in the week, Angoon residents spoke passionately about the impact of low sockeye availability, and subsistence harvest limits often as low as 15 fish.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game staff initially opposed Proposal 193, because it would limit their flexibility to manage the seine fishery.

However, the stakeholders were able to put together a compromise that permanently closed waters that the department routinely closed by emergency order.

Board member Sue Jeffrey acknowledged the effort.

“You know, I’m in support of this. This is exactly what we appreciate, when the opposing parties come together and find a solution that works for everyone.”

Subsistence sockeye fishing in Angoon came into the spotlight in 2009 when then-state senator Albert Kookesh — an Alaska Native and lifetime Angoon resident — was cited by troopers for overfishing his permit. The charges were later dismissed.

But many other proposals did not fly — literally — in board deliberations on Sunday — namely, Proposal 204, which would have banned the use of spotter planes during seine openings for salmon. Given the number of small aircraft in use in Southeast Alaska, Department of Public Safety representatives thought enforcing a ban would be very difficult. They referred to the proposal as “a solution looking for a problem.”

The Board rejected the proposed ban on spotter planes.

Drones, however, were not so lucky. Proposal 205 would ban the use of unmanned aircraft in salmon fisheries.

Member Reed Morisky and chairman Tom Klubertson framed the board’s anti-drone position.

Moriskiy – I’m for keeping pilots employed, and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting.
Klubertson – Thank you. I tend to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like — whenever possible — to promote economic stability. We’ve had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods, and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it’s just an unnecessary move, and as Member Jeffrey said, it’s not something I want over my head.

Strictly speaking, the Board of Fish lacks jurisdiction over aircraft use. But it can — and did — ban the use of drones to aid in in all commercial salmon fishing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 27, 2015

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:36

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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Alaska Senators Split On Homeland Security Funding Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Unless Congress acts, money for the Department of Homeland Security runs out tonight.

Judge Denies Stay In State Education Lawsuit

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A superior court ruling that invalidates the State of Alaska’s longheld practice of requiring municipal governments to contribute a specific amount toward public education remains in place for now.

With Medicaid Language Stripped From Budget, Path To Expansion Uncertain

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A House subcommittee has stripped Medicaid expansion language from the state’s operating budget.

Powerful Storm To Push Across Interior Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A powerful storm is forecast to push across the interior from the west tomorrow.

Cargo Ship Released, Crew to Stay Behind as Pollution Case Continues

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A cargo ship under investigation in a possible oil pollution case will be able to leave Unalaska, after its owner posted bond Thursday.

State Considers B.C. Mines As Promoters Plan Visit

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Walker-Mallott administration announced Wednesday that it’s set up a working group to address the trans-boundary mining boom near Southeast Alaska. The news comes as British Columbia’s mine-regulation agency plans meetings with Alaska fishermen and tribal groups.

Tractor Trailer Rolls Over On Dalton Highway, Spilling Up To 4,000 Gallons Of Diesel

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A tractor trailer owned by Fairbanks-based Colville Incorporated went off the Dalton Highway about 30 miles north of the Yukon River Bridge Wednesday.

Fairbanks Assembly OKs Air-Quality Ordinance; Dissenter Predicts Voter Backlash

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passed a sweeping air-quality ordinance Thursday night that supporters hope will finally begin to clean up Fairbanks’s wintertime air pollution. Most members agreed the ordinance isn’t perfect, but that it’s a good start.

Salmon Sisters Meld East Coast Education With Commercial Fishing Roots

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Commercial fishing can be a tough, and often thankless lifestyle. But one pair of life-long Alaskans are turning it into an art. They run the clothing line Salmon Sisters based in Homer, and they blend everything from Japanese prints to cartoons in their style.

300 Villages: Mud Bay

This week we’re heading to Mud Bay, right near Haines. Melina Shields is an artist and massage therapist who lives in Mud Bay, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senators Split On Homeland Security Funding Bill

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:05

The U.S. Congress tonight approved a one-week continuing resolution to avoid a partial shut down of the Department of Homeland Security. .

Earlier today, Alaska’s two Republican senators split over a bill that would fund the department for the rest of the fiscal year.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski sided with Republican leaders to pass the bill. Sen. Dan Sullivan was among a minority of senators who voted against it, because it did not include language defunding the president’s deferred action on deportations. Sullivan says the president’s action on immigration is illegal and he says his vote against the funding bill is part of his promise to uphold the Constitution.

The U.S. House, meanwhile, rejected a measure to fund the Homeland Security Department for three more weeks. Alaska’s Congressman Don Young voted with Republican leadership in favor of the stopgap spending bill.

Categories: Alaska News

With Medicaid Language Stripped From Budget, Path To Expansion Uncertain

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:03

During a House Finance subcommittee meeting Feb, 27, 2015, Rep. Les Gara (left center) speaks out against cutting funds proposed in the state operating budget by Gov. Bill Walker that would expand Medicaid in Alaska. In spite of his arguments, the money was stripped from the budget bill. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

A House subcommittee has stripped Medicaid expansion language from the state’s operating budget. The move is a setback for the Walker administration, which has made Medicaid expansion a top priority. But as APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports, the fight may not be over yet.

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The House Finance committee room was so crowded and stuffy that the ceiling fans were actually needed. Walker administration officials, lobbyists, staffers, and reporters all packed in to see what the Health and Social Services subcommittee would do with Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Dan Saddler, an Anchorage Republican, didn’t mince words.

“We denied all requests related to Medicaid expansion,” Saddler today the room.

The subcommittee proposal slashed nearly $150 million in federal money that would have gone toward expanding the state’s Medicaid program. Right now, Alaska’s Medicaid primarily covers low-income families, pregnant women, and persons with disabilities. Expansion would cover people who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level — or about $20,000 for a single adult. In its first years, the federal government would pay for the expansion in full, and then ratchet that amount down to 90 percent.

When it came to a vote, the subcommittee broke on caucus lines, with eight members of the Republican majority backing the removal.

Rep. Les Gara, of Anchorage, was one of three Democrats who tried to keep the money in.

“When the federal government offers 90 percent funding of roads, we grab that money without even thinking about it,” said Gara. “Here they’re offering 100 percent funding that tapers down to 90 percent funding, and we’re saying, ‘Gosh, I don’t know about the 4,000 jobs that will bring to the state. I disagree with that. I think we should accept it, and we have the information, and we’ve been given the information.”

In response, some members of the finance subcommittee expressed concern that accepting the federal money could put the state on the hook for Medicaid costs in the future. But most of the reasons given for removing the Medicaid money had less to do with the proposal than the process itself.

Rep. Mark Neuman, a Big Lake Republican who oversees the drafting of the operating budget, says Medicaid is too big of an issue to deal with as a simple line item.

“That’s about a $145 million question that we’ve been trying to get answers on,” said Neuman. “The co-chair and I spoke to the governor and asked him to introduce some legislation so we could put that in front of the public.”

He and his fellow House Finance co-chair, Steve Thompson of Fairbanks, asked for a standalone Medicaid bill in a meeting in mid-February, and again through a formal letter sent on Thursday.

Some Democrats on the subcommittee pushed back against that request. Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks noted that members of his caucus have unsuccessfully tried to advance a standalone Medicaid bill since 2012.

“We have gotten a cold shoulder,” said Kawasaki. “So when people say we want to see a bill, it bothers me that we have a bill that has been blocked in a committee for the past three years.”

The bill the Republican majority would like to see would reform the Medicaid delivery system to lower costs, in addition to expanding the program. Juneau Republican Cathy Muñoz noted there was precedent for a case like this during the Parnell administration, where a policy that could have been implemented through the budget got its own standalone bill.

“Last session, we were in a very similar situation with the retirement issues,” said Muñoz, referring to an action that shifted $3 billion from the state’s reserves to its pension obligation account. “There was legislation that had been filed by an individual member to deal with the retirement issues, but we all felt that it was important for the governor to lead on the issue. This is a very similar situation.”

There are some procedural reasons that Medicaid expansion could get more traction as a bill than as a budget item. According to the majority caucus rules, all members are required to vote in favor of the budget, requiring some level of consensus on the issue. A bill would allow hard-line conservatives who oppose the Affordable Care Act wholesale to come out against expansion, while more moderate members of the caucus could support it.

For his part, Gov. Bill Walker is not planning to file a Medicaid expansion bill.

“There’s no need for us to file our own. There’s already legislation there,” Walker said at a press conference held in the Governor’s Mansion.

Walker did leave an opening to move forward on Medicaid, however. He said he is willing to work with the House Finance co-chairs on their questions about expansion and reform.

“We’ll sit down with them, and certainly we’ll meet with them to try to find out why they can’t use the bill that’s currently there,” said Walker.

It’s not clear what happens if compromise is not possible. The governor does have the authority to veto the budget if it does not include expansion and to call the Legislature into special session to deal with Medicaid, but Walker said it was too early to say if he would exercise those powers.

Categories: Alaska News

Powerful Storm To Push Across Interior Alaska

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:02

A powerful storm is forecast to push across the Interior from the west on Saturday.

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Categories: Alaska News

Cargo Ship Released, Crew to Stay Behind as Pollution Case Continues

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:01

A cargo ship under investigation in a possible oil pollution case will be able to leave Unalaska, after its owner posted bond on Thursday.

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The 600-foot M/V Lindavia, owned by Herm. Dauelsberg of Germany, has been detained by the U.S. Coast Guard in Unalaska for the past two weeks.

Kevin Feldis, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage, says the ship’s owner signed a security agreement with the Coast Guard to let them leave port.

“Part of that agreement: they’ve posted a $500,000 bond that will be available for any potential future penalties or criminal fines,” Feldis says.

(Credit: smp/marinetraffic.com)

The Lindavia can now take its seafood cargo onto its destination in Japan. But Feldis says some of the crew will stay behind in Alaska.

“A portion of the crew will be brought here to Anchorage, and the company is paying for that in order to make them available for the ongoing investigation,” he says. “Of course, like in any vessel investigation, the crew members are the ones who know what happened on the vessel and the ones who potentially have information related to any alleged environmental crimes.”

The Lindavia was still anchored outside Dutch Harbor on Friday afternoon, with Coast Guard officers from the local marine safety detachment on board. Warrant Officer Dustin Overturf says he expects the ship will be able to leave town by Saturday.

The Coast Guard is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether the crew mis-handled oil waste aboard the ship, among other potential issues: ”Whether the proper records were kept, whether there were discharges overboard,” says Kevin Feldis. “These are the types of questions we look into in all of these vessel pollution cases.”

Feldis’ office just wrapped up another one of those on Friday. A different German company, AML Ship Management, entered an official guilty plea for oil pollution crimes after signing a plea dealearlier this month.

Categories: Alaska News

State Considers B.C. Mines As Promoters Plan Visit

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:00

The Walker-Mallott administration announced Wednesday that it’s set up a working group to address the transboundary mining boom near Southeast Alaska. The news comes as British Columbia’s mine-regulation agency plans meetings with Alaska fishermen and tribal groups.

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Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott head ups the working group, which includes commissioners of the state departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game.

It’s looking into longstanding concerns about British Columbia mines slated to open or reopen on rivers that flow through Southeast Alaska.

“We view the entire range of activity on that side, which can affect the waters and the habitat of those river corridors, as important to Alaska’s interests and to our national interests and we will engage and pursue that interest vigorously,” Mallott says.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott sits at his desk, beneath the state seal Feb. 26. Mallott heads up a new administration transboundary mines working group. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

He says the group is just getting started and is gathering information from regulators, mining critics and supporters.

A new transboundary mines group, Inside Passage Waterkeeper, recently petitioned the administration to seek government-to-government talks with British Columbia’s premier.

The group wants the governor to ask for a moratorium on new tailings storage dams, including one being tested at the Red Chris Mine in the Stikine River watershed.

Mallott says he’s not yet ready to pursue any particular course of action.

“My desire is that we not seek specific responses until we understand fully what we are engaged with. But that doesn’t mean that anything is off the table, either,” he says.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is an ardent advocate of mining. She’s added staff to the provincial mining agency to speed permitting, so new projects can open sooner.

Bill Bennett, her energy and mines minister, came to Anchorage in November to explain his government’s approach and actions.

He met with state officials and addressed Alaska’s mining association. But says he realizes he was not meeting with the right people.

“We need to make a second trip. Whether I go along on that trip or not is still up in the air. But we certainly need to reach out and give the people of Southeast Alaska an opportunity to meet and talk to our officials,” he says.

Bennett wants to engage fisheries and tribal groups, where provincial officials can explain their mine-review process. It’s unclear whether environmental groups will be included.

“We’re not really going to come to Alaska and be lectured,” he says.

Details of mine ministry’s visit, such as dates and locations, are not set.

But fishermen and tribal members are among those most strongly protesting mineral development near cross-border rivers.

“We would welcome Mining Minister Bill Bennett with open arms. That’s one thing that’s been lacking is consultation and transparency,” says Rob Sanderson Jr., who co-chairs the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and is a vice president of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council.

Both groups cite August’s Mount Polley tailings-dam breach in eastern British Columbia. A report reviewing what went wrong there estimated a similar dam would fail every five years, releasing hazardous water, silt and rock.

Sanderson says that raises questions about the future.

“We’re doing this to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren and the yet unborn. We want them to enjoy the same things that we are enjoying right now – pristine rivers and clean water,” he says.

State officials at a lower level are already talking to British Columbia’s mining ministry.

Department of Natural Resources Large Mine Project Manager Kyle Moselle says he urged staff to travel to Southeast when they met in Vancouver in January.

“The point that I made to them or stressed to them was that many of the stakeholders that I’ve talked with … feel frustrated or disenfranchised from British Columbia’s administrative process, their environmental review process,” he says.

British Columbia has also recommended the issue be put before the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. That’s a cross-border development think-tank.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Mining Coordinator Guy Archibald, who is also part of Inside Passage Waterkeeper, says that’s not the best approach.

“They’re an economic development organization and they don’t really have any working groups for environmental protection,” he says.

Meanwhile, the state’s new working group will meet again in a few weeks.

Lt. Gov. Mallott, its chairman, says while he hopes it will have an impact, it faces limits.

“Alaska has no triggers to pull that would allow immediate action,” he says.

Categories: Alaska News

Tractor Trailer Rolls Over On Dalton Highway, Spilling Up To 4,000 Gallons Of Diesel

Fri, 2015-02-27 16:59

A tractor trailer owned by Fairbanks-based Colville Incorporated went off the Dalton Highway about 30 miles north of the Yukon River Bridge Wednesday.

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Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on-scene coordinator Tom Deruyter says the truck rolled over, spilling between 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of diesel. He says the diesel spilled in a forested area with about 3 feet of snow cover, and state responders and a Colville-hired contractor are preparing for a cleanup.

“The snow will have to be removed, melted and then the fuel recovered out of the snow,” DeRuyter said. ”It’s also anticipated that there’s going to be fuel in the duff layer around the trees. Now whether they try to do a removal around the trees or just clear the area and do an excavation, that has yet to be seen.”

DeRuyter says the make up of the sub-soil will determine how deep the fuel penetrates.

He says the driver of the truck is OK.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Assembly OKs Air-Quality Ordinance; Dissenter Predicts Voter Backlash

Fri, 2015-02-27 16:58

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passed a sweeping air-quality ordinance Thursday night that supporters hope will finally begin to clean up Fairbanks’s wintertime air pollution. Most members agreed the ordinance isn’t perfect, but that it’s a good start.

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After nearly six hours of debate and numerous amendments, Assembly members passed an ordinance that restricts the burning of wood and coal at some times during the winter, establishes standards to determine if a heating appliance is producing too much smoke and sets penalties to compel residents to burn dry wood and use more efficient woodstoves.

Presiding officer Karl Kassel put on a referee’s shirt at the beginning of the meeting, joking it might help him make tough calls. And he used the analogy to explain why he voted for the ordinance.

Presiding officer Karl Kassel tells fellow Assembly members that his referee attire will help him “make tough calls” before debate began on the proposed air-quality ordinance Thursday night. (Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC)

“You make a call (and) both coaches are mad at you, you probably made the right call,” Kassel said.

John Davies, who along with Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub crafted the ordinance, said the Assembly tried to take all points of view into consideration. And he says both proponents and opponents will find things to like and dislike in the ordinance.

“I’m sure that this ordinance won’t please anyone. Which means that we’re probably exactly in the right place,” Davies said.

Assemblyman Lance Roberts, who along with Guy Sattley voted against the ordinance, found much to dislike – and he thinks others will, too. So much so that he believes the issue will once again come before voters, as it has twice over the past four years.

“It’s really going to create more division,” Roberts said. “This is a divisive ordinance. And what has been ensured is that there will be an initiative or referendum on the ballot this fall that we’ll have to face because of it.”

Assemblyman Van Lawrence responded to another of Roberts’ claims, that the ordinance would impose an unfair financial burden, by pointing out the economic impact that’s created by poor air quality.

“Going to the hospital, or losing a day at work, or dying early has an economic impact,” Lawrence said. “And I’m not willing to ignore those economic impacts.”

Among the many amendments approved by the Assembly was a proposal by Dodge to allow residents who violate the air-quality standards to take classes on the harm to health caused by excessive particulate matter in wood smoke.

The Assembly also approved an amendment by Davies to set a more stringent standard for smoke opacity. The term refers to appearance of smoke with an excessive amount of particulate matter. The amendment sets a lower standard at which smoke could be found in violation of the ordinance.

The members also enlarged the air-quality control zone in which the ordinance would be effective by adding areas southwest of Fairbanks, around Rosie Creek; northwest of town around Magoffin Highlands; and to the northeast around Weller Elementary School.

The Assembly also approved an ordinance that adds a million dollars to the borough’s wood-stove changeout program.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Mud Bay

Fri, 2015-02-27 16:57

This week we’re heading to Mud Bay, right near Haines. Melina Shields is an artist and massage therapist who lives in Mud Bay, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Judge Denies Stay In State Education Lawsuit

Fri, 2015-02-27 15:26

A superior court ruling that invalidates the State of Alaska’s longheld practice of requiring municipal governments to contribute a specific amount toward public education remains in place for now.

Superior Court Judge William Carey on Friday denied a motion for a stay of his January decision that the required local contribution is a dedicated tax, and therefore is unconstitutional.

State attorneys filed for the stay after filing an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court. They argue that the stay is needed so that the Legislature will know what to do about education funding this year. The Supreme Court is unlikely to rule on the appeal before the legislative session ends in mid-April.

In his Friday denial of the stay, Judge Carey writes that the state did not meet the requirements of a stay. Attorneys had argued that the state would be irreparably harmed if a stay were denied, and that the borough would not be harmed if a stay were approved. The state also argued that it was likely to succeed in its appeal to the Supreme Court.

Carey agreed that there was some irreparable harm to the state if his ruling is not delayed pending appeal. However, he writes that the borough clearly would be harmed by a stay, because it would have to pay a large amount of money with no hope of getting that money back.

Carey also writes that the state hasn’t shown how it has a likelihood of success on appeal. Carey based his January decision on prior Alaska Supreme Court ruling, and he writes that while it’s possible that the high court will reverse itself, it’s not highly probable.

The state also filed a motion for a stay with the Alaska Supreme Court, and that court announced it would wait to see how Carey ruled on the stay. So, state attorneys have another opportunity to argue the merits of delaying Carey’s January ruling.

Categories: Alaska News

Corridors Past and Future

Fri, 2015-02-27 12:00

Historic Iditarod trail map. (Map via BLM)

The Iditarod Trail began as a mail route and became a protected corridor and recreational resource. Even if climate change puts an end to its use by dog mushers, the evolution of the Iditarod Trail will continue. In their own way, our corridors tell the story of Alaska, and we’ll be exploring a few of those pathways on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Walter Borneman, author, Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land
  • Phil Shephard, Executive Director, Greatland Trust
  • 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 3, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Crowded Anchorage Mayoral Race Heats Up

Fri, 2015-02-27 08:00

ADN’s Devin Kelly, KTUU’s Austin Baird join Alaska Public Media’s Zachariah Hughes on Alaska Edition to discuss Anchorage’s upcoming mayoral election. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Today we’re discussing the race for mayor in Alaska’s largest city. Anchorage’s city politics have ripples across the state, whether in terms of funding coming from the Legislature, or launching political careers into higher office. The election is on April 7th, but recently we’ve seen the race start to take off. It’s a crowded field, with 11 candidates, hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in from donations, and expectations of an eventual run off.

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HOST: Zachariah Hughes

GUESTS:

  • Bill Popp, director and CEO, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation
  • George Vakalis, manage, Anchorage Municipality
  • Lt. Col. Allen Brown, public affairs, U.S. Army Alaska

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, February 27 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, February 28 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

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