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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: 35 min 1 sec ago

Public Comment Begins For Sea Lion Protections

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:19

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is opening public comment on a plan to relax Steller sea lion protections and allow more commercial fishing in the western Aleutian Islands.

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The agency released a draft of its new regulations on Tuesday. They would pave the way for the first commercial harvests of Atka mackerel and Pacific cod since 2011.

That’s when federal managers banned fishing on those species in the western Aleutians. It was intended to help an endangered population of sea lions. But commercial fishing interests and the state of Alaska argued that the science behind the fishing bans were faulty.

After years of litigation — and a comprehensive, court-ordered reassessment of the protection plan — NOAA ruled that commercial fishing wouldn’t jeopardize the sea lions if it was done under the right conditions.

Members of the public will have 45 days to weigh in on a draft of the new fishing regulations. The comment period will close on August 15. NOAA’s aiming to finalize the new rules by January 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Opens Doors For Medevac Providers

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:18

A piece of state legislation passed this spring opened the door for more competition among medevac providers in the state, and one company has taken advantage of that opportunity.

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Categories: Alaska News

No Fukushima Radiation Found in Alaska Seafood

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:04

Alaska health officials say Alaska seafood has no radiation contamination from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by a tsunami in 2011.

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Officials from the Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation and Health and Social Services announced results of U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests today.

The FDA monitors radiation in both domestic and imported food. Alaska officials called for specific Alaska samples, including fish that migrate from western Pacific waters off Japan.

The federal agency tested samples from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to southeast Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Future of Tradition and Development Weighed at Ambler Road Meeting

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:03

The Nullagvik Hotel in Kotzebue. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome)

How will small Native communities in rural Alaska balance traditional life with the pressures of modernization? That was the question community leaders focused on during the second day of discussions on the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.

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For nearly five hours in a conference room at the Nullagvik Hotel, representatives—many of them elders—from communities in the Kobuk Valley, Koyukuk River, and elsewhere shared their thoughts.

“I think we ought to seriously look at what we’re doing right now. Because we need a cash economy to support our way of life,” said Larry Westlake of Kiana. “I don’t think we could go back to where we started from.”

Like many others yesterday, Westlake shared his personal history before offering thoughts on how people in the Northwest Arctic and Interior regions need to engage with development projects like the Ambler industrial road.

The session was scheduled to be a two-and-a-half hour dialogue between community members and state officials. But speakers chose to deviate from the plan, passing the microphone all the way around a large circle of 38, each person getting her or his chance to talk.

“For too long we’ve been planned for. It’s time that we turn things around to where we plan our destiny–the future of our children, and our grandchildren,” said Walter Sampson, who lives in Kotzebue and spent decades working for NANA Regional Corporation. Like others, he used the road as a proxy for a larger conversation about how to affect change. “Quit reacting. Become proactive in designing those things, so you can maximize the benefits that you can get from those plans.”

Many referenced the need to prepare new opportunities, citing Red Dog Mine—and the AIDEA owned road connected to it—as a template for bringing the benefits of industrial mining back to shareholders.

The session also saw plenty of praise for AIDEA and their contractor Dowl HKM, who organized and paid for Wednesday and Thursday’s meetings. Karsten Rodvik is in charge of external affairs for AIDEA, and thought Thursday’s session was a resounding success.

“Clearly there’s a recognition–for the sake of future generations–that responsible development of Alaska’s natural resources needs to occur today,” Rodvik said. “I’m very pleased with the level of support that was expressed here today for this project, and for the process going forward.”

But some in attendance were unsure of what exactly had been accomplished. No decisions were made, and few questions about serious selling points for the project—like the promise of jobs, lower cost of living, and revenues—were answered.

“I think this is definitely a starting point, and I think there’s definitely some conversation going on, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the full conversation that should happen. There’s many people that are not here at the table today that should be,” said Jill Yordy, an environmental advocate who has followed the project closely for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks, and has been to several meetings.

Yordy believes that while relationship building is important, decisions about fundamental features of the project keep getting deferred.

“AIDEA hasn’t really been clear on what role these meetings are playing and how they’re taking the information that people bring into account, how they’re making those decisions.”

AIDEA says that many of those specific decisions can’t be considered until after the Environmental Impact Statement has collected all the pertinent information. Mark Davis is a deputy director with the agency and says the upcoming EIS will set the stage for evaluating everything from subsistence impacts to stress-testing financial models.

“[A] business plan would come after the EIS process,” Davis explained. “And then you’d make sure that that business model could survive changes in the business environment–say a downturn in the price of copper, for example. And you’d make that decision then to determine whether the road would be viable, given the size of those mines.”

But there are those who want local conditions put into writing before plans for the road go any further.

“If anything is gonna to be beneficial for my people, there have to be memorandums of agreement before anything is really starting off. Because [the] EIS is gonna be fast—before we know it it’s gonna be over. And by that time things may change,” said Virginia Comack of Ambler.

Those memorandums, or the requests they might protect, were not discussed in any detail. During both days of meetings there were times when it felt like two distinct conversations were going on in the same conference room. Leaders from the Kobuk and Koyukuk River communities shared their personal perspectives how they might not just survive, but thrive. Representatives from the state listened, and in their turn explained procedural steps and timelines for a template they say has worked before, and will here.

Editor’s Note: After a version of this story played on Alaska Public Radio Network’s Alaska News Nightly, Patricia Sivu Faye-Brazel, who works for the Native Village of Ambler as a planner and technical advisor for negotiations, contacted KNOM, saying: “The Communities of Ambler, Kobuk, Allakaket, Allatna, Bettles, and Evansville expressed alarm at the way the meeting was portrayed in this story, in particular with the line ‘Leaders from the Kobuk and Koyukuk River communities shared their personal perspectives how they might not just survive, but thrive.’ There was no actual approval or agreement. And the tribes, while they are invited to public meetings, do not feel they are being consulted, as is their right, as sovereign tribal governments.”

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Passes Bill To Open NPR-A

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:02

For the second time in six months, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at greater oil industry access to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

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The bill would force the federal government to scrap its current management plan for NPR-A and start over. It would also require additional lease sales there and off-shore.

It’s supported by Alaska Congressman Don Young and passed the House on Thursday as part of a larger GOP energy bill, largely along party lines. In November, the House passed a similar NPR-A provision in a different GOP energy bill. Senate leaders have shown no interest in moving it.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Republican Candidates Debate Addresses Resource Development, Government Overreach

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:01

All three candidates vying for the Republican nomination in August’s senatorial primary election squared off over a variety of issues in Anchorage on Thursday.

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U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan, and Mead Treadwell faced a crowd of well over 200 people in the East High School Auditorium.

Treadwell took shots at the amount of money coming into Sullivan’s campaign from outside of Alaska… Sullivan countered by questioning Treadwell’s fund raising activities….which Treadwell responded to with a sense of levity.

Sullivan: “Can you give us a number of how many of those fund raisers you had in 2013 and were you traveling on the state’s dime when you went to these numerous, numerous fund raisers in the Lower 48?”

Treadwell: “Thanks, Dan. I’m glad you’re so concerned about outside money…(crowd laughter)”

Sullivan, who has raised far more money than his opponents to date, countered – again bringing Treadwell’s fund raising methods into question.

“We have been out-raising any of my opponents, and if you take away the self-financing that you’re doing with regard to your candidacy, looking in the mirror and asking yourself for a loan, we’re almost out-raising both of you together with Alaskans, grassroots Alaskans,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said Alaskans need a doer in Washington DC, not a talker – and Miller questioned which of those groups Sullivan would fall into

“What we don’t need is somebody that claims to be fighter, but behind him is being funded by Karl Rove, who is behind the very things that are  destroying this country,” Miller said.

As the candidates addressed a variety of other issues ranging from the IRS and foreign policy, to abortion and gay rights, natural resource development and federal overreach remained a common thread throughout the conversation.

When asked what the number one impediment to natural resource development is, Miller says it’s compromise and “environmentalism run amok.”

“EPA regulations cost more than 5 percent of our annual gross domestic product…the equivalent of the cost of defense and homeland security combined,” Miller said, quoting a Washington Times Op-Ed by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. “Since EPA regulations have expanded, unemployment in America has increased by 33 percent. This abuse of power by the implementation of regulations infringes upon our basic Constitutional rights.”

Miller followed up by saying bold actions, such as scaling back or abolishing the EPA would be necessary.

Treadwell says the biggest issue in resource development is access.

“We have physical access, we need ports, we need roads, we need railroads, we need pipelines, and those are things that will make our natural resources go to market,” he said.

Treadwell also says legal, labor, and intellectual access is imperative to natural resource development, as is access to markets to sell Alaska’s natural resources.

Sullivan says federal overreach isn’t just the primary obstacle to natural resource development in the state, but to a plethora of other industries as well.

“I used to think it was just in the resource sector…it is everywhere: tourism, financial industry, fishing, small businesses, big businesses,” Sullivan said. “There is hardly an Alaskan that I have met on the campaign trail that does not have some story about federal overreach.”

The debate was organized by the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club in conjunction with radio stations KOAN and KVNT.

Categories: Alaska News

Frostbite Among Chief Dangers For Denali Climbers

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:00

It’s been a tough year for climbers attempting to summit Denali. Only 1 in 3 have made the summit. The weather also means higher risk for injuries, especially frostbite.

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Categories: Alaska News

Y-K Delta Residents Struggle To Put Up Fish

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:59

Arvin Dull, of Bethel, with his drying salmon at his fish camp in Oscarville Slough. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Fish camp is an annual tradition going back thousands of years for Yup’ik people living along the Kuskokwim River. But fishing restrictions this year, have hit many families hard.

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Iyana Dull prepares to visit fish camps downriver from Bethel.

“We’re heading down river to the village of Napaskiak. And they rely heavily on the salmon and hopefully they’re getting their needs met. And that’s what we’re gonna go find out,” said Iyana Dull.

The 28-year-old Alaska Native is a fisheries technician for Bethel’s tribe, ONC. He asks people about their subsistence needs and run timings are for kings, chums and sockeye salmon.

The information Dull gathers is reported to the Kuskokwim Salmon Working Group, which is helping federal and state biologists manage the fishery. This year, they say surveys are hard to get because people are angry about restrictions. Many won’t talk with them. Just outside Napaskiak, at a simple camp with alder drying racks, elder Sophie Jenkins agrees to take a survey. She says restrictions are traumatizing.

“I looked up genocide and it says like this – people make policies and where people have no say with the law, with the policies and rules and regulations. (Daysha: And how does that make you feel?) I’m very familiar with oppression and you know trauma and that’s how I feel right now,” said Jenkins.

After 2013 showed the weakest King salmon run on record managers of the Kuskokwim River fishery are not allowing directed king salmon fishing. That means the 8-inch mesh nets, that were introduced by the commercial fishery in the 50s and 60’s, and have become commonplace in YK Delta households, have been banned completely.

Instead fishers have been limited to short, 4-inch mesh set nets. They’re much less productive and many fishermen don’t own them. Some say purchasing the net is too expensive.

Now, it’s late in the fishing season and managers have been allowing short openings with 6-inch gear for chum and sockeye salmon.

Jenkins, ordered the six-inch net, but she says she could not find one in Alaska. They were sold out, so she ordered one from a company in Tennessee.

“And I’m still waiting. It’s been a week and I know there was fishing yesterday and I was so depressed. I don’t have anything hanging,” said Jenkins.

Residents along the Kuskokwim say the restrictions have created haves and have-nots. In nearby Oscarville Slough, Arvin Dull, the uncle of the fisheries technician is having better luck. His fish rack and smoke house are full of glistening red salmon. A former bank manager from Bethel, Dull had the cash to buy the net required this year.

And a lot of people don’t have jobs and were unable to buy the nets. Some people can’t even afford a sixty-foot white fish net. (Daysha: How much does that cost?) About $300 dollars, said Arvin Dull.

His nephew says he sees why people are upset, but he also worries about extinction.

“They’d like to open the big king, king net gear so they can target more kings and get more kings on the rack. You know, they’re so used to seeing the fish return that they think no matter how hard they fish that they’ll always come back but that’s not true,” said Iyana Dull.

At the time this story was filed, Elder Sophie Jenkins was still waiting for her net to arrive. If it comes in time she says she hopes to get some fish on her rack. She says getting chum and reds is good, but they miss their kings.

Categories: Alaska News

Smokejumpers Deploy to Southwest Alaska

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:58

Fire Danger is up in Southwest Alaska. Mike Roos, a Fire Management Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry says fuels, especially tundra grasses, are drying out.

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“They’re very susceptible to starts from either lightening strikes or escaped burns, such as dumps and we’ve had two escaped dump fires in the past two days, one in Mountain Village and one at Tooksook Bay,” Roos said.

Smokejumper crews were deployed to both fires.

Clear, sunny weather and high winds are forecast through the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Dance

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:57

(Photo courtesy Rant & Raven)

Although the ancient form of dance called English Morris was born so long ago its origins are murky, it remains alive and well, even in frozen Alaska. Rant and Raven, Anchorage’s Morris dance group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a tour on the Alaska Marine Highway.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Eagle

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:56

This week we’re heading to Eagle, a small community on the Yukon River. Jason Hamilton lives in Eagle, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 27, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:51

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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No Fukushima Radiation Found in Alaska Seafood

The Associated Press

Alaska health officials say Alaska seafood has no radiation contamination from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by a tsunami in 2011.

Officials from the Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation and Health and Social Services announced results of U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests today.

The FDA monitors radiation in both domestic and imported food. Alaska officials called for specific Alaska samples, including fish that migrate from western Pacific waters off Japan.

The federal agency tested samples from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to southeast Alaska.

Cross-Regional Dialogue On Ambler Road As Parties Converge In Kotzebue

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

How will small Native communities in rural Alaska balance traditional life with the pressures of modernization? That was the question community leaders focused on during the second day of discussions on the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.

U.S. House Passes Bill To Open NPR-A

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

For the second time in six months, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at greater oil industry access to the National

Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The bill would force the federal government to scrap its current management plan for NPR-A and start over. It would also require additional lease sales there and off-shore.

It’s supported by Alaska Congressman Don Young and passed the House on Thursday as part of a larger GOP energy bill, largely along party lines. In November, the House passed a similar NPR-A provision in a different GOP energy bill. Senate leaders have shown no interest in moving it.

U.S. Senate Republican Candidates Debate Addresses Resource Development, Government Overreach

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

All three candidates vying for the Republican nomination in August’s senatorial primary election squared off over a variety of issues in Anchorage on Thursday.

Frostbite Among Chief Dangers For Denali Climbers

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

It’s been a tough year for climbers attempting to summit Denali.  Only 1 in 3 have made the summit.  The weather also means higher risk for injuries, especially frostbite.

Y-K Delta Residents Struggle To Put Up Fish

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Fish camp is an annual tradition going back thousands of years for Yup’ik people living along the Kuskokwim River. But fishing restrictions this year, have hit many families hard.

Smokejumpers Deploy in Southwest Alaska

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Fire Danger is up in Southwest Alaska. Mike Roos, a Fire Management Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry says fuels, especially tundra grasses, are drying out.

“They’re very susceptible to starts from either lightening strikes or escaped burns, such as dumps and we’ve had two escaped dump fires in the past two days, one in Mountain Village and one at Tooksook Bay,” Roos said.

Smokejumper crews were deployed to both fires.

Clear, sunny weather and high winds are forecast through the weekend.

AK: Dance

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Although the ancient form of dance called English Morris was born so long ago its origins are murky, it remains alive and well, even in frozen Alaska.  Rant and Raven, Anchorage’s Morris dance group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a tour on the Alaska Marine Highway.

300 Villages: Eagle

This week we’re heading to Eagle, a small community on the Yukon River. Jason Hamilton lives in Eagle, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Wetlands Plan Update Causes Concern

Fri, 2014-06-27 14:47

Some community members are concerned about proposed changes to the Anchorage Municipal Wetlands Management Plan. They say it weakens protections for vital areas. The plan’s update has been in the works for nearly four years. It’s the first revision since 1996.

Anchorage’s Wetlands Management Plan was first developed in 1982, during the city’s development boom. Senior Planner Thebe  Tobish says back then, it could take up to two years to get a permit from the Corps of Engineers to develop any thing in wetlands areas.

“It was unworkable for Anchorage at that time of our boom. So we created this wetlands plan that provided a hierarchy of designations of wetlands from low value to high value in an effort to facilitate permit development, but also in an effort to facilitate protection of the more important areas for the community.”

And it’s the protection element that has some community members worried. Community councils from Airport Heights, Rogers Park and the University Area sent resolutions to the Anchorage Assembly earlier this week objecting to some of the wording changes in the draft of the updated plan. Now the draft plan reads in some parts that the wetlands will be protected to “the maximum extent possible” instead of just protected, as it said in the 1996 version. Paul Stang and others say the new language endangers key class A wetlands, like Goose and Mosquito Lakes.

“And what are we doing?” Stang asked the Assembly during this week’s meeting. “We’re watering down for convenience. ‘Oh for this project here, we need this little bit of acreage.’ And so on. Don’t do it. It’s going down the wrong road.”

Airport Heights resident Carolyn Ramsey says losing more wetlands will hurt everyone. “The wetlands are Mother Nature’s sponge. And if you take that away, it’s going to flow into the creeks faster, which is going to cause more flooding. Which ultimately costs every single person in Anchorage money because our tax dollars have to go to clean up the mess and to mitigate future funding when Mother Nature did it for free.”

But senior planner Tobish says the language changes in the management plan don’t really affect the level of protection of some wetlands. He says the wording was requested by the Corps of Engineers to reflect the reality of the permitting process.

“On the face value, people think an ‘A’ wetlands should never be disturbed. That it should be preserved. And while that’s the thrust of the designation, the reality is that certain projects in ‘A’ wetlands will get permitted by the Corps,” he explains. “Especially if they’re proven to have a significant public purpose and a public need.”

Tobish says that’s what happened when Elmore was punched through from Tudor to Abbott. It crossed dozens of acres of class A wetlands, but the Corps still approved it because of the community’s need.

Tobish says the primary changes to the wetlands management plan were upgrades to the maps; they designated new wetlands and stream areas and removed places that had been filled in.

The plan will be discussed during a work session before the Assembly decides if they will approve the changes during their July 8 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Primary Election: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Mead Treadwell

Fri, 2014-06-27 12:00

It will soon be decision time for Alaska voters on which Republican should face incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Begich in November. Will it be Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan, or Mead Treadwell? Each candidate will have an hour-long live opportunity to answer phone calls from public radio listeners statewide. Mead Treadwell will go first, on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Mead Treadwell, U.S. Senate candidate
  • 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, July 1, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Earthquakes

Fri, 2014-06-27 07:00

Even by Alaska standards, there has been a lot of seismic activity recently. Alaska is located in the Ring of Fire, so it’s not unusual for there to be frequent earthquakes and volcanoes kicking up occasionally, but starting in April, there has been some unusual seismic activity in the Brooks Range. An area near Noatak has, since April, seen a spike in earthquakes after a 30-year quiet period.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Michael West, State seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center
  • John Power, scientist in charge of the Alaska Volcano Observatory

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Flooding Closes Portion of Denali Park Road

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:28

The National Park Service has closed the Denali Park Road past Eielson Visitors Center at Mile 66 due to flooding and significant rockfall.

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The Park Service says torrential rain fell in the park overnight and the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located at the end of the road, has been evacuated due to flooding. National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says all guests are accounted for and are currently at another lodge on higher ground. She says those guests, along with other visitors and employees trapped in the park’s interior cannot be transported by bus or airplane due to high water on the road and the airstrip.

The park is making contingency plans to evacuate guests by helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Includes $6 Million For New Icebreaker

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:27

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate has $6 million for a new Coast Guard icebreaker. That would make three years in a row of small appropriations for the ship, projected to cost nearly a billion dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission to get Congress and the Administration to make Arctic issues a bigger priority.

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Categories: Alaska News

How will Sealaska Solve its Money Problems?

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:26

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are uncertain.

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Sealaska recently told its about 22,000 shareholders about its financial problems.

The corporation’s annual report showed operational losses of about $57 million last year. Revenues from investments and other sources brought that down around $35 million, but it’s still a lot of money.

Outgoing CEO Chris McNeil Jr. says Sealaska is doing fine. It has a three-point plan to bounce back.

“One, of course, is achieving our land entitlement before Congress. The second is making one or more highly profitable acquisitions in 2015. And then also, it would have to significantly increase its federal contracting with higher margins.”

The first is controversial federal legislation turning 70,000 to 80,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberland over to the corporation.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

It’s stalled in Congress. But if it’s passed, it will allow Sealaska to reinvigorate its shrunken logging subsidiary, once the corporation’s economic powerhouse.

Rick Harris is executive vice president of the corporation.

“We will be effectively running out of timber by the end of this year or sometime early in 2015,” Harris says.

Some of the targeted timberlands have high-value, old-growth forest. Others have, or will have, second- or young- growth trees big enough to fell and sell.

Harris says Sealaska is developing markets for those smaller trees, which already make up a fifth of timber sales.

“We’re working with the customer, we’re working with them to identify the supply we have, both for mature timber and second growth. And then helping build a plan, with our customers, so we will be able to supply their needs and that they have the mills that are capable of handling the type of wood that we can deliver,” Harris says.

Carlton Smith is one of four business-oriented shareholders running for the board as a slate.

“The board has struggled with replacing timber income. And we’ve had 20 years to plan for this,” Smith says.

He says Sealaska would do better getting involved in Alaska’s oil and gas industry and helping shareholders find employment there.

One way, he says, is to join other Native corporations campaigning against repealing the state’s oil and gas tax structure.

“We need to make a commitment to the future of Sealaska’s involvement in Alaska commerce. And that takes place in Anchorage,” Smith says.

Smith wants the corporation to open an office in the state’s largest city.

Karen Taug, another member of the shareholders slate, says it’s time to close or at least move Sealaska’s office in Bellevue, Wash. That’s the home of several subsidiaries, as well as the CEO’s main office.

“They could very well pay rent somewhere else at a much cheaper rate, rather than in a high-rent area of Bellevue. Q: Does it seem to you that that was created so Chris McNeil could live and work down south? A: Yes,” Taug says.

Corporate officials won’t give many details of the second part of their recovery plan, to buy one or several new, profitable business. That’s because it’s still being developed.

But McNeil says they’re considering areas that could employ shareholders in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve taken another look and will continue to look in the fisheries sectors,” McNeil says.

Other areas include organic foods and expanded mariculture.

Sealaska’s already backing small, tribally-owned oyster farms. VP Harris says it creates businesses that take a realistic approach to village employment.

“Jobs that are the kind of thing people that want to do. And it’s consistent with the way they live their lives, instead of us coming and saying you have to change the way you live in order to have a job. We’re saying, let’s create jobs that meet your needs,” Harris says.

Shellfish farming is part of Sealaska’s Haa Aani division, which focuses on job development within Southeast.

But Smith and some other critics say that’s not where to look if you’re trying to boost corporate profits.

“I don’t know how a company that’s not making money by itself can be generating economic development elsewhere. And even though it theoretically does touch the lives of our shareholders, it certainly would not be the No. 1 priority at the moment,” Smith says.

Corporate officials say Sealaska needs to try to get more leverage out of government contracting.

But contracting is part of the corporation’s problems. About $26 million was lost when that subsidiary badly underestimated two federal construction projects in Hawaii.

The independent slate’s Ross Soboleff also wants to lower costs by reducing pay and bonuses for board members and top managers.

“My personal opinion about the board compensation now is it’s high. And when the top levels of your company tighten their belts and cut their own expenses, it sets a very important precedent and the tone of the company,” Soboleff says.

Soboleff, Taug and Smith are three of 13 candidates running for Sealaska’s board. Their slate also has a fourth member, Margaret Nelson.

Three board incumbents are seeking re-election: Sidney Edenshaw, Ed Thomas and Rosita Worl.

Other candidates running independently are Myrna Gardner, Mick Beasley, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe.

CEO McNeil will officially retire at the annual meeting. Treasurer and chief investment officer Anthony Mallott will take his place.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Highlights ‘Severe Shortcomings’ In State’s Housing Stock

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:25

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nenana Bridge Will Provide Access To Agricultural Land

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:24

A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.

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The bridge from the city of Nenena will stretch across the river in two concrete spans totaling over 450 feet, providing a road link to tens of thousands of acres of prime growing land.

City of Nenana Mayor Jason Mayrand traces the access project back to the 1980’s, when Alaska was looking to make it big in farming. “Originally it was intended to correspond with the project in Delta and down by Eielson with the farm developments, but it never really came to fruition here,” he said.

Failure of the Delta Agriculture Project chilled state interest in farming at Nenana, but Mayrand says local support has remained, and changes in the food industry have elevated the area’s potential. “There’s a lot of interest in disease free and organic products,” he said. “And this area being disease free, obviously, since it’s never had any agricultural products on it, bodes well for organic growth.”

The Nenana agriculture project got back on track with Alaska voters approval of $6.5 million for the bridge, as part of a 2012 statewide bond package. Mayrand says work has already been done on the far side of the river in anticipation of the bridge opening up access.

“Right now we’ve got about 12 or 14 miles of road constructed West. We’ve been working on it over the last several years. I think the road goes all the way into the agricultural development property. We’re working with the state of Alaska to get it up for auction so it can be sold,” Mayrand said.

There are 130,000 acres of state classified agriculture lands across the river from Nenana. Alaska Department of Natural Resources the Division of Agriculture Specialist, Daniel Proulx points to soil survey work that shows the land to be some of the best in Alaska for farming.

“The land would be good for whatever we can grow in Alaska. It has, by most accounts, better soil than the Delta area, has a longer growing season. So grasses, vegetables, root crops; pretty much anything you can grow in interior Alaska will do well out there,” he said.

Proulx says there’s always been interest in the land, and with the bridge in the works, and the state anticipating selling parcels, inquiries have heightened.

“Matter of fact, I had a call yesterday, somebody wanting to know ‘what size tracts are you going to sell’. We’re going to have a variety. We’re going to have some of the smaller 40-acres near the right of ways, near the roads, and behind it have bigger, up to 3,000 acre tracts for cattle producers for feed lots and for hay and barley operations.”

Proulx says decisions on land sales will follow appraisals and public input. The area across the river also has other resource development potential. It includes parcels owned by the University of Alaska, the Tanana Valley State Forest, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and Doyon, where the Regional Native Corporation is exploring for oil and gas. The plan calls for contractor HC to have the bridge ready for use by late winter 2015.

Categories: Alaska News
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