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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: 25 min 7 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thu, 2015-08-06 17:38

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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32 Hospitalized After Smoking Spice In Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Thirty-two people have been hospitalized in the past week because of Spice, a street drug that’s a mixture of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. Many of the victims were smoking the drug near Bean’s Cafe in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday.

Choice Improvement Act Helps Close VA Funding Gap

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Obama Administration has freed up money in Alaska to close a funding gap in healthcare for veterans.

Coast Guard Boss: Ahoy! Icebreakers on Budget Horizon

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard says lawmakers and the national security staff are waking up to the need for more icebreakers as the Arctic opens to increased ship traffic.

No More Kicking the Can Down the Road: Talkeetna Starts Recycling

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Talkeetna’s Mat-Su Borough Transfer Site, often referred to by locals as “the dump,” is not the sort of place you would normally expect to find a celebration, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the community’s first recycling container was brought online.

In Price William Sound, AEA Hears Input On Regional Energy Plans

Marcia Lynn, KCHU – Valdez

With funding from the Alaska Energy Authority a series of regional energy plans are in the works to help individuals and communities become more energy efficient.

Open Call for Gas Supply Proposals Closes

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The deadline for proposals to supply the State lead Interior Energy Project with natural gas was Monday. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is managing the project, and AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the state corporation is considering a range of possibilities for getting affordable gas to the Interior.

Harnessing the Fizz of A Ferment: Homer Gets A Lesson From A Pro

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A fermentation specialist stopped in Homer this week. He’s making his way up Alaska, teaching about the crossover among food preservation, microbiology, and community.

Ishmael Hope Recrafts A Family Tale in ‘Never Alone’ Follow-Up

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

With “Never Alone,” Cook Inlet Tribal Council and game developers combined indigenous storytelling with video gaming in a way that appealed to mass markets. Its success has led to the follow up “Foxtales,” released July 28.

Categories: Alaska News

Hospitalizations from Spice on the rise, many cases near Bean’s Cafe

Thu, 2015-08-06 17:37

Spice is commercially sold in different packaging, typically as a loose packet of herbs treated with chemicals. (Courtesy photo – US Marine Corps)

Thirty-two people have been hospitalized in the past week because of Spice, a street drug that’s a mixture of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. Many of the victims were smoking the drug near Bean’s Cafe in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday. It’s unclear if Spice is linked to the seven deaths in the homeless community in the past month.

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The executive director of Bean’s Cafe Lisa Sauder describes the scene near the soup kitchen on Wednesday as a “war zone.” Bean’s Cafe staff walked the campus, checking on anyone who was lying down. Some were just lounging in the sun, but others were unconscious.

“And what would typically happen is that there’d be maybe two, three, four people would be smoking it together, and they would all succumb to symptoms at the same time. So you would have three or four people and you would say, everything’s okay, everything seems stable, then you’d have three or four people down again.”

Police and paramedics responded. Sauder said one of her staff members pried a rolled up cigarette made with the synthetic drug out of the hand of one of the clients as she was being loaded into the ambulance. She says her staff is seeing an increase in the number of people transported for seizures and cardiac arrests — both side effects of the illegal drug. According to an APD press release, it’s possible other chemicals and “hemlock-like” plants are being added to the drug locally. The Anchorage Police Department is looking for the source of the drug. Selling and possessing Spice in Anchorage is illegal.

The health problems from Spice usage are not definitively linked to the seven members of the homeless community who have died in the past three weeks. The Anchorage Police Department says toxicology results usually take about eight weeks. Bean’s Cafe has hosted two different memorial events to help the grieving community.

During the first of the events, Mark Roy Ahvakana listened to his brother drum while others sang. He said the deaths were a wake up call.

“And reading it in the newspaper, it opened up my eyes, too. It kind of scared me. Makes me want to stop trying to drink so much and doing drugs, you know,” he said. Try to sober up, try to find work, and get a place to live in.”

Connecting clients with the limited number of resources isn’t always easy. “The problem is now, if someone walks into our client services office and says ‘That’s it, I’m done with drugs. I want to go into detox. I want to go into rehab.’ We go, ‘Great, maybe we can get you into a bed in October,'” said Sauder. “We’ve got to be utilizing the few scant resources we have while we try to bring more online.”

One temporary solution is a simple real-time updated document shared by local service providers showing all available detox, rehab, and housing possibilities. Sauder said it will help make sure all resources are put into use as quickly as possible, but ensuring that everyone is safe will require the whole community.

“If you see someone on the sidewalk, passed out, you don’t need to approach them but call. Call 9-1-1 and have somebody check on them. One of the clients that was found had been on the street for probably 10 to 12 hours. That’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable that we’ve become so accustomed to people being passed out on the sidewalk that for 10 hours, no one called.”

Categories: Alaska News

In Price William Sound, AEA Hears Input On Regional Energy Plans

Thu, 2015-08-06 17:33

With funding from the Alaska Energy Authority a series of regional energy plans are in the works to help individuals and communities become more energy efficient.

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The Chugach Regional Energy Plan is being developed for the Prince William Sound region, and on Tuesday the project team held a Community Outreach Meeting in Valdez.

Attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was slim, but the City of Valdez and other key organizations were well represented. Project Specialist Jackie Schaeffer says that’s important.

“As long as we get a broad range of community leaders in the room that can look at the broad perspective of energy which includes all those components — housing, landfill, power production, renewables, transportation — then we get a clearer picture of the needs of the community from that perspective,” Schaeffer says.

The Prince William Sound Economic District is the project contractor, and the idea is to get accurate and up to date information from towns within each region says Jed Drolet from the Alaska Energy Authority.

At the meeting the plan outline was discussed, folks pointed out several inaccuracies and offered contact information on how to get them corrected. The presenters say they learned a lot, adding that there are many similarities among places they’ve visited.

Drolet says people in the smaller Prince William Sound communities showed up in force:

The two will hold a Community Outreach Meeting in Cordova on Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Open Call for Gas Supply Proposals Closes

Thu, 2015-08-06 17:32

The deadline for proposals to supply the state lead Interior Energy Project with natural gas was Monday. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is managing the project, and  AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the state corporation is considering a range of possibilities for getting affordable gas to the Interior.

“And these options that we are looking at include both Cook Inlet and North Slope LNG, and in state propane or imported propane, and small-diameter pipeline as well, so everything is on the table,” Rodvik says.

AIDEA issued an addendum to the gas RFP Monday. It says a public summary of the proposals will come out within five days, but will withhold the names of the proposers, as well as technical and commercial information. The addendum says all non-confidential information will be made available after an IEP project partner is recommended to the AIDEA board.

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Categories: Alaska News

Harnessing the Fizz of A Ferment: Homer Gets A Lesson From A Pro

Thu, 2015-08-06 17:31

Sandor Katz. Photo by sandiegofermentationfestival.com. Shared via kbbi.org.

A fermentation specialist stopped in Homer this week. He’s making his way up Alaska, teaching about the crossover among food preservation, microbiology, and community. He taught an intensive fermentation workshop on a local farm.

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It’s a sunny day over the Caribou Hills. A group of more than 50 people are milling around a large, green farm, lunch plates piled high with pungent food that saturates the summer breeze.

Sandor Katz is sitting on a log near some chickens, wearing a white shirt with a pattern of bright red radishes. He’s the King of Fermentation.

“I ended up being given the nickname Sandorkraut because I was always showing up with sauerkraut and evangelizing about the healing powers of sauerkraut,” says Katz.

Yes, sauerkraut.

“You can make it in dazzlingly bright colors, or contrasting colors, or different sizes and shapes of cutting up your vegetables. It’s actually an incredibly versatile food,” says Katz.

Despite the teasing for always being that guy, the one who brings fermented food to a dinner party, he truly has a deep passion for this process. Through his eyes, the complex world of microorganisms and bacteria at work take on new and beautiful life.

“Before I see anything, like I smell this delicious sourness,” says Katz. “I taste this sourness that speaks to me in this very deep way. What I see is last season’s garden that’s still feeding us and nourishing us. It’s actually never occurred to me that sauerkraut could be ugly.”

And his art is gaining popularity. In the push back against processed and packaged foods, do it yourself preservation methods are picking up steam.

“You know, after a couple of generations of being thrilled to outsource that and enjoying the convenience of one-stop shopping, a lot of people are waking up to the fact that a lot has been lost by severing our connection with producing food and so they’re interested in figuring out how they can play a role in producing their own food,” says Katz.

Charles Meredith, who goes by Chaz, is an active part of the local farmers’ market and independent growing community. He says he’s seen a resurgence of traditional food ways, like canning, pickling, dehydrating, and now, fermenting.

“Well I feel like in rural places in general, the older traditions stick around more and are more appreciated by people in those areas,” says Meredith. “So, I think it’s partially holding onto the past where you can obviously see it slipping away. And also, in a place like Homer, fermentation and things like that are more practical, like he was saying, using it as a means of preservation, in a place where you can only grow vegetables for a third of the year, it’s nice to have a way to have them stick around.”

Like many other people here he’s comfortable with lots of types of food preparation, and of course has tasted pickles and sauerkraut, but still there’s something strangely unfamiliar about fermentation.

Over by the picnic tables, Marcee Gray is scooping up sticky sourdough starter with a spoon.

She finishes packing it into a mason jar, picks up some lunch at the buffet, and settles down in the shade with friends.

“In our culture of course, we do have a little bit of a fear of things like mold and bacteria. And probabl y the nature of it is that it isn’t static, that it does change, that we can’t pin it down and put it in one place and know what it is and where it is,” says Gray.

Marcee’s friend, Mary Lou Kelsey, says she likes the mystery of it.

“I was somebody who asked him, so how do you know what organisms are in there? And if you were really worried about trying to identify all the organisms, it would be difficult because he sort of describes it as a community of organisms. And so, you kind of have to go on that it tastes good and it’s a great mystery,” says Kelsey.

“So, when we’re thinking about fermentation in a practical way, we’re thinking about communities because that’s how microorganisms exist- not singularly but in communities,” says Katz.

That’s kind of like the people who are once again taking an interest in these complex processes.

“You know, if you think of like the baker and the cheesemaker and the sauerkraut maker as some archetypal fermenters- and we can’t forget the beer makers- then these are all products that give rise to exchange and informal barter and economies of community. I think the revival of local food systems is all about building and strengthening community ties,” says Katz.

It can be seen in his own work. He brings people with common interests together, eating communal meals, trading containers of their homemade concoctions, all through his teaching of the art of fermentation…one jar of sauerkraut at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

Ishmael Hope recrafts a family tale in “Never Alone” follow-up

Thu, 2015-08-06 16:19

With “Never Alone,” Cook Inlet Tribal Council and game developers combined indigenous storytelling with video gaming in a way that appealed to mass markets.

Its success has led to the follow up “Never Alone: Foxtales,” released on July 28. Juneau writer Ishmael Hope relied on his uncles, Alaska Native elders from Kotzebue, to write the game’s narrative.

Willie Goodwin Jr. narrates the videogame Foxtales. In Iñupiaq, he tells the story of two friends who emerge from their sod homes after a long winter.

“At springtime,” Goodwin says, “everything comes alive.”

Goodwin is an elder from Kotzebue. He’s also the uncle of Ishmael Hope, the game’s writer.

Hope says the two friends, Nuna and Fox, start chasing a little mouse.

Ishmael Hope wrote “Never Alone: Foxtales.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“And then suddenly, in the middle of their chase, they’re stranded out in the ocean. They find themselves in an old umiak, a boat. They’re just out, and then they have to navigate their way all the way through,” Hope says.

In Nuna and Fox’s journey, “They get a little too exuberant, like young people will,” Hope says. “They’ll make little mistakes, but then they have to learn a lesson about how to respect all things, the values of being Inuit, Iñupiaq. It’s something that they had to learn.”

Foxtales is based on a story told by Hope’s late grandfather, Willie Panik Goodwin. It’s a story about fighting a giant mouse. Goodwin told the story “The Two Coastal Brothers” during an archaeological trip with a team of scholars, including Wanni Anderson who transcribed it in a short story collection, “Dall Sheep Dinner Guest.”

Hope used a lot of his grandfather’s direct words when writing the game’s script. He also collaborated extensively with his uncles who live in Kotzebue, where Foxtales begins.

The game, like its predecessor “Never Alone,” is narrated in Iñupiaq with English subtitles.

“Even if people are absorbed in the game, there’s something really special about the elder’s voice, them speaking in the language. So even if you’re not following everything, you’re getting a sense of that world and that spirit,” Hope says.

In “Never Alone: Foxtales,” Nuna and Fox navigate on an umiak. They start in the Kotzebue area and eventually find themselves on the Noatak River. (Image courtesy Upper One Games)

Hope says it’s that spirit that gives identity. Hope is Iñupiaq and Tlingit. He says his uncles Elmer Goodwin, Willie Goodwin Jr. and John Goodwin taught him a lot about Iñupiaq culture. Hope says working with them was key to making Foxtales.

“They know how to hunt, they know how to fish, they know how to be in the land. They have so many stories of survival, of reading the landscape, observing the landscape, sensing the spirits and the life of everything around us. They have that knowledge and they were able to impart that a little bit with us,” Hope says.

Foxtales is a celebration of Iñupiaq culture, something Hope thinks young people playing the game need.

“It’s one instance where they get a positive image of themselves reflected back on them. And when you’re in pop culture and you have almost no images or it’s all horrible stereotype, it’s really nice to kind of break through just a little bit,” Hope says.

Videogames have been seen as separating the young generation from the old, but Hope wants Foxtales to do the opposite.

“For young people everywhere, it allows them to create the bridge to their mom and their dad and their uncles, their aunties and their grandparents who may tell them, ‘Oh you know I know a story just like that, so let’s sit down and let me tell it to you,’” Hope says.

Hope doesn’t know if Nuna and Fox will go on any more adventures, but he says with the title Foxtales, there’s a possibility for more.

“Never Alone: Foxtales” is available for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC and Mac. It requires the original “Never Alone” to play.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Boss: Ahoy! Icebreakers on Budget Horizon

Thu, 2015-08-06 14:19

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft. Photo: KRBD

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard says lawmakers and the national security staff are waking up to the need for more icebreakers as the Arctic opens to increased ship traffic.

“This is really generating a lot of interest and I am optimistic that on my watch we will see, no fooling, forward progress as we look at building a national fleet of icebreakers,” said Admiral Paul Zukunft, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this week.

The commandant  says he’s had a peek at bills pending in Congress that detail how his service will fare in its campaign to modernize.

“I can’t share those with you, but it may very well bring the largest acquisition budget to the Coast Guard in Coast Guard history,” he said.

That optimism stands in contrast to an assessment a few months ago by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO says the list of ships and airplanes the Coast Guard says it needs is unaffordable.  The report also says one upcoming project – the construction of 25 offshore patrol cutters – is expected to consume two-thirds of the Coast Guard acquisition budget until 2032.

Zukunft, in his speech to the Press Club, also discussed the lack of modern charting in the Arctic, and said the Coast Guard is considering a traffic separation plan for the Bering Strait to prevent collisions.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Tourism Economy Hinged on Cruise Ship Travel

Thu, 2015-08-06 12:00

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development released a report this week that puts tourism’s impact on Southeast Alaska into numbers. The report calls Southeast the ‘epicenter’ of cruise ship traffic in the state – and that’s the main driver of the visitor industry.

“[I’m on] the Celebrity Solstice,” said Floridian tourist Martin Levinson. “I visited all the 49 other states and this is the last one. I saved the best for last.”

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl sails south through Chatham Strait on its final voyage of 2013. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Levinson was one of the first cruise ship visitors to Skagway early this summer. He  is one of about a million people who visit Southeast each summer, most arriving on cruise ships.

“Tourism’s one of the big parts of Southeast’s economy,” said Department of Labor Economist Conor Bell, who authored the recent report using statistics from 2014. “I don’t think there’s enough real analysis of what impact tourism really has to our region.”

He found that there were about 4,600 tourism-related jobs in Southeast, making up about 11 percent of the region’s summer economy.

The report says Southeast’s economy is ‘highly seasonal,’ and most of that increase is tied to tourism. From May to September of 2014, there was an average of about 7,000 more jobs each month than the rest of the year. More than half were in visitor-related industries.

Tour guides are the most common of those jobs, followed by waiters and waitresses and then retail salespeople.

The highest paying of visitor-related jobs are captains, mates and pilots of water vessels — earning an average of about $17,000 a summer. Tour guides earned an average of about $6,000 in a summer.

Visitor-related jobs are especially concentrated in three Southeast towns: Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. Bell found that in 2014, Juneau had about 1,700 jobs directly related to summer tourism, Ketchikan had about 1,000 and Skagway had around 800. Of those three, Skagway stands out.

“The impact of tourism should be apparent to any Skagway resident. For one thing, the summer employment for tourism exceeds the year-round population. And so there’s a huge influx of people. And over half the jobs of summer are in tourism industries. And that’s only counting direct tourism jobs.

53 percent of Skagway’s summer jobs are directly visitor-related. That’s compared to 12 percent in Ketchikan and nine percent in Juneau.

Some of the ports that have less steady or no cruise ship traffic see much less of an economic impact from tourism. For example, last summer, Sitka had 340 visitor-related jobs, Haines had about 200, Petersburg saw 50, Wrangell 40, Prince of Wales Island 150, and Yakutat fewer than 10. The Hoonah-Angoon census area, which includes Gustavus and Glacier Bay, added 250 summer tourism jobs.

Bell says some communities are looking to increase those numbers.

“Yakutat had their first few ships this year and they’re evaluating whether they want to expand that in the future, Hoonah build a dock in recent years,” Bell said. “More and more Southeast communities are going to enter the market and it’s going to make the market more competitive but also more exciting for travelers and it could lead to more economic development.”

In Haines, the borough assembly voted to offer 50 percent- discounted docking fee waivers to cruise ships in summer of 2017. The goal of the waivers is to draw more ships to Haines.

Bell says tourism jobs and cruise ship visitor numbers took a hit during the nationwide recession. But since then, numbers have been building back up.

And as long as visitors keep cruising, Southeast summer tourism employment will continue to climb.

Categories: Alaska News

As the final dock pilings are drilled, a Hoonah controversy is put to rest

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:38

The final pilings for a new cruise ship dock are being driven at a Hoonah tourist attraction, marking an end to the nearly decade-long saga that divided the community. The publicly financed dock is being built where it serves a local Native corporation’s interests, only indirectly benefiting residents — although many are also shareholders.

On the grounds, tourists wander in and out of a historic salmon cannery turned museum. They skim the treetops on more than a mile of zipline and bask in front of a crackling wood fire that an employee keeps going.

The location of the new dock at Icy Strait Point. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Tyler Hickman is the vice president of Icy Strait Point, owned by the Huna Totem Corp. He says it’s important to maintain the cannery’s off-beat charm.

“It just starts feeling fake when you overdo something,” he says. “We try to make sure that everything we do is authentic.”

Part of that is making sure visitors feel comfortable when they arrive and leave. About 150,000 cruise ship passengers travel to Hoonah each year. To get to Icy Strait Point, they have to schlep over on a small tender boat. There’s no place for the big ships to dock.

Tender boats drop off passengers from the ship. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Hickman points to 60 people on a cruise ship waiting for a tender to transport them to shore. In the future, he says, those passengers will be able to grab their raincoat and wander off the boat on their own.

From there, they could walk through second-growth forest. Not everyone is as enchanted with the location of what Hickman estimates is a $22 million dock, paid for primarily by a grant from the state.

Ken Skaflestad is a shareholder in the Native corporation. He says before the cruise ships started arriving back in 2004, the village felt like a different place. Its population was around 750.

“I remember a day when somebody might wear their pajamas down to pick up the newspaper or groceries on a Saturday morning. If a cruise ship’s in town, that’s changed now,” he says.

A mile past Icy Strait Point’s traffic gate is the city of Hoonah. Tourists shuttle through for bear watching tours and to ride the zipline.

Back in the mid-2000s, the city proposed a multi-use dock located closer to the city center.

An employee in uniform answers tourists questions about a real halibut carted around the boardwalk. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“This commercial dock that was going to help with barging, that was going to help with freighting, was going to be a place for fishing boats to tie up to,” he says.

Cruise ships weren’t the main focus, but Skaflestad says the conversation shifted after the success of Icy Strait Point as a tourist destination. A public-private partnership was created. The state put in $14 million to build the dock; the corporation put in $8 million. Although the inclusion of cruise ships was decided, the location of the dock wasn’t.

Skaflestad says the Icy Strait Point developers disagreed with where the community wanted the dock, which was about 800 feet toward town from their existing facility.

The city selected Shaman Point. He says the argument became not only about where it should be, but also what: a multipurpose dock close to downtown or a cruise ship dock on private land.

“I can say that I was one … that adamantly took opposition to that whole initiative.”

And the town, he says, was split down the middle.

“I refer to it as World War III. It was horrible,” he says.

Tourists explore the grounds of Icy Strait Point. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

A Royal Caribbean executive sent a letter to the city stating that if the dock was built at Shaman Point, cruise lines might not moor there. Skaflestad says the cruise ship passenger experience outweighed the community’s interests in the dock.

“The opinion of the customer’s experience was touted to far outweigh the community’s need to all of the other uses other than a cruise ship dock,” Skaflestad says.

Eventually, the city council turned over. A new mayor was elected and it was decided the dock would be built at Icy Strait Point. Skaflestad says he never did agree with how everything went down. But when he became mayor in 2014, he wanted to make the best of it.

“I had to really work to be open minded about this and listen to the other points of view. The other opinions were that right now the important thing is the development of this industry and that those other uses are really relatively small uses. They’re not going to be big booms to our economy or anything,” he says. “Truthfully, this dock, it’s primarily income that’s  going to come through the cruise ships.”

As the final pilings go in, Tyler Hickman says there’s no need to discuss what happened in the past.

“To me, it’s about today. When you go and walk around the corner, it’s being installed where it is and it’s in the right place,” Hickman says. “The experience the cruise ship guest is going to have is going to be the best in the world.”

The new dock could attract more cruise lines such as Disney, which would mean more visitors to Icy Strait Point and Hoonah.

Skaflestad says he’s trying to be welcoming. He leads the bear watching tours when they get overbooked. He says before, the locals just wanted the tourists to pass right through.

“This metamorphosis has happened and the town is saying ‘I can make a buck here,’ ‘Hey, I’m finding a little niche over here,’ or ‘I’m just going to sit here like I used to sit and watch the birds on the beach and now I’m going to watch tourists,’” Skaflestad says. “There’s this significant change that the presence of these visitors has brought to Hoonah.”

The dock is expected to be completed in October just as Icy Strait Point closes for the season.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau swimmers bring home gold from Special Olympics World Games

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:32

Christine Quick, 23, and CJ Umbs, 21, competed in the Special Olympics World Games in L.A. (Photo by Michelle Umbs)

Two Juneau swimmers returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles with five medals. CJ Umbs and Christine Quick competed alongside 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world.

Juneau swimmer Christine Quick says Michael Phelps is taller than she thought he was. The most decorated Olympic athlete of all time took pictures with Special Olympians and jumped in the pool for a swim.

“What was that like?” I asked.

“Happy,” Quick says. “Our team was crazy to see him.”

Quick earned two gold medals and a seventh place finish in backstroke and freestyle events. She says the cheering from the crowd helped motivate her. She’s never received so much attention.

“Everybody said, ‘Yay!’ People took pictures of us,” Quick says.

CJ Umbs is another Juneau swimmer. He received gold, silver and bronze medals, and a fourth place ribbon in backstroke and freestyle events. His mother Michelle Umbs is a coach for Juneau’s Special Olympics program.

“The finish on the fourth place ribbon and the finish on the silver medal, he was just as happy as a clam both times,” Umbs says. “It didn’t matter. He was just so glad to finish.”

Umbs was in L.A. for the games with her husband and other family members. She watched every event her son and Quick competed in.

“The whole week was amazing watching both of them act independently and responsibly. But to see them both as young adults get up on a stage, accept their medals in an environment where they were treated with a lot of respect is over the top for me,” Umbs says.

CJ Umbs and Christine Quick were part of Team USA with fellow Alaska athletes Garrett Stortz from the Mat-Su and Brittany Tregarthen from Kodiak. Stortz competed in golf and Tregarthen in powerlifting.

All four Alaska athletes medaled, but Jim Balamaci says competing in the Special Olympics isn’t about winning.

“It’s really about doing your personal best and really performing and training,” says Balamaci, president and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska.

Prior to 1968, people with intellectual disabilities didn’t have a sports organization.

“Now, almost 50 years later, we transcend the world,” Balamaci says. “People with intellectual disabilities can achieve and that through sports, there’s no better way of gaining friendships and confidence that come back to your community and to your school.”

Both Juneau athletes get to take a short break from training as they enjoy the afterglow of the World Games. Quick will start swimming again in the winter and Umbs will start bowling in a few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribes to get voice in state transboundary mine work

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:29

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott speaks at a Wednesday tribal meeting in Juneau on transboundary mines. United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group Co-Chair Rob Sanderson Jr., center, and Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, right, listen. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

State government will formally involve tribal groups in its transboundary mining work.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott made that commitment Wednesday while meeting in Juneau with Southeast Native leaders.

“We agreed the transboundary state working group will have a place for a tribal voice in our work that allows them timely, transparent involvement so their voice is heard,” he says.

That will come through the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, formed last year by 13 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian governments.

Several Native leaders asked for a tribal seat on the state’s task force. Mallott says he’s not sure that can be done, but a formal arrangement will be set.

Tribes and state officials worry new British Columbia mines on rivers flowing into Alaska will damage fisheries, wildlife and those that harvest them.

Rob Sanderson Jr., who co-chairs the tribal transboundary group, says a now-closed mine upriver of Ketchikan already wiped out the area’s run of hooligan, a high-fat fish, also called at eulachon, oolichan and candlefish.

“That small-scale mining on the Eskay Creek, which is a tributary to the Unuk River, pretty much put that to sleep,” he says.

The Unuk drainage includes the Kerr-Sulpherettes-Mitchell mining project, the largest of several under exploration.

At the meeting, state officials told tribal leaders how they track and monitor transboundary projects.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson says it’s not enough.

“We get these reports from Canada … that are 10,000 pages. Our response can’t just be a page. I just don’t believe that it has the validity. And I challenge you to do a better job,” he says.

Peterson and others at the meeting said agencies should include traditional knowledge from elders in their analysis. They also pointed to tribal environmental testing, which could be shared.

State and federal officials, mining interests and environmental groups will join tribal leaders Thursday for more meetings on transboundary mine impacts on Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Helicopter crew, pregnant pilot deliver Aleutian Islands fishermen to safety

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:23

Mihey Basargin of Wasilla on the docks in Dutch Harbor after being rescued. (Photo by John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska)

Two fishermen were rescued from their boat grounded off Unalga Island in the eastern Aleutians on Tuesday.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak hoisted the men to safety about 1 pm. The two were flown to Dutch Harbor and did not require medical attention.

The owner and skipper of the Alaskan Catch said he’s glad he and his crewmate are unscathed, but his 35-foot boat is a total loss.

Mihey Basargin of Wasilla said he thinks there’s about 200 gallons of fuel still on board.

The Alaskan Catch was heading from Dutch Harbor through Akutan Pass to longline for black cod on the south side of the Aleutian Islands chain.

Basargin said he was intentionally avoiding the middle of the waterway.

“The current is pretty strong in that pass, so you try to keep closer to the shore,” he said. “You lose speed in the middle.”

He said a submerged rock put “a pretty big hole” in his boat around 5 a.m.

“It was pretty quick,” Basargin said. “A couple minutes, we were flooded.”

The two men put on their survival suits.

Meanwhile, Gavreel Reutov was fishing a couple hours away on the Bering Sea in the Foreigner. He and Basargin have been friends since childhood in Homer.

The two boats had shared a slip in Dutch Harbor’s Carl Moses Boat Harbor the night before.

“We quit fishing and came back and see what we can do for these guys,” Reutov said.

Reutov heard and relayed Basargin’s distress call and motored toward his friend. He also continued to help the Coast Guard communicate with the Alaskan Catch throughout the morning.

The Foreigner and the helicopter arrived at the scene at almost the same time, nearly 8 hours after the accident.

Coast Guard Aviation Maintenance Technician Joseph Garofalo hoisted the men in a basket, one at a time, onto the helicopter after the long flight from Kodiak.

“There was a tall cliff next to where they were,” Garofalo said. “We couldn’t get too close to them without risking our blades hitting the cliff.”

Garofalo said the top of the sea cliff was hidden in the clouds.

The helicopter’s pilot, Lt. Commander Kimberly Hess, said finding a break in the thick cloud cover, after refueling at Cold Bay, made finding the Alaskan Catch a lot easier.

But a 30-knot tailwind swirling along the cliff made her work more difficult.

“It was super windy,” she said. “But the truth is with that cliff there, I had good visual reference. It’s much harder to hoist over the water. So with the cliff there, I had something to look at, which helps me stay still.”

Hess said the rescue went about as well as she could hope for, in part because once the Alaskan Catch ran aground, its crew did everything right.

“They did a great job. Those guys saved themselves really,” she said. “[They] called for help early. They put on their survival gear. They didn’t get off their vessel. They stayed warm. They stayed dry. They never got in the water. They never tried to climb up a cliff or something like that.”

Two Weeks To Go

Hess said few Coast Guard helicopter pilots are female, but she has a characteristic that’s even more unusual for a working helicopter pilot.

“I am almost six months pregnant,” she said in the Coast Guard’s Dutch Harbor office after the rescue. “You can fly up until the end of your second trimester, and I’ve got a couple weeks left, then I’ll be done.”

“So my baby girl has saved three lives at this point,” Hess said and laughed. “She’s chalking them up.”

Hess also piloted the rescue of a man who had a stroke and seizures on the cargo ship Elsa about 150 miles south of Kodiak Island in July.

The Alaskan Catch rescue was the first for flight mechanic Joseph Garofalo. Hess said a celebration was in order after someone does their first rescue.

“If you’re not six months pregnant, you definitely go out and have a beer, but we’re going to have to come up with something else,” she said.

The crew agreed that milkshakes would make a good substitute.

There was little celebration down the road at the Carl Moses boat dock, where the Foreigner returned after helping with the rescue. Both boats’ crews squeezed onto the Foreigner at the end of a very long day.

Basargin said he was glad no one was hurt. He also said he didn’t know whether his insurance would cover the loss.

“We were parked in this same stall this morning,” Reutov said of the two friends’ nearly identical boats. “Now one of them’s gone.”

Categories: Alaska News

USDA to bailout some canned sockeye surplus

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:19

There’s some good news this week about that often spoken of glut of canned sockeye salmon: the US Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it intends to purchase up to $30 million worth and put it into food banks and other emergency assistance programs.

Last week Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to approve the purchase, which she said would alleviate a surplus inventory and put a nutritious product in food programs around the country.

In her letter Murkowski noted that this year and last year’s very high harvests of sockeye in Alaska were actually harming the livelihood of many fishermen and the industry. That should come as no surprise to Bristol Bay fishermen, some of whom went home with a base price of .50 cents a pound for their catch this season.

Last year the USDA helped clear some inventory of canned pink salmon, agreeing to buy $13 million of product for similar food programs. Then-Governor Sean Parnell had asked the Department to buy up to $37 million of canned pinks, which many companies said were stacked floor-to-ceiling in warehouses and not moving anywhere.

The USDA did not offer many other details, other than that it will solicit bids in the near future. Tuesday’s announcement was well received by the Food Bank of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Talkeetna celebrates the start of new recycling program

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:15

The new recycling program comes online in Talkeetna. (KTNA photo)

Talkeetna’s Mat-Su Borough Transfer Site, often referred to by locals as “the dump,” is not the sort of place you would normally expect to find a celebration, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the community’s first recycling container was brought online.

As the first aluminum cans were tossed into Talkeetna’s new recycling container, there was an air of celebration. Many Talkeetna residents have been waiting decades for a local, regular, reliable recycling solution. On Monday, that became a reality.

A major factor that makes this iteration of recycling in Talkeetna different than previous attempts is borough involvement. Borough contractors will pick up the recycling container just like any other dumpster at the transfer site. Instead of taking it to the landfill, however, the contents will go to the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions.

Butch Shapiro, the borough’s solid waste manager, says that there is an economic incentive for his department in diverting recyclables away from the landfill.

“That’s the big thing for us. The more we can keep out of there, the more we can save, the longer we can make a cell last. And that’s huge, because it costs between $3.5 to $5 million to build a landfill cell.”

Shapiro estimates that the Mat-Su Borough saves about twenty-five cents for every pound of material that is recycled instead of dumped in the landfill.

He says that the current program, which includes plans for recycling in Talkeetna, Willow, and Big Lake, could save the borough $100,000 in the next year. He says adding more recycling communities would increase those savings over time.

While the borough is handling the transport of the recycling container, the community had to come up with the funding for it. The final cost to refurbish a retired trash container and make it suitable for recycling is between $8,000 and $10,000. Butch Shapiro says a new container with similar capabilities could cost three times that much.

“Quite a savings, there. It really brings it within the realm of possibility. It’s been a long time coming.”

The Talkeetna Recycling Committee had little difficulty in raising funds in short order. Grants for $10,000 each from the Mat-Su Health Foundation and Matanuska Electric Association, as well as local fundraisers and donations, meant that the committee was able to bring the first container online this week, with a second already undergoing refurbishing.

Talkeetna resident Katie Writer organized much of the fundraising. On Monday, she told the gathered crowd of more than thirty people why she took the leadership role for the project.

“I’m really honored to fill those shoes, because the Earth is the most important thing to me. And, being here in Alaska, we need to be able to honor the Earth and take care of our trash in a better way.”

Mollie Boyer is the Executive Director for the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions in Palmer, the facility where Talkeetna’s recycling will go for processing. She says VCRS was founded with the initial goal of establishing reliable recycling options. Now, she says the establishment of recycling programs in individual communities helps her organization move toward its long-term goals.

“…To provide a permanent recycling facility and opportunity for the Mat-Su…This bin here represents the fulfillment of that long-term goal.”

The container is not the end of the story, however. The Talkeetna Recycling Committee is actively seeking volunteers to help guide local residents in what can be recycled and how it should be prepared. For the moment, aluminum cans, steel cans, and #2 plastic jugs, such as milk jugs, are accepted.

Categories: Alaska News

Synthetic drug blamed for 30 Anchorage hospitalizations

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:08

Anchorage police say at least 30 people have been taken to the hospital over the past four days with health problems stemming from the use of a synthetic drug called Spice.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Police released a statement Wednesday asking people to contact them with any information about the source of the drug, which is banned by local and state laws.

Spice was once sold in gas stations and convenience stores and marketed as incense or potpourri. In 2010 the Anchorage Assembly outlawed the designer drug based on its composition, but manufactures quickly changed agreements.

The Assembly passed a new law that banned Spice based on its packaging and a list of labeling criteria in 2014. Later that year, a similar statewide ban went into effect.

Categories: Alaska News

State flags removed from Fairbanks bridge due to conditions

Thu, 2015-08-06 10:06

A display of America’s 50 state flags has been removed from a Fairbanks bridge due to their worn condition and an ongoing debate about Confederate symbols.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that nonprofit community development organization Festival Fairbanks removed the flags Monday.

Festival Fairbanks Executive Director Julie Jones says the flags were taken down because of the wear and tear they had sustained. She also says part of the decision was influenced by the inclusion of the Mississippi flag – which includes a Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.

Jones says they did not want to only remove Mississippi’s flag from the display. Because of the tattered state of all 50, the organization chose to remove them all.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage police investigating shooting of 3-year-old

Thu, 2015-08-06 09:58

Anchorage police say they’re investigating the fatal shooting of a three-year-old.

According to a release from the department, 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.

A police spokeswoman said detectives were conducting interviews and processing information.

Police said they would release additional information as it became available.

Categories: Alaska News

Choice Improvement Act helps close VA funding gap

Thu, 2015-08-06 09:58

A move by the Obama Administration has freed up money in Alaska to close a funding gap in healthcare for veterans.

Shawn Bransky, the interim Associate Director for the Veterans Affairs in Alaska, says the Choice Improvement Act signed by the president on July 31 lets Alaska shift about $20 million between programs in order to restore services that have slowed in recent months.

“Essentially what it did here in Alaska is it gave us the flexibility to get that money moved over from the Choice Act to our non-VA Care Coordination funds, to continue to provide care for veterans here in Alaska through the end of our fiscal year, 30th of September,” Bransky said.

That funding shortfall came in part because of national changes to how the VA pays outside providers for healthcare. Legislation passed a year ago is credited with reducing wait-times, but proved far more expensive than anticipated.

In Alaska, which served as the model for VA reforms, the program backfired, extending wait-times. Officials with the VA say the third-party contractor that handles billing under the Choice Act has pledged more resources in Alaska to reconnect veterans with services that for many were routine.

The Alaska VA also has a new interim director, Dr. Linda Boyle, a 25-year veteran of the Air Force. Boyle announced that on his visit next week the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Robert McDonald, will attend meetings in Wasilla, Kotzebue, and Point Hope.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wed, 2015-08-05 17:41

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.

Download Audio


Shell’s Arctic Icebreaker Returns to Unalaska

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell’s Fennica icebreaker has returned to Alaska. It docked at Dutch Harbor on Tuesday night after enduring repairs and protests in Portland, Oregon.

Gov. Walker Meets with Kuskokwim Tribes on Trust Lands

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Bill Walker was in Akiachak and Tuluskak Tuesday to discuss a lawsuit involving tribal lands into trust, according to officials in Akiachak. Walker’s office kept his first visit to southwest Alaska since his election low profile amid high interest in a case that could reshape jurisdiction on Alaska Native lands.

University of Alaska-Fairbanks Cuts Means $200k Bite to Nome’s Northwest Campus

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Deep cuts across the University of Alaska Fairbanks are spreading to satellite campus across the state—and Nome’s Northwest Campus is no exception. UAF is facing a larger cut for the upcoming year than had been previously expected—in all, a reduction of 31.4 million dollars.


‘Expedited Partner Therapy’ Lowers Gonorrhea Cases in the YK Delta

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

There’s been a big decrease in the number of gonorrhea cases in Southwest Alaska over the past five years, according to the state Department of Health. It comes after local doctors tried a new strategy, called expedited partner therapy.

The Elasmosaur: A Nessie-Like Dino Unearthed Near Talkeetna

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Earlier this summer, paleontologists confirmed that fossilized vertebrae found in the Talkeetna Mountains belonged to an ancient sea creature, the elasmosaur.  This is the first time that remains of the species have been found in the state.

Bering Straits Native Corp. Buys Alaska Industrial Hardware

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Bering Straits Native Corporation is getting into the hardware business—after purchasing Alaska Industrial Hardware, a small Alaska-based chain of industrial construction and equipment stores.

Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Releases Book On Karluk Archaeological Site

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

One Kodiak Island settlement has served as both a rich archaeological resource and fueled the Alutiiq heritage renaissance now underway in Kodiak. The Alutiiq Museum recently published a book called “Kal’unek” with the University of Alaska Press. The nearly 400-page volume focuses on archaeological discoveries near the community of Karluk and delves into the site’s lasting effects on those involved.

A New Totem Pole Graces Ketchikan Shipyard

Madelyn Beck, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s newest totem pole arrived with a massive crowd Saturday in front of the Vigor shipyard. It’s the first totem pole raised in about two years, and tribal and non-tribal community members alike cheered as it came through the crowd.

Drums of Hazardous Waste Dumped Near Kodiak

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Someone has dumped drums of hazardous waste in the Buskin River State Park. That’s according to Preston Cruise, an Alaska State Park Ranger, who says they discovered two 55-gallon containers last month.

Categories: Alaska News

A New Totem Pole Graces Ketchikan Shipyard

Wed, 2015-08-05 16:30

Photo: KRBD-Ketchikan.

Ketchikan’s newest totem pole arrived with a massive crowd Saturday in front of the Vigor shipyard. It’s the first totem pole raised in about two years, and tribal and non-tribal community members alike cheered as it came through the crowd.

This was the sound of the totem pole being brought from the Vigor warehouse on Saturday to its current prominent position just off of Tongass Avenue.

Hundreds showed up from around town and neighboring communities, including highly regarded members of local tribes and Vigor representatives.

Vigor General Manager Mark Pearson says the idea to carve a totem pole for the shipyard came in the winter of 2013. Pearson added that Vigor members wanted to have more native art to show the connection between the company and its community.

“So it has to be an expression of our willingness to do more for the community, and to include all of the community. Any time we’re exclusionary or any time we’re insensitive to the differences in people, we limit ourselves.”

Former Ketchikan Indian Community member Willie Jackson described what the pole, itself, symbolized.

“Looking at the pole, you’re going to see the raven on top, you’re going to see the strong man right underneath that raven, you’re going to see the eagle…but you’re also going to see the woman at the very base of the pole, which is the strength of who we really are as a matriarchal society.”

Vigor CEO Frank Foti came from Portland for the ceremony, and says that he wants his company to connect with all people, making sure natives and women were included.

“Vigor means effort, energy, good health, renewal.  It’s part of who we are. My color today is pink and part of it is to bring some of the feminine energy into what we do. We have a tremendous group of men and women that are part of what we do. To you I say ‘Háw’aa! T’oyaxs-nsm! GunalchÈesh!” (Thank you in Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit, respectively.)

Photo: KRBD-Ketchikan.

After much struggle to raise the pole with manpower alone, a group of about a dozen people pushed, pulled and heaved the structure into place.

After the new pole was in place, the celebrating continued up at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. There was food, singing and hours of dancing, along with gifts for those who made the pole raising possible.

Metlakatla’s mayor, Audrey Hudson came forward to show her appreciation to those who put so much effort into the raising of this particular totem pole. She was especially grateful to the carver who brought the pole to life.

“I feel blessed to have witnessed a new totem pole today. Totem poles are a powerful symbol for both our peoples. These events serve to strengthen the ancient relationship between the Tlingit and Tsimshian, between Metlakatla and Ketchikan. My hats off to Jon Rowen for his beautiful work.”

Rowen, a Tlingit from Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, thanked Mayor Hudson, his cousin, for the kind words, but said little during the ceremony.

Vigor CEO Frank Foti, however, had a lot to say, mostly out of thanks. Many tribal leaders gave Foti gifts that night, including a hand-carved paddle, abalone inlaid hummingbird bath, and a new nickname: chief.  Foti thanked everyone for their help, especially tribal members who taught him about the culture in the land surrounding his Ketchikan shipyard.

“Connecting what we do and what we build with who we are and the land that we live in is…it’s a constant conflict. We build with organic and inorganic materials. We impact the world we live in. We make it better, we make it worse. We look at why. That’s who we are and who we try to be. We are honored to be somewhat part, and learn to be part of a tribe.”

And then, as the opening remarks drew to a close, it was time for the song and dance, lasting late into the night.

Categories: Alaska News