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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: 12 min 12 sec ago

Ethan Berkowitz takes over as Anchorage’s mayor

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:20

Ethan Berkowitz formally became the new Mayor of Anchorage on Wednesday. The celebration downtown was a marked departure from past inaugurations, with a heavy emphasis on changing directions at city hall.

Berkowitz’s swearing in was an informal affair. Frankly, it felt more like a block party than a government event. Supporters, local politicians, kids, curious passersby – Town Square Park filled with hundreds of people while the Vinyl Floors, a band from West High School, played on stage.

“Hey Rick we still have virtually no guitar up here.” “Can I get a little more guitar up here in the monitors? Just a little.”

The ceremony itself was short and sweet. It was also diverse, something speakers as well as audience members noted. The event opened with a Dena’ina prayer, and eventually yielded to a Yupik dance group and hip-hop performance. Rhetoric throughout drew on language from community activism emphasizing Anchorage’s multiculturalism, as well as subtle nods towards progressive values. It’s the same tone Berkowitz used on the campaign trail, and throughout his transition into office the last two months.

“We are, in many ways, liberated from the way things have been done before,” he said. “And we have the responsibility, and the ability, to take care of things ourselves. It’s our time to make a new Anchorage.”

The mayor’s office in Anchorage is technically nonpartisan. And while there were no overt jabs at the conservative outgoing Sullivan Administration, there was a decidedly liberal flavor to the festivities, with Downtown Democratic legislators smiling beside prominent community activists. For attendee David Landry in the audience, the openness of the event set a tone unlike any past inaugurations.

“Just very excited to have a new generation of mayor in town. And it’s about time,” Landry said.

As for specifics in Berkowitz’s policy agenda, details are scant, but the focus remains on issues highlighted in his campaign.

“Working on public safety issues, we’ve been working on economic development issues. And we’re also getting the early stages of preparing the next budget,” Berkowitz said. “So, we’ve been hard at work, even before we moved into the office.”

But the remainder of the afternoon was for celebration, music, and a very long line for free cupcakes.

Categories: Alaska News

Sunshine affects Ketchikan’s tourism industry

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:15

Ketchikan’s summer tourism season is well underway. Record low rainfall in May and warmer-than-usual temperatures had a lot OF tourists smiling. But in a place known for rain, is sunshine bad for business?

Chuck Slagle walks the dock where a few of his charter fishing boats are coming in from a morning on the water. “How was your trip?” “Great, thanks for asking.”

Tourists eat at the Fish House on June 23, 2015.

One customer noticed Slagle had changed out of the shorts he was wearing earlier in the day. He changed into pants to go fishing. He said a sunny day doesn’t always make for the best fishing, but it does make for a better experience.

“Sunshine makes a big difference in our business.With what we do, people going fishing. They not only have a better time when it’s not pouring down rain, they’ll also look out the cruise ship windows and fishing is more appealing to them when it’s not pouring down rain.”

Slagle also owns the Fish House, a seafood restaurant just above his fleet of charter fishing boats. He said weather affects sales at the restaurant, too. Generally, people aren’t willing to wait in line in the rain.

On a recent sunny day, the line was trailing onto the pavement.  Blake Runkel and his family from Houston were happily waiting in line for their crab lunch. “Yeah I was surprised this is a beautiful day. We lucked out. Short sleeve shirts in Alaska, that’s pretty amazing.”

The Fish House in Ketchikan.

His mother, Pat, booked the trip after hearing rave reviews from friends, and she was strategic about booking it this week after some reading. “It said that was the best time to come. If you could plan your trip They said May to September,  but they said the best time would be from June 15 to July 15.Weather wise I think it was basically.”

She heard a lot about the rain in Southeast and packed accordingly, but was happy to keep the ponchos aboard the Ruby Princess.

The sunshine isn’t an economic boon for everyone though.

“I’ll tell you one thing our business does increase if it’s raining.”

Karl Biggerstaff at Tongass Trading says retail sales can go up about 25 percent on a rainy day, when people are more inclined to stay indoors. Even on a sunny day though, people still shop. Tongass General Manager Chris Parks says the best weather for business is changing weather, a mix of sun and rain.

Parks adds that while weather has a noticeable effect on sales in the short term, the industry is influenced more by the overall economy in the long term.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker makes appointment to Marijuana Control Board

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:09

Gov. Bill Walker has appointed members to a new board charged with developing regulations for the cultivation and sale of legal marijuana in Alaska.

A voter initiative to legalize recreational pot for those 21 and older delegated regulatory responsibilities to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but allowed the Legislature to create a Marijuana Control Board to assume those duties.

The director of the ABC Board will serve as director of the Marijuana Control Board and paid staff of the ABC board will serve as staff for the new board.

Walker appointed Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik to the public safety seat; Juneau assembly member Loren Jones to the public health seat; Mark Springer of Bethel to the rural seat; and Bruce Schulte and Brandon Emmett to the industry seats.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:40

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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Walker Delays Payment on Oil Tax Credits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread a Thin Force Even Thinner

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

Shell Gets Federal Approval to Head North, With Some Stipulations

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

Sand Point Post Office Burglars Sentenced

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Two men have been sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 21 months in federal prison for burglarizing the post office in Sand Point.

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

Marriage Equality and Mourning: Mildred Boesser Fought Until the End

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide last week, President Obama called the ruling “a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up.” Mildred Boesser stood 5 feet tall, and she was one of those people. On the day of the ruling, Boesser was on her deathbed at home in Juneau, surrounded by family.

 

A Psychologist Follows His Slow-Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

Flying Karamazovs and Friends Bring Chautauqua Spirit to Juneau

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt. Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.

 

Categories: Alaska News

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread A Thin Force Event Thinner

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:38

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

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Public safety director Col. James Cockrell says the department had to find $8.5 million to cut. It’s mothballing two search-and-rescue helicopters, losing some support positions, and tightening its belt in other ways. Cockrell says it’s been hard to cut trooper positions – it’s hard to find good recruits, and troopers fulfill the agency’s mission to fight crime, enforce the law, and protect life and property. Plus, he says the force has always been spread thin.

“Statewide, the population that we serve, we certainly don’t meet the national standards  of providing the number of police officers to the population, and we really never have because we’re  so spread out and the difficulties of getting into some of the areas that we deal with.”

Of the dozen communities losing troopers, eight are losing one or two each. Fairbanks is losing six, and Soldotna five. Wasilla is losing the most — nine state trooper positons. Cockrell says that’s going to make a bad situation worse.

“When you look at specifically the Mat-Su valley, our troopers are, some of them are 30, 40 cases behind on their case load right now. We’re just not keep up with the volume of activity we have out there and that’s pretty much statewide.”

Cockrell says another area that will feel the change is the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which he says is experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence crime. And he noted the loss of a drug investigations trooper in the Bristol Bay region. But he says urban residents will also see a change.

“We’ll have to prioritize our services and certainly when we have less troopers property crime goes even further down on the list. People crimes, assaults, burglaries in process, robberies and domestic violence and sexual assaults. Certainly our responses to some property crimes will be practically non-existent.”

Cockrell says he saw the cuts coming so kept several positions vacant. As a result he says only one permanent employee was actually laid off, along with six non-permanent positions — four troopers who handled cold case murder investigations, and two who did background checks. Now, he says, the department has to cut another $2.6 million to cover state employee pay raises.

Categories: Alaska News

Polar Pioneer: An Economic Boon For Dutch Harbor

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:37

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. The company has plans to take most of that equipment north for exploratory drilling operations later this summer. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

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Dutch Harbor is a busy place this time of year.

“The flights are all full, the hotel is full, vehicles – trucks for rent – companies that rent vehicles – they’re all rented.”

City Mayor Shirley Marquardt says the bustle isn’t unusual. She compares it to the uptick in business the community last saw when the pollock fishery took off in the 1980s and 90s.

“… and you had the big at-sea processor fleet show up, these big boats participating in this massive fishery and they’re all coming into town and said ‘we need everything.’”

But this year, much of that business can be attributed to oil giant, Shell. Over the next two years, Dutch Harbor will serve as a logistics hub as the company carries out its exploratory drilling plans further north in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Spokeswoman Megan Baldino says 15 company personnel have been in Dutch Harbor for at least the last two weeks. Now that one of the company’s drill rigs is moored in the bay just out front of town, Baldino says up to 35 people will arrive daily.

“…on any given day the numbers could be lower or higher.”

Because flights to and from the island are limited, the company has chartered flights with Anchorage-based Ravn Alaska. Charlotte Siegreen is Ravn’s spokeswoman.

“It’s usually around one or two a day for the next couple of weeks.”

Currently, only one commercial carrier provides regular service into Dutch Harbor. Siegreen says it’s not yet clear if Ravn will also consider regularly scheduled flights after its contract with Shell ends.

“we don’t have an immediate plans to make any scheduled service changes, but we’re always looking. I can say that.”

With the influx of so many people, Shell has booked a block of rooms at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

“We are full.”

Lori Smith is the General Manger of Hospitality for Unisea, the seafood producer that owns two hotels in town. She says the oil company has been careful to relinquish rooms it is not using to free up space in a community where temporary housing is extremely limited. Mayor Shirley Marquardt says her administration has worked closely with Shell on that issue.

“We’ve been very up front and very honest with Shell from day one, of ‘if people are going to live here full time, if you’re not going to hire people who live her to do the work, do not come into town and jack up prices and kick people out of their homes.”

Marquardt says so far, housing prices have remained stable. She says it’s unclear how the job market might change.

“It’s too early to tell. When they were here the last time they did hire a lot of local folks for security and logistics and running around.”

Megan Baldino says Shell hasn’t yet made any direct local hires, but they have contracted with a number of local businesses.

“Thee are some areas where we bring in people who we have trained to really specific competency requirements, but in the future there are plans to train and utilize local staffing so we can meet those needs locally.” 00:13

The city doesn’t have a system to attribute tax revenue directly to the oil company’s presence, but city officials say they expect an uptick in revenue collected from both bed and fuel taxes.

Categories: Alaska News

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:35

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

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The board tabled the final decision and wants to hold a meeting to hear directly from Bethel residents. It dealt the Bethel Native Corporation a victory in shooting down the city’s formal request to stop the license, but the board can still reject their application.

The board is required to honor protests and reject licenses unless the protests are quote “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” which is what three of five voting members found in their quarterly meeting held in Fairbanks.

Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation said the city’s reasoning relied on bad information.

“The protest is not based on any facts of any kind. It’s based on data from a 5.5 year old advisory vote and the reluctance of the city council to take any other position until they can ‘feel good’ about where the equilibrium of the community is regarding alcohol sales. The equilibrium for Bethel is that the community is wet and to make one that is responsible, defensible, and consistent with the law.”

Bethel Native Corporation is the local corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Alaska Commercial Company store had also applied for a license but dropped their request until citizens vote again. Bethel voted out of local option status in 2009, paving the way for legal sales and unlimited imports of alcohol. The new application is the first in five years.

Bethel Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was surprised at the board’s action.

“I feel like it’s an affront to our city council who put a lot of time into deciding this issue to be told we’re arbitrary and capricious about this. It should be an affront to anyone who lives in this community who feels we should have a local opportunity to make decisions for ourselves.”

BNC has been pushing hard for the store as they have been without a tenant at their multimillion dollar new retail complex since it was vacated by Swanson’s grocery store this spring.  They collected 500 letters of support and brought on a prominent lawyer to support their case, Phil Blumstein, who argued the city was evading the state’s liquor laws.

“The legal issue at the center of this protest is whether the city can properly base its protest on its belief that liquor sales should be illegal in Bethel, or its belief that the public believes liquor sales should be allowed in Bethel, where the votes have in deciding the issue the only way the law allows,  have repeatedly voted for sales to be legal.”

Several community groups have formally opposed the application, like the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Lower Kuskokwim School District. They cite the region’s high rates of alcoholism and the disproportionate number of alcohol-related crimes and domestic violence. The city’s had a rocky past with bars and liquor stores prior to the 1970s when Bethel banned them.

Categories: Alaska News

Psychologist Follows Slow Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:25

Uncle Leroy’s Coffee parked at the Muldoon Farmers Market. Hillman/KSKA

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

The inside of the bus is open and simple. A few of the original 1960s era benches flank the sides of a coffee counter where a teakettle sits on one corner. A two-burner propane stove stands against a wall.

Austin Schwartz pours green coffee beans into a pan and sets a timer. For the next 8 minutes, he slowly shuffles them around.

“Never try to rush the roast,” he says as he slowly swirls his wooden spoon. “It will all happen. In the eight minutes for the first crack. And then just a few extra minutes.”

From his demeanor, it’s unclear if Schwartz has ever actually tasted coffee. “I think people usually regard me as an easy-going person who has a lot of patience,” he says. “I work in the schools with teachers and kids, so I have a lot of practice with patience.”

But he didn’t exhibit that quality when jumping into his new summer venture – Uncle Leroy’s Coffee. Schwartz says he’s always loved a good cup of joe. Then, last December, he had his first cup of small batch roasted coffee, and his adoration bumped up a notch. He bought some green beans and started roasting at home. Less than a month later he saw an old bus on Craigslist, and by June, he had opened up his new mobile coffee roasting shop.

“I’m a day dreamer, so I have ideas. And when I have an idea, sometimes I like to see if I can actualize it. Kind of follow through on it,” he pauses, looking down at the pan. “Because I don’t want to live with regret.”

Now, he drives his aging bus slowly around the city, hoping not to stall in traffic. He pulls into farmers markets, parking lots and food carnivals, roasting and serving simple, black pour-over coffee. No espresso, no lattes.

Austin Schwartz roasts coffee in the back of his vintage bus. Hillman/KSKA

“The bus is actually really nice for roasting because there’s so many windows,” he explains as the bus begins to fill with smoke, coffee smell filling the air.

The beans start to turn different shades of brown, bouncing about the pan like low-key popcorn.

Schwartz says he can roast about four pounds per hour, then he grinds it up, one cup at a time, serving it like was done 150 years ago. Slowly, patiently, yet still buzzing.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Delays Payment On Oil Tax Credits

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:05

Gov. Bill Walker discusses a tax credit veto with the press, July 1, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.

Signing his first budget, Walker was, for the most part, light with the red pen. The capital budget the Legislature sent him had already been cut from about $600 million to a little more than $100 million, so there were few projects to target. And after two special sessions and a compromise between Republicans and Democrats, Walker decided to mostly leave the worked-over operating budget alone.

The only big adjustment Walker made was on oil tax credits. Walker put off payment of $200 million in oil tax credits to send a message.

“We have to have that discussion about what can we afford — what can we afford in the way of paying companies to go out and do exploration work in our state. That’s really what it comes down to,” Walker said at a Wednesday press conference.

Walker added that the action was a way of sharing the pain among Alaskan people and interests at a time when the state is looking at years of budget deficits.

The payment delay only affects companies who are exploring for oil — not actually producing it. The state will still issue about half a billion in credits to companies that are extracting the resource.

And as far as the delay goes, it’s just that. All of the credits will still have to be paid out eventually, even if they don’t count against this year’s budget. Walker said there isn’t a legal avenue for striking them from the books.

“I’m not aware of any,” said Walker. “We haven’t looked for any, and that’s not the goal.”

The payment of oil tax credits was a major part of Democrats’ agenda this legislative session. The minority party regularly offered amendments that would have cut them from the budget, but all of them were unsuccessful.

Walker told reporters that his move on the budget should push the issue to the forefront when legislators reconvene.

“As we see this growing to the point that it could potentially be the largest expenditure we have in the state — these payments for exploration — that we have to get a handle on,” said Walker.

Including the oil credit delay, the budget Walker signed spends just under $5 billion in state dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Flying Karamazovs and friends bring Chautauqua spirit to Juneau

Wed, 2015-07-01 15:31

When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt.

A selfie shot while the New Old Time Chautauqua band marches through a Wrangell supermarket, June 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy Eben Sprinsock/New Old Time Chautauqua)

Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.

The traveling Chautauqua movement began on Lake Chautauqua in New York in the late 1800s. They brought lectures, theater and music to rural communities but it mostly died out after the rise of radio and motion pictures.

“School Children’s ‘Chautauqua’ Demonstration” in Juneau, Sept. 21, 1921. (Alaska State Library, David & Mary Waggoner Photographs & Papers, 1900-1940, Winter & Pond, ASL-PCA-492)

In 1981, Patch Adams — yup, the one Robin Williams played — and the Flying Karamazov Brothers revived the movement. Natalee Rothaus was with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council in 1992 when the New Old Time Chautauqua first visited Juneau.

“It’s so much fun and it’s so much goodwill, spirited. You know, you’re working with people who are doing this for the love of it. They’re not coming in just to do a show. It’s not just a gig, it’s a Chautauquan family,” Rothaus says.

The New Old Time Chautauqua is a nonprofit whose members volunteer their time and fund their own travel during their month-long tour each summer. It’s Chautauquan tradition to share knowledge, partner with local organizations and build community through laughter, entertainment and education.

“The last time we did do a parade, it was quite wonderful. I myself wanted to run away with the circus,” says Rothaus.

One Juneauite actually did. Valerie Snyder, owner of Douglas’ BrownBoots Costume Company, joined the Chautauqua in Bellingham last month for a crammed week of rehearsals before they hopped the ferry up to Ketchikan. During their parades, Snyder says, “People are genuinely surprised and we get community members to march with us. In Ketchikan, I ran up the sidewalk and I did a little face painting to all the little kids waiting on the side of the street. ”

So far on this jaunt, the group has performed in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg.

A New Old Time Chautauqua performer in the streets of Wrangell, June 26.
(Photo courtesy Zachary “Skip” Waddell/New Old Time Chautauqua)

Snyder is the only Alaskan from Southeast in the troupe. She plays violin, juggles, hula hoops, and contributes a little singing and dancing.

“Just expect fun and warmth and friendship. We’re just here to entertain and put a smile on your face,” Snyder says.

Their three-day routine begins with an open potluck Thursday at the Douglas library. Think of it as a Chautauqua launch party with a chalk drawing competition and community music jam.

Friday is the workshop day at Centennial Hall, where the Chautauquans and community members will teach circus skills, how to build a fire using friction, the Chinese meditative art of Qigong, how to fold a fitted sheet, and lecture on health.

There will also be pop-up performances downtown. The only ticketed part of their visit is their headlining vaudeville show Friday evening, which features music, aerialists, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and lots of shtick.

On the Fourth of July, they’ll march in both the downtown Juneau and Douglas parades.

New Old Time Chautauqua founder and original Flying Karamazov Brother Paul Magid hopes to inspire change person to person. The troupe will perform at the Johnson Youth Center and the Juneau Pioneer Home, too, as part of their service mission.

Magid describes the spirit behind their group in his 2012 TEDx talk:

“And it’s a our love of music, play, laughter and for each other that bridges all religious and political differences whether it’s on a baseball field, in a grocery store, or at a maximum security prison.”

After Juneau, they’re headed to Hoonah, Haines and Sitka.

Full disclosure: All proceeds from Friday’s ticket sales benefit KTOO Public Media. 

Categories: Alaska News

Opening of Houston fireworks stands ‘highly unlikely’

Wed, 2015-07-01 15:23

The Sockeye Fire is nearly contained, and fires continue to burn throughout the state.  Now, many are questioning whether or not fireworks will be available and legal for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.  The state has lifted its fireworks ban, with the exception of Western Alaska.  Many municipal and borough restrictions are still in place, however.

Robert Hall is the owner of Gorilla Fireworks, which operates stands in Houston and North Pole.  He says it is almost certain that the North Pole stand will not open, and doubtful that the city of Houston will lift its ban on the sale of fireworks.

“[It is] very unlikely that we’ll open in Houston. They’ll make a final decision on Thursday based on a lot of different factors, not just weather.”

Hall says one of those factors is the strain that the Sockeye and other fires have placed on fire departments in the Mat-Su Borough.  He also says consideration for the victims of the Sockeye Fire will play a role.

“These people in Willow are friends of ours.  Our kids went to school with their kids.  They’ve been through an awful lot, and that’s a consideration, too.”

Currently, the sale of fireworks is banned in the City of Houston.  A final decision from the city is expected on Thursday.  Robert Hall says the city consults with the state’s Division of Forestry and local fire departments to make its decisions regarding fireworks.

“I’m very comfortable that the City of Houston will make the right decision, and that, if they made the decision today, it would be not to open firework stands.”

Hall says that, if the Houston stands do open, that they will only be selling sparklers, fountains, and other fireworks that are not designed to leave the ground.

Whether or not fireworks are available for sale this week, the Mat-Su Borough has placed a ban on use of fireworks, and borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan says code enforcement officers will be patrolling over the course of the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Marriage equality and mourning: Mildred Boesser fought till the end

Wed, 2015-07-01 15:17

When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide last week, President Obama called the ruling “a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up.”

Sara Boesser and Mildred Boesser in September, 2014. (Photo by Melissa Griffiths)

Mildred Boesser stood 5 feet tall, and she was one of those people. On the day of the ruling, Boesser was on her deathbed at home in Juneau, surrounded by family.

“Friday she was still up and in the chair and talking and holding court and doing well,” says Sara Boesser, Mildred’s daughter. “But she was ready to go and she said, ‘Why am I still here? Why am I still here? I am ready.’ And then the Supreme Court ruling came through and she said, ‘That’s why I’m still here,’ and she was so happy.”

The wife of an Episcopalian minister, Mildred spent decades fighting for gay rights and marriage equality. Just last year, shetestified to the legislature in support of a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“For the record, I’m 88 years old. I’ve lived in Alaska since 1959. I’ve been married for 65 years to the same man and together we’ve raised four children. I’m also a Christian and my faith informs what I do,” Mildred said. “I can’t begin to tell you how saddened I am by the fact that in this great state I love so dearly, a person can be fired legally from a job, evicted from housing, denied credit or financing simply because of whom they happen to love.”

Sara Boesser and her partner Juanita Reese recently got engaged. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Mildred’s advocacy work stemmed from her daughter Sara.

Sara recounts her mother visiting her while she was a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was the early 1970s.

“I was working at a bookstore called Madwomen Bookstore downtown and it had a lot of feminist and progressive and some lesbian books,” Sara says.

As they were leaving the store, Sara decided at that moment to tell her mother:

“At the crosswalk, light hit green and we started across the crosswalk. I said, ‘Mom, did you know that I’m a lesbian?’ She kind of kept going and she looked at me and said, ‘No, but I’m glad you told me, but that doesn’t change anything about what I feel for you.’ And we got across the crosswalk.”

Throughout the years, Mildred spoke up in the State Capitol Building, in city halls across Alaska and knocked on doors in support of gay rights. Sara says her mother never missed an opportunity to testify in the Capitol, even when Sara herself was discouraged.

“At some point it became too difficult for me to go back to those same legislators and tell them again that we are no threat. I couldn’t do it anymore,” Sara says. “And my mother still would. She wouldn’t even sometimes tell me she’d done it and then I read about it in the paper and think, ‘Wow, way to go Mildred.’”

Liz Dodd is a close family friend. She worked alongside Mildred in 1998 against the state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Dodd says the hearings were antagonistic and she recalls times when lawmakers were rude.

“You would have this bank of legislators sitting around their little dais there and little Mildred at the table in front of them, soft spoken, just preaching love basically,” Dodd says.

Sara Boesser was honored to be Mildred’s daughter.

“People would stop me on the street always and say, ‘I love your mother. She’s my surrogate mother. She’s my grandmother. She’s a mother to us all.’ I was always very proud of her,” Sara says.

The respect was mutual, says Dodd. Dodd recounts her last conversation with Mildred.

“She started to talk about Sara and how Sara was her hero and how Sara inspired her and made her stronger,” Dodd says. “And she said, ‘I had brought this person into the world and then all through the years, I’ve watched her in absolute amazement at who she is.’”

After the Supreme Court ruling, Sara announced to her mother and father that she and her partner of four years are getting married.

“The last day that she was alive, she said, ‘I’m sorry I’m going to miss your wedding.’ I said, ‘Oh, don’t worry mom. You’re my first invitee and you’re going to be there with us, don’t you worry,’” Sara says.

Mildred Boesser passed away at age 90 on June 29, 2015. She is survived by her husband Mark, her four daughters and countless others who considered Mildred their mother.

Categories: Alaska News

Sand Point Post Office Burglars Sentenced

Wed, 2015-07-01 14:52

Two men have been sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 21 months in federal prison for burglarizing the post office in Sand Point.

Twenty-one-year-old Sheldon Wilson Shuravloff, and Keith Lee Wilson, Jr., 19, both of Sand Point, previously pleaded guilty to burglarizing the Sand Point post office in the early morning hours on December 28, 2014.

The burglary caused more than $15,000 in damage to the post office and shut down the facility for a week while the investigation and repairs were completed.

The shutdown meant residents in Sand Point were without medicine, baby formula and household items that arrive by mail.

In a statement to the court, Sand Point’s Postmaster, indicated that the vandalism also delayed delivery of fishing permits and gear essential to the operation of the Sand Point fishing fleet.

Upon release from prison, both Shuravloff and Wilson will remain under court supervision for three years. During that time, both men will be required to complete 250 hours of community service and pay nearly $16,000 dollars in restitution to the United States Postal Service.

During the sentencing, US District court Judge Timothy Burgess called the burglary an extremely serious crime that had a tremendous impact on the Sand Point community as a whole. Judge Burgess specifically noted the intangible harms suffered by the community as a result of Shuravloff and Wilson’s actions.

According to Judge Burgess, both men have amassed lengthy criminal records that stretch back to their early teens.

Categories: Alaska News

State assistance programs approved for Kenai Peninsula fire victims

Wed, 2015-07-01 12:12

Governor Bill Walker has approved a number of state assistance programs to help victims of Kenai Peninsula wildfires.

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is opening a disaster assistance center in Sterling in July.

Spokesperson Jeremy Zidek says people who suffered damages because of the fire can apply for the state’s individual assistance program. That’s broken into two parts: individual and family grants and temporary housing.

“And the individual family grant program can help people with damages to their primary residence, their primary means of transportation, any essential personal property that was damaged by the fire, or if they have any medical expenses that were a direct result of the fire, those costs could be eligible for a grant,” Zidek said.

The temporary housing program helps people who can’t return to their homes because they’ve been damaged past a livable condition.

It can provide housing for up to 18 months for homeowners and up to 3 months for renters.

“We try to find housing that is comparable and the cost is picked up by the individual assistance program,” Zidek said. “The idea is to get people back into their homes as soon as possible, or some type of housing, so they can start that recovery effort.”

The center will be at Sterling Elementary School on July 7-8 and will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days.

Zidek recommends starting the application process beforehand online at ready.alaska.gov or by phone at 1-855-445-7131.

“And then go to the Disaster Assistance Center with a description of damages and losses, photos are very helpful, homeownership documents, insurance information, personal identification, and some type of proof of occupancy,” Zidek said. “From there, a verifier may be able to go out with them at that time and take a look at the damages on their property, verify that, and then complete the application.”

Anyone who is not able to come to the center while it’s open can still complete an application online or by phone.

Categories: Alaska News

Busy fire season prompts influx of firefighting applicants

Wed, 2015-07-01 12:06

After an outbreak of wildfires across the state the Alaska Division of Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service have seen a marked increase in the number of people looking for work in the firefighting effort. But, Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says both agencies already have a list of candidates to draw from.

“The Division of Forestry and the Alaska Fire Service take applications during the month of April for positions regarding firefighting jobs for the summer,” Mowry said. “We take all those applications and we keep them in a pool.”

Applicants are chosen from that list when the need for their skill set arises. Mowry says the spring selection process is a time to ensure firefighters and some support personnel are red card certified. That’s a special certification earned through training and physical fitness tests.

Mowry doesn’t know how many people have inquired about jobs or what their motivation is. He says some probably assume that fire season is a good time to find job openings.

“That may be the case in some cases but there is training involved in all this kind of work whether you’re fighting fires or your working the warehouse,” Mowry said. “And I’m sure there are people who just want to help out and help the whole firefighting effort and we really appreciate that, but that’s not necessarily the way it works.”

Mowry says people who want to help with the fire effort can always reduce fire danger around their own home. He advises anyone interested in working with the Division of Forestry or the Alaska Fire Service to research how to become a part of next spring’s application process.

Also, anyone willing to rent vehicles and equipment for firefighting efforts can apply online through the Alaska Division of Forestry webpage.

Categories: Alaska News

Man sentenced to 55 years in prison for fatal 2010 beating

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:24

A man charged in the beating death of another man in 2010 has been sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports 27-year-old Carl Leedom was sentenced in Anchorage Superior Court Monday on a second-degree murder charge. Leedom had been the last of three defendants charged in the August 2010 death of 23-year-old Harvey Albright.

Police said the trio attacked Albright because Leedom believed he had stolen his backpack, which was filled with money. Assistant district attorney Jason Gist said Leedom had delivered the fatal blow when he hit Albright in the head with a gun, crushing his skill.

During Monday’s sentencing, the state presented a recording of Leedom admitting to the murder.

When he was given the opportunity to speak, Leedom said he was sorry.

Categories: Alaska News

Investigator: Removal of Alaska plane wreckage weeks away

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:19

It could be weeks before the wreckage of a sightseeing plane that crashed in steep, rugged terrain in southeast Alaska, killing nine people, is recovered.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson said authorities were waiting for a helicopter capable of lifting the parts to become available. He said that process could take three weeks.

Johnson said NTSB investigators were trying to wrap up their on-scene work Tuesday. He said a preliminary report on the crash could be released as early as Friday. But he said it would only contain basic information.

Eight cruise ship passengers on a flightseeing shore excursion were killed along with their pilot when their plane went down Thursday in Misty Fjords National Monument, near Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

Tough budget decisions remain in Alaska

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:19

It took two special sessions for Alaska legislators to agree to a budget after a crash in oil prices contributed to a severe reduction in the state’s available revenue.

Barring a huge rebound in oil prices, things aren’t expected to get much easier.

While legislators made big cuts in spending, they won’t be able to repeat the same level of cuts to Alaska’s infrastructure budget, for which state money was reduced largely to the amount needed to meet federal match requirements. And Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal says finding cuts in government operations is always tough.

Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette said Walker signed the operating and capital budgets late Monday. The signing was not announced, and details were not immediately released. The new fiscal year starts Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tue, 2015-06-30 17:39

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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Shell Gets Federal Approval to Head North, With Some Stipulations

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Letter of Authorization to Shell on Tuesday. The authorization allows the oil company to “take small numbers of Polar bears and Pacific walrus incidental to activities occurring during it’s ‘Outer Continental Shelf 2015’ exploration drilling program in the Chukchi Sea” this summer.

Study: Climate Change Is A Chief Threat to Polar Bears

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new federal study shows Alaska’s two polar bear populations could be greatly decreased in a decade.

On His Way Out, Mayor Sullivan Collects A Couple Souvenirs

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Today marks the end of Dan Sullivan’s six years as mayor of Anchorage.

State Lifts Burn Ban, OKs Fireworks Before the 4th

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

State officials lifted bans today (Tuesday) on open burning and use of fireworks for most of Alaska.

In Petersburg, Childcare Shortage Leaves Parents Hanging

There is not enough child care in Petersburg. One of the preschools, The Petersburg’s Children’s Center, has a waiting list of 45 kids.

Study: Kings Are Smaller Than They Used To Be

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Chinook salmon returning to Nushagak and ten other Alaska rivers have gotten smaller in the past few decades, according to a study done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Kenai Borough Re-Evaluates Controversial Fish Habitat Protections

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering an ordinance that would scale back habitat protections for anadromous waters throughout the Kenai Peninsula.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Study: Climate Change Is A Chief Threat to Polar Bears

Tue, 2015-06-30 17:37

An adult female polar bear and her two cubs travel across the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean north of the Alaska coast (photo by U.S. Geological Survey).

A new federal study shows Alaska’s two polar bear populations could be greatly decreased in a decade. The research also shows global warming is by far the biggest threat to polar bear populations across the arctic compared to other stressors like hunting and pollutants. The information is critical to wildlife managers as they develop and implement a recovery plan for the species that’s expected to be released this week (July 2nd). The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.

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Todd Atwood is a research biologist with the United States Geological Survey and lead author of the study. He says indirectly greenhouse gases are driving the loss of polar bear habitat- sea ice.

Polar Bear Ecoregions: In the Seasonal Ice Ecoregion (see map), sea ice melts completely in summer and all polar bears must be on land. In the Divergent Ice Ecoregion, sea ice pulls away from the coast in summer, and polar bears must be on land or move with the ice as it recedes north. In the Convergent Ice and Archipelago Ecoregions, sea ice is generally retained during the summer. (Photo by USGS)

Categories: Alaska News

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