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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: 15 min 21 sec ago

Juneau Turns Out For Downtown Cleanup

Wed, 2014-07-30 17:36

Bruce Denton, right, leads the downtown cleanup. (Photo courtesy Brent Fischer/CBJ Parks & Recreation)

More than 100 Juneau volunteers recently joined City and Borough crews to pull weeds, sweep, hose, scrub and pick up what some estimate to be thousands of cigarette butts.

It was the first event organized by an informal Downtown Improvement Group.

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“I think everyone picked up cigarette butts,” said 9-year-old Adara Allen.

She was a bit grossed out by all the cigarette butts that litter downtown Juneau.

“We scrubbed benches and I scrubbed railings. We picked up a ton of trash. Like a lot of cigarette butts. Almost all of it was that,” she said.

Adara and her 12-year-old sister Tsifira Kiehl joined their dad, Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, in the cleanup.

“Adara found a whole milk jug, partly full,” Tsifira said. “Mostly I scrubbed benches and railings and stuff. I also picked up a lot of stuff, including cans, broken glass, cigarette butts.”

Cigarette butt litter is the byproduct of Juneau’s indoor smoking ban, despite the number of receptacles that line city sidewalks.

Alicia Smith was scrubbing a butt receptacle on South Franklin Street. Her son Joel also had a scrub brush.

“Right now I’m just scrubbing the lamp post down,” he said. “I just wanted to help clean up downtown.”

Business owner Bruce Denton came up with the idea for a cleanup as part of an effort to improve the heart of the capital city. He’s been joined by an informal coalition of business and property owners, downtown residents, the Glory Hole and social service agencies.

Denton took the proposal to CBJ Parks and Recreation, which welcomed the help. The city provided tools, cleaners, buckets, garbage bags, and rubber gloves. Some volunteers showed up with their own favorite tools and Juneau businesses donated other supplies.

They met at Pocket Park and worked along Front, Seward and Franklin streets, and Marine Way to the Willoughby district.

The small army of workers included a who’s who of city officials, a legislator, business owners and employees, a myriad of Juneau residents and some homeless folks.

Deborah Harris has been in Juneau for about a month and is living at the Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency shelter and soup kitchen.

Harris was washing the historical interpretive sign in Marine Park.

“So this morning we’re just getting’ all the mold and the grime and everything off and scrapin’ it up,” she said.

CBJ Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf was working in Marine Park, too. He said it’s one of the hardest places in downtown to keep up.

“You know a million people come through here every year, plus everything that just happens on a daily basis, so it’s more than we’re able to take care of right now,” Schaaf said.

Volunteer Mike Patterson organized the Willoughby Avenue group, where they found the usual trash and a lot of Styrofoam.

“And I don’t know where that came from, but it was everywhere,” Patterson said.

He said it shouldn’t require a small army to pick up litter, which ought not be there in the first place.

“If everybody does their part and just picks up litter and puts it in one of the many garbage receptacles we have around Juneau then it doesn’t have to get to that state again,” Patterson said. “It just takes people caring.”

About 11 o’clock, the volunteers arrived back at Pocket Park, stripped off the rubber gloves and enjoyed music and a thank-you picnic for their efforts.

“The last time I saw Gunakadeit Park this clean was when it was built,” said CBJ Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer.

Fischer said keeping the capital city clean should be a community effort.

“If we have community support like this, we can get it done. From the city’s standpoint, we can’t do it alone,” he said.

Fischer is already looking ahead to the next scour and scrub.

“I hope we can do this in the spring time, so get your rubber gloves, get your tools out, get your brushes and come back.”

Denton is planning another cleanup after the cruise ships leave this fall to focus on private property, including painting some downtown buildings that could use a facelift.

Original story:

Downtown Juneau is a lot cleaner today thanks to more than 100 volunteers who joined city crews to sweep, hose and scrub streets and sidewalks.

Juneau residents as well as the homeless joined city officials and landscape crews for the three-hour cleanup. It started at Gunakadeit Park, also known as pocket park, then wound along Front, Seward and Franklin streets to the Willoughby district.

Bridget Smith spent the first hour scrubbing dirt and moss from a forgotten park post.

“As citizens we all have a collective responsibility to make our community better, to make our state better, to make our nation better and this is part of it. And I am so happy to see so many people here,” Smith said.

The Downtown Improvement Group hopes to join the city and borough for another cleanup this fall, at the end of the cruise ship season.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Southwest, Southeast Alaska Face Highest Risks From Ocean Acidification

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:23

Coastal communities in Alaska that depend on fisheries were warned Tuesday to prepare for the impacts of ocean acidification. A study from federal agencies says many of the science questions remain unanswered but changes are already happening.

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The first concern is likely shellfish, because when the chemistry of the ocean changes, it’s harder for them to form shells. But which commercial shellfish and when they might be affected and in what waters are questions they can’t answer yet. But what the study can say is which communities are most vulnerable. This is the first product from the Synthesis of Arctic Research effort that combines the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with that of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and University researchers in social sciences.

Co-author Sarah Cooley, who wrote the report while at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and is now Scientific Outreach Manager of the Ocean Conservancy, says Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka and the Lake and Peninsula Borough are specifically named because they are fishing towns.

“And what we find is that dependence on fisheries is really the key link between ocean chemistry conditions and human communities,” Cooley said. “Right now in Alaska, we have a very heavy dependence on specific harvests.”

“And those specific harvests of crabs and clams and shellfish are actually the things that we think are sort of at the front lines of harm from ocean acidification.”

Acidity is directly related to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air. It is worst in colder waters and in melt water. To the north in the Chukchi Sea, measurements show the cold acidic water from below increasingly rising to meet the cold acidic waters at the surface…with largely unknown biological effects. Of particular concern are the shell dependent plankton – krill and copepods and a little aquatic snail known as the pteropod, which is heavily fed on by Pink Salmon. But acidity also affects the tiny squid that the King Salmon eat.

“Some species of squid respond poorly to ocean acidification, too, because they have such a high metablolic rate that they can’t exhale as efficiently,” Cooley said.

That’s called an indirect effect in the study. They just can’t say what might be happening to salmon and other fin-fish because of it. Cooley says It is a big and complicated ecosystem out there.

“I think there are more surprises in store, because ecosystems are amazingly resilient,” Cooley said. “But I would love it if we could figure out where the surprises are going to be before we have nasty surprises, like in the Pacific Northwest, when we had nasty surprises of sudden losses of oysters. I’m hoping we can figure it out before we have more losses for people.”

In the case of oysters, the fix turned out to doable. It just took monitoring. When the acid waters shoal up, the oyster farmers change timing, depth, or even dose their larvae with antacids. It took them time to learn all this. And Sarah Cooley says that’s the real point of this report – it’s an effort to try to start getting ahead of the acidity change curve.

“But I think when we start to do studies like this, we can actually kind of go under the hood and figure out the pieces that make a community more or less likely to be hurt, and so we can try to fix those ahead of time,” Cooley said.

Cooley says the options include diversification and securing local government control, but might simply mean things like changing fishing areas and different times.  But certainly better monitoring of acidity levels is going to be key for adaptation by coastal communities in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Research Team Sets Out For Islands of Four Mountains

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:22

The Islands of the Four Mountains as seen from the International Space Station in 2013. Cleveland Volcano is at center. (Courtesy: NASA)

A group of researchers set out from Unalaska this week to a remote part of the central Aleutians: the Islands of the Four Mountains. The 16 scientists are beginning a three-year mission in territory that’s unpredictable – and largely unexplored.

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Weather was clear and sunny in Dutch Harbor on Saturday while the research team loaded up their charter vessel with food and supplies. As most of them know from experience in this part of Alaska, conditions can change in an instant.

Still, lead archaeologist Dixie West was hoping for the best.

“I’m expecting fair skies and wonderful winds, and that we’re going to find some exciting information about how volcanic impacts and tsunamis impacted prehistoric humans,” she said, standing on the spit dock Saturday afternoon.

West works with the University of Kansas. She headed out to the uninhabited Islands of the Four Mountains on Sunday — with her, a group of experts who study volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, climate and biology and prehistoric settlements.

This will be the first year of a three-year expedition, funded in part by the National Science Foundation. Next year is more field work, and in year three, they’ll write up their findings.

West and the others will stage their research on Chuginadak Island, near one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian chain — Mt. Cleveland. They’ll be working in the volcano’s shadow, studying how prehistoric Unangan peoples might have lived there.

“So hopefully we’ll be able to add something to modern information about how people should expect volcanoes to behave, and how possibly better to react to them,” she said.

Most of the researchers took a boat to the island group. A few followed by helicopter — the same one that’ll transport them between the ship and the island’s shore, since there isn’t a dock in the Islands of the Four Mountains.

One who went on the chopper is Max Kaufman, a research technician with the Alaska Volcano Observatory. He’s going to help install seismometers on Cleveland Volcano for the first time.

“Getting these stations in will really help us understand its sort of background behavior,” he said on Saturday.

And through their work, he said, they also “hope to provide some degree of safety for the crew working out there, doing the archaeological studies” — because, he says, you never know when the volcano might wake up. It’s been a little restless in recent days, but Kaufman’s hoping it’ll stick to its usual low-level behavior.

Still, he admitted that the Islands of the Four Mountains are a bit of a daunting destination.

“It seems quite remote, despite its proximity to Dutch Harbor,” he laughed.

So Kaufman and the other researchers will have to be ready for anything the islands throw at them — and so will the crew of their charter vessel, the Maritime Maid. It’s been used for scientific charters before. Skipper George Rains says he’s used to navigating the Aleutians’ tricky coastlines.

“It’s a challenge — it’s always probably been a challenge, from the days the natives were out there,” Rains said as he stood in the wheelhouse of the Maritime Maid. “But basically, you just have to be careful of the weather, move around and stay out of it.”

Twelve members of the team can stay aboard the ship, while the rest will be camping on shore. Most of them will stay out on-site for next three weeks — hoping to start uncovering some of the mysteries that the Islands of the Four Mountains have in store.

You can follow the researchers’ progress on Facebook, or on Twitter @Islandsof4Mtns.

Categories: Alaska News

UA President Offered Bonus at Time of Budget Cuts

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:21

The president of the University of Alaska has been offered a $320,000 bonus if he stays on the job until 2016.

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The board of regents last month voted to offer a contract extension to Pat Gamble that included the bonus, which is equal to one year of his salary.

Some faculty members called the bonus inappropriate with budget cuts and layoffs planned. The University of Alaska Fairbanks plans to lay off about 40 people to close a $12 million budget shortfall. Other campuses plan to leave open positions unfilled.

University system spokeswoman Kate Ripley told the Alaska Dispatch News Gamble’s pay package is modest compared to other university executives.

Categories: Alaska News

ConocoPhillips to Operate New Doyon Drill Rig

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:20

Doyon is building a new North Slope oil drilling rig, the Interior Regional Native Corporation will operate for Conoco Phillips.

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Categories: Alaska News

Port MacKenzie Poised For Post-Oil Economy

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:19

 Port MacKenzie director Marc VanDongen says the load of cement – coated pipe proves the Port’s heavy lifting capabilities:

“Each piece of pipe is 42 feet long and it weighs 10,500 pounds. So we were lifting four pieces of pipe at a time off the ship, 42, 000 pounds at a time, and placing them on flatbed trucks. “

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In March of this year, VanDongen told the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly that he wants more than 915 thousand dollars to run the Port this year. [fy15starts this month] That figure includes 135 thousand dollars for work on existing infrastructure that is to be paid for with a state grant. This year’s Port Mac operating budget is about the same as last year’s – close to 800 thousand dollars.  Through advertisements on its webpage and elsewhere, the Borough has been promoting the Port as a necessity for the economic development of the area.   Borough manager John Moosey says,

“We have a tremendous opportunity, and we are really looking for being the answer to our post – oil economy here in Alaska. We want to take a lead in that and a partnership with the state of Alaska.”

 Moosey says this year, because of federal accounting system changes, the Port budget will be paid for with the Borough’s operating funds.  Before that, Port expenses were paid out of an enterprise fund, which meets expenses through user fees.

“Traditionally, Port MacKenzie had an enterprise fund. With the new GASB, which is the new accounting rules, for 2015, we are funding this out of our general operations, our general tax levy. When we can return the operations to cover expenses versus revenues, we will be flipping this back to an enterprise fund operation.”

 But, Moosey says, the Port’s profitability depends on a rail link to the Port from Houston. That link is under construction, but won’t be completed for some time… possibly not before 2018.

 Port MacKenzie has not turned a profit since 2008, when 451 tons of gravel was off loaded there. Van Dongen says that activity generated 832 thousand dollars profit in royalties, wharfage and dockage fees. Van Dongen says this month’s load of cement pipe is generating income, too.

 ”It’s going to depend on how long the pipe is sitting on the dock. There’s a monthly charger per square foot that they are leasing the dock. They’re leasing an office in our terminal building. There’s wharfage, there’s dockage for when the pipe comes in and there is a different rate for when it goes out. Roughly, I’m estimating between 60 and 70 thousand dollars from this one operation. “

 He, too, says that the rail link is vital to the Port’s continued economic health.

 But some have questioned whether or not the Borough is throwing money into a ditch.

“It’s not feasible. It’s not economically viable.”

That’s a comment from  Grace Whedbee, a  Big Lake homeowner.  Whedbee is a contractor who works in ppost – disaster infrastructure recovery.  She  has written a report critical of Port MacKenzie, and has also has sided with local environmental groups in a lawsuit against construction of the rail link. Whedbee, who is a contractor, says it is unlikely that Port MacKenzie will ever make money, because of its location.

 Whedbee says currents at Port MacKenzie are too fast for the safety of big freighters, and that the ships have to travel further to get there than they do to get to the port in Seward. And she says if Alaska products are to be shipped out of state, it’s cheaper to ship them by railroad to Seward.

 ”As taxpayers, we are going to continue to pay on this until someone wises up and says ‘How much more money are we going to put into it?’ I do not think that, long run, that port will ever be able to be a world port, that is used to ship around the world.”

 Let’s look at the recent shipment of cement covered pipe delivered to Port MacKenzie this month. The pipe was built in Korea, then sent to Mexico for the cement coating, before it was shipped to Alaska on a Panamanian flagged ship with a Chinese crew. Van Dongen says Port MacKenzie was the optimal destination because of the space available there for storing the pipe. He says near term plans are to expand the port’s customer base to include a fuel tank farm, and that negotiations are in the works with two companies interested in starting an LNG export operation at the Port.

Borough manager Moosey says the Borough’s long term plan regarding the Port includes asking the state for money for a second dock.

“That plan sits right in our capital improvement program. Essentially, we are planning that when the rail line is complete, activity will pick up greatly at Port MacKenzie and there will eventually be a need for additional dock space and transportation coming in. We don’t anticipate this happening for at least three or four years, and at that time, we’ll bring forth a plan to the state legislature or look at bonding options to make that happen. But that is farther out in the future.”

Moosey says that that request won’t be made until the railroad link is complete. At that time, the Borough will firm up a marketing plan to attract more business to the Port.

Categories: Alaska News

New UAF Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community & Native Ed

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:18

Evon Peter

Evon Peter has been selected to run the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ rural campuses. He will serve as the new vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education.

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Peter is Neetsaii Gwich’in and Koyukon from Arctic Village. He graduated from UAF in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in Alaska Native Studies. He is finishing a master’s degree in rural development.

Peter is responsible for the College of Rural and Community Development, which includes all of UAF’s rural campuses and sites.

As vice chancellor, Peter will be responsible for guiding UAF’s rural and community education initiatives, promoting the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in university programs and advocating for Alaska Native education.

Peter replaces Bernice Joseph, who died earlier this year after a battle with cancer.

Categories: Alaska News

Why Juneau Should Be Next For Housing First

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:17

A considerable amount of city resources is spent on addressing the needs of chronic inebriates who are homeless. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Momentum is building in the capital city to provide housing for the homeless who suffer from substance abuse.

Housing First is based on the idea that the homeless can’t deal with problems like alcoholism and medical issues until they have a permanent place to live.

Anchorage and Fairbanks have Housing First facilities. In Juneau, some non-profit organizations, city officials, and legislators think it’s a good idea.

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Fifty-seven-year old veteran Mark Maleski sits on a Telephone Hill park bench on a cloudy July day overlooking Merchants Wharf and Gastineau Channel. It’s 1 p.m. and he’s been drinking vodka.

Maleski is homeless. Sometimes he sleeps right there in the park. The night before, though, he picked a spot outside the Arctic Bar on South Franklin Street.

“I was sleeping on the street. The old lady said, ‘Come on, go walking.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to walk. I got no destination. Who wants to walk?’” Maleski says.

Instead, he was picked up.

“Rainforest Recovery got a hold of me,” he says.

Maleski spent the night in sleep off. It’s not the first time that’s happened and likely not the last.

Rainforest Recovery Center emergency vehicle patrols downtown Juneau six times a day looking for people who are publicly intoxicated. But it mostly responds to calls. In the first three months of this year, Rainforest received more than 480 calls resulting in 364 transports.

Some inebriates are brought to sleep off, a room with five mattresses on the floor, where they can sleep until they’re sober.

Rainforest Recovery director Jennifer Brown says a few people regularly use sleep off, as much as twenty times a month.

“In addition to them using Rainforest, they’re likely also high utilizers of other services, including the ER. So perhaps while they’re not with us, they might be over in the ER addressing their other needs,” Brown says.

Rainforest Recovery is part of Bartlett Regional Hospital. The City and Borough of Juneau allocated more than $1.1 million this year to the hospital for the emergency patrol and sleep off facility.

Capital City Fire/Rescue responds daily to calls about public intoxication, including those made by the drinkers themselves. Fire chief Rich Etheridge says about 30 dial 911 on a regular basis.

“A lot of them have legitimate medical issues. It’s masked by the alcohol and when they start sobering up then their symptoms become more apparent. So just because they’re inebriated doesn’t mean they don’t have medical needs that have to be met. People tend to overlook that from time to time. You know, they’re people too and we need to take care of them,” Etheridge says.

Of the estimated 600 homeless in Juneau, a 2012 survey found about 40 are considered vulnerable to dying prematurely on the street.

Both Etheridge and Brown support the idea of a Housing First facility for this group.

“Give people shelter, a safe place to be, and then try to wrap services around them, you see much greater success,” Brown says.

That’s what Ken Scollan has seen at Karluk Manor in Anchorage, the original Housing First facility in Alaska.

“We have six people working. We had one person here who got her CNA license, is currently working as a certified nurse assistant. We actually hire three people from the population to do our janitorial services on site,” Scollan says.

Scollan is the affordable housing manager of the statewide nonprofit Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP, which runs Karluk Manor. When it opened in December 2011, 46 homeless alcoholics moved into their own efficiency apartments. Since then, Scollan says people drink less. Interactions between residents and police have greatly decreased. Two people have moved into their own apartments.

Scollan says the concept is simple. With a place to call home and 24-hour support staff, residents are taking better care of themselves.

“They now have an address. They have a place to stay. They have a phone. And now people can get a hold of them. If they have medical appointments, they’re able to call here and set that up. If they have mental health appointments, the same thing. We’ll help them with their food stamp applications, their social security applications,” Scollan says.

A barrier to bringing a Housing First project to Juneau is cost. A new facility is estimated at $7 million. Refurbishing an existing building could cost around $4 million.

Supporters believe the savings to Juneau could be immense. Mariya Lovishchuk is executive director of the emergency shelter and soup kitchen The Glory Hole. She says the cost to a community drops dramatically when a Housing First facility is built.

“The number of emergency room visits, the number of police pick-ups, the number of criminal charges — they drop so, so significantly. And therefore, the cost to tax payers drops so significantly. We’re all paying for this and we need to be paying a lot less,” Lovishchuk says.

Another barrier is finding an organization to take the lead. Scott Ciambor with the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness has been educating various city and community groups on the Housing First concept for a couple of years.

The 13-member Glory Hole board of directors supports the idea, but members don’t think it’s a project they can develop on their own.

Finding an agency to take the lead may seem daunting, but Ciambor isn’t fazed.

“Two years ago when we had a burst of interest amongst the people who know this population and work in this industry, there was confusion as to what to do as well. Now the demeanor of this conversation is completely different because we know what the solution is. And now it’s about how do we get there as a community,” Ciambor says.

Just this week, Juneau’s legislative delegation met twice to talk about downtown issuessurrounding image, alcohol and the homeless. Sen. Dennis Egan says he hopes the legislature will consider an appropriation for a permanent supportive housing facility. Housing First is a Juneau assembly goal and city manager Kim Kiefer says members have discussed providing land.

Other funding sources could include grants through the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and private foundations.

Efforts have already been made to establish a Housing First Fund through the charitable organization Juneau Community Foundation.

Categories: Alaska News

Peony Industry Blooming in Alaska

Tue, 2014-07-29 17:16

Peonies are a growing business in Alaska. Ample sunlight and moisture make for good growing conditions, and more farmers are looking at the flowers as a profit-maker.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 29, 2014

Tue, 2014-07-29 16:59

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Southwest, Southeast Alaska Face Highest Risks From Ocean Acidification

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Coastal communities in Alaska that depend on fisheries were warned Tuesday to prepare for the impacts of ocean acidification. A study from federal agencies says many of the science questions remain unanswered but changes are already happening.

Research Team Sets Out For Islands of Four Mountains

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A group of researchers set out from Unalaska this week to a remote part of the central Aleutians: the Islands of the Four Mountains. The 16 scientists are beginning a three-year mission in territory that’s unpredictable – and largely unexplored.

UA President Offered Bonus at Time of Budget Cuts

The Associated Press

The president of the University of Alaska has been offered a $320,000 bonus if he stays on the job until 2016.

ConocoPhillips to Operate New Doyon Drill Rig

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Doyon is building a new North Slope oil drilling rig, the Interior Regional Native Corporation will operate for Conoco Phillips.

Questions Arise Over Profitability of Port MacKenzie

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Earlier this month the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s Port MacKenzie took on a load of 16 miles of cement-coated pipe from a foreign vessel. The pipe now rests at the Port, awaiting shipment to Nikiski to be used in construction of a new Cook Inlet oil platform.  Although the pipe shipment has boosted Borough revenues, some are asking questions about whether the port will ever be profitable.

New UAF Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community & Native Ed

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Evon Peter has been selected to run the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ rural campuses. He will serve as the new vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education.

Why Juneau Should Be Next For Housing First

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Momentum is building in the capital city to provide housing for the homeless who suffer from substance abuse.

Housing First is based on the idea that the homeless can’t deal with problems like alcoholism and medical issues until they have a permanent place to live.

Anchorage and Fairbanks have Housing First facilities. In Juneau, some non-profit organizations, city officials, and legislators think it’s a good idea.

Peony Industry Blooming in Alaska

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Peonies are a growing business in Alaska.  Ample sunlight and moisture make for good growing conditions, and more farmers are looking at the flowers as a profit-maker.

Categories: Alaska News

Elim Gathers River Data as Safeguard Against Uranium Mining

Tue, 2014-07-29 09:48

Shepherd and Takak begin to gather depth and temperature readings from the gauge site on the Tubuktulik. (Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM)

Forty miles from Elim up the Tubuktulik River, a small gauge sits at the water’s edge, just downstream from the state-owned Boulder Creek site—the largest known uranium deposit in Alaska, and a hot spot for potential mining.

At the base of the gauge, a level troll device pulls temperature and depth recordings every 15 minutes from the bed of the river. The device is there because residents of Elim don’t want to see mining develop near the Tubuktulik. During the 2008 Iditarod race, students and elders rallied at the Elim checkpoint to protest Triex Minerals Corporation, the Canadian mineral exploration company that was exploring the uranium deposit near Boulder Creek in 2006. Now, they’re hoping to get official protection.

Hal Shepherd is the director of the Center for Water Advocacy, and has been working with Elim’s Tribal Council on a data collection plan for the Tubuktulik River. He and Leigh Takak, a field technician for the watershed program, have been boating up the river almost every month for the past two years. Their destination—the testing site—is one of the only spots on the Seward Peninsula with a gauge device that’s constantly collecting data. Grants from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs fund the fuel and testing equipment needed for the data collection project.

Last week, Shepherd and Takak conducted their routine testing at the site.

“First, we used an instrument called a level troll to test depth and temperature. And then we did the transect, so we measured the discharge along that long transect that was about 120 feet wide or so,” said Shepherd. “Then we measured water quality, because that is a concern about any type of mining activity—particularly uranium—that could contaminate the water source.”

Shepherd said these tests yield baseline data for the health of the river—data that will be turned over to the state of Alaska as part of Elim’s in-stream flow reservation application. If granted, Mayor Tyler Ivanoff said the reservation would grant Elim jurisdiction over the water flowing into their land.

“If we attain them, we would be able to stop mining companies from using the water which would flow into our area,” said Ivanoff. “If we don’t get those water rights, then the state or the other mining companies can just use our water and probably pollute our rivers that we’ve been fishing on since time immemorial.”

Alaska is one of few states in the country to allow for individuals, in addition to state, federal and local governing agencies, to apply for reservations of state-owned water. However, Ivanoff said, the state doesn’t hand out these reservations frequently—and the application itself is a large undertaking. You need five years of data to be granted a reservation, though the application can be submitted after two years of data collection.

Shepherd said Elim anticipates submitting their application this fall. But until then, and for the next three years, he’ll continue making the 10-12 hour trip up the Tubuktulik. He said it’s a journey ripe with challenges—and, of course, the occasional pit stop for fishing on this healthy river.

“It’s so difficult to get up here. It’s so remote. The logistics are almost mind-boggling. You know, a lot of people are really excited about collecting good data. We get excited if we can just get to the gauge,” said Shepherd. “And we do it in the winter time, too. We do ice flow measurements. You have to come up by snow mobile. It can be pretty dicey trying to get up here in the winter.”

Though the trip isn’t easy and chances of actually securing a water reservation are uncertain, Elim Water Advocate Emily Murray believes this work is worthwhile. Murray is working with Shepherd on applying for the reservation. Last year she was a strong voice against HB77, a state bill that would have prohibited applications for in-stream water reservations like the one Elim is currently working towards.

“We need to be at the table, we need to be part of the permitting process, we really need to be. Because you know [the mining companies] could come and go but we’re still going be here. It’s that much more important for us to fight for our clean water in our backyard,” said Murray. “You know, you need to exercise your authority in that area.”

Even if Triex Minerals Corporation does not pursue a mining operation along the Tubuktulik River—with the price of uranium now down to $30 per pound, less than half its trading price in 2006—the community of Elim is continuing to take precautionary action.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly to decide on AO-37 on Tuesday, still discussing possible alternative

Tue, 2014-07-29 08:32

Assembly members and union representatives met on Monday to discuss the latest revisions of a proposed new version of Anchorage’s controversial labor law, AO-37. The Assembly has to make a decision by next week, or it will be up for a public vote in November.

Earlier this summer Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston set forth a new version of Anchorage’s labor laws. The ad hoc labor committee is working with union members to refine the details before the next Assembly meeting. Jason Alward, with Operating Engineers Local 302, says he’s optimistic about the conversations, but this ordinance isn’t ready yet.

“The biggest concern for all of labor is one thing, and it’s kind of the elephant in the room that no one’s discussed until today, and that’s current bargaining unit members no longer being part of the unit.”

Alward says the new definitions of “confidential” and “supervisory” employees could push some people out of their unions.

Other union representatives are concerned that Johnston’s version does not allow “past practices” to be considered during arbitration. Assembly member Bill Evans says removing it could be problematic. Johnston says leaving it in stifles innovation.

Assembly member Dick Traini says the conversations about this version of the labor law have been productive. ”Had we had this process you saw today with Labor there, saying ‘We have problems with this line, this line.’ And management saying ‘Well we can work on this if you do this,’ then this whole thing wouldn’t have happened the way it did.”

But Traini says now they just need to start over. He plans to put forth a motion to repeal AO-37 in its entirety.

If neither Johnston’s version nor the repeal pass the Assembly with eight votes on Tuesday — enough to override a veto from the mayor — then the issue will go to the ballot box in November. But Traini says that has ramifications.

“If it goes to the voters in November and they repeal 37, everything that’s written in there, the current code, is locked in for two years. Can’t be adjusted.”

The municipality must decide by August 18 if the repeal will be on the November ballot, which would cost the city $30,000.

The Assembly will have a work session on Friday at noon to continue the conversation. Then they’ll take public testimony and vote on the issue on Tuesday, August 5.

Categories: Alaska News

Campaign Profile: For Joe Miller, 2010 Looms Large

Mon, 2014-07-28 18:40

Here’s the story Joe Miller likes to tell about healthcare, that he told at his campaign launch in April: When he was in first grade, he injured his lip in a bad fall.

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“And (I) hit my face flat on the floor. And we didn’t have health care, so of course I didn’t go to the doctor,” he said.

It healed badly. He lived with the disfigurement for six years, but he saved his money to pay for surgery.

“I got a bus ticket, made an appointment, found a doctor, paid I think $200 or $300 and had them cut the scar tissue,” he said.

It’s a story of self-reliance and free enterprise, well suited to a Tea-Party candidate who rails against “Obamacare,” who says we must slash federal spending and entitlements to avoid national bankruptcy.

There’s another healthcare story he doesn’t talk about: After Miller moved to Alaska and had kids of his own, his family signed up for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. Asked repeatedly how he feels about that period in his family’s history, he turned the question into one of federal mandates. He says each state should decide whether to provide assistance.

“It’s a decision that the people of the state should make. Not one that the federal government should make,” he said. “I think it’s an upside down world when we think the ruling classes in Washington, D.C. should be making all these calls and decisions for us.”

This is as close as he would come to discussing his own experience on Medicaid: “My family’s been in situations where we have been in need, and as a consequence of it our objective is not to leave other people in need. The objective is to make sure we don’t end up hitched up to a federal government that completely tubes the entire country.”

The Medicaid episode is just one of a string of unflattering revelations that came out of the 2010 contest. His campaign website lists some of them under the label “myths.” The 2008 incident where he used his co-workers’ computers at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to skew an online political poll? The campaign says he had a “lapse in judgment” and was briefly dishonest before coming clean. The time during the last campaign that his bodyguards handcuffed a reporter? The guards weren’t paid campaign staff, Miller’s website explains, and anyway one of them turned out to be an FBI informant working for the other side.

As for the farm subsidies he accepted in the ‘90s, Miller says it was only about $100 a month. He says he’s not sure he could have refused them since they were in place when he acquired the Kansas farmland.

“I think that that provides me with a better position probably than many other people to comment on why those programs are bad,” he said. “You’ve got a government that is basically directing a farmer to grow a certain crop, or else they’re penalized. Wouldn’t it be better for the farmers to determine, based upon the market, what’s best for them to grow?”

Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary, only to lose to her in the general when she mounted a write-in campaign. He is clearly bitter toward Republicans who helped Murkowski win.

He says he was done in by the Republican establishment and a multi-million dollar smear campaign against him. Miller says his worst mistake of 2010 was letting establishment-wing Republicans work on his campaign after the primary.

“One of the biggest lessons was to keep the loyal folk around you, and to recognize that when you’re an anti-establishment reform candidate, you’re going to have enemies from all sorts of unexpected places,” he said.

Miller points out he’s the only non-millionaire in the race. He grew up in Kansas, the son of an independent church pastor and says his family got by despite limited means.

“My mom, for example — how many of you remember Toughskins, from Sears?” he asked the crowd at his campaign launch in Wasilla. “You know why as a kid you bought Toughskins? Because if you wore out the knee Sears would give you a new pair.”

He’s a West Point grad who was awarded a bronze star for commanding a tank platoon in the first Gulf War. He earned a Yale law degree and, in addition to working as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, also served as a magistrate, both state and federal. After Yale, he got a master’s degree in Economics from UAF. He and his wife Kathleen have eight children and a grandchild.

While 2010 left him with big negatives, he also emerged with a good chunk of campaign cash, more than $800,000 at the end of that year. After spending about half to wind down expenses, he transferred the remainder to the current campaign.

Another benefit that grew from his 2010 race is a cadre of loyalists. His campaign launch in Wasilla was crowded with eager supporters. Christopher Kurka, executive director of Alaska Right to Life, was there with his family. Alaska Right to Life later endorsed Miller, even though his Republican opponents say they, too, oppose abortion. Kurka says his group considered a double endorsement but concluded that Miller’s commitment was more reliable because he has never supported candidates on the other side of the issue.

“Joe’s pro-life rhetoric is rooted in the core of who he is,” Kurka says.

Anchorage Political blogger Amanda Coyne says Miller appears more confident and fluent than he did in 2010. She ticks off his assets as a candidate.

“He has command of the issues, no. 1. He’s got a clear vision, no. 2. He’s incredibly articulate and his message appeals to the Tea party base in the state,” she said, “and the Tea Party base is very devoted and very committed to their candidates.”

But Coyne says there’s not much he can do to convince Alaskans to disregard what they learned about him four years ago.

“To try to get over the 2010 negatives would demand almost a personality transplant and he’s not going to do that, he has no intention of doing that — from what I’ve seen at least — and I don’t think he can do that,” Coyne said.

Polls suggest Miller is trailing Republicans Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell. If he loses on Aug. 19, would he run as a third-party candidate? Miller won’t say.

“Because to (answer) would be making basically a vicarious promise to both of my opponents who have already demonstrated a lack of trust in that area,” he said. “They both, of course supported Murkowski in 2010, against the Republican nominee.”

As Miller sees it, Sullivan and Treadwell didn’t respect his win in that primary, so they don’t deserve his pledge to concede if he loses in this primary.

 

Categories: Alaska News

YouGov Model Shows Treadwell Within Reach of Begich

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:43

Most polls in the U.S. Senate race show Dan Sullivan ahead of rival Republican Mead Treadwell in the primary. But the Treadwell campaign is trumpeting a new analysis by the polling firm YouGov. It shows Treadwell would do better against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in November than Sullivan would. In a two-way contest, YouGov estimates Begich would lead Treadwell by 2 points, 47% to 45%. It says the gap between Begich and Sullivan is 12 points,  49% to 37%. The YouGov Battleground Tracker is sponsored by CBS and the New York Times and is based on Internet polling. Nationwide, it shows Republicans have a slight advantage to take the majority of Senate seats.  The researchers caution that Alaska is tricky to poll and there have been few recent surveys. The Alaska data is from 452 Internet respondents. Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says YouGov’s work is not based on the more reliable technique of random sampling but allows respondents to “opt-in,” or self-select. Anderson notes The Wall Street Journal reports Begich and Sullivan are evenly matched.

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Categories: Alaska News

Seismologists Uncertain if Southeast Quake Activity is Related

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:42

Several large earthquakes have hit Southeast Alaska recently. But State Seismologist Michael West with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center says it’s unclear whether the activity is related.

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Categories: Alaska News

Coalition Forms to Address Downtown Juneau Problems

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:41

Buildings beyond the Gastineau Apartments need paint and other work. The apartment building burned in November 2012. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The image of Juneau’s downtown ranges from the glamour of huge cruise ships and stores catering to tourists, to street people with nowhere to go.

An informal coalition has formed representing business and property owners, residents and social service organizations to tackle some of the issues.

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Bruce Denton has had an office in the Senate building on South Franklin Street for about 30 years. In May, he spent a lot of time outside painting, watching over downtown.

“I had no idea how bad it had become.”

Now he’s a man with a mission.

A video

Denton asked filmmaker Pat Race to produce a short video of some of the things he’d seen from his perch.

“My marching orders to Pat was that I didn’t want it to be an indictment of any one group. I just basically wanted the bad and the ugly of what was going on downtown,” Denton says.

The bad and the ugly?

“It’s everything,” he says.

The video starts at Front and Franklin streets and pans the burned-out Gastineau Apartments.

“You look up Franklin Street and think why would I want to go there?”

Pat Race calls his short video a snapshot of downtown.

“I filmed everything from like puke and poop and people passed out on the doorsteps of businesses and broken windows and busted up sidewalks. It really ran the gamut,” Race says. “It’s just a deterioration of attention.”

It even picks up the north wall of Denton’s Senate building.

“It looks horrible,” Denton says. “I thought, ‘Pat, why did you do that to me,’ and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is what we’re talking about. We all need to take ownership.’”

Race deliberately shot the footage over a short period of time.

“It’s not cherry-picked, it’s not all the greatest hits from the last month. It’s everything that just happened within a few days,” he says. “And it’s pretty pervasive.”

Race also owns a business downtown. He says he wasn’t surprised at the images he saw in his camera, but at how long he’d shut them out.

“I think the thing that surprised me was how much I had my blinders on now,” he says.  “I think once you start looking around it’s pretty appalling how many cigarette butts are on the ground, and how things haven’t been painted in quite a while and just what we let people get away with in a public space.”

Denton calls it “just a lot of obnoxious activity, a lot of people operating below polite society.”

An informal coalition

For the past month, Denton and Race have taken their concerns and the video to small groups of business and property owners, a few CBJ staff and a couple of elected officials. Even the Downtown Neighborhood Association has joined.

Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson dubs the informal coalition DIG, for Downtown Improvement Group. Earlier this month, Denton and Race met with Johnson and Lt. David Campbell. They don’t need a video to understand the issues.

“Typically, what we encounter in the downtown area is a lot of public nuisance-type complaints. Alcohol is a contributing factor to it,” he says. “A lot of people are consuming alcohol.”

Downtown Juneau consumes a lot of police presence, especially on nights and weekends.

When he steps out of his police lieutenant role, Campbell admits downtown is sometimes an unpleasant place to be.

“As a citizen and a parent, I don’t know, there’s just an uncomfortable air about it,” he says.

Campbell says Denton is on the right track. He points to a study done years ago calledBroken Windows.

“You have an area that’s got broken windows and graffiti, it gives an unconscious message that nobody cares,” he says.

And such problems grow. The reverse, of course, is well-cared for property, an inviting downtown.

“You keep places clean, you know you have the impression that somebody cares about it, is watching it. And as you’re able to get ownership and get back, it actually has a positive effect toward these low-level, quality-of-life issue crimes,” Campbell says.

Cleaning up is a start

As Denton spreads his message, he says peer pressure is the way to start cleaning up downtown.

“If your neighbor on both sides of your building cleans up their act, it kind of puts a lot of pressure on you to do the same thing,” he says.

While a general clean-up may be the best way to start addressing the issues, Denton and other members of the downtown group know it’s superficial; the tougher solutions may take years.

Those conversations are just getting underway.

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series on downtown Juneau issues. You can read the second part here: Bring your brooms and scrub brushes; downtown cleanup is Friday

Categories: Alaska News

Clearwater Lodge Owners Opt to Rebuild After Devastating Fire

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:40

The owners of Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction have decided to rebuild the historic structure that burned down in May. Fans and friends of the lodge want to help get work started with a fund-raiser next month.

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Categories: Alaska News

Inaugural Beringia Arctic Games Brings Indigenous People Together in Russia

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:39

The residents of Novoye Chaplino greeted vistors when they arrived on the beach with traditional song and dance.
(Emily Schwing KUAC)

This time of year, indigenous people across the Far North gather to play games and celebrate traditions. Earlier this month, in Fairbanks they took part in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. There was also a gathering of people from across the Circumpolar north in Inuvik, Canada. This year, native people from Arctic nations joined Russia’s Chukchi and Inuit peoples for the first ever Beringia Arctic Games. It was the largest gathering of its kind in a once forgotten corner of the world called Chukotka.

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Seven women row a long, wide boat out to the middle of a protected bay off Russia’s Bering Sea coast. A flare soars into the air and they pull with all their strength at long wooden oars. They’re in a race against seven other boats and teams.

These are skin boats, made from hand-carved driftwood and the hides of two female walrus. Valentina Attun stands at the back of one. She mans a giant wooden rudder and counts strokes in Russian to help her team keep a cadence. By the end of the race, her voice is hoarse.

“Of course we are very happy to win the race,” says Attun, “but we had a lot of training,” She says her team is very thankful for the men in her village and her uncle who helped build their boat.

This year, more than 20 athletes from seven Arctic nations including Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands joined the competition. They also took part in other games of agility, endurance and strength that test traditional hunting and survival skills.

In a school gymnasium, competition is fierce during the one arm reach. An athlete balances their entire body on one hand and reaches above their head for a tennis ball, but their legs cannot touch the floor. It’s the same movement you might make if you were gathering bird eggs from a rocky cliff.

Johnny Issaluk is from Iqaluit, on Canada’s Baffin Island. He was surprised to discover Russia’s Chukchi people play the same games as Canada’s Inuit.

“When we start competing, it’s just the same as competing at home. There’s nothing different. I am playing with my homeboys.”

Issaluk says the Russian competition is stiff because they are here to represent their villages. Andrej Kainenen agrees. He is one of 200 residents who lives here in Novoye Chaplino.

Kainenan captains a skin boat for his village. He says the event is good because it brings people together.  He says the people in Novoye Chaplino took the time to make their village presentable for guests.

The games were met with traditional drumming and dancing.  Olga Leitikai is from a small coastal village to the south. She came to sing. She also works as a liaison between the Russian government and local marine mammal hunters. As more attention is paid to natural resources in the region, she says there is dialogue on all sides.

“Of course the society of Chukotka is changing, like all over the world, it’s changing. I think the most important things is to take a balance between tradition and modern life.”

The challenge to find that balance is familiar for Sam Nystad, a native Sami from Norway’s Finnmark region. “The western world has definitely taken a big chunk in the Sami culture,” he says.  ”The thing is i was actually impressed by how they preserved their culture and how they wanted to chow it to the world through the games.”

After two days, the official games come to a close, but the residents of Novoye Chaplino aren’t ready to quit.

A group of teenage girls from Greenland sings around a bonfire as Andrej Kainenan shows the crowd a new game.  Men carry a giant rock around in a circle until their arms are exhausted.

As a midnight sun sinks below the horizon other local games last well into the night, the same way they have for generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 28, 2014

Mon, 2014-07-28 17:18

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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YouGov Model Shows Treadwell Within Reach of Begich

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Most polls in the U.S. Senate race show Dan Sullivan ahead of rival Republican Mead Treadwell in the primary. But the Treadwell campaign is trumpeting a new analysis by the polling firm YouGov.

Campaign Profile: For Joe Miller, 2010 Looms Large

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The poll did not include numbers for Republican Joe Miller, who is also vying for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. The specter of his 2010 run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski looms large over his current campaign. Some of the residual effects strengthen Miller’s candidacy. But the negatives are persistent.

Seismologists Uncertain if Southeast Quake Activity is Related

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Several large earthquakes have hit Southeast Alaska recently. But State Seismologist Michael West with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center says it’s unclear whether the activity is related.

Coalition Forms to Address Downtown Juneau Problems

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The image of Juneau’s downtown ranges from the glamour of huge cruise ships and stores catering to tourists, to street people with nowhere to go.

An informal coalition has formed representing business and property owners, residents and social service organizations to tackle some of the issues.

Fecal Bacteria Contaminates Many Anchorage Waterways

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA – Anchorage

Scores of rivers, creeks, and streams flow through Anchorage. People fish in them, play in them, and swim in them.  But the city’s seemingly pristine watershed has a dirty secret:  it’s largely contaminated with fecal bacteria.

Clearwater Lodge Owners Opt to Rebuild After Devastating Fire

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The owners of Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction have decided to rebuild the historic structure that burned down in May. Fans and friends of the lodge want to help get work started with a fund-raiser next month.

Inaugural Beringia Arctic Games Brings Indigenous People Together in Russia

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

This time of year, indigenous people across the Far North gather to play games and celebrate traditions. Earlier this month, in Fairbanks they took part in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. There was also a gathering of people from across the Circumpolar north in Inuvik, Canada. This year, native people from Arctic nations joined Russia’s Chukchi and Inuit peoples for the first ever Beringia Arctic Games. It was the largest gathering of its kind in a once forgotten corner of the world called Chukotka.

Categories: Alaska News

VA, Metlakatla Tribe Reach Housing Agreement

Mon, 2014-07-28 12:02

Alaska Native Veterans in Metlakatla will soon be able to get a direct loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs for housing.

Ivonne Perez is a loan specialist for the V.A. She says the loans are meant to help improve Alaska Native Veterans’ lives.

“This is the very first one that we’re going to be signing in Alaska. We are hoping to have more tribal villages and housing authorities have interest and also offering this worthwhile program to their Native American Veterans,” says Perez.

Before the VA can make a loan to any Native American veteran, the individual’s tribe must first enter into an agreement with the VA and the home must be on federal trust land. If the property is not located on trust land, the veteran can use a different VA loan.

The Metlakatla agreement is the first in Alaska. There will be a signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, in Metlakatla on Monday, July 28 at 11am.

Categories: Alaska News
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