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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 35 min 17 sec ago

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

Signs mark the end of Juneau’s Glacier Highway in 2013. The latest environmental impact statement maintains a preference to extend the road 47 miles north along the east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

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The 694-page draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project is a reaction to court challenges to the project’s 2006 environmental impact statement.

The new document maintains a preference to build a road along the east side of Lynn Canal, north to the Katzehin River. There, a new ferry terminal would make a short connection to Haines and the road system.

The new document attempts to fulfill a major regulatory hurdle to highway construction, estimated at $523 million. Ferry terminal and vessel construction is estimated to cost another $51 million.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council was one of the parties to challenge the 2006 environmental impact statement. It may do so again, says Executive Director Malena Marvin.

“Our lawyers have not analyzed it yet but it’s likely that it will be challenged.”

The federal courts in 2009 and 2011 said the original statement failed to adequately consider improved ferry service as an alternative to building the road. The new document addresses that and revises outdated information.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the next step for the department is to collect public comments that will eventually be integrated into an additional report.

“Depending on how many comments we receive will determine the length of time it takes us to put together the environmental impact statement for review by the Federal Highway Administration before we can reach a record of decision. So, that could take several months or longer.”

The public comment period on the draft document is open until Nov. 10.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fish Boat Explodes in Valdez; 1 Injured

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

A Coast Guard spokesman says a 30-foot commercial fishing boat exploded and burned Wednesday evening in the small boat harbor in Valdez. The lone person on board was able to walk off and was taken to a hospital.

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Lt. Ben Bauman says Valdez firefighters and police responded, as did Coast Guard personnel. They found the vessel Fireman afloat, with the majority of its wheelhouse torn apart by the explosion.

Once Valdez firefighters said the area was safe, Bauman says Coast Guard officers were able to board the boat to begin a pollution investigation.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:57

Magnuson-Stevens created 8 separate regional councils to manage fisheries in federal waters. According ALFA’s Linda Behnken, not all regions have placed as much emphasis on resource protection as the North Pacific. (NOAA Fisheries image)

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

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Draft language containing proposed changes to Magnuson-Stevens has been working its way through the US House of Representatives, but the political lines became clearer when Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced his version of the billon September 16.

Read the full text of Sen. Rubio’s Florida Fisheries Improvement Act.

The top priority for Rubio is giving the regional management councils more flexibility in setting timelines for rebuilding depleted fish stocks.

This is exactly what Linda Behnken, the director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was hoping not to hear.

“There’s quite a pushback right now against the rebuilding timelines and the catch limits. You start rebuilding stocks, it means you have to catch less fish, generally, and that’s a painful process for fishermen.”

Behnken says she wasn’t expecting a Senate bill so soon, but Rubio’s paralells some language she’s seen in the House. Fishing Community Coalition is worried about a reauthorization that merely “reaffirms the status quo” or worse “moves backward.” The Mangnuson-Stevens Act was first passed in 1976, and wasn’t considered very effective for its first two decades. But substantial amendments in 1996 and 2006 reinforced the law’s commitment to sustainability.

Behnken would like to stay the course.

“To protect the gains that we’ve made in the last two reauthorizations, for the resource. And also to look for ways to support policy that keeps a healthy resource and provides access for people who live in traditional fishing communities, to those resources.”

Behnken served three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, one of eight regional councils established under Magnuson-Stevens. While there were always politics and tension over the allocation of fish, one thing remained unchanged.

“In this region, in the North Pacific, the council never sets any catch limits for stocks above what the scientists recommend to be optimal levels — the maximum levels that can be taken without undermining the health of the stock. That’s not the case in other parts of the country.”

“We definitely have some out here, with our Georges Bank and our Gulf of Maine cod stocks, that are a mess,” says Tom Dempsey,the Policy Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

“And they’re collapsing right in front of us. We need improve how we manage those stocks, to give ourselves a chance at rebuilding to a point where we can have a sustainable fishery.”

Dempsey says fisheries for scallop and lobster are doing well in his region. But, groundfish, the flagship of the historic New England fisheries, are on the verge of becoming commercially-extinct. As recently as 30 years ago there were 60 boats fishing for cod throughout the summer out of Chatham, Massachusetts, where Dempsey lives. Today there are two part-time boats.

Dempsey also holds a seat on the New England Fisheries Management Council. He says there’s a tendency to distrust science in his area, and unlike Alaska, no annual stock assessment. Management decisions are sometimes being made on biological information that is several years old.

“That is a huge frustration of ours. It’s one of the central things we want to get done in this reauthorization process. And unfortunately there’s been opposition out here to the levels of catch accountability that you need to manage stocks. I say it all the time: When you’re managing fish, there are only two questions. How many fish are in the water, and how many fish are you taking out?”

Sen. Rubio’s bill includes provisions to increase funding for stock assessments and data collection, but the track record of success of Magnuson-Stevens outside of Alaska is not stellar.

Matthew Felling, spokesperson for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says his boss holds some sway over her Florida colleague.

“She is someone that he relies on for guidance and for knowledge. Sen. Begich, of course, has a role because he works closely with Sen. Rubio on the Oceans Subcommittee. But as all three of them are members of the Oceans Caucus, Sen. Murkowski has been able to inform Rubio’s understanding of our waters, our fishing industry, and of our success story that we have in Alaska.”

Felling says that with the Senate likely to go into recess until mid-November, there’s no way any reauthorization will happen in this Congress. He thinks the extra time will produce a more thoughtful bill.

“Just last month at an event in the Kenai, Sen. Murkowski said that the most important priority to MSA authorization was to not just rush it and get it over with, but to do it right, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, and make sure that all possible stakeholders have their voices heard.”

Those stakeholders — according to Sen. Rubio’s office — include some of the producers, processors, and retailers trying to make the most of limited stocks. And although giving the councils “flexibility” to depart from strict conservation guidelines may become the most politically-charged idea in the reauthorization process, ALFA’s Linda Behnken says it doesn’t have to be. She says flexibility — as in the use of new data-collection tools, like cameras rather than on board observers — can actually be a good thing.

“That kind of flexibility doesn’t compromise the resource, but it’s real important to small boats and fishing communities.”

In addition to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the Fishing Community Coalition includes the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 18, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:50

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

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Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to Fight ISIL

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIS, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

One-Man PAC to Target Four House Races

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. Attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition  to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Jeremy Hsieh & Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

Categories: Alaska News

Valley Opponents Gather To Fight Prop Two

Thu, 2014-09-18 15:40

A roster of prominent Republicans – both candidates and sitting legislators – showed up  Wednesday night in support of a Wasilla fundraiser for the anti- Proposition 2 group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, although  campaign manager for the newly formed Matanuska Valley arm of the anti- marijuana initiative group, Eric Cordero, says  Big Marijuana, Big Mistake is non- partisan:

“We are kicking off our MatSu fundraiser campaign here and just getting a lot of more volunteers in the MatSu area. This is going to happen in Fairbanks next week, and it’s going to happen also in Ketchikan in a next few weeks. So we are excited that more and more people are coming on board.”

 Cordero says national observers of events in Colorado and Washington are keeping a close eye on the impacts of legalization  since those states legalized marijuana.

“And most of our supporters believe that there is absolutely no reason to rush. That we have a petri dish in Colorado and in Washington and we can see what has worked, what hasn’t worked. What are the pros and cons. “

Mat Su Business Alliance director Crystal Nygard used the occasion to announce her organization’s stand on Prop 2:

“And with all of the uncertainty around how they are going to regulate it, how they are going to tax it, and how businesses will be able to either take advantage of the opportunity or not, are not real clear. And we are in a state in Alaska where we don’t need to risk trying to learn new businesses.”

 Big Marijuana, Big Mistake’s Valley kickoff event was attended by some prominent Republicans, such as Senate candidate Bill Stoltze, Mat Su Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Most of the Valley’s delegation to the state legislature made an appearance.

Supporters of Proposition 2, working for the Marijuana Policy Project, say MMP is the largest organization in the country focused on ending marijuana prohibition. MMP spokeman Taylor Bickford, says MMP empowers local activists with tools needed to fight current marijuana policy.

“I don’t think that Alaskans are particularly concerned with what politicians think about this issue. We’ve seen public opinion at the national level and here in Alaska as well, shift dramatically in favor of regulating marijuana like alcohol over the last ten years, and the political leadership and establishment has lagged behind that trend. “

 Bickford says responsible adults “should be able to make reasonable decisions about how to live their lives without government intrusion and fear of prosecution.”

 Bickford says his group has support from all over the state, regardless of political affiliation. He says proposition 2 is on the ballot because 45 thousand Alaskans signed a petition asking for it. Voters will decide in November.  

Categories: Alaska News

Walker-Mallott “Unity Ticket” Faces Legal Challenge

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:45

An officer of the Alaska Republican Party is suing the Division of Elections for the decision to allow independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott to merge their campaigns.

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The complaint describes the decision by the Democratic Party pull their candidate and allow him to become Walker’s running mate on a non-party ticket was a matter of “procrastination, political strategy, and political expediency.” On that basis, the complaint argues that Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell should not have issued a September 2 emergency regulation to approve the ticket and change the composition of the November general election ballot.

Plaintiff Steve Strait filed the lawsuit in Superior Court on Wednesday. His objective is to prevent Walker and Mallot from appearing on the ballot as a combined non-party ticket. While Strait serves as a district chair for the Republican Party, he says this is not an official party action.

“I’m filing this as an individual,” says Strait. “As a longtime Alaskan, I am very concerned about what just happened here on September 2 with this decision, with this emergency regulation from the lieutenant governor’s office, and how it influences elections from here forward.”

Strait says Democratic voters were disenfranchised when they voted for Mallott as their nominee in the primary. He believes the decision for Walker and Mallott to form what they’re calling a “unity ticket” was a matter of gamesmanship to improve the chances of beating incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and to attract support from the state’s labor unions.

The rationale behind the lawsuit was explained at a hastily organized press conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel that was attended by Strait, attorney Ken Jacobus, and Republican Party Vice Chair Frank McQueary. McQueary dismissed any question about the political motivation of the complaint. While not a party to the lawsuit, McQueary identified himself as a supporter of its objective, and said he was disappointed that the endorsement of the AFL-CIO was a catalyst for the Democratic Party to withdraw Mallott’s name from the gubernatiorial race and allow him to run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.

“The theatre here, of course, is the drama of the AFL-CIO forging this marriage of opposites and combining two losers and coming out with what they think is a winner,” said McQueary.

But Walker thinks it’s Republican Party leadership that is playing games. Walker questions the timing of the lawsuit, which comes shortly after a Hays Group poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO found him eight points ahead of Parnell.

“If we were 15 points down in the polls, I don’t think this suit would have been filed,” says Walker.

Walker is still deciding whether join the lawsuit as an intervenor in support of Treadwell and Fenumiai. He adds that his campaign reviewed the legality of joining tickets before appealing to Lt. Gov. Treadwell, and that there was precedent from 2006 when independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro replaced a running mate who suffered health problems.

Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar says the state will defend itself against the lawsuit. She says that the legal question does not center on the reasons for the candidate substitution – whether they be health-related or politically calculated – but the timing of the election itself.

“The point they’re missing I think is that the emergency, regardless of the origins that creates it, is that we have an election in 50 days, and so the emergency has to do with the timing. That’s a neutral fact,” says Bakalar. “It’s not the Division of Elections responsibility to decide how [party] decisions are made, or to say that these decisions can’t be made. It their job to run an orderly election, and they can’t do that without acting quickly when these kinds of things come up.”

The Division of Elections has already begun printing ballots for November, and the cost of producing them is estimated at $300,000. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says the process is half complete.

The case has been assigned to Judge John Suddock, and the parties are requesting that the process be expedited because of the pending election.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 Permanent Fund Dividend Will Be $1,884

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:16

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Commissioner of Revenue Angela Rodell announce the amount of the 2014 Permanent Fund Dividend. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN- Anchorage)

In an announcement Wednesday, Governor Sean Parnell told Alaskans something they have been waiting to hear for months…the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend. 

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“Alaskan’s 2014 dividend amount is….$1,884,” Governor Sean Parnell said to the cheers and applause of a packed room at Anchorage’s Atwood Building.

This is the third-largest total in the 33-year history of the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Governor Sean Parnell says of the nearly 675,000 who applied, the state estimates close to 641,500 will qualify to receive this year’s payout.

“The oldest applicant…109-years-old,” he said. The youngest include 26 children who were born on December 31, 2013…just before the deadline.”

Governor Parnell says over 500 non-profits will benefit from this year’s Pick-Click-Give contributions.

“This year, 26,850 applicants pledged 44,693 contributions..that’s a new record. Over $2.8 million was pledged,” he said.

The 2014 Permanent Fund Dividend will be distributed to Alaskans beginning October 2nd.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Investigate University of Alaska For How It Deals With Sexual Assault

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:15

First snow outside the UAA/APU Consortium Library in Anchorage in 2006. (Creative Commons Photo by Mel Green)

The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office will be visiting four campuses of the University of Alaska next month to check if the school is handling sexual violence complaints according to federal law.

The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary institutions around the nation being investigated for possible violations, but university officials aren’t sure why.

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The Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges under investigation. The list includesHobart and William Smith Colleges, Amherst College and Florida State University – schools that have been in the national spotlight for potentially mishandling sexual assault complaints.

Rules governing how schools deal with sexual violence complaints fall under Title IX. The federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities that receive federal funding.

A few days after the original list was released on May 1, the Department of Education launched an investigation on the University of Alaska.

“We’re not being investigated because we did anything wrong,” says Michael O’Brien, an attorney for the university. “They’re looking into how we handled Title IX to see that we’re doing everything right. There isn’t some active violation.”

In a press release, the Department of Education says the list includes investigations stemming from complaints to the Office of Civil Rights and investigations initiated by the office as compliance reviews. O’Brien wants to make it clear that University of Alaska is on the list for the latter reason.

“To add us in with schools, some of which are accused of some pretty egregious sidestepping of Title IX, is really unfair to the University of Alaska. In my opinion, there should’ve been two different lists,” O’Brien says.

About 35,000 full- and part-time students attend the University of Alaska system, which has three main universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast. The system’s 16 campuses all have a Title IX investigator.

According to O’Brien, the university has had 257 complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault since 2011. Almost all came from UAA and UAF. Eight came from UAS.

As part of the compliance review, the Office of Civil Rights asked for 35 items, including details of each sexual assault complaint since 2011. University of Alaska responded with over 10,000 pages of documents.

O’Brien says the university takes complaints seriously and follows federal law when dealing with them.

“There isn’t a problem that I see that’s unaddressed or something that’s been covered up. We’re very proactive about dealing with these cases and recognize that we have to do everything we possibly can to prevent this sort of situation on our campuses,” O’Brien says.

A letter from to the university the Department of Education says schools are chosen for compliance review “based on various sources of information, including statistical data and information from parents, advocacy groups, the media, and community organizations.”

A spokesman with the Office of Civil Rights declined to comment and says the office doesn’t give interviews or disclose information about the schools under investigation.

O’Brien says the office won’t give him a specific reason why the University of Alaska was targeted, but he thinks it likely has to do with Alaska, as a state, having high rates of sexual assault.

“It’s not like there are no problems in this state, so it makes sense to take a further look at how educational institutions here are handling the problem,” O’Brien says.

Along with the list, the federal government came out with updated guidelines describing how schools must address sexual violence, including Title IX training.

For this school year, UAS required faculty and staff to attend Title IX training sessions. They were offered over the summer, at the start of the school year and online. Last year, none of these trainings took place.

O’Brien says the university welcomes the scrutiny and looks forward to the campus visit portion of the compliance review. In October, the office of Civil Rights will talk to students, community members, university faculty and staff at University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

State OKs Linc Energy’s Tyonek Coal Exploration Plan

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:14

The state has given the OK to a plan by Linc Energy to explore for coal in the Tyonek area. Last month, Linc submitted an application to drill at least five exploratory wells in an area about seven miles from Tyonek, on the West side of Cook Inlet.

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 Russel Kirkham is the state’s coal regulatory program manager, says the application is to dril five exploratoin holes for coal seams within the Tyonek,and Beluga area.

 ”It doesn’t allow any other activity except for that work.  It is for a  two year period, and after that two year period, Linc Energy can apply for another application to do additional drilling if they need to.”

Kirkham says the state is asking for a reclamation bond of more than 95 thousand dollars for cleanup of the exploration activities. He says the exploration permit is specific as to what types of equipment Linc Energy is allowed to use.

  “(If) they want to change their equipment, they would have to come back to the state to have it approved and we would review that and make sure it is within the scope of the work.”

Linc Energy specializes in coal to liquids technology. The underground liquification process is used to make synthetic gas, according to Paul Ludwing, Linc Energy’s general manager of stakeholder relations.   Ludwig says Linc Energy has licenses for more than 107 thousand acres of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority land, issued in 2011.  The Tyonek/ Kenai coal is buried over 2, 500 feet deep and hosts seams 25 – 30 feet thick which are potentially suitable for coal to gas technology, Ludwig said in an email. The exploration  permit will allow Linc to drill cores samples of the coal seams, and to study the coal quality to make sure the coal is suitable for the process. 

 The Alaska Mental Health Trust owns both the surface and the subsurface rights in the exploration license area. If exploration is successfull, and if Linc is issued a mining permit, the Trust will set a royalty rate for the coal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Energy Development Proponents Meet In Anchorage

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:13

Proponents of energy development are in Anchorage for the 10th annual Alaska Oil and Gas Congress. Canada’s Northwest Territories Premiere Bob McCloud says Alaska and the Territories have a lot in common – great resources that are stranded in remote locations.

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Premiere McCloud says he is closely watching how Alaska goes about pushing for marketing LNG. McCloud says it’s frustrating that the Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone pipeline are not moving forward. The McKenzie Valley pipeline in his region has been in development for decades but is also on hold.

“Now it’s proven uneconomic because the world price of natural gas because of the preponderance of shale gas is not high enough to make that pipeline economic,” McCloud said. “So the key for us is to find other markets.”

Such as Asia or Europe, McCloud says. He says after last year’s resource congress, he went back to Canada and instituted a new energy program.

“We decided to do a pilot project and haul LNG from Delta BC to Inuvik and use it for electrical generation,” McCloud said. “We found out it was cheaper to do that, haul it all that distance rather than use expensive diesel. Now we’re planning on using LNG for all the communities that have road access.”

The pilot project hauls LNG more than 1500 miles.

McCloud says in talks with former Governor Frank Murkowski this week – Murkowski encouraged him to research trying to get oil and gas from the southern part of the Northwest Territories to the existing TransAlaska Pipeline to Valdez.

McCloud says the Northwest Territories struggle with the same economic problems as rural Alaska. High energy costs and low employment opportunities. The Oil and Gas Congress runs through Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Uber ride-sharing enters Anchorage market

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:12

A ride-sharing service called Uber will start operating in Anchorage this week. Instead of calling a taxi, people who need a ride can use a smartphone app to hail a nearby private vehicle. But taxi companies in Anchorage and around the world say it’s unfair competition. 

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I took a conventional taxi to my interview with Uber. I called the taxi company, and the driver arrived right on time in a sweet-smelling Toyota Prius. The ride downtown cost me $17 including the tip. That’s about how much the Uber app estimates using their service would cost as well. So why would I use Uber? Their West Coast general manager Steve Thompson says it’s because of convenience and safety.

A screenshot of the Uber app on an iPhone.

“You sign up, pinpoint your location, click a button that says ‘Request my Uber’ to come pick me up, and from there you can track your ride, to come directly to you. See them street by street. Know exactly who your driver is by photo, name, vehicle make and model number, license plate number. And within the same app you can actually contact your driver.”

Thompson says all drivers have to pass rigorous criminal and traffic safety background checks. They don’t employ any one who was a sex offender or has had a DUI. They also require the vehicles to have 19 point inspections, and the drivers and vehicles have $1 million insurance policies when they’re on the job.

But the cars are not required to have permits from the municipality like conventional taxis, and the drivers don’t have to undergo municipal training and testing. Jim Brennan, who represents the Anchorage Taxi Cab Permit Owners Association, says that’s not fair.

“This would be a blatantly illegal competitor to the local Anchorage taxi cab chauffeurs and owners of the taxicabs who are required to comply with extensive municipal laws which are there for the benefit both of the Anchorage customers of taxicab services and also for the general public.”

So is Uber legal in Anchorage?

“Well, under our existing codes, probably not,” says municipal transportation director Eric Musser. He says that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to the idea of ride-sharing services.

“As with most areas of the country, we’re wrestling with how we want to welcome them into this market.”

Musser says the city recognizes that the transportation industry is changing.

A screenshot of the Alaska Yellow Dispatch app.

Local companies realize it, too. Alaska Yellow Dispatch, the largest taxi company in Anchorage, released an app that works like the Uber app. You can order and track vehicles, and request special items, like a car that is authorized to go on Base or carries a car seat for children. At this point, though, you cannot pay through the app. Uber is completely prepaid through the app.

Yellow Dispatch CEO Sloane Unwin says the major difference is, once the payment feature is working properly, their company is permitted in Anchorage.

Uber’s Thompson says they are already working with the local government to make sure the company can legally operate in the city. He says they’ve already received over a 100 applications for drivers, some of whom already work for taxi companies.

“It’s complete flexibility for moms who drop their kids off at school and just drive during the day. Retired individuals who want to make extra income. Or even students who are paying off loans. So a big part of what we’re focused on is a very dynamic driving community.”

He says they’re appealing to veterans and service members as well. In some parts of the country, however, they are facing lawsuits from drivers who say they are not given the tips they are promised.

Once the interview is over, I need to find a way back to the studio. I figure that being in downtown Anchorage, it should be fairly easy.

I walk straight up to an empty taxi.

“Hi! Are you available?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the driver replies enthusiastically.

“Great!”

And I head back to the studio, chatting with the driver, my smartphone tucked into my bag.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

‘Polaris’ Sculpture Is New Fairbanks Centerpiece

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:12

The city of Fairbanks has a new centerpiece sculpture. The assemblage of silver steel spires stands between the Cushman and Barnett Street bridges, along the Chena River downtown. The sculpture called “Polaris” was created by a pair of Vancouver based artists to mirror the local environment.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Glaciers Shrinking Faster Than Expected

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:11

Alaska’s glaciers are shrinking faster than scientists had thought, but glaciers that terminate in the ocean may be relatively resilient to climate change in comparison to their land-locked counterparts. The data comes from a multi-year airborne survey conducted by NASA.

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Categories: Alaska News

Youth Climate Lawsuit Dismissed

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:10

Nelson Kanuk, seated, and Katherine Dolma, standing, were two of the six young plaintiffs who sued the State of Alaska, demanding it take action on climate change. The pair are pictured here in Barrow, following a Supreme Court LIVE hearing at Barrow High School. (Photo by Jeff Seifert/ KBRW)

The Alaska Supreme Court last week dismissed a case brought by six young Alaskans, demanding the state take action on climate change. The suit was one of several filed nationwide, and the first to take its argument to a state supreme court. In dismissing the case, the Court said that climate policy isn’t an issue the judiciary can decide – it must go through the political process.

But, for the young plaintiffs and the nonprofit supporting them, the ruling included some silver linings.

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Nelson Kanuk was 16 when he sued the state of Alaska along with five other minors, ranging from infants to teenagers. The six young Alaskans argued that the state has an obligation to do more to halt climate change.

Each of the children named in the suit cited direct impacts from climate change, but Kanuk’s were maybe the most immediate. The river in front of his family’s home in the Western Alaska village of Kipnuk was carving away the melting permafrost beneath their land.

This is Kanuk speaking with KCAW’s Ed Ronco in early 2013, after a year in which his family lost eight feet of their yard to the river:

Kanuk: … as the summer progressed, we lost another five feet…

Ronco: How much is left before it gets to your house?

Kanuk: Last fall, before I left, there was about 40 feet, or so, but when springtime comes, there’s definitely going to be a couple more feet that will be lost.

Now, Kanuk is 20, and a sophomore at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. And his family’s house? It’s uninhabitable. In the last year, his family moved first to Bethel, and then to Kenai, driven both by the loss of their home and the escalating cost of food and fuel in Kipnuk.

Kanuk says it’s been a huge change, especially for a family that’s used to getting much of its food from the land.

“We aren’t able to just hop on a boat and go out and catch our dinner that night,” he says. “You know, our subsistence lifestyle changed. Now we’re forced to go to Fred Meyer or Walmart. It’s a big change.”

It was to draw attention to the situation of families like his that Kanuk first joined the suit against the State of Alaska in 2011. The plaintiffs are backed by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit that has worked with kids in several states and at the federal level to bring similar lawsuits. The Alaska case is the first to reach a state Supreme Court on its merits.

And this month, the justices dismissed the suit. But Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, says the court “left the door open” on several key issues.

“The exciting part about the Supreme Court’s decision, is that they said the youth had made a good case,” Olson says. “They noted that the climate science is compelling, it demonstrates real significant impacts to the people of Alaska, and that the plaintiffs had direct injuries…So it did all sorts of really important things. The one thing it didn’t reach was, well, what role does the court have to play?”

Assistant Attorney General Seth Beausang argued the case for the State of Alaska. He saw the ruling in more limited terms.

“The appeal was about where the plaintiffs’ concerns about global warming should be heard,” Beausang said. “Whether it should be heard in court or in the political arena. And the court held that the claims were not the kind of claims that can be resolved in court.”

Claims such as: the state should reduce emissions by at least six-percent a year. That kind of specific policy, the court ruled, should be left to the political process.

But the plaintiffs also asked the court to rule on whether the atmosphere is part of the “public trust.” This is a concept embedded in the Alaska Constitution.  Things like water, wildlife, and fish, are all publicly owned, with the state holding them in “trust” for the benefit of all Alaskans.

Beausang says the plaintiffs suggested a whole new take on the idea of the public trust.

“It was trying to argue that under the doctrine, the state has an affirmative duty to protect public trust resources from harm,” Beausang said. “That is a novel spin on the public trust doctrine.”

The court tip-toed right up to the edge of declaring the atmosphere an asset of the public trust, writing, “the plaintiffs do make a good case.” But, in the end, the court said that a ruling wouldn’t give the state clear direction on what to do next, and wouldn’t give the plaintiffs immediate relief. So while it could issue a ruling, it wouldn’t — not in this particular case.

Olson says the plaintiffs will ask the court to reconsider that decision — specifically, she thinks the court can do something right now, on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Even if it’s the court directing the other branches of government to do the work to set a safe level or a safe standard,” Olson said. “It doesn’t have to be the court that does it, but somebody needs to do it, because no entity within government is doing that right now, and that’s a tragedy.”

As for Kanuk, he says he’ll keep working to bring attention to the issue of climate change in Alaska. For his part, he doesn’t have any choice but to adapt.

“To me, it’s kind of like, [laughs] jumping into a fast-flowing river,” Kanuk said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s tough, but you have to adapt to the new way of life that we’re forced to live now.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 17, 2014

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:59

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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2014 Permanent Fund Dividend Will Be $1,884

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

In an announcement Wednesday, Governor Sean Parnell told Alaskans something they have been waiting to hear for months – the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend.

Walker-Mallott ‘Unity Ticket’ Faces Legal Challenge

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

An officer of the Alaska Republican Party is suing Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and the Division of Elections for the decision to allow independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott to merge their campaigns.

Feds Investigate University of Alaska For How It Deals With Sexual Assault

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office will be visiting four campuses of the University of Alaska next month to check if the school is handling sexual violence complaints according to federal law.

The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary institutions around the nation being investigated for possible violations, but university officials aren’t sure why.

State OKs Linc Energy’s Tyonek Coal Exploration Plan

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state has given the OK to a plan by Linc Energy to explore for coal in the Tyonek area.  Last month, Linc submitted an application to drill at least five exploratory wells in an area about seven miles from Tyonek, on the West side of Cook Inlet.

Energy Development Proponents Meet In Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Proponents of energy development are in Anchorage for the 10th annual Alaska Oil and Gas Congress. Canada’s Northwest Territories Premiere Bob McCloud says Alaska and the Territories have a lot in common – great resources that are stranded in remote locations.

Ride-Sharing Service Uber Coming To Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

A ride-sharing service called Uber will start operating in Anchorage this week. Instead of calling a taxi, people who need a ride can use a smartphone app to hail a nearby private vehicle. But taxi companies in Anchorage and around the world say it’s unfair competition.

‘Polaris’ Sculpture Is New Fairbanks Centerpiece

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The city of Fairbanks has a new centerpiece sculpture. The assemblage of silver steel spires stands between the Cushman and Barnett Street bridges, along the Chena River downtown. The sculpture called “Polaris” was created by a pair of Vancouver based artists to mirror the local environment.

Alaska’s Glaciers Shrinking Faster Than Expected

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska’s glaciers are shrinking faster than scientists had thought, but glaciers that terminate in the ocean may be relatively resilient to climate change in comparison to their land-locked counterparts.  The data comes from a multi-year airborne survey conducted by NASA.

Youth Climate Lawsuit Dismissed

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Alaska Supreme Court last week dismissed a case brought by six young Alaskans, demanding the state take action on climate change. The suit was one of several filed nationwide, and the first to take its argument to a state supreme court. In dismissing the case, the Court said that climate policy isn’t an issue the judiciary can decide – it must go through the political process.

But, for the young plaintiffs and the nonprofit supporting them, the ruling included some silver linings.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Health Services Gains ACA Grant

Tue, 2014-09-16 18:22

 The Health Resources and Services Administration announced the awards on Monday, as part of the 295 million dollars in Affordable Care Act funds that is being distributed to more than 11 hundred health centers throughout the United States.  HRSA is an agency within the federal Health and Human Services Administration.

 Mat Su Health Services received more than 197 thousand dollars.  CEO Kevin Munson says the grant will enable expansion of primary care services.

 ”Well, we are a community health center, so we are already funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, and we will be using those additional funds to hire additional staff to expand our hours. “

 Munson says more staff will translate to evening availability.

“We’ll be looking to hire a half time practitioner, probably a mid -level physician’s assistant or family nurse practitioner, and then we’ll also be hiring some additional support staff to enable us to extend our hours, and we will be also be hiring a mental health clinician who will be working in our primary care clinic.”

 Munson says the funding opportunity was offered by HRSA based on how many patients the clinic sees that are uninsured or underinsured. Mat Su Health Services has been serving the area since the 1970s, starting as a community mental health center. In 2005, the facility became a primary care clinic

 ”So we have been operating as a primary care clinic with a sliding discount and access for all people in the community now for a little over nine years. And we certainly have seen and experienced the significant growth in the community, which has been clicking along for a little over 4 percent a year for better than a decade. So we provide a wide variety of essentially primary health care services to the entire community with a target focused on the uninsured and the underinsured. “

 Munson says some of his staff are dedicated to helping people sign up for the federal health care subsidy under the Affordable Care Act.

 HRSA secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the awards, saying the funds overall are expected to create close to 5, 000 new jobs, and to help health clinics to reach about 1 point 5 million new patients.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Supports State Minimum Wage Boost He Once Opposed

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:40

In a reversal, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan says he supports a ballot measure that would  increase the state minimum wage.

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In a pre-Primary debate in Fairbanks, Sullivan and then-candidate Joe Miller both said they oppose Ballot Measure 3, which would increase the state’s minimum wage by $2 over two years.

But Sullivan, in a story published online Monday by the Wall Street Journal, said he now supports the ballot measure.

“Because it is a state-driven initiative, I do support the motion to place a minimum wage question directly to the people of Alaska, and I personally intend to vote for it,” Sullivan said in a written statement.

He says he still opposes a national minimum wage increase, saying Alaskans know best how to strengthen their economy.

The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Begich,  promptly issued a press release noting Sullivan’s change of position. Begich supports both Alaska’s Ballot Measure 3 as well as a bill in Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

The Sullivan campaign told the Journal the candidate changed his mind after he had a chance to read the initiative.

Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami accuses Sullivan of flip-flopping.

“Dan Sullivan appears to be able to read polls and knows that opposition to the wage increase might have helped him in a closed primary, but it hurts his appeal to general election voters,” the labor leader said in a press release.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, since 2002, every ballot measure to increase a state’s minimum wage has passed, most by wide margins. The paper also reports that such measures typically increase voter turnout by 1 percent and there’s no evidence the increase helps Democrats, as commonly believed.

Categories: Alaska News

Towing Drill Tests Emergency Mooring Buoy

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:39

The Sea Trader (left), seen from the deck of the tug James Dunlap, waits to be tied on to Unalaska’s emergency mooring buoy. At center, the city’s harbor patrol boat stands by to assist. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

After seven years, Unalaska’s emergency system for towing stranded vessels away from shore is finally complete. A new dedicated buoy for disabled ships got its first full-scale test during an annual drill last week.

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For tugboat captain Leonardo Asayama-Lucena, conditions couldn’t have been better: clear skies, calm seas and next to no wind.

“This is the best-case scenario: the weather is perfect, the boats aren’t drifting around too much,” Lucena said during last week’s drill. “It’s not gonna get any easier.”

A real-life rescue might happen at night, or in a storm — but this morning is just a drill, the first one Lucena and his tugboat, the James Dunlap, have been a part of.

“It definitely breaks the monotony of our daily routine that we usually have,” he says. “I’m actually glad we’re doing it, because in the event of an actual emergency, you know, practice makes perfect, so we could all use this practice.”

The Dunlap is going to use Unalaska’s equipment to help the Coast Guard tow a fake-stranded vessel to safety. The 277-foot freighter Sea Trader is acting as the disabled ship. It’s supposed to end up at Unalaska’s new emergency mooring buoy, which has been in place since late 2012, but wasn’t ready for a major test until now.

[USCGC Alex Haley crew member on radio]: Sea Trader, Alex Haley. Just got word the helo should be airborne in about five to 10 mikes…

That’s the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, talking to the Sea Trader on the tugboat’s radio. All three vessels are sitting out in Unalaska Bay, getting ready to start the drill.

The Alex Haley’s helicopter has to drop the emergency tow package onto the Sea Trader. Then, the freighter will use it to link up with the cutter.

[helicopter hovering]

It’s a tight fit, but the helicopter sticks the delivery. The Sea Trader’s crew starts working on connecting to the cutter. And that’s Capt. Lucena’s cue to wake up his deckhands.

Lucena [speaking to crew member]: Hey, John, if you wouldn’t mind — once they get their eyes open and coffee down the hatch, have ‘em come up here and we’ll all have a little meeting…

In a real situation, the Coast Guard would tow the disabled ship to the Dunlap. Then, the tug would hook on and take the vessel to the mooring buoy. The Coast Guard’s just practicing setting up its tow line today — but the Dunlap will be doing the real thing.

Adam Downing is a deckhand on the tug. He’s glad for the chance to try out the emergency system.

“I mean, it’d be crazy not to have one of these, I think,” he says. “Because if anything happens, like, you get those big ships out there, you’re asking for a catastrophe.”

As growing industries bring more ship traffic to the Aleutians, that risk is on the rise — and so is the need for practice. Today, Capt. Lucena and his crew will try out a tool they haven’t used before. It’s Unalaska’s line gun, a rifle for shooting a tow line to another ship.

Lucena [speaking to crew]: You know, just take our time. I’m gonna position ourselves — basically like this but closer, off the starboard bow of the Sea Trader, using the wind to help us shoot it over the bow. You can see, you’ve got lots of room — don’t aim for the house. [crew laughs]

With the Coast Guard out of the way, the tugboat sounds its horn to let everyone know the shot is coming.

[horn blasts] [gun firing]

The tow line sails over the Sea Trader and drops onto it deck. Now the freighter can tie on to the tug, and together, they can head for the mooring buoy. It’s floating offshore like a big plug in a bathtub drain. Lucena explains that it gives disabled ships a safe place to await repairs.

“So they would hang out there on this long tow line to the buoy, and they can spin around the buoy in deep water and not have to worry about going around,” he says. “And when the weather subsided, if they still weren’t able to get underway on their own power, they would … just attach themselves directly to the mooring buoy, and we’d take the tow line away.”

Even in the best conditions, though, things can still go wrong. When the ships get to the buoy, they find a soggy mooring line that’s a little tough to wrangle. But in the end, they get the Sea Trader tethered, and for Lucena, the drill is a success.

Lucena: ”Especially for me, this being my first time, I learned a lot. And I can now pass that on. … Familiarity, I think — knowing what to expect when you get into this … makes it quicker and just gives you that much better level of safety.”

And all those lessons will go to make the buoy and the whole towing system better in the future — whether for a real emergency, or just next year’s drill.

Categories: Alaska News

Friday Is Deadline To Comment On EPA’s 404-C Determination

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:38

The EPA’s proposed restrictions on development of the Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region are currently open for public comment. But the deadline to comment is this Friday.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla Officer-Involved Shooting Leaves 1 Dead

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:37

Two Wasilla police officers are on paid administrative leave after a Monday shooting that left one man dead. The names of the officers have not been released, in line with police policy.

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According to Wasilla police, the two officers responded to a possible domestic disturbance in the early hours of Monday. The officers had responded to a 911 call, which had been disconnected. The two officers had to force their way into the home, where they encountered 23-year-old Michael Bonty, holding a weapon and threatening a female in the house. Bondy refused to put the weapon down, and officers fired, killing him.

Alaska State Troopers are heading the investigation. Police policy requires names of the officers involved in the shooting to be released 72 hours after the incident. Bonty’s only police record is for minor traffic offenses.

Categories: Alaska News

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