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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: 47 min 22 sec ago

Stimson Patrol Vessel Leaves Dutch Harbor for Kodiak After 17 Years

Tue, 2015-08-04 12:17

The Patrol Vessel Stimson in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. KUCB/John Ryan photo.

The Patrol Vessel Stimson sailed out of Dutch Harbor Monday morning, marking the end of an era for Unalaska and for the Stimson.

After 17 years based in Dutch Harbor, it’s heading to Kodiak, where the state of Alaska’s biggest patrol vessel will be based.

“I will certainly miss Dutch Harbor,” said Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sergeant Robin Morrisett, one of six Department of Public Safety employees who are leaving Unalaska with the Stimson. “I’ve got a lot of friends here, and so does everybody else on the boat. We’re all going to miss Dutch Harbor.”

With the Stimson crew’s family members serving on the school board and other local committees and occupying seats in city schools, it’s a loss to the small community.

But Morrisett said law enforcement on the Bering Sea and around the Aleutians won’t take a hit, even though the Stimson will be based some 600 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.

“As of right now, we’re going to keep same amount of sea days out on the water that we do now, plus extra ones for the running time [from Kodiak],” he said. “We’re not going to see a downsize in enforcement. Same areas, plus newer areas around Kodiak and the south Alaska Peninsula, over there by Chignik.”

Even with the extra running time and fuel, public safety officials said the move will save close to a half million dollars a year.

Unalaska city officials fought the move when it was proposed in previous years, but they didn’t put up much fight this year in the face of the state’s deepening budget woes.

As of July 1, Department of Public Safety director Col. James Cockrell told KNBA that the department had to find $8.5 million in cuts. At least 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated.

“I just don’t see us, with this budget climate, being able to save everything,” then-city manager Chris Hladick told KUCB in March.

State troopers said they pay employees in Unalaska 60 percent more than the Anchorage rate, and they provide state-leased housing.

The Stimson’s main mission is enforcing commercial fisheries laws, but its wildlife troopers also enforce other laws.

Morrisett said the ship has responded to several assaults this summer among the sockeye fishing boats in busy Bristol Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Atchak Arraigned for Murder Charge in Death of Roxanne Smart

Tue, 2015-08-04 12:15

Roxanne Smart. (Photo Courtesy of Justice For Roxanne Smart)

Twenty-year-old Samuel Atchak was arraigned in Bethel Superior Court Tuesday morning. He’s charged in the murder of Roxanne Smart last August. The arraignment follows an indictment by a grand jury. A public defender Tuesday entered not guilty pleas.

Atchak was arrested in July after a long wait for results from a crime lab.

According to court documents, he admitted to investigators that he killed Smart in August of 2014. His case will be back in court October 1st for an omnibus hearing.

19-year-old Roxanne Smart was found dead outside last August after being sexually assaulted.

Categories: Alaska News

Shageluk Man Dies After Reportedly Jumping from Boat

Tue, 2015-08-04 12:13

The man jumped from a boat upriver of Shageluk. Image from Bing Maps.

A Shageluk man has died after reportedly jumping out of a boat in the Innoko River.

State troopers say 48-year-old Robert Demientieff jumped out of the boat about seven miles upriver of Shageuluk late Friday evening.

That night, local search crews attempted to locate the man but were unsuccessful.
State troopers flew out Saturday to investigate the incident and look for the body.

Searchers ultimately found Demientieff’s body Sunday evening.

Troopers say alcohol was involved and Demienteff was not wearing a life jacket.

His body will be sent to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Slow Fall Chum Run Leaves Yukon Smokehouses Empty

Tue, 2015-08-04 12:10

Slow fall chum runs have kept subsistence fisherman from being too active on the Yukon River this past week, but as Chinook continue crossing the border, officials say their numbers are well above escapement goals.

“As far as I know, everybody’s smokehouse is empty, waiting for fall chum,” said Fred Huntington in Galena.

It was a sentiment echoed by many calling in to the weekly teleconference for fishermen and managers along the Yukon last week. That wait has been going on for two weeks now—ever since fall chum officially started running around July 18, creating a midseason lull for many fishermen between summer and fall chum runs. Bonnie Borba, the fall chum research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the first pulse of fall chum would be making its way upriver by the end of July and into the first week of August.

In all, the fall chum run on the Yukon is expected at between 700,000 to 800,000 fish. It’s a moderately-sized run that Fish and Game’s Jeff Estensen said may be slow, but they are on their way.

“[Fall chum] certainly will be getting there,” he told callers. “They’re making their way up. I did get a chance to talk to a fisherman in Holy Cross a couple of days ago; he mentioned there’s definitely signs that that pulse was definitely going by Holy Cross. So they did see them, so by all accounts it definitely seems like we have a pulse of fish going upriver.”

The fall chum run should be enough for escapement, subsistence, and commercial needs, Estensen said; already, commercial harvesters in the lower river have caught nearly 27,000 fall chum.

But Huntington pressed managers to loosen gear restrictions for mid- and upper-river fisherman who are  still trying to meet their subsistence needs. Right now, he said, he has to travel downriver to Koyukuk to catch the fish he needs.

“It would be helpful to us, because (of the) price of fuel here, and the lack of fish in our smokehouses, it would help quite a bit if we were able to just go out here with our five gallons of gas, that we could possibly have [Districts] 4B and C open for drifting,” he asked. “Get our ten fish or whatever we want to get, rather than going to Koyukuk and trying to get a hundred.”

While fall chum slowly move upriver, the Chinook continue moving into spawning grounds in Canada. As of last week, nearly 65,000 kings have now crossed the border. Stephanie Schmidt, the summer season manager for Fish and Game who oversaw the king salmon run, said beating the upper-limit escapement goal of 55,000 fish is a victory for everyone involved.

“This run is still well below average, well below what we used to see a couple of decades ago,” she began. “However, thanks to the tremendous conservation efforts on behalf of fishermen up and down the river, we’ve been able to achieve escapement goals on all of our Alaska drainage projects so far. And we’ve now achieved the upper end of the escapement at the border. And thanks for working to make sure these fish get on the spawning grounds so we can try and rebuild this run for the future.”

Another update on the fall chum in the Yukon will be available for fishermen to weigh in on Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

BSNC Buys Chain of ‘Alaska Industrial Hardware’ Stores

Tue, 2015-08-04 12:08

The Alaska Industrial Hardware store in northeast Anchorage. Photo: Google Street View.

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

The company announced Monday the purchase of Alaska Industrial Hardware.

Founded by James Thompson in 1959 in a Quonset hut in midtown Anchorage, AIH now operates eight locations statewide—including three in Anchorage—with stores in Eagle River, Wasilla and Kenai. Outside of Southcentral the company also has stores in Fairbanks and Juneau. The company also hosts the annual Salmon Classic Fishing Tournament.

Details of the sale—including the purchase price for the company—were not given by BSNC or AIH. As of a 2008 profile in Alaska Business Monthly, AIH boasts a $15 million on-hand inventory in its stores, but AIH President Terry Shurtleff said Tuesday those numbers are higher today, and the company’s distribution network connects it to 400 retailers across Alaska, including the bush.

“If they’re buying hardware in western Alaska, odds are the vendor who has it purchased it through our wholesale division,” he said.

In a release from BSNC, corporation president and CEO Gail Schubert was quoted as saying “AIH is a solid company that fits well with the growing Bering Straits portfolio of companies.”

Shurtleff and the existing executive team will continue managing the company, and its more than 230 employees, on a day-to-day basis. No major changes in staffing are expected as a result of purchase.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to know that we’ll continue to be Alaskan owned,” Shurtleff said of the sale. “I think some of the expertise that Bering [Straits Native Corp.] brings to the table, and expertise we bring to the table, we’re going to be able to use that to benefit all the shareholders of the corporation … that’s what we’re here to do, it so provide a return to the 7,100-plus shareholders of the corporation.”

Bering Straits said in the release the purchase is part of the company’s strategic plan to expand its holdings beyond commercial and government operations, lands, and resource development.

BSNC was established to represent shareholders in the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

Categories: Alaska News

3,000 in Anchorage to Lose Food Stamps Under Change to Work Requirement

Mon, 2015-08-03 17:46

A change in state policy will end access to Food Stamps for thousands of Alaskans.

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A letter sent out from the Division of Public Assistance on June 24th to all state residents receiving Food Stamps says “able-bodied adults without dependents” who do not meet the program’s work requirements will no longer be eligible three months into the new year.

Most food stamp recipients will not be affected. The work requirements hit those who are between ages 18 and 49, do not have a noted disability status, and have no dependents.

But the letter has left many worried they will lose important access to food.

“We received… five, six calls just in the last week,” said Derrick Pennington, who works for the LINKS Mat-Su Parent Resource Center in Wasilla, although he added most of the clients he serves fall within the exempted categories.

Still, Pennington said many feel unsure, “Folks who received the letter and are just really confused about whether or not their benefits are going to be impacted. ”

Work requirements have been a contentious part of public assistance rules since a 1996 change to the federal laws. Alaska suspended the work requirements in 2004 because of high unemployment rates.

The state’s Department of Health and Social Services has also fielded questions from concerned residents, according to Public Information Officer Sarana Schell. In an email, Schell wrote, “With improving economic conditions throughout the country, many states no longer qualify for these statewide waiver, including Alaska.”

Officials have requested a waiver covering 28 borough and census areas, along with 155 native villages where unemployment is 20 percent above the national average. The only area not covered by that request is Anchorage, where as many as 3,000 residents stand to be affected.

Schell wrote the Public Assistance Director’s letter is intended to inform recipients about how to meet work requirements so as to keep as many people as possible qualified for the Food Stamps program.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, August 3, 2015

Mon, 2015-08-03 17:40

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

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3,000 In Anchorage to Lose Food Stamps After Work Requirement Change

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A change in state policy will end access to Food Stamps for thousands of Alaskans.

Alaska Exempt From New Federal Clean Power Rules

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The White House and the EPA today released the final version of its rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants. The administration’s Clean Power Plan sets targets that states have to meet and requires them to submit plans detailing how they will acheive them. But Alaska will not have to comply with new mandates, at least not yet.

Murkowski Votes to Move Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood failed a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate today. Sen. Dan Sullivan is a co-sponsor of the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted to advance the defunding measure also, but she says she doesn’t want to see Planned Parenthood’s funding removed without an investigation.

Summer Work Underway at Red Devil Mine in Advance of Big Cleanup

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Crews are sampling water and sediments this summer near the site of the old Red Devil mercury mine in the middle Kuskokwim. It’s work that comes in advance of a large clean up project.

Pregnant Kotlik Woman Loses Child After Assault

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

State Troopers are investigating an assault in Kotlik after a pregnant victim’s baby died.

Former NICU Parent Helps Others Navigate A Stressful Time

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most people working in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit have some type of advanced medical degree.  But one employee at The Children’s Hospital at Providence in Anchorage has a very different set of qualifications. Ginny Shaffer spent more than three months in the NICU as a parent, with her daughter who was born at 23 weeks. Now she helps other families through one of the most stressful times of their lives as a Parent Navigator.

With Subsistence Foods Running Short, Bering Strait Villages Receive A Donation of Halibut

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

For four communities affected by this spring’s poor walrus harvest in the Bering Strait region, help is on its way in the form of 10,000 pounds of halibut.

Gambell Basketball Player Chooses Between Hometown Team and Seattle Offer

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

Sixteen-year-old Wallace Ungwiluk [un-GWILL-uck] is a standout point guard for his basketball team in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. But the game could carry this high school junior 2,000 miles from home to Seattle, where he’s been recruited to play for a private high school.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Exempt From New Federal Clean Power Rules, For Now

Mon, 2015-08-03 17:36

By Dori (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Alaska will not have to comply with new federal mandates to cut carbon emissions from power plants, at least not yet.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she got word in a phone call from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“And she said, ‘I listened to you.’”

In the draft rule, Alaska would have had to cut emissions by 26 percent. Murkowski, at a hearing in April, told McCarthy the target was unreachable and that Alaska was different, in part because its limited grid is cut off from all other states. The final rule says the EPA doesn’t have enough information to set target reductions for Alaska and other areas cut off from the national grid. Murkowski says that’s what McCarthy told her.

“And she said we realized we didn’t have the data and we didn’t have the data for good reason, because it effectively doesn’t exist. And so she said we realized we could not advance this at least for some time.”

The new national rule, released today, requires other states to eliminate about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030. The final rule doesn’t apply to Alaska, Hawaii, Guam or Puerto Rico.

“I wouldn’t use the word exempt. I would use the word defer,” says Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s air quality office.

That’s Janet McCabe, head of the EPA air quality office.

“We intend to work with those jurisdictions and other sources to get information and move forward to finalize a plan. We do not set out a schedule for that at this time but we will move forward with that.”

Murkowski says she repeatedly pressed McCarthy on when the rules for the non-contiguous areas  might be ready and she got no definite answer. The senator says it was her impression time might run out on the Obama Administration before then. Murkowski was visibly happy about the news.

Now, the question is whether she, as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee will join Republican efforts to block the rule from going into effect in other states. Murkowski says she hasn’t had enough time to look at the final version.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Votes to Move Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill

Mon, 2015-08-03 17:35

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood failed a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate today. Sen. Dan Sullivan is a co-sponsor. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted to advance the defunding measure also, but she says she doesn’t want to see Planned Parenthood’s funding removed without an investigation.

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“A move to wholesale defund Planned Parenthood is just not smart,” she said just outside the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the defunding bill.

Murkowski says she wanted the bill to advance so she could vote for an amendment offered by Republican moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. That measure would have required the Justice Department to investigate whether Planned Parenthood or its affiliates violated federal law regarding the harvest of fetal tissue. The Collins-Kirk measure would have cut off funding just to the facilities, if any, that profited from that practice. (Today’s procedural vote split Collins and Kirk. Collins voted to advance the defunding bill with hopes of amending it. Kirk was the only Republican to vote agasint advancing the bill.)

The reasons Murkowski is giving for her vote are nuanced and likely to be lost in the heated debate. After the vote, the Alaska Democratic Party issued a statement headlined “Murkowski Abandons Alaska Women.” On the other side, Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Action, has been urging his anti-abortion followers to tell Murkowski to support the bill.

Murkowski, who is up for re-election next year, has had a complex stand on abortion and women’s health issues since her days in the Alaska Legislature, and she has alternately pleased and angered both sides of the abortion debate.

Murkowski says she knows people will read a lot of meaning into today’s vote. She says she believes Plannned Parenthood does good work and she notes that it provides health care to 21,000 Alaskans.

“What I’m opposed to is any measure that would completely defund … important services to men and women.  Unless, unless there has been illegal action,” she said. “And we don’t know if there has been.”

She says she was repulsed by the videos taken by anti-abortion activists in which Planned Parenthood officials seem to discuss compensation for providing fetal tissue for research and methods of collection. Murkowski today asked the U.S. attorney general for an investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Gambell Basketball Player Chooses Between Hometown Team and Seattle Offer

Mon, 2015-08-03 17:31

NBA point guard Derrick Rose was first scouted at his local high school and eventually drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls. Sixteen-year-old Wallace Ungwiluk is a big fan of Rose — and a point guard too. But basketball could carry the junior from Gambell much farther from home — more than 2,000 miles to Seattle, where he’s been recruited to play for a private high school.

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This summer, Ungwiluk has a decision to make — stay home and try to win Gambell its first championship in 30 years or move to Seattle and get seen by college scouts.

According to Alvin Aningayou, there’s nothing like a Gambell home game.

“It’s a raucous, rowdy, exciting, electrified environment,” he said. “When we win, you can feel the excitement and the buzz. And when we lose, you can feel their heart breaking just as our heart’s breaking. It’s just incredible.”

Aningayou is coach of the Gambell boys basketball team, and he said its Wallace Ungwiluk who has gotten the crowd going in recent years.

As a sophomore, point guard Wallace Ungwiluk averaged over 27 points per game for Gambell. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

He is the team’s captain, point guard, and top scorer. As a sophomore last season, he averaged over 27 points per game — nearly double the production of Gambell’s second best scorer. And Coach Aningayou said he’s just getting better.

“He’s special,” he said. “He started to shine, and he’s continually trying to get better. And that’s what we need — not having players settle.”

Wallace was in Anchorage last summer for a basketball camp. He trained, worked on his game, and — for the first time — saw just how far basketball could take him.

“That was the first time I’ve really ever been coached or pushed that hard,” he said. “I went to that camp not thinking I’d get much exposure there, but I actually did and I was quite surprised. This is a big opportunity for me.”

That’s the opportunity to move to Seattle, attend a private school, and play competitive ball. The offer comes from Seattle Lutheran High School, which had a solid postseason last year and is planning for a deep run in this season’s state tournament.

But the offer comes at a critical time for Wallace and his hometown team. Gambell is looking to improve after a string of early exits from the Bering Strait School District’s annual tournament. In the last two years, Gambell has been knocked out quickly, and Wallace wants to help turn the team around and contend for the title.

“I do want to stay here in this village and win a championship for this village, because it hasn’t been done in about 30 years. But I’m not only thinking about my high school career,” he said. “I’m also thinking about after high school. I want to play college basketball, and my best chance for that is getting exposure in Seattle.”

Wallace said western Alaska is no hotbed for college recruitment, and he knows most scouts don’t make it to St. Lawrence Island. Even after writing letters to 12 colleges and making a YouTube video of his highlights, Wallace isn’t sure he can crack a college lineup if he stays in Gambell.

“No one’s really heard of me,” he said. “But Seattle — they’ve got colleges all around Seattle. They’ve got scouts there too. It gives me a better chance.”

But Seattle would also be a big change. In Gambell, Wallace gets around on his four-wheeler, often with his 12-year old brother Skyley. He loves boating, snowboarding, and doing subsistence hunting with his family. His dad Rodney has home movies of Wallace’s first whale-hunting trip, and his mom Yuka makes his favorite meal, walrus.

Life in Seattle would be different, and Wallace worries about being homesick, getting lost in a big city, and having to make new friends at school. But he takes pride in representing Gambell, and Coach Aningayou said he’ll support Wallace whether he stays in Gambell or takes his talents to Seattle Lutheran.

“If he decides to stay, I think it’s going to be a breakout year for Gambell,” he said. And if not, “he has a chance of actually making a living playing basketball — something he loves. That’d be a great success for him. For the community also.”

But either way, Wallace said he won’t leave Gambell for good.

“I want to study business, and I want to come back out here to this village because the unemployment rate is super high,” he said. “I want to be able to establish something where there could be jobs for everybody because it’s hard to live out here. And that’s one of the reasons that I want to go off to college and I’ll be coming back.”

Until then, Wallace will attend three summer basketball camps and think about his decision. His final stop will be Seattle, where Wallace and his dad will tour his prospective school and meet with the Seattle Lutheran coaches in person. He’ll make his final decision after that visit.

Categories: Alaska News

Draft petition calls for a third city in Ketchikan

Mon, 2015-08-03 16:01

North Tongass Fire and EMS. (KRBD file photo)

Consolidation has failed in Ketchikan many times in the past. Now, a group of people in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s North End is trying something completely different: They want to create another city in the borough, which would add a fourth local government in a community of about 13,000 people.

The draft petition calls for creation of the City of Ward Cove, using roughly the same boundaries as what is now the North Tongass Service Area. The home-rule city would begin where the City of Ketchikan’s ends, a little north of the Shoreline Drive area, and would extend to Settlers Cove State Park on the far north of the road system.

The draft petition argues that the proposed new city is distinct from the City of Ketchikan geographically and culturally. Also, mountains and streams limit the ability of the City of Ketchikan to expand utilities for North End residents. Becoming a city would allow those residents to improve utilities on their own.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said the petitioners have consulted with him while drafting the petition. He said areawide powers, such as public education, transit and the airport, would remain with the borough. But the petition calls for transferring a number of non-areawide powers to the new city.

“The ones that are currently provided in that area by the borough include library, sewage disposal, solid waste, regulation of the sale or possession of drug paraphernalia, regulation of possession and sale of fireworks, the North Tongass Fire and EMS Service Area, the Ward Creek Road Service Area and the Mud Bight Water and Utility Service Area,” he said.

Settlers Cove State Park. (KRBD file photo)

Library funding has been a point of contention between some borough residents and

the City of Ketchikan. The city operates the Ketchikan Public Library, and has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Under that MOU, the borough provides per-capita funding to the city for library services, and to collect that, charges a fee on a non-areawide basis.

Based on that agreement, the borough provided about $400,000 for the library this year.

Bockhorst says that agreement applies only to borough residents who don’t live within any incorporated city.

“So, if a City of Ward Cove were to form, our power to provide library services would be restricted to exclude that area,” he said. “So, there would be an adjustment in terms of not necessarily the formula of how the borough pays, but there would be a rate adjustment.”

The petition estimates that the population of the proposed City of Ward Cove would include 3,250 permanent residents. That equals roughly $256,600 of this year’s borough contribution to library services.

The proposed new city would encompass 42 square miles of land, three square miles of water and tidelands; and property with an assessed value of $350 million.

Knudson Cove is on Ketchikan’s North End. (KRBD file photo)

The petition does not propose any change in the current property tax rate, which now is 5 mills for the borough, and 2.4 mills for the service area. There also is no proposed sales tax for the new city, beyond the current 2.5 percent boroughwide sales tax.

The petition calls for a strong-mayor form of government, which means the mayor would act as the city manager. The city also would have five elected council members, serving two-year terms.

Bockhorst said if the City of Ward Cove does eventually form, it will be an interesting development for the borough.

“It will have an effect, and not necessarily a negative effect,” he said. “At this time, I do not have any concerns about that.”

Bockhorst adds that the petitioners seem to have drafted a clean, well-thought-out petition.

“They are consulting with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, as they should be,” he said. “And they’re planning to consult with the City of Ketchikan and also with the North Tongass Service Area Board.”

Petitioners named in the document are Trevor Shaw, who is a Ketchikan School Board member, and Jason Harris. Neither returned a call seeking comment by deadline for this story.

The petition is still in draft form, and has not yet been formally submitted to the state Local Boundary Commission. The petitioners will need to gather signatures of at least 15 percent of voters in the last election before officially submitting the petition for review.

Once that has taken place, the LBC will decide whether to move forward with an incorporation election for what would be Ketchikan’s fourth local government. The other three are the borough, the City of Ketchikan, and the City of Saxman.

Categories: Alaska News

Pregnant Kotlik Woman Loses Child After Assault

Mon, 2015-08-03 14:23

State Troopers are investigating an assault in Kotlik after a pregnant victim’s baby died.

Troopers say a family member assaulted the pregnant woman and following the assault, the woman’s child was lost due to “unknown circumstances.”  They’re looking whether the loss of the fetus was connected with the assault.

Troopers learned of the incident Thursday morning and responded to the village. The alleged assault took place last Monday. The investigation is still underway, according to a trooper dispatch.

Troopers say any charges, if warranted, will be send to the district attorney’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

Q2 Earnings Reports Show It’s a Tough Time for Oil

Mon, 2015-08-03 14:17

As Shell’s Fennica icebreaker endured a standoff with Greenpeace protesters in Oregon last week, the company was also contending with the release of a dismal second quarter earnings report.

Shell logged quarterly earnings of $3.8 billion – nearly 40 percent lower than earnings for the same period last year. That’s actually an improvement over first quarter earnings, which were down more than 50 percent.

The bearish report puts scrutiny on Shell’s appetite for the Arctic, where the company has invested billions in recent years.

Shell declined an interview request, but sent a statement from the company CEO Ben van Beurden’s shareholder briefing. Van Beurden says, “Alaska is a long-term play, that’s the way you have to look at it.”

Van Beurden also added that the area Shell plans to drill in the Chukchi, the Burger prospect, has the potential to be multiple times larger than the biggest fields in the U.S.’ Gulf of Mexico.

Shell is not the only oil company to see its profits slide this quarter. ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil lost earnings at a similar rate, while Chevron fared marginally better.

Shell reported nearly a 40 percent dip in earnings in its second quarter report released July 30.

Categories: Alaska News

Summer work underway at Red Devil Mine in advance of big cleanup

Mon, 2015-08-03 12:01

Crews last year built a channel at the old Red Devil mine site. 2015’s work is leading up to water and sediment clean-up. (Photo courtesy BLM)

Crews are sampling water and sediments this summer near the site of the old Red Devil mercury mine in the middle Kuskokwim. It’s work that comes in advance of a large clean up project.

Work has been underway for years to study how to clean up the abandoned mine. And there’s still more to learn. Mike McCrum is Project manager for the Red Devil project with BLM in Anchorage.

“We still had unanswered questions with regard to tailings that have made their way into the Kuskokwim River. We also had unanswered questions for groundwater on the mine site,” said McCrum.

Researchers are putting in monitoring wells at the site and soon will sample sediments in the Kuskokwim.

The clean up work is split into two big phases now as leaders finalize a feasibility study for cleaning up the quarter million cubic yards of tailings that have been leaking mercury, arsenic, and antimony into the Kuskokwim river for years. It’s leading up to a multi-million dollar project to stop the tailings from releasing hazardous metals.

“In the end the most important thing is to address the tailings. They’re still piled up next to Red Devil creek, and that’s not a good place for them to be. The issues we’re working on now are not whether we’re going to do anything. The issues are more: what are we going to do, what’s the most efficient and optimal thing to do,” said McCrum.

Last summer they completed some work re-grading tailings piles so they were not so steep, excavating a new channel, and creating an area of still water in which sediments could drop out before reaching the Kuskokwim River. The options under consideration now include simply fencing off the site, or digging up the tailings.

“To do a pretty extensive excavation in the Red Devil Creek valley. Removing virtually all of the tailings that are there, removing the soil that’s been impacted by the tailings, scraping off the top of the barge landing and placing that material in a repository on the north side of the site that at a higher elevation and and away from surface water. We would cap that with a very low permeability cap,” said McCrum.

Keeping water out would stop leaching. The final and most expensive option, by far, would be to actually barge out the material and take it to a hazardous waste facility in Northern Oregon. The barging alternative would involve 123 barge transits and cost $285 million. Keeping the material on site would cost $35 million.

“It’s common to simply remove them from the location where they’re creating an environmental issue. In this case it’s being near the water, it’s the aquatic ecosystem that’s the most sensitive to the metals being released by the tailings. So, getting those tailings up and away from the water is probably the single most important thing you can do,” said McCrum.

The BLM plans to take a proposed plan out to Kuskokwim communities early in 2016. A final decision is expected next year and the agency hopes to complete the work within the next few years. The sediment work would come later.

The Red Devil mercury mine operated from 1933 to 1971. By the 1980s it was considered abandoned and the government began the long process of cleaning up. Studies have found buildup of metals in fish nearby. The State has issued a warning to residents not to collect subsistence foods nearby.

They also warned pregnant women and young children to avoid large-sized pike and lush. Those are predators that can accumulate mercury over many years.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska power plants exempt from new greenhouse gas emission rules

Mon, 2015-08-03 11:32

Alaska will be exempt from new federal rules aimed at cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she got word Monday in a phone call from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The rule requires other states to eliminate about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030. Murkowski told the EPA administrator at a hearing in April the target was impossible for Alaska, in part because the state’s electric grid is so limited.


Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly considers $1 million hit to Juneau seniors’ sales tax perk

Mon, 2015-08-03 11:04

City Manager Kim Kiefer charts out one solution to gradually raise the eligibility age for the senior sales tax exemption with Assemblywoman Mary Becker. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly advanced a series of policy changes Thursday that would leave lower-income seniors entirely exempt from paying city sales tax, while reducing wealthier seniors’ benefit. Several other sales tax proposals failed.

The city’s finance officials forecast the changes will raise an extra $1 million a year from local seniors. Currently, all resident seniors are eligible for exemption from Juneau’s 5 percent sales tax.

The package the Assembly backed Thursday would keep the exemption in place for seniors with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That cut off varies from year to year and by household size. For a single senior this year, it works out to $36,800.

Wealthier seniors would still be eligible to skip sales tax on essentials: food, residential electricity, heating fuel and municipal water and sewer fees.

“The low-income seniors, those on fixed income, are also protected by the measure we just took,” said Assemblywoman Kate Troll. “So the seniors have been very well taken care of.”

The sales tax changes were considered at the committee level and are not final. They still must be drafted as an ordinance, presented in a public hearing, and read and voted on twice by the Assembly.

Two other sales tax changes were considered that failed. Mayor Merrill Sanford proposed increasing the eligibility age of the senior sales tax exemption from 65 to 70 over five years. The phase-in was intended to soften the blow, and the Assembly initially backed Sanford’s motion in a 5-4 vote.

But, over the next 25 minutes, they worked out a logical problem with that phase-in; since we all age on pace with the phase-in, no one would actually be phased in.

They’d already moved on to other changes when Assemblywoman Karen Crane said, “They’re not getting a double whammy, they’ve had a total whammy. Nothing for the next five years.”

With a fresh, multicolored chart by City Manager Kim Kiefer on the white board, the Assembly voted unanimously to reverse on raising the eligibility age.

Another net-positive sales tax proposal by Assemblyman Loren Jones failed by one vote. He sought a ballot question asking voters to exempt everyone from paying sales tax on food while raising the overall sales tax rate to 6 percent.

Assemblywoman Debbie White voted no.

“There’s talk about an upcoming state sales tax. We’re going to increase the cost of living for everybody by doing that. And right now, I don’t see this getting past the voters.

Assembly members on both sides of the vote agreed that taxing food was regressive, meaning it puts a disproportionate burden on the poor.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl was the swing vote. He was sympathetic to eliminating the tax on food, but said raising the overall sales tax rate would put Juneau service providers and retailers at a greater disadvantage, particularly against tax exempt online retailers.

“I don’t want to push people any faster toward buying outside than we have to,” Kiehl said.

Next year, Kiehl said he intends to propose less capital spending so the sales tax can be lowered to 4 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

Former NICU Parent Helps Other Families Navigate A Stressful Time

Mon, 2015-08-03 11:00

Most people working in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit have some type of advanced medical degree. But one employee at The Children’s Hospital at Providence in Anchorage has a very different set of qualifications. Ginny Shaffer spent more than three months in the NICU as a parent, with her daughter who was born at 23 weeks. Now she helps other parents through one of the most stressful times of their lives as a Parent Navigator.

A mini chalk board outside Emily Bressler’s NICU room playfully charts her ‘escape attempts’ from the hospital. Her mom Liz says she’s come close to going home at least a dozen times in the last four months.

“Someone would come into the room and they’d say well you could be outta here in two weeks, she’s doing good right now,” Bressler says. “And then at the end of two weeks, something would happen, I called them her medical temper tantrums and it was just enough to keep her here.”

Emily had her first medical temper tantrum the day after she was born- a hearty eight pounds, one ounce- in Fairbanks. She started vomiting, couldn’t poop and was medevaced to the Providence NICU in Anchorage. Emily was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s Disease, which affects the colon. She needed surgery- three in all- to be able to pass stool.

Bressler’s husband had to stay home in Fairbanks, caring for the couple’s three other young kids.

“I kind off keep my sanity by cracking jokes. And we make the best signs,” Bressler says. “Emily has one that says ‘kiss my little red wagon’, and ‘if you wake me, you take me.’ And it’s great to have that lightness.”

The other half of that ‘we’ Bressler is talking about is NICU Parent Navigator Ginny Shaffer.

“If I can make her smile with a sign, then we’re going to make as many signs as possible,” Shaffer says.

Shaffer has also helped Bressler find a spot for her espresso machine, a vital piece of equipment when your home is a hospital room. And then there’s the tougher stuff. Shaffer is someone Bressler can talk to when Emily has surgery or a setback. She also helps Bressler advocate for Emily’s unique care needs with doctors.

Shaffer says every family needs help in different ways.

“I want to walk into a room and I want somebody to see that there’s somebody that’s going to help them and it’s just their needs I’m looking to support,” Shaffer says.

Ten years ago, Shaffer was the one who needed support. She was 23 weeks pregnant with twins- a boy and a girl, when she felt funny and went to the hospital. Her tiny babies (both weighed less than 1.5 pounds) were born five hours later. Her son Bryson experienced seizures, brain bleeds and problems with internal organs. When he was 45 days old, Shaffer and her husband made the difficult decision to remove life support.

The day after Bryson died, a nurse suggested a first bath for their daughter, Holland.

“And they got out this little bitty pink hospital basin, this little tub that was too big for her and this heat lamp and we got this really great photo,” Shaffer remembers. “The nurse said, ‘how many people does it take to give a two pound baby a bath?’ And we’re all smiling- ‘five!’ And that was a really pivotal moment in our life because I didn’t really know how to go forward.”

Holland spent 99 days in the NICU. After that experience, Shaffer was glad to be home, but she missed the daily connections with hospital staff and other NICU families. When Holland was two years old, the NICU Parent Navigator job opened up and it seemed like a natural fit for Shaffer, even though her background is in real estate, not healthcare.

Eight years later, Shaffer’s office- with huge glass windows, is the first thing you see walking into the unit. It’s filled with stuffed animals, infant clothes and a bowl of chocolate to entice parents to sit down and talk. Shaffer also works to get families connecting with each other:

“We try and get creative with some of our offerings,” Shaffer says. “We’ve done National Fried Chicken Day- a quirky celebration, but it kind of creates a giggle and then people are curious, ‘the NICU’s celebrating National Fried Chicken Day? Let’s go see what it’s about.’ And connections are made.”

Another piece of Shaffer’s job is advocating for families with hospital administrators. She helped design the new NICU that opened two years ago to be as parent- and baby- friendly as possible. Right now, she’s pushing for a more relaxed visitors policy. No visitors are allowed at shift change, when confidential information is exchanged. It’s a holdover from the days when the unit was open, with no private rooms.

“If my neighbor is here and she’s my best friend and she can help me or get me a tissue or a drink, then why not let her stay? You can shut my door and give me some privacy and then I won’t overhear the confidential exchange of information that happens at shift change,” Shaffer says.

But one of best job perks for Shaffer is celebrating family milestones. And a recent day brings a big one. A parade of doctors and nurse are stopping by Emily Bressler’s room to say goodbye and take pictures. After 127 days in the NICU, she is finally making her escape.

Bressler is thrilled to be going home to her husband and kids, but sad too- to say goodbye to the support network of Shaffer and all the NICU staff. She says it’s a little like trading one family for another.

Categories: Alaska News

Labor Rights FAQ Translated to Tagalog

Mon, 2015-08-03 10:55

Not all employees in Alaska speak English proficiently, but the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development wants to make sure that all of them understand their rights. The department recently released several translations of its employee “frequently asked questions” pamphlet in different languages, including one in Tagalog.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Kodiak has a significant Filipino population. In 2010, Asians were the largest racial minority in the Kodiak Borough at almost 20 percent of the population with Filipinos making up around 17 percent.

The statewide supervising investigator for the Wage and Hour Administration, Joe Dunham, says the 23 questions in the pamphlet are an overview of basic wage and hour laws for overtime and minimum-wage eligible employees.

“What is minimum wage? What about overtime? Who gets overtime, who does not get overtime? Can I be paid salary? What about my final paycheck?” says Dunham. “Can they make deductions from my wages without my permission? So, it’s just simple everyday wage and hour questions that most of us come into contact with those questions at any particular job.”

While wage theft and labor abuse can occur, Dunham says some workers’ ignorance about United States labor laws could also be a matter of cultural difference.

“What turns out to be common in their culture turns out to be a violation in ours and very often, neither the employer nor the employee even knows about it,” says Dunham. “These questions are just something where employer-employee can look at this and say ‘Wow, I never knew that, maybe I should call up the Department of Labor and sit down and talk about it.’”

In the case that an employee feels they are being taken advantage of, they can report the issue to DOL investigators.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials announce Yukon Quest purse of at least $115,000

Mon, 2015-08-03 10:53

Race officials will offer at least $115,000 to the winner of the 2016 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that race officials announced the purse on Friday.

Last year’s purse was $127,110, including $12,110 left over from the 2014 race. Fundraisers and sponsorships help fill out the purse.

The announcement from race officials came the day before in-person signups for the 1,000-mile sled dog race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon. The Yukon Quest is scheduled to being on February 6, 2016, in Fairbanks.

Officials also say Doug Grilliot of Willow will be the race marshal for the fourth year in a row. The head veterinarian will be Cristina Hansen and the race manager will be Alex Olesen.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Highway crash leaves one dead, several injured

Mon, 2015-08-03 10:51

A multi-vehicle crash on the Seward Highway Friday has left one person dead and several others injured.

According to Alaska State Troopers, the crash was reported just after noon on Friday, at mile 80 of the highway in Girdwood.

A tour bus traveling north on the Seward highway reportedly hit another northbound vehicle which was stopped, waiting for cars to turn into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

It caused a pileup involving the bus and five vehicles, two of which were towing trailers.

Alaska Dispatch News reports Alaska Tour & Travel operates the Park Connection Motorcoach involved in the crash. It services national park areas and was headed from Seward to Anchorage with 42 passengers on board.

Troopers responded to the crash along with the Anchorage Police Department and Girdwood Fire Department.

55-year old John Zollner III was pronounced dead on scene. Next of kin was also on scene and was notified.

Two other people were transported by Life Med helicopter to Anchorage with serious injuries. Additional motorists were transported to nearby medical centers with less serious injuries.

According to Troopers, an investigation is underway. Commercial Motor Vehicle inspectors are assisting.

The road remained closed for about 10 hours, backing up traffic until late evening.

Categories: Alaska News