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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: 28 min 2 sec ago

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:13

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

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John Davies spent his first summer in Fairbanks on the upper Chena River, using satellite dishes to record radio emissions from the sun. On August 11, it rained 3-and-a-half inches.

“It was just raining like crazy. The water was coming up,” Davies said.

John Davies. (Photo courtesy John Davies)

At 11 a.m. his partner called from the research site a quarter mile away, stranded by flood water. John jumped in the only available vehicle – a front end loader – to go rescue him.

“The water was over the tires. It was 6 feet deep,” Davies said. “Fortunately the bunkhouse was high and dry but there was water everywhere around us.”

The Great Flood of ‘67 nailed Fairbanks the next day, flooding the power plant, wiping out the hospital and displacing 8,000 people. The bridges washed out and the two grad students were stuck there for weeks. Luckily they had a generator, an electric oven and all the ingredients for cake. The next day was the caretaker’s birthday.

“Then we made a raft out of oil drums and poled across this flooded area and delivered this birthday cake to her,” Davies said.

Then came the first winter.

“Fifty-below seemed like I was on the other side of the moon,” John’s wife, Linda Schandelmeier, said, laughing. “It just seemed like a completely different thing.”

She moved up the same year from a homestead in Anchorage. She says the ice fog was way worse than it is today, thanks to lower temperatures and dirtier car engines.

“You’d be at an intersection and you could barely see that the lights were red,” she said. “When they turn green you just had to go on a wing and a prayer. I guess I’ll turn left but I hope nobody else is out there. You really couldn’t tell.”

John had summit fever. In 1970, he attempted a first ascent of Mt. Kimball in the Alaska Range, skiing 40 miles in on the Canwell Glacier. But when they reached the final steep, icy pitch, they ran out of ice screws. They were climbing back down, roped together, when one member of his group vanished.

“It was a fairly narrow crevasse and the sound doesn’t travel very far,” John said. “We were concerned that he was unconscious.”

His friend was uninjured when they pulled him 50 feet up and over the lip of the crevasse, but it was the last peak John tried to bag. Fieldwork was an adventure too, especially before GPS and satellite phones. Linda spent one summer living in a wall tent near Bristol Bay studying cormorants. Once a month someone from Bethel would fly out to check in on her.

“We essentially had no communication,” John said. “They wouldn’t let you do that now. Are you kidding? What if you got hurt? The nearest village was 25 miles away.”

John spent many summers installing seismic stations in the Aleutians, cruising around islands in a fishing boat and climbing craggy hillsides.

“I mean, you first look at it and you think it’s a God-forsaken patch of grass out there in the middle of the ocean, and it’s just cold and windy, and it is a lot of the time,” John said. “But it’s also just an enormously beautiful place, and very, very rich in sea life.”

One time he hitched a ride with a fishing boat from Sand Point to Nagai Island. When the cannery called to say they desperately needed product, John ended up spraying shrimp with a fire hose all day rather than setting up seismometers.

“And fished for about 10 or 12 hours and we caught over 100,000 pounds of shrimp – that is a lot of freakin’ shrimp,” John said. “The guy who was sort of the chef fried up some of the shrimp for us. These were almost like prawns, they were really, really good.”

In 1993 he headed for the next summit: the state Legislature. Alaska’s oil revenues were cut in half that decade, as oil prices and production dropped. John, a House Democrat, proposed a state income tax to balance the budget.

“It was a crazy tax, but it had the advantage of being deductible from your federal income taxes,” John said. “It would actually save people in Alaska about $100 million over the course of a year.”

It passed the House but was crucified in the Republican-controlled Senate. Then his opponent used it to beat him in the next election.

“They ran an ad with a woman in her kitchen saying she just didn’t understand why that John Davies wanted to take $3,000 away from her,” he said.

In the past five decades, John has learned a lot about the physics, the resources and the people that make Alaska tick. Now he’d like to see the state invest in renewable energy for the future. Having lived here in the 60s, it’s not that hard for him to imagine life in Alaska without oil.

Categories: Alaska News

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:12

Vicki Soboleff talking to the group of parents and kids. (Photo by Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau)

Celebration begins this evening at 6 o’clock with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

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It’s a Thursday evening and some 50 kids and teenagers dance their way through the Tlingit-Haida Community Center near Salmon Creek. Group founder and leader Vicki Soboleff walks up and down the line giving instructions. Soboleff says she and the group have come a long way since the first practice in 1995.

“There were 12 children here and there was a group of their parents and maybe grandparents and aunts and uncles. All those children were looking at me and I was terrified. We didn’t start off singing Tlingit songs. We actually started off singing ‘This Old Man.’ I was just trying to get them to sing and plus I was nervous.”

At this practice they sing numerous Alaska Native songs and Soboleff says they’re instruments for learning.

“Knowledge of your Native culture and involvement in Native song and dance and language really helps you with your sense of self and belonging. To your tribe, your clan. I believe it’s really important for Native children to know who they are, where they came from, what their tribal clan is.”

One of Soboleff’s early dancers is now a teacher. Barbara Dude joined the group when she was seven and now, at 26, she’s an assistant group leader. She helps 15-year-old Allison Ford with her Tlingit introduction—just like Soboleff helped her. Among other things, Dude says she gained language skills, self-esteem, and public speaking skills. But the most important lessons were about something more. She says the group’s goal to help engender identity worked.

“When I started the group when I was seven I didn’t know that I was Tlingit. The group has helped me gain a sense of pride in who I am and now I am able to share that with my children who have known they were Tlingit since they were born.”

Dude is excited for Celebration, especially the grand entrance.

“We all dance in together and ahead of us are dancers from another group, and behind us are dancers from another group and we’re dancing across stage and each person gets their chance to go across stage and dance their hardest. They feel it because everyone around them is feeling it with them.”

Dude tears up and apologizes for becoming emotional.

“How powerful it is to watch them be immersed in the culture and the language. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

The All Nations Children’s Dance Group is true to its name and is open to children of all races and ages until high school graduation. Then Soboleff and Dude hope they’ll join an adult group or stick around to help children learn language, song, dance, and especially, cultural identity and pride.

The Grand Entrance procession begins tonight at 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall. You can watch it on 360 North or 360North.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: June 11, 2014

Wed, 2014-06-11 16:58

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

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Former Haines Police Officer Hired As Security Officer For The Alaska Marine Highway

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position. But the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

Air Force Confirms Delay In HAARP Demolition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility.  Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

State Defends Decision To Certify Citizens Initiative Slowing Pebble Mine

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took Wednesday when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot. Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Despite precarious ice conditions, local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

Celebration begins Wednesday evening with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall in Juneau. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Fire Service Holding Meeting On 100 Mile Creek Fire

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:56

The Alaska Fire Service will host a meeting tonight in Delta Junction to answer questions about the 100 Mile Creek Fire burning 20 miles southwest of that town.

Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

The fire resulted from a control burn at the Donnelly Training Area earlier this spring.  It’s has since grown to more than 21,000 acres. The Alaska Fire Service reports only 5 percent of the fire’s perimeter is contained.

Cloud cover and cooler weather has helped to moderate the blaze. Fire managers plan to take advantage of the weather to prevent the fire from moving north and east. Two-hundred-ninety-one personnel will continue to protect structures, build a direct line.

There is a flight restriction in place over the fire for commercial and private pilots. A command post for the blaze has been established at the Delta Fairgrounds.

Categories: Alaska News

State Ferry Columbia’s Return To Service Is Delayed

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:50

The state ferry Columbia will not be returning to service in Southeast Alaska this week as expected.

A problem with one of the newly-installed engines on the 418-foot ship means the Columbia will remain in Bellingham awaiting a replacement part.

Columbia in dry dock. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation)

“When it was leaving the shipyard in Portland and transiting toward Bellingham, they experienced an unexpected mechanical issue with the port engine and for that we have to wait for a part to be shipped in actually from Finland to deal with the repair of the damage done to the engine before it can return to service,” Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow explains. “So that will delay it a few days for that. We’ve also had to revise the schedule for the LeConte, the Malaspina and the Fairweather moving out for the next week.”

The Columbia was in a Portland shipyard for nearly nine months having its engines, propellers and lifeboats replaced. Woodrow says a faulty part caused problems after the ship sailed from Portland.

“There was a part that didn’t work properly after it was installed in the brand new engine,” Woodrow said. “They were able to catch it in time before it made major damage to the whole engine but because the part is built and made in Finland, we have to wait I think it takes four days or longer for it to actually get to the U.S.”

Woodrow describes the problematic part as a gear-driven pump. That will be replaced in Bellingham before the Columbia returns to service.

The new scheduled return date is now Wednesday, June 18. The ship was originally scheduled to be back in service in April but more time was needed to complete the engine replacement.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Seek Decision On Status Of Southeast Wolves

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:24

(Map from the University of Alaska Southeast)

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. seeking a decision on the status of wolf populations in Southeast Alaska.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Boat Company have sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hoping for a quicker decision on whether the Alexander Archipelago wolf should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

(Photo from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is already far overdue in making its 12-month finding for the Alexander Archipelago wolf,” Larry Edwards, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka,
said. “That should have been made within 12 months of the time that we filed the petition in August of 2011.”

“So we’re far past that and it’s time to prod some best action on making that final decision.”

The federal agency issued a decision, what’s called a 90-day finding, back in March. That decision means Fish and Wildlife will do further review of wolf populations and determine if listing is warranted. That review is dependent on funding for the federal agency and could take several years.

The petitioners argue that the region’s wolf numbers are declining in Southeast and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. Edwards says the timing of the agency’s decision is important because of expected decisions on U.S. Forest Service timber sales planned on Prince of Wales Island, Mitkof Island near Petersburg along with Etolin Island, Wrangell Island and a sale planned near Ketchikan.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska said the agency had no comment on the litigation.

The state of Alaska says wolves are not at risk in the region and state officials were disappointed with this year’s decision to perform a population review.

Back in March, Tongass National Forest supervisor Forrest Cole said his federal agency would work collaboratively with the Fish and Wildlife Service on their review. Cole noted there are no reliable estimates of wolf numbers in Southeast but said government agencies would work to develop a reliable method for estimating those numbers.

Categories: Alaska News

Low Value Placed on Togiak Sac Roe Herring Fishery

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:03

The estimated value of this year’s Togiak Herring catch is about half last years, largely because of the price.

Last year the fleet was offered $100 a ton and was later awarded an adjustment beyond that.

This year, the offer has not been disclosed, but the Fish and Game Department is using an estimate of $50 a ton. The fishery fell a little short of quota and processors shut down completely a couple of days before the opening was over.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Man Threatens To Shoot Pedestrians Forcing Road Closure

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:59

After receiving a phone call from a man threatening to shoot a pedestrian, Ketchikan police closed off a section of Schoenbar Road and evacuated the Recreation Center early Tuesday morning while trying to negotiate the man’s surrender.

Deputy Chief of Police Josh Dossett says no one was injured during the Tuesday morning incident. He says 30-year-old Mathew Martinez called police at approximately 4 a.m. with the threat.

Dosset describes what happened in front of the Schoenbar Road home:

“Officers responded to the area where we thought he was. We were able to see the male outside his residence. At the time he didn’t have a firearm. He was arguing with another male. Plain-clothes officers tried to approach him. He ran back in the residence. Officers backed away. He then came in and out of the residence a couple of times with firearms. We blocked off Schoenbar above and below the residence. We evacuated people from both the Recreation Center and those at the TSAS (Tongass School of Arts and Sciences) and Ketchikan Charter School, possibly. At that point, he finally came out the residence with his wife. He did not have a weapon. One of my sergeants who’s a negotiator made contact with him with a cover team. He began talking to him for several minutes. Was able to approach the subject, get close enough that he could get ahold of him, at which time the cover team also contacted him. He was taken into custody without an incident, uninjured. Officers served a search warrant on the residents and recovered four firearms – four rifles.”

Dossett says during the phone call, Martinez told police he would shoot anyone who walked by the house, and when police responded, he would return fire.

“Technically it’s called ‘suicide by cop.’ Force us to shoot him and kill him,” Dossett said.

Dossett says Martinez appeared overwhelmed by things happening in his life. Though uninjured, Martinez was taken to the hospital for evaluation and then transported to the Ketchikan Correctional Center.

Martinez is being charged with 3rd degree assault, making terrorist threats, weapons misconduct, and violations of conditions of release. He was to be arraigned Tuesday. His arraignment was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Set for Man Charged in Deadly Fight

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:55

A grand jury has indicted Anthony Pouesi on a manslaughter charge in the death of another person at the Harbor View Bar last month.

Twenty-eight-year-old Pouesi was arraigned Monday in Unalaska District Court. He’s charged with causing the death of another man, 44-year-old Marlo Adams, according to court documents.

Pouesi is alleged to have punched Adams once during an argument outside the Harbor View Bar on May 22. Adams then fell and hit his head on the ground, causing injuries that later proved fatal.

The grand jury that indicted Pouesi on the manslaughter charge heard testimony from police and witnesses, according to court documents.

Manslaughter is a class A felony. Pouesi is also facing a misdemeanor charge for allegedly misidentifying himself to police after the incident.

His felony trial is set to take place the week of July 14 in Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

As Pollock Season Begins, Bycatch Debate Looms

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:53

F/V Auriga prepares for the start of B season. (Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska)

As the Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened on Tuesday, pollock fishermen were looking forward to a strong B season. They were also wading through a tide of criticism from rural users, who believe the industry’s catching too much salmon.

Brent Paine represents more than 70 pollock trawlers for United Catcher Boats.

“I think a lot of the cooperatives are going to start early — like right now or this week — because of their concern for Chinook salmon bycatch,” Paine said. “That tends to increase in the later part of the B season.”

On top of that, many vessels will be using excluder nets to let salmon escape. And Paine says they’ll all participate in the rolling hotspot closure program — avoiding areas where other trawlers have run into high concentrations of salmon.

But those tactics aren’t enough to relieve tension between commercial and subsistence fishermen. It came to a head last week, when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council met in Nome.

“It was probably one of the toughest meetings I’ve attended in 20 years,” Paine said.

The council heard hours of testimony from western Alaskans. Many of them are facing closures and restrictions on fishing this summer because of poor salmon returns. And many were upset that commercial fishermen haven’t been asked to cut back on bycatch in the same way.

Ben Stevens is a Koyukon Athabascan. As KNOM reported, Stevens traveled almost 500 miles from the Upper Yukon to speak at the council meeting.

“I would like to demand of you some courage to help us stem this tide,” Steven said. “Because it’s happening to us. The fact of the matter is the fish are going away and we need help. You guys are it.”

The North Pacific council agreed to take a closer look at a few options for reducing bycatch. They may expand the incentive-based program for avoiding salmon in the trawl fleet, and they may adjust the hard cap on salmon taken as bycatch.

The council isn’t expected to revisit the issue until late in the year — after the pollock B season ends in October.

KNOM’s Matthew Smith contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Gets $4 Million For Veterinary Medicine Facility

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:48

The University of Alaska Board of Regents agreed last week to fund a $4 million design project to re-purpose an already existing building on the UAF campus by September, 2015 when the first students begin studies in a new veterinary medicine program. But, the new program is on a list of recommended budget cuts.

Last December, UAF signed an agreement with Colorado State University to establish a professional veterinary medicine program. Chancellor Brian Rogers says the industry calls for up to 20 new vets in Alaska each year, but that the new program will only train half as many.

“We know for the last several years, when students came to us, interested in veterinarian medicine, our advice to them was to move out of state, establish residency in a state with a vet school, at least then you’ll have a one in ten chance of getting in,” Rogers said.

The program is only partially funded by money from the state.  It was on list of high priority items the legislature signed off on in 2013.  But this year, it did not receive a second round of state funding.  Chancellor Rogers says he plans to ask again next year.

“I don’t expect to get it, but we will internally reallocate in order to cover what the legislature didn’t fund,” he said.

In May, UAF’s Planning and Budget Committee added the vet program to a list of possible budget reductions. According to the report, cutting the program could save up to $400,000, but the committee notes in the report that eliminating the program means UAF will lose tuition revenue. The report also says the program could make UAF more competitive. Chancellor Rogers told the Board of Regents the program has an instructional focus, but faculty at CSU and UAF are already cooperating on research.

“CSU does some wonderful animal based research, much of which ends up in human health as well and the collaboration we’re already seeing, as their faculty get to know our faculty, we’re seeing opportunities for joint research proposals to NIH and our focus is on the instructional program and I didn’t expect to see the research benefits, but we’re already beginning to see them,” Rogers said.

Veterinary medicine classes are slated to begin in the fall of 2015. The Planning and Budget Committee is currently taking feedback on the report outlining recommended funding reductions.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Charged with Driving Boat Under the Influence

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:43

A Bethel man is facing charges for driving a boat under the influence of alcohol. Wildlife Troopers on Sunday night heard a report of a boat that was being driven erratically in Aniak Slough.

They approached the boat and arrested 44-year-old Norman Japhet. Troopers say Japhet had five people in the skiff at the time. He faces four reckless endangerment charges, DUI, and endangering the welfare of a minor.

Categories: Alaska News

UA Board Approves $5 Million To Extend Work On Engineering Building

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:42

Photo courtesy UAF Engineering Building Project Facebook Page)

The cost of a new engineering building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus continues to rise as officials struggle to find ways to pay for its construction.  The Board of Regents agreed last week to add $5 million to the project.

The Board of Regents agreed to increase the spending limit for a new engineering building at UAF from $75 million to more than $80 million. UAF Vice Chancellor Pat Pitney told the Board the added money will keep the project going through next April.

“In April, we would have to decommission the project and slow it down,” Pitney said. ”Decommissioning and demobilizing alone would be over three million dollars. So, we would lose three million dollars.”

Pitney says the possible loss is due construction cost inflation and delaying the building project further.

Last fall the Board of Regents approved the sale of $10 million in revenue bonds to help fund construction, but UAF held off on the sale while they waited to find out how much money the legislature would appropriate for the project.

Legislators only funded 15 percent of a $33 million request. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers says selling the bonds now will extend the project even further – until next July.

“If we were to extend it, then it would provide us with some useable space,” Rogers said. ”So it would not be an unusable building at that point. We would be able to use at least one of the floors.”

Some board members voiced concerns that even with the added bond money, the building still won’t be complete. But Rogers says UAF is trying to be strategic with a limited amount of money.

“If we shut down the project in April, then the legislature if they choose not to fund it, they’re not shutting the project down, we’ve already shut the project down,” Rogers said. “If we keep the project going until July, then a decision by the legislature not to fund us, is a decision to shut down the project and we think that might tilt the balance somewhat.”

The project still requires more than $28 million. It’s unclear whether state money will be available for the engineering building in 2016.  That will have to wait until the legislators convene for another session next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Digital Voice Replaces Forecasters’ at Nome’s Weather Service

Wed, 2014-06-11 10:37

Robert Murders with the National Weather Service reads the weather Monday, June 9. (Photo by Rolland Trowbridge, KNOM – Nome)

The National Weather Service in Nome is switching to an automated digital voice for its weather forecasts, one of the final forecasting stations in the country to cease having local forecasters read and record the weather.

From home radios to VHFs, in summer fish camps and during long winter nights at home, local forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service office in Nome were heard across western Alaska. Their marine forecasts were also regularly heard on Nome radio stations.

But this week, the voices of those forecasters will be replaced by “Tom,” one of several voices available for the automated weather system that, after being installed in nearly every other weather outpost in the nation, is coming to Nome.

“On our NOAA Weather Radio, we have routinely, every day, for all those years, read the local forecast and the regional forecast and [the] marine forecast. And [now] we’re going to be switching over to a digitized forecast,” said Jerry Steiger, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Nome.

The voice of “Tom,” as well as a female voice named “Donna” and a Spanish language voice named “Javier,” were developed for NOAA using the Speechify text-to-speech system. The National Weather Service began implementing the text-to-speech voices nationwide back in 2002. Samples of “Tom’s” voice and other synthetic voices available with NOAA’s new automated system can be found on NOAA’s website.

Steiger said Nome and Kodiak are the only two weather stations left in Alaska that still have weather service employees read the weather every day; both stations will be switching over in the coming days. A weather service technician was in Nome Tuesday to make the final preparations for “Tom” to take over the forecast in Nome.

Steiger said it’s a small change, but one he didn’t necessarily want, and one he had even avoided to keep people reading the forecast.

“I like it, and I think everyone who’s been here has liked doing the broadcast and giving a voice to the National Weather Service,” he said.

“It’s been my reluctance to let it happen here [that has kept the automated voice from being installed previously]. It was always curious to walk into a store or somewhere, or listen on the radio, and you’d hear your voice, occasionally,” he said. “Obviously, our voices will not be on the radio any more.”

Steiger said the new system has been programmed to accurately pronounce the unique names and places in western Alaska, and has seen field testing elsewhere in the country for more than a decade to make sure it holds up during emergencies. Emergency weather bulletins and other alerts will likewise be automated and delivered by “Tom.”

“The system that they have in place, to be able to do these warnings, can be done very quickly via just automation,” Steiger said. “The technology is there and it’s very reliable technology.”

The National Weather Service has been taking records in Nome since 1907, and Steiger said the Nome station has been broadcasting since the 1960s. He emphasized that, while the people collecting the weather data may no longer be heard on the radio after this week, they will still staffing the weather desk, collecting weather data, launching weather balloons, and more to make sure “Tom” has the right information to broadcast to the rest of the world.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward & 36th improvement plans still under consideration

Wed, 2014-06-11 06:00

The intersection of 36th and the new Seward Highway in Anchorage is getting a make-over. The state’s Department of Transportation says it’s to make the area safer and less congested.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/10-36th-and-Seward.mp3

Everyday about 65,000 cars pass through the intersection of 36th Avenue and the new Seward Highway, most of them are headed north or south. DOT reports that the intersection is the most congested in the state, meaning the most likely to cause delays, and there are about 50 reported accidents there each year.

Since 2012 the department has been working on a plan to fix the problem. Project manager Sean Holland says they’ve narrowed it down to two options for redoing the roads and running the highway above 36th. He says the major issue is that the distance between Tudor and Benson is only about a mile.

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Half SPUI.”

“There’s not enough room in there for traffic to weave for entering and exiting traffic from the highway to make a safe and efficient movement.”

That means both potential options will have new types of intersections underneath the highway. Holland says they could be confusing for drivers at first, but mostly locals use it.

“We’re thinking that all of these alternatives are a little bit unconventional, [but] that people will learn them pretty quickly. It will take hopefully one or two times. You know, I think if you take the wrong turn the first time, then the second time you’ll be able to pick it up,” he said.

One major difference between the two plans is that one has left exits and the other has right ones. Neither plan allows drivers to get on the highway at 36th and go north. Holland says it couldn’t be safely done. Vehicles will have to take different routes, like LaTouche or Denali.

“It’s probably going to put some more pressure on those intersections,” he explains. However, “our models show that with the increased efficiency that we’re going to find at Seward and 36th, that those other intersections, we’re going to find, will operate at an acceptable level.”

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Hybrid SPUI.”

At the moment the project is only half funded. DOT has $36 million from the state legislature. They’ll need between $50 and $70 million to complete it. Holland says the department would like to start the 2-year construction project in 2016, but it will depend on funding.

They’re accepting public comments during an open house on June 16 at the Loussac Library. They’re looking for input on issues like how the plans will impact bicyclists and pedestrians.

You can find out more about the project here.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Calls On Begich To Sign Pledge Discouraging Outside Influence

Tue, 2014-06-10 17:42

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is calling on incumbent Mark Begich to sign a pledge to discourage outside groups from running political ads in the race. The pledge would impose a financial penalty on a campaign that benefits from Outside spending. Begich campaign isn’t buying it.

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Categories: Alaska News

HAARP Demolition Reportedly ‘Put On Hold’

Tue, 2014-06-10 17:41

The Gakona High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program may have been saved in the nick of time.

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According to Alan LeMaster, who runs a lodge at Gakona Junction, five room reservations made by U.S. Air Force officials for this week have been canceled, he says, because demolition of the research facility has been “put on hold.”

LeMaster told APRN that leaders of the demolition project told him that a “cease and desist” order has been issued for the scheduled demolition.

APRN has not had official confirmation of the order to halt the HAARP demolition, but Carl Grusnick, a public information office with the Air Force Research Lab in New Mexico, says that it is not unusual for large projects to be put on hold temporarily because of delays in negotiations with contractors. Grusnick says the Air Force has completed it’s research at HAARP, which has been slated for closure as of June 10.

And Charles Gulick, with the USAF press office, emailed Tuesday that at this time, he has no word on the order to cease and desist, but that he will have more information in the future.

Meanwhile, Matt Felling a spokesperson with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office, says an announcement will be made on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Gubernatorial Challengers Criticize Parnell For Missing Debates

Tue, 2014-06-10 17:41

Since April, gubernatorial challengers Byron Mallott and Bill Walker have gone after incumbent Sean Parnell for skipping debates. They hit that point again on Monday, at a candidate forum hosted by the National Congress of American Indians.

Independent candidate Bill Walker didn’t even finish his opening statement before taking a swipe at the governor.

“You know who’s not on the panel with us — Gov. Parnell has chosen not to show,” said Walker. “I think that’s a shame that he chooses not to participate in these processes. Remember that on election day.”

Democrat Byron Mallott went after Parnell, too.

“Bill and I have spent many months on the campaign trail thus far, and it’s almost like we’re the only two candidates,” said Mallott.

Their displeasure with Parnell’s absence was one of a few areas where the competing candidates agreed on Monday. For example, they also told attendees at the National Congress of American Indians that the state needs to make a disaster declaration in response to the high energy prices in rural areas.

Because of the similarities in their platforms, the candidates were asked if they feared splitting the vote in a way that could benefit Parnell. Walker again pivoted back to Parnell’s debate attendance.

“The other guy doesn’t seem to show up, doesn’t seem to pay attention or want to engage with the public,” said Walker. “He’ll come in third, so we’ll be fine.”

Since Walker and Mallott announced their candidacies last year, Parnell has joined them in two candidate forums and skipped four.

His campaign manager, Jerry Gallagher says Parnell will be participating in a “large number” of debates after the primary.

“We don’t obviously want to take anything for granted and we want to respect process, and we’ll do that and then move on to the general,” said Gallagher in a phone interview.

As the incumbent governor, Parnell is expected to easily win the Republican nomination. Two of his three challengers — Gerald Heikes and Brad Snowden — have run for governor before and received less than 1 percent of the vote or were disqualified, respectively. Russ Millette is the best known candidate running against Parnell in the primary. Millette was elected chair of the Alaska Republican Party by a group of libertarian-minded activists, but was quickly ousted by the party’s establishment wing.

Gallagher says there are currently no specific plans to debate those primary candidates, but adds that Parnell will consider campaign events on a case-by-case basis.

The next debate Parnell plans to attend is in August, with at least five more events scheduled after the primary.

Categories: Alaska News

BP uses drones for first time on land for commercial purposes

Tue, 2014-06-10 17:40

Pilot launches unmanned aircraft on North Slope. Photo courtesy of BP.

For the first time in Alaska, and the United States, a company is flying drones over land for commercial purposes. BP is using Unmanned Aerial Systems to inspect roads, gravel pads, and pipelines on the North Slope. It’s the first time the Federal Aviation Administration has approved drones for this type of use.

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Curt Smith, Technology Director for BP, said the four-and-a-half foot long aircraft use cameras and laser systems to map areas and collect data they can’t get from conventional methods.

“So we can’t drive over there [to the pipelines] because it’s tundra, whereas the Puma can fly over it without any damage or without harassing animals because it’s silent and invisible. Because unless you’re staring at it, you wouldn’t notice it’s there.”

Smith said the planes can fly low enough and slow enough to capture high quality data about the thickness of the roads and gravel pads to make sure they are protecting the tundra.

Pilots from AeroVironment control the 9-foot wide Puma AE aircraft. They launch them by hand and have to stay in visual range for safety reasons.

Smith said the project is good for BP because they’re getting better quality data than they would otherwise and saving money, but they’re also breaking new ground for many companies.

“I think the big thing is it’s the trailblazer,” Smith said. “The FAA, AeroVironment, and BP have worked out do how you get the permission. And being first is always difficult because you hit the stumbling blocks, and you say, ‘What am I going to do with that?’ And then you figure it out and you go on. But once that’s figured out, you should be able to leverage that for the next time, right?”

A spokesperson from the FAA says filmmakers are already applying to use the unmanned craft in controlled, low-risk situations like movie sets.

The FAA is required by Congress to allow the use of drones in the Arctic for commercial purposes.

Pilot launches unmanned aircraft on North Slope. Photo courtesy of BP.

Categories: Alaska News

Land Trust For Alaska Tribes Is A Popular Concept

Tue, 2014-06-10 17:39

NCAI president Brian Cladoosby. (Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

At a wide ranging press conference during day three of the NCAI gathering in Anchorage today, BIA Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn said the concept of taking land into trust for Alaska tribes is a popular one.

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“Even though we don’t have a rule in place that allows it, we have applications,” Washburn said.

NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, middle, BIA undersecretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, middle, and NCAI executive director Jacqueline Pata, left. (Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

A recent DC district court decision affirmed the Interior department’s authority to take Alaska tribal lands into trust if tribes request it and the Secretary of Interior approves the request. Washburn said although the decision is being appealed, the court was clear in the assertion. He said the issue is also supported by two other entities.

“One from the secretarial commission on trust reform, which was set up at the department of Interior and it’s a blue ribbon panel of outside independent experts, who said we think this would be a good idea,” Washburn said. ”We also heard from the Indian Law and Order Commission which set a whole chapter on Alaska because they were looking at issues for Indian Law and Order all over the country but the issues in Alaska are very serious and so they set aside chapter two.”

Trust status for Native lands would allow more tribal authority and jurisdiction over certain criminal behavior on those trust lands. The Indian Law and Order Commission sees it as a way to better address the high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska Native communities.
Washburn said there have been applications from Interior and Southeast Alaska tribes.

Categories: Alaska News
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