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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: 24 min 44 sec ago

Arctic Native Ice Testing Stick Will Be Used On National Research Vessel

Tue, 2014-10-14 17:50

Two people stand on the ice with their testing sticks, hooks visible at the top. The hook could be used to grab onto an article of clothing if someone fell into the water. (Photo courtesy of Gay Sheffield)

Conducting research at sea in Arctic, ice-filled conditions is a tricky endeavor, requiring a host of high-tech gear. But, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new, ice-capable research vessel Sikuliaq, at least one piece of equipment dates back generations.

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In a few months, the ice-classed research vessel Sikuliaq, owned by the National Science Foundation, will be equipped with about a half dozen Arctic Native ice testing sticks as part of the ship’s safety outfit.

“It’s a multi-tool. Sometimes there’s a hook on the end for retrieving things, and the other end is used for poking the ice. It could be a harpoon with a rib bone, or some type of bone sticking out on the other end to test the ice,” said Brandon Ahmasuk, subsistence director at Kawerak. “Obviously, if it goes through, you don’t want to step there.”

Ahmasuk said it’s a highly valued safety tool for Alaskans who live in coastal communities and venture onto the ice for hunting in the winter. By testing the ice in their path with the stick, they can prevent accidentally falling through the weaker patches. He said his family always takes this tool with them on the ice because of its many functions.

“If you do happen to fall through, hopefully you can catch yourself before you fall past your waist and pull yourself back out,” said Ahmasuk. “If you do happen to fall all the way through, it’s still there, so you can pull yourself up like you’re doing a pull up. It’s a safety tool. They almost always have a dual function—whether it’s a harpoon, a retrieving hook, or a mooring hook.”

Ahmasuk said, fortunately, he has never fallen into the water, but he’s seen it happen to others, and it can be pretty terrifying.

“One of my brothers did fall in, and he said immediately it just took his breath away. He couldn’t breathe,” said Ahmasuk. “I mean, within a second he was able to pull himself out. A lot of times, individuals are out seal hunting or walrus hunting, and they’re miles and miles from the nearest town or village. So, if you do fall in, you’re going to be soaking wet. More than likely, you’re not going to make it back to wherever you came from because, within a matter of minutes, hypothermia is going to set in, and you’re going to freeze to death.”

The Sikuliaq is not an icebreaker, but it is an ice-classed vessel capable of breaking through up to two-and-a-half feet of ice. The vessel will operate in ice during some of its research missions in the Arctic—and scientists may be walking out on to the ice to collect data samples, which means they must be prepared for potentially dangerous situations.

Daniel Oliver is the marine superintendent at UAF’s Seward Marine Center. Oliver was in the U.S. Coast Guard before taking his current job at the Seward Marine Center, and he said it was through visits to coastal communities aboard Coast Guard icebreakers that he realized how functional and necessary the tool is. After consulting with Gay Sheffield, Marine Advisory agent in Nome, he decided to request those ice testing sticks as safety tools for the Sikuliaq.

“I found it was a pretty universal tool within the coastal communities, [with the people] that spend a good portion of their lives out on the ice with subsistence hunting,” said Oliver. “From talking with a number of folks from the villages, it certainly made sense to me. Which is why, when we were looking at what we were going to carry on board Sikuliaq for equipment, having this capability aboard made sense to me.”

Perry Pungowiyi is a craftsman in Savoonga, a member of the National Science Foundation Sikuliaq Oversight Committee and alternate commissioner on the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission for Savoonga. Pungowiyi will be making the sticks with materials Sheffield and Oliver have sent over to St. Lawrence Island. He said the tools are “time-tested by ice walkers of Alaska.” In Siberian Yupik, the name for the ice testing stick is “unghaq.”

Oliver said he hopes someone from Savoonga who is part of the ship’s science oversight committee will be able to join theSikuliaq crew at some point during ice trials, to share knowledge about the ice testing sticks and Bering Sea ice conditions.

The Sikuliaq, which is home-ported in Seward, will be used by U.S. and international scientists. Its first funded science trip this fall will be in the western Hawaiian island chain.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 14, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-14 17:09

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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Judge Denies Stay On Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Alaska Dispatch News

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess Tuesday denied the state of Alaska’s request for a stay in his decision overturning Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban. The Alaska Dispatch News reports Burgess’ denial means same-sex marriages in Alaska can continue.

Feds Seek Dismissal of King Cove Lawsuit

The Associated Press

Arguments have been scheduled on the federal government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over the Interior Department’s refusal to allow for a road from King Cove to an all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

More Big Thorne Timber Sales Announced

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Forest Service plans three more timber sales in a part of Prince of Wales Island conservationists say needs to be protected. They’re much smaller than a recent sale in the same area.

Groups Criticize State For Renewal Of Wishbone Hill Coal Mining Permit

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A coalition of environmental organizations are criticizing the state for issuing a coal mining permit for a site near Palmer.

Community-Based Solutions For Coastal Erosion Discussed In Anchorage

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

As climate change brings new threats to subsistence communities across Alaska’s coastlines, a conference held in Anchorage is advocating community-based solutions, and not waiting any longer for government assistance.

Fish & Game Releases Commercial Salmon Fishing Summary

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its summary report for the 2014 commercial salmon fishing season. Continued low king salmon numbers and new management tools were at the heart of this year’s fishing.

UAF Vice Chancellor Visits Bristol Bay Campus

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The man who oversees all of the rural campuses of the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been touring those campuses since being appointed to the job back in July.  Evon Peter visited the Bristol Bay Campus last week.

Juneau Non-Profit Bridges Spanish Language Gap

Kayla Deroches, KTOO – Juneau

About 5 percent of Juneau’s population identifies as Hispanic. Some are non-English speaking immigrants who need help translating official documents or government forms. Others require assistance navigating the Alaska Court System. A national nonprofit that started a Juneau branch last year now offers Spanish translation and interpretation services in Juneau. Piedra de Ayuda, or A Helping Rock, began as a homeless outreach program on the East Coast.

Arctic Native Ice Testing Stick Will Be Used On National Research Vessel

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

Conducting research at sea in Arctic, ice-filled conditions is a tricky endeavor, requiring a host of high-tech gear. But, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new, ice-capable research vessel Sikuliaq, at least one piece of equipment dates back generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in Alaska

Sun, 2014-10-12 21:01

A federal judge legalized same-sex marriage in Alaska on Sunday. Governor Sean Parnell said in a press release he will appeal the ruling in order to “defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution.”

Judge Timothy Burgess found that the same-sex marriage ban was a violation of both due process and equal protection under the 14th amendment. He ordered the state to immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize legal marriages from other states.

Same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho were overturned last week by the Ninth Circuit Court, which oversees Alaska. The Supreme Court declined to hear appeals for other rulings legalizing same-sex marriage.

The Division of Public Health says they will not waive the three-day waiting people for getting a marriage license, however they will start accepting applications from same-sex couples immediately.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of the country.





Categories: Alaska News

Judge to rule on same-sex marriage in Alaska “soon”

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:59

Same-sex marriage supporters stand in the rain outside of the federal courthouse after the hearing. Hillman/KSKA

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Alaska — yet. The US District Court judge chose not to make a decision today after hearing oral arguments from both the state and a group of couples who are fighting the marriage ban.

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The arguments were complicated by the recent 9th District Court decision in the case Latta v. Otter that overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Idaho. Alaska is within the 9th Circuit, so that decision holds here as well.

The Idaho decision says that same-sex marriage bans violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because straight couples have the right to marry but same-sex couples do not. The plaintiffs argue that same-sex couples don’t have the same rights when buying property, visiting each other in the hospital, or even seeking a divorce.

The state tried to argue that Idaho decision could be overruled by a higher court especially since marriages there were put on hold because of a stay. That stay was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as today’s oral arguments were concluding in Alaska.

The judge and the attorneys all referenced and joked about the complex, fast changing legal landscape surround same-sex marriage.

Alison Mendel argued the case on behalf of the couples. She says she’s been working on this issue for 25 years, and she sees this as a done deal.

“It was very enjoyable. You know we came into this pretty confident we were gonna win. When the Latta decision was decided, we knew we were gonna win. So this was just an argument about the details, but it’s still very satisfying anyway.”

The State declined to make comments on the case beyond what they argued in front of the judge, which could not be recorded.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom and spilled into an overflow room gathered in front of the courthouse after the hearing.

Josh Hemsath is with the Pride Foundation in Alaska. He said he’s hopeful.

“As an Alaskan, I think it’s really exciting that we’re not being left behind. we’re not the last state to get heard, with the momentum on our side and being on the right side of history.”

Judge Thomas Burgess said he would issue a decision soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Elections Chief: Parties Say What They Want in Voter Pamphlet

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:58

The Division of Elections voter pamphlet is arriving in mailboxes across the state. Way in the back is a page that caught some voters by surprise. It’s a negative ad against Sen. Mark Begich. The ad itself is standard fare in this election. But Mary Toutonghi  a retired speech pathologist from Soldotna, says it has no place the voter pamphlet, which she thinks of as a source of non-partisan information.

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“The idea of actually attacking somebody — Doing an attack ad in neutral pamphlet is just absolutely egregious,” she says.

The Republican Party of Alaska paid for the ad.  Alaska Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says state law lays out the rules for ads in the pamphlet.

“The parties are allowed to purchase two pages and there’s nothing in law that limits what they can include in their materials,” she says.

State law even sets the price:  Political parties pay $600 per page. She says she doesn’t know whether the pamphlet has ever carried negative ads before.

Most parties run a one-page ad staking out their platform. The Republican Party does that, but in recent years has also bought a second page, showing children running a lemonade stand or holding puppies. This year, it decided to devote the second page to the Senate race. State party chair Peter Goldberg says it went negative because it had to prepare the ad before the Primary election, before they knew Dan Sullivan would be the Republican nominee.

“(It) had to be kind of a generic ‘let’s attack Begich but we don’t know who to support,’” Goldberg says

The pamphlet cost the state about $200,000 to print. This year, the state paid an extra $45,000 for a supplemental because the original publication left out gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker. The Elections Division says, due to administrative oversight,  it failed to send him a follow-up letter with details about how to submit his statement.




Categories: Alaska News

Begich Campaign Believes Race Comes Down To Rural Alaska

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:57

Just weeks before voters decide the future make up of the U.S. Senate, Bethel residents heard what might be the start of the final push by the incumbent Senator.

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Begich is trailing Republican challenger Dan Sullivan in several polls and is gambling on gaining an edge off the beaten path.

“So I make it very clear that rural Alaska and more specifically Alaska Native people will determine the outcome of this election, no question about it,” said Begich.

Begich’s campaign repeats that statement over and over, including in a friendly reception at the annual Association of Village Council Presidents Convention in Bethel Thursday. He hopes delegates and volunteers there will bring his pitch to 56 villages, but he’s also banking on a small paid staff. Begich stopped at his Bethel field office, one of 16, which are responsible for delivering votes in the Y-K Delta and the Aleutian chain.

A couple dozen supporters eat chili and sign up volunteers for door knocking calling at a table full of berry buckets with his logo on them. Bethel resident Betsy Taguchi signed on to help.

“I think the race might be close, we could be the tipping point we’ve been a little, sit back about things over the years, and haven’t gotten out the vote the way we could have, and I think this year needs to be different,” said Taguchi.

Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is slated to make his first campaign stop in the Delta in the next couple weeks. His wife, Julie Fate Sullivan attended the AVCP convention and campaigned locally.

As Begich leaves his campaign office to catch the jet back to Anchorage, he contrasts his ground presence with his opponent’s and lists his visits over the years

“I was out here when I was [Anchorage] mayor, I was out here as an assembly member almost 25 years, ago, it’s a great community. I’ve been in the great parade on the 4th of July parade that starts on one end and it ends in the same place,” said Begich.

Begich did well on the Kuskowkwim in his 2008 election, winning over Senator Ted Stevens by a two-to-one margin in the region. He stands to gain from more turnout and is pushing hard for early voting, which starts October 20th. He says his ground game for election day is high tech and low tech.

“Our people who work for us and volunteers will be working the vote and the people every single day as soon as early voting starts. It’s not as simple as dial up and call people, that will be part of it, some will physically go to their doors and remind them, especially in small communities.”

Election day is November 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Juneau Resident Sets New Pre-Teen Book Series In Alaska

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:56

“Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes” is the first book of writer Katherine Rue. Rue now lives in North Carolina but often visits Juneau, where her parents, Sally and Frank Rue, still live. (Photo courtesy of Katherine Rue)

Born and raised in Juneau, writer Katherine Rue used her childhood as fodder for a recently published book for middle school readers.

“Braving the Brontes” is the first in a series that introduces “Carly Keene, Literary Detective” – a Juneau girl whose adventurous spirit allows her to brave time travel, ghosts and Victorian England.

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Any Southeast Alaskan who picks up “Braving the Brontes” will notice what footwear the protagonist is wearing on the cover – XTRATUFs.

Katherine Rue made sure the book’s New York illustrator had an idea of where 12-year-old Carly Keene is from.

“I sent him a picture of my XTRATUFs. Then I sent him a picture of a tent set up in the marsh in Alaska. ‘Here’s the kind of mountains I’m talking about. Here’s what the water and the mountains and islands look like together. And just so you know, people from Juneau don’t use umbrellas. We all make fun of them. She needs a raincoat on the front’ – that kind of thing,” Rue says lightheartedly.

Published by New York-based In This Together Media, the book begins and ends in present day Juneau. It takes an interesting turn when Carly is walking downtown with her best friend Francesca.

“They go into a bookshop they’ve never seen down a little alleyway they’ve never seen when they’re walking home from getting hot cocoa downtown. And she’s reading a first edition of ‘Jane Eyre’ and falls asleep, and wakes up in 1846,” Rue says.

Carly finds herself in the home of the Bronte sisters in England as Charlotte Bronte is trying to write the classic “Jane Eyre.” Carly is stuck there until she can solve a mystery involving the literary family.

Rue mirrored the fictional Carly after herself as a young girl – someone who read a lot of books, spent a lot of time outdoors and romanticized the past. She says it was important to have Carly be an adventurous, independent Alaskan girl.

“Challenges that Carly faces are things that she feels better prepared to deal with because she is Alaskan, like how they approach situations, like a chamber pot,” Rue says.

Braving the Brontes is geared for kids ages 9 to 14. Rue warns there is some challenging vocabulary that parents may need to decipher. The book also references many other great works of literature besides those written by the Bronte sisters. But Rue doesn’t expect her readers to have read “Jane Eyre” or to know who the Bronte sisters are.

“The goal with this was to sort of say, ‘Hey, you’ve probably read ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or the Narnia books, ‘Harry Potter’ and you’re looking for something else to read. Here’s what’s coming up and it’s really fun.’ Sort of introduce readers to the possibilities that they’re going to get to in a few years,” Rue says.

In the next book of the series, Carly and best friend Francesca find themselves in 1862 during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg where Louisa May Alcott is a nurse.

Writing the series allows Rue to explore a childhood fantasy. She was always waiting for her turn to walk through the wardrobe into Narnia. She says she’s still waiting.

Categories: Alaska News

Upper Valley Residents Remember Barbara Washburn

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:55

Recently, Barbara Washburn passed away at the age of 99. She was the first woman to set foot on the summit of Denali, but her legacy in the Talkeetna area has as much to do with who she was as what she did.

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Barbara and Brad Washburn’s adventure together began in New England.  Ken Pauley, who worked with the Washburns at the Museum of Science in Boston, explains how they met.

Barbara Washburn/ (Photo: Museum of Science, Boston)

“She was his secretary.  Needless to say, over time, there was a relationship developed.  They spent a lot of time together, and became husband and wife…”

After Brad and Barbara were married in 1940, Ken Pauley says it was not common to see them apart.

“They were inseparable. Whither he or she went, they went together.”

That led to shared adventures around the world, from the Grand Canyon to Mt. Everest.  One such adventure occurred in 1947, when the Washburns were part of an expedition on Denali.  RKO films documented the expedition in the short, “Operation: White Tower.”

Not only had no women summited North America’s highest peak as of 1947, but Mountaineering Ranger Roger Robinson says that Barbara Washburn may have been the first to even try.

“Essentially, she was the only woman along, and one of the first women, probably ever, to venture into the Alaska Range on a climbing trip.”

The expedition was a success, and Barbara Washburn was the first woman to set foot on Denali’s summit.  Mountain guide Brian Okonek says that her fortitude went even further, however.

“She must have been tough as nails on the trail, because she not only did Denali…but she did both summits, and did the first summit of Mt. Hayes…”

Being the first woman to summit Denali cemented Barbara Washburn’s place in mountaineering history.    The fame that earns someone in a place like Talkeetna is self-evident, but Diane Calamar-Okonek says that didn’t translate back on the East Coast.

“They enjoyed their notoriety here, which Barbara said they didn’t have at all at home.  They were just regular people, and her friends didn’t particularly know that she had been a climber or done all of these amazing things in Alaska.  They had no clue.”

A big part of the reason that Barbara Washburn’s fame was somewhat subdued outside of the mountaineering community is that she didn’t talk about it much, as former Denali National Park Ranger Daryl Miller explains.

“She was so understudied.  She was always so gracious, and accomplished so much, but never really said much about anything she did as a climber.  If she did, or was asked about it, she would always downplay it.”

More important than fame to Barbara Washburn were individual relationships. Diane Calamar-Okonek says that people were a big part of what drew Barbara to climbing.

“One thing she really enjoyed was the camaraderie of climbing.  When we had a woman here who soloed Denali, her first reaction was, ‘Oh, what’s wrong?  Doesn’t she have any friends?’”

That sense of friendship and camaraderie extended well after Barbara Washburn’s relatively brief climbing career. Roger Robinson says that the Washburns made a priority of befriending many people in the Talkeetna area.

“The people that lived here were like family to her.  When she would come, they were always keen on looking up a lot of people and making connections.”

That sense of family holds especially true for Taras Genet.  Taras is the son of Ray Genet, an accomplished climber who died while descending Mt. Everest in 1979. Taras says his relationship with the Washburns was very close.

“My dad had passed away when I was only a year-and-a-half old, and they were kind of surrogate grandparents in some sort of way, because they gave my mom a lot of support, and they always connected with us when they did come up…”

In addition to helping his family after the loss of Ray, Taras Genet says the Washburns served as an inspiration.

“They were just so full of energy.  The things they were doing, most people just don’t have that kind of energy, especially in their older age.  They just never slowed down.”

Taras would go on to summit Denali at the age of twelve, making him, at that point, the youngest person to do so.

Brian Okonek also says that the Washburns’ sense of adventure never seemed to fade, and that, during conversations, they were, “always watching over their shoulder at the weather, because they never, ever skipped an opportunity to go on yet another flight around the mountain.”

Barbara Washburn passed away on September 25th in Lexington, Massachusetts.  November 10th would have marked her 100th birthday.  Here, in the shadow of Denali, she won’t be soon forgotten.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 10, 2014

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:48

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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Judge Hears Oral Arguments In Lawsuit Challenging Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Alaska – yet. The U.S. District Court judge chose not to make a decision Friday after hearing oral arguments from both the State and a group of couples who are fighting the marriage ban.

Elections Chief: Parties Say What They Want in Voter Pamphlet

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Division of Elections voter pamphlet is arriving in mailboxes across the state. Way in the back is a page that caught some voters by surprise. It’s a negative ad against Sen. Mark Begich. The ad itself is standard fare in this election.

Begich Campaign Believes Race Comes Down To Rural Alaska

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Just weeks before voters decide the future make up of the U.S. Senate, Bethel residents heard what might be the start of the final push by the incumbent Senator.

Legislation Planned To Strengthen Alaska’s Public Records Act

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A vocal critic of the current administration of Alaska Governor Sean Parnell plans to introduce legislation next year to strengthen the Alaska Public Records Act.

Upper Valley Residents Remember Barbara Washburn

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Recently, Barbara Washburn passed away at the age of 99.  She was the first woman to set foot on the summit of Denali, but her legacy in the Talkeetna area has as much to do with who she was as what she did.

AK: Bodybuilding

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The sport is usually associated with steroids, spray tans, and bizarrely bulging muscles. But for some competitors in Alaska, drug-free body building isn’t about vanity, it’s about therapy. After 24 years as an army ranger and a grueling tour in Afghanistan, Frank Loomis retired, joined the police, and started having a mid-life crisis. His solution? Start training with Mr. Alaska.

300 Villages: Igiugig

This week, we’re heading to Igiugig, a community of just 69 people on Lake Iliamna. Alexanna Salmon is President of Igiugig Village Council in Igiugig.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Igiugig

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:36

This week, we’re heading to Igiugig, a community of just 69 people on Lake Iliamna. Alexanna Salmon is President of Igiugig Village Council in Igiugig.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Bodybuilding

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:35

The sport is usually associated with steroids, spray tans and bizarrely bulging muscles, but for some competitors in Alaska, drug-free bodybuilding isn’t about vanity, it’s about therapy.

After 24 years as an Army Ranger and a grueling tour in Afghanistan, Frank Loomis retired, joined the police and started having a mid-life crisis. His solution? Start training with Mr. Alaska. KSKA’s Anne Hillman followed Loomis from training to his first masters level competition.

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Personal trainer Al Wilson calls out instructions to 54-year-old Frank Loomis at one of the gyms on JBER.

“Ok, gentlemen, prepare for a front, double bicep. Roll open. Roll open in a wide circular motion. Pull those elbows back,” Wilson said.

Loomis is preparing to enter his first masters competition and he has just two more days to perfect his look.  He tries to smile as he stands in awkward poses that accentuate different muscle groups. His goal is to look like a human anatomy model, and even subtle things help.

“Squeeze them butt cheeks, squeeze them butt cheeks, flex, flex. There you go! Hold it. Breathe. Head up,” Wilson said.

Frank Loomis (left) poses against competitors at the Anchorage Pro-Am Bodybuilding competition. (Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Even dressed in a sweatshirt and a track suit, Loomis looks well-groomed. His clean-cut, stark white hair and black rimmed spectacles show his age more than his thick-set body. Clothed, you can tell he’s fit, but you would never know he’s a body builder until he flashes a calf with more definition than a Michelangelo sculpture.

Loomis says Wilson inspired him to push his body to a new limit.

“I love this man,” Loomis said. “He showed me…basically my stomach was way out to here.”

“He basically looked pregnant,” Wilson said.

But since they started training together, stocky Loomis has lost more than 40 pounds. He says he wasn’t always overweight, especially when he was an Army Ranger.

“I was skinny, had no hair, cocky, and fearless,” Loomis said.

Frank Loomis practices posing with his trainer, Al Wilson. (Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

He enlisted straight out of high school in 1980. Over the decades, he was stationed in Grenada, Panama, Thailand and Korea. Then in 2002 he was sent to Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately we got sloppy one time and we got engaged and were in a fire fight,” Loomis said. “It’s just one of those things I don’t like talking about. It’s why I still don’t go hunting these days.”

Loomis says he was diagnosed with PTSD and took a desk job training other soldiers. When the Army asked him to go back to Afghanistan in 2004, he decided to retire instead. He joined the police force at JBER and he still worked out some to manage his anger, but he was depressed and just let his body go. Then he hit his 50s and his midlife crisis.

“It was either a new sports car and a new girlfriend, or go to the gym and competing,” Loomis said. “So I’m competing.”

Loomis says he met the world’s strongest man, and then Wilson, a former bodybuilding champion, and he felt inspired. He wants to achieve some of what they have, though it takes discipline. Every morning he lifts weights and every afternoon he does two to three hours of cardio exercise. Loomis hasn’t eaten dairy or unhealthy carbs for about four months.

“I’m dreaming of pizzas chasing me,” he said.

By the end of the practice, Loomis says he feels confident, like he’s a good role model for all the young kids he works with on the police force.

On Saturday morning he shows up for the competition, ready to impress the judges with his new body.

Loomis quickly befriends 63-year-old Grand Master Ken Babich. They stand around in their tiny, shiny bikini shorts.

“You know it’s good thing I didn’t wear my blue shorts,” Babich said, laughing. “That would have been awkward.”

Frank Loomis (second from left) competes in the Anchorage Pro-Am Natural Bodybuilding competition. (Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Babich shows Loomis how to properly apply oil to his newly bronzed skin and gives him tips on his presentation. For the older folks, the competition is less fierce.

“So if you hear me talking to you, I’m not trying to make you laugh. I’m just saying like “lean back,” Babich said.

“No, perfect,” Loomis said.

“They’re not going to say anything,” Babich said. “We’re senior citizens here.”

“I know I told them I had to check in my cane when I came in,” Loomis laughed.

And finally it’s time.

“So let’s bring out the Master’s Class in the Anchorage Pro-Am,” a competition official said as the audience applauded.

They stand in front of the panel of judges, turning on all sides, flexing their abs, lats, and triceps. The judges are looking for muscle definition and symmetry. The whole thing takes about five minutes.

“I hope I did ok out there,” Loomi said.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

“I don’t know for sure, because it was so quick,” Loomis said. “And you couldn’t see your competitors.”

“But I had fun; it was great.”

Frank Loomis posing backstage. (Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Loomis waits all day to hear the results at the evening show. He takes third place out of three. But if last place bothers him, Loomis doesn’t show it.

“I’m good. I’m happy,” Loomis said. “I came from a broke man when I retired to a healthy man now. Healthier…and wiser.”

Loomis puts on some clothes and heads out to get a pizza. He has a few weeks off before he starts gearing up to compete for Mr. Alaska in April.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Race: Mark Begich

Fri, 2014-10-10 12:00

Sen. Mark Begich addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Skip Gray/ Gavel Alaska)

Six years ago, Mark Begich narrowly won his position as a U.S. Senator for Alaska. Now Senator Begich is in a fight to keep that seat with a strong challenge from former Attorney General and DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan.

APRN offered Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan an hour-long Talk of Alaska on Wednesday, Oct. 15, but his campaign staff declined the invitation, saying their schedule wouldn’t allow the time.

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Sen. Mark Begich, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate
  • Callers Statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Woman Who Survived Plane Crash Dies in ATV Crash

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:37

Photo courtesy Alaska State Troopers.

St. Mary’s Troopers responded to a fatal ATV crash in Marshall Wednesday. The woman killed is the survivor of a plan crash in 2013.

An investigation found that 26-year-old Melanie Coffee, of Marshall died after hitting a tree on the Old Airport Road just outside town.

Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.

“The wreck was not witnessed. It is believed that it was at a high rate of speed and she went airborne and then hit a tree. She was found the next day by villagers who then called troopers and then we responded out there to do the on scene investigation.”

Coffee was one of six survivors of a plane crash near St. Mary’s in November 2013 that killed four other people. The Association of Village Council Presidents honored Coffee posthumously at their convention in Bethel Thursday where Vivian Korthuis with AVCP presented members of her tribe with a special award for her bravery.

“Melanie Coffee, despite being injured herself walked through the snow and tangles of brush to reach the road and direct the first responders to crash victims during the crash of a Cessna 208 in November 2013.”

AVCP Convention attendees also took a moment of silence to remember Coffee. Next of kin has been notified. Troopers say foul play is not suspected and alcohol was involved. Coffee’s body has been sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Kusko 300 Officials Waive Entry Fee

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:26

A musher leaves the starting line of the 2011 K300 sled dog race. (Photo from the K300 Facebook page)

Race officials for the Kuskokwim 300 are waiving the entry fee to any musher looking to run the organization’s three races this January.

Race Manager Zach Fansler says the $400 entry fee for the 300-mile mid-distance sled dog race — and similar entry fees for the Bogus Creek 150 and the Akiak Dash — are being dropped for 2015.

Fansler hopes, by dropping the entry fee, more mushers will be able to race.

“For our local mushers sometimes it’s hard to put that money out upfront, so we’ve looked into ways to reduce those costs,” Fansler said. “For mushers traveling in outside the Delta, obviously the cost of travel there is pretty high.”

“So we thought this was something we could personally control and try to see if it was something that would encourage more mushers to come to our race.”

Entry fees will be waived for any musher who registers before December 15.

Mushers must also be members of the K300 race committee and mileage sponsors — a $100 caveat Fansler says has been in place for years and shouldn’t be anything new for mushers.

“That was already a preexisting requirement to race in the K300, that you would be a member of our race committee, and that is for state purposes and things like that, to maintain our corporate status,” Fansler said.

Dropping the entry fee for the K300 comes less than a month after the race announced an increase in payouts. The K300 race will see its purse grow by $10,000 to $120,000. The Bogus Creek and Akiak Dash will pay out $30,000 and $12,500, respectively.

It’s the second purse increase in three years. Fansler says the races volunteers make it possible.

“We have a very small pay roll for our employees,” Fansler said. “We’re a very small operation, our board doesn’t get compensated.”

“Things other organizations have to pay for, or pay a lot more for, we are either able to get donated or volunteers to do for us, and that’s where we have a significant savings over a lot of these other races.”

The 2015 Kuskoskim 300 starts Saturday, Jan. 16 in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

Shageluk Man Arraigned On Murder Charges In Bethel

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:43

Judge Nathaniel Peters read murder charges to Everett Semone via video teleconference in a Bethel court Thursday, October 9th. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Everett Semone of Shageluk was arraigned on murder charges at the Bethel court this afternoon. He is accused of killing his parents with an ax in the village of Shageluk earlier this week.

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Appearing via video teleconference from the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center, Everett Semone stared through the TV monitor into the small Bethel courtroom, uttering little more than yes and no to questions asked by the judge.

Everett Semone was arraigned on murder charges via video teleconference in a Bethel courtroom Thursday, October 9th. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Judge Nathaniel Peters read the charges to the 21-year-old who said he understood them. Then he set bail.

“The court will follow the state’s recommendation plus 500-thousand cash plus third party custodian. If you have a bail hearing the court can set further conditions of your release Mr. Semone. Any questions? Any? ,” said Judge Peters. “No Judge,” said Semone.

Semone was arrested Wednesday at approximately 4pm and brought to the Bethel jail after two people were killed in Shageluk Tuesday. Earlier today, Alaska State Troopers identified them as residents Flossie Semone, 46, and John Arrow, 57. A Trooper spokesperson says people in Shageluk have said the two are the suspect’s parents.

The remains of both are being transported to the State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for autopsies.

Residents reportedly caught the suspect themselves and held him until troopers arrived the next day. Troopers were requested Tuesday evening but did not arrive in Shageluk until mid-morning Wednesday.

Shageluk is a village of 83 people located on the Innoko River, 20 miles east of Anvik and 150 miles northeast of Bethel. The village has no police or medical personnel presence. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation has sent a crisis response team to Shageluk to help residents with counseling.

Semone is charged with two counts of Murder 1. His next court appearance is a preliminary hearing October 20th in Aniak.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska National Guard Officer Recommended For ‘Other Than Honorable’ Discharge

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:42

A Lieutenant Colonel in the Alaska National Guard was recommended for an “other than honorable” discharge earlier this year, according to a story in this week’s Anchorage Press. Joseph Lawendowski is the guard’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Training.

Reporter David Holthouse says he started looking into Lawendowski after reading the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations report that came out last month.

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Categories: Alaska News

AEA: Fisheries Service Criticism of Susitna Dam Studies ‘Untenable, Bordering On The Absurd’

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:41

The Alaska Energy Authority has responded to letters from the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that questioned research being done on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.

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Of the two federal agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service took a stronger position regarding A-E-A’s ability to produce accurate models of salmon activity in the Susitna River.  The NMFS letter cited fourteen areas of concern, including sampling methods and possible misidentification of juvenile fish.  The agency says that the problems are significant enough that no further studies should be done until they are resolved.

On Wednesday, AEA labeled the criticism as inaccurate.  In a news release, Susitna-Watana Project Manager Wayne Dyok says the NMFS letter, “relies on mischaracterizations and generalizations.”  The actual response letter by AEA, which is signed by Dyok, goes even further, saying that assertions made by the Fisheries Service are “untenable, bordering on the absurd.”

AEA’s response letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service totals nearly fifty pages.  Most of that is a line-by-line refutation of the concerns listed by NMFS.  Many of AEA’s specific responses assert that NMFS is either ignoring the data or misunderstands the methodologies being used.  The Alaska Energy Authority maintains that it is following the study plan approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC will have the opportunity to hear out both sides, soon.  Meetings are scheduled to start next week to discuss the Susitna-Watana field work.  Part of the objective of those meetings is for FERC to decide what, if any, changes need to be made in future field studies.

Categories: Alaska News

Violence in Foster Care System Very Rare, Safety Nets in Place

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:40

KSKA DJ Marvell Johnson was killed this week by his foster son. But state officials with the foster care system stress that events like this are extremely rare and they have systems in place to keep foster parents and children safe.

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Director of Juvenile Justice Karen Forrest says they work with both families and young people before placing a child in a home.

The foster parents “get an opportunity to review the entire file of the youth. And they also spend time with the youth and interview that young person. So there’s lots of discussion to determine whether or not it’s a good match.”

Then the Department of Juvenile Justice follows up with weekly contact and provides training on trauma care and parenting explosive children.

Director of the Office of Children Services Christy Lawton says foster parents are trained to work with young people who have experienced trauma and may act out. She says OCS cannot always do pre-interviews with families because of their case load, but they do tell foster families and schools if the child could pose any risks to them or their pets. They also provide a support network, including court appointed advocates. Lawton says the benefits of being a foster parent far out weigh the risks.

“You’re taking in often very vulnerable children and youth who’ve been through indescribable pain and trauma in many cases. So to be able to be a good shepherd to them and to mentor and to provide the kind of structure and nurture that they may never have experienced before — I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to be able to fill that role.”

Marvell Johnson was a foster parent for over 15 years and helped hundreds of youth. Lawton says they are reaching out to the foster care community to help them through this loss. The agencies say only two other incidences of violence against foster parents have been reported in the last two decades. Currently there are about 2,200 kids in foster care in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

As Part Of Investigation, Feds Will Hear From UAS Students About Sexual Assault

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:39

University of Alaska Southeast (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Students at the University of Alaska Southeast will get a chance to talk to federal auditors about sexual assault on campus.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will be at the UAS Juneau campus Friday as part of an examination of the university’s handling of complaints and reports of sexual harassment and violence.

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University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh emailed letters to faculty, staff andstudents at the end of September informing them of the Office of Civil Rights visit and inviting them to participate. Posters have been placed around campus encouraging students to “Speak Out For Campus Safety.”

Lori Klein is the student conduct administrator at UAS. She’s been helpingOCR organize the meetings and says members of the Juneau community and campus are invited to two open office sessions.

“People can just drop in and talk to them about campus safety in general or specific circumstances that they’ve been involved in that they’d like to share with OCR,” Klein says.

In May, the University of Alaska system wasadded to a list of colleges around the country being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling sexual assault complaints or as part of a compliance review.

A team from OCR in Seattle will meet with UAS staff in the morning. Two focus groups will be held in the afternoon – one for female students and another for male students. Klein says student involvement is voluntary. OCR wants to hear from Alaska Native students, campus activists, international students and survivors of sexual assault.

“We did not send a specific invite to students who had disclosed that they were survivors and that was per OCR’s guidance. So, instead what we did is specifically targeted lots of other groups of students that may include survivors, but all students are invited,” Klein says.

Since the investigation began in May, the University of Alaska has submitted more than 10,000 pages of documentation, including details of each sexual assault complaint since 2011.

Klein says after the initial trepidation of being investigated, she’s come to value the involvement of OCR.

“Oftentimes when you get someone from an outside organization coming in and asking really great and targeted questions, you get information from your student population that you might not get otherwise. And I think that what our students think about how we’re doing, how we could do better, will only be to our benefit,” Klein says.

After the campus visits, Klein says the Office of Civil Rights will prepare a findings report listing recommendations or requirements for change.

OCR has already visited University of Alaska Fairbanks and is in the middle of its visit to University of Alaska Anchorage. The auditors are also visiting UAF’s Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s Race Brings Walker To Unalaska

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:38

With less than a month until Election Day, the race to become Alaska’s next governor is heating up. Independent candidate Bill Walker and his Democrat running mate are canvassing the state for votes – all the way out to the Aleutians.

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It might be a big port community, but it’s not unusual for political campaigns to skip Unalaska. The town is hard to get to and there aren’t a lot of voters on the other side.

(Photo by Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

But most candidates don’t have a retired Unalaska city servant running their campaign.

Nancy Peterson: “Thank you, Bill, for coming to my town. This is just so awesome.”

Unalaska’s old director of public works, Nancy Peterson, brought Walker to the Norwegian Rat Saloon on Friday night. About 40 residents munched on hot dogs and homemade chips and fired off questions at the candidate.

Walker came prepared to talk about his vision for a bipartisan administration. But some voters, like Nolie Magpantay, were still curious:

Magpantay: ”Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”
Walker: “I’m an Alaskan. I run as an Independent.
Magpantay: ”Independent? Okay, okay.”

Walker explained that he jumped parties to run for governor after years as a Republican. Unalaskans usually lean Democrat, but Magpantay said that’s not written in stone.

Magpantay: “Well, we support[ed] Lisa last time when she was write-in.”

That’s Lisa Murkowski. And that write-in was her 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate, as a Republican.

Magpantay: “You know, I was a Democrat, but whatever we need as Alaska. So we got together here and that’s what we did — and she won.”

That’s what Walker and Mallott are banking on. Their campaign promises to put Alaska first, on projects like a natural gas pipeline.

At the bar — and in an interview this weekend — Walker said he wants to tweak the current structure so the state owns the biggest share. He believes that would get gas flowing faster to rural communities.

“Any place that’s connected with a road, a river, an ocean in Alaska should be able to have access to our natural resources,” Walker said. “There’s various sources of renewable energy that would be very effective. We’re not one-commodity-fits-all. But boy, any time we can get liquefied natural gas to you at a very low cost, I’m all about that.”

High energy costs are a persistent problem in the Aleutians. But the region’s also wrapped up in thorny policy issues — like whether to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

“If there’s a genuine issue to have a road for medical, medevacs, for health and safety reasons, I’ll work aggressively to make sure there’s a road built,” Walker said.

Governor Sean Parnell’s administration recently turned to the courts to get that done. But Walker’s not sure if he would continue with the two lawsuits they have in process.

Walker: “The slowest way to do something is through litigation. I own a law firm. The wheels of justice move pretty darn slowly. And when you’re taking on the largest law firm in the nation, which is the federal government, that doesn’t always expedite the process. No, there are other ways of addressing that–”

–like talking to stakeholders and negotiating directly with the federal government.

Walker says he’d take a similar approach to dealing with poor salmon runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Some tribes and subsistence fishermen are trying get regulators to crack down on bycatch in the commercial pollock harvest. That fishery is a huge source of revenue for the state, and for Unalaska.

Walker says he doesn’t know enough about the issue yet to take a position.

“I’ve learned the hard way over the years,” Walker said. “If I don’t know the answer to something, I don’t try to guess at something. I know there’s a problem. And I’ll certainly be a part of finding the root cause of the problem.”

Walker’s sure to hear more about salmon on his next campaign stop in Bethel. After that, he’ll continue touring the state — asking far-flung voters for their support on November 4.

Categories: Alaska News