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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: 51 min 45 sec ago

Man In Custody After Hours-Long Standoff

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:28

A long standoff between police and an armed man in Fairbanks ended with the suspect being taken into custody alive this afternoon.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Secured Following Unrelated Incidents

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:27

A handful of Fairbanks schools have been on high security alert in the last two days due to two separate incidents.

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An armed standoff early Tuesday disrupted the morning commute for residents of west Fairbanks.  The incident also rerouted more than 20 school buses. Karen Gaborik is the School District Interim Superintendent.  She says at least 140 kids were late to morning classes.

“That’s a fair number of students coming late to school,” she says. “We also had staff who got stuck in traffic as well.”

Gaborik says other staff were assigned to cover classes for teachers who weren’t able to arrive on time. She also placed two elementary schools in close proximity to the stand-off in “secured building mode.”

“That means the exterior doors are locked and we won’t have any outside activity, so now recess. It’s a monitored access to the building,” says Gaborik.

It was the second time in as many days that Gaborik had to partially close down activity at schools in the district.  On Monday, a threatening message sent through twitter raised concerns among administrators and law enforcement.

“A community member let the principal at West Valley High school know there had been a vague threat on Twitter so he called the Alaska State Troopers,” she explains. “And because there was a threat, West Valley went into ‘Sit tight mode,’ which is a more secure situation so kids stay in classes.”

Ultimately, five schools were placed “sit tight mode.” Gaborik, who attended both elementary and high school in Fairbanks, acknowledges that situations like those over the last few days have become more common among public schools, but she says personnel practice procedures to handle them regularly.

“I think it gives us the opportunity to have a predictable response to a situation,” says Gaborik.

“We can use the phrase with principals ‘I need you to secure the building’ and principals know what that means and staff knows what that means and we’ve continued to work with parents and students around what those things mean.”

Classes and after school activities at schools affected by both incidents have since returned to a normal schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Schools At Forefront Of FASD Prevention Effort

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:26

Today is National FASD Awareness day. FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a type of developmental disability caused by being prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alaska and some of its schools are at the forefront of understanding and preventing it.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Could Face Fines For Wastewater Plant Delays

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:25

The city of Unalaska is falling behind on construction of a new wastewater treatment plant – and they could face up to $200,000 in federal fines as a result.

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The city’s supposed to have the plant’s chlorination and dechlorination system online by the end of the year. In mid-November, the city is supposed to make a formal request to Alaska regulators to start operating that system.

All those deadlines were set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which sued the city for improper sewage discharge in 2011. As part of their settlement, Unalaska agreed to build a new wastewater plant, in line with national standards.

City manager Chris Hladick says the chlorine system’s an important part of the upgrade: “The chlorine kills the E. Coli, you take the chlorine out, and it goes out in the ocean.”

But the city isn’t going to have the equipment ready on time. At this point, Hladick says it could take more than 100 days past the deadline before the city is ready to get permission to run its new chlorine system.

That will push the entire project forward — and according to the city’s settlement with the EPA, the agency has the option to fine the city for every day they’re late.

Hladick hopes they might avoid the fines if they can get back on track to meet their final deadline, getting the whole plant up and running by the end of 2015.

The contractor that’s building the wastewater plant is blaming the current delays on shoddy preparatory work done at the site last year by Advanced Blasting of Wasilla. That pushed the construction schedule forward — and costs from it are stacking up.

If the EPA decides to fine the city, Hladick says they may seek payment from Advanced Blasting to cover the costs.

Categories: Alaska News

Thermal Imaging Cameras Donated To Villages For Use In Search And Rescue

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:24

Photo taken with a FLIR thermal imaging camera. (Photo credit: Bernard Rose via Flickr Creative Commons)

Sixteen handheld thermal imaging cameras will soon be in the hands of search-and-rescue teams in the Norton Sound region, thanks to a donation from Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Alaska State Troopers will be distributing these bi-ocular cameras to 15 member communities and Shishmaref within the next few weeks.

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Dan Harrelson, Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) for White Mountain and chairman of NSEDC’s board of directors, said these cameras should significantly improve SAR operations—hopefully, saving many lives. Harrelson said previously, only one thermal imaging camera, based out of Nome, was shared among all 16 communities.

“When you need a piece of equipment, you need it right now. And usually when we have searches it’s in inclement weather when we’re probably not able to get airplanes. So to have to wait for a unit to come from Nome could be eight hours—it could be three days before you could get the unit,” said Harrelson. “You know, time is of the essence—it’s critical when you’re doing searches for people.”

And, Harrelson pointed out, if the camera did arrive with enough time to be used in a search, VPSOs had to learn to operate the new piece of equipment in the middle of a rescue. Now, with a camera in each village, he’s hopeful SAR teams will be able to practice using them.

Harrelson hasn’t used one of the cameras yet himself, but said they’ll work sort of like night-vision goggles.

“Any source that gives off any heat will show up like a greenish-yellow spot on the thermal imaging unit,” said Harrelson. “The closer you are to the unit—up to about 400 yards, I believe—you can actually make out the figure of a person if they’re standing there or laying in the snow.”

The cameras are water-resistant and can operate down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is necessary since many SAR operations are conducted in extreme weather conditions.

“Our searches feel like they come at the most miserable times of the year, where visibility is very limited,” said Harrelson. “You know, when people are traveling from one village to the other, they go out hunting and they fail to make their destination or they fail to come back home. So a lot of out searches are in the wintertime.”

Harrelson anticipates the cameras will make an appearance during annual VPSO training, this year in Anchorage in November. That’ll be an opportunity for officers outside Norton Sound to check out the new tools.

“Our coordinator indicated that maybe we’ll take one of these units down and do some hands-on training while we’re in Anchorage. It’ll also let the other VPSOs know, from the different regions throughout the state, that this equipment’s available and maybe it’s something they can pursue for their own region as well,” said Harrelson.

NSEDC’s donation is worth about $150,000 for the 16 cameras. Harrelson said the cameras should arrive in villages within the next couple of weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Yupiit Nation Members Talk Tribal Sovereignty

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:23

Terms like tribal sovereignty, Native Rights, and co-management, are all open to interpretation. One of the most vocal groups in the Y-K Delta, Yupiit Nation, recently met to hash out their vision of future governance in the region. Members have a spectrum of views about what tribal sovereignty really means.

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A few dozen people gathered in the Akiachak School Gym last month for two days of Yupiit Nation discussions at their annual meeting. A similar set of topics comes up at every meeting: subsistence, co-management, local law enforcement; the most basic idea of governance and what role local tribes, who are members of Yupiit Nation, want to play. Ivan M. Ivan is the Tribal President in Akiak.

Yupiit Nation member meet in Akiachak in August. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“We’re not trying to become a government that runs villages. The villages have their power. By themselves to control their own destiny but collectively together I believe they can help each other,” said Ivan.

There is however a long-standing discussion about forming a regional tribal government. Yupiit Nation Chief, Mike Williams, said after the meeting that vision includes a legislative, executive, and judicial branch. He says the current governmental structure holds tribes back.

“There’s 56 individual federally recognized tribes in our area and the respect is there. But if 56 unite together I think we can begin to deal with these issues that are not good and help us manage our way of live as we have for thousands of years,” said Williams.

Williams calls Yupiit Nation a consortium of federally recognized tribes. Formed in 1978 with 19 tribes, Williams says there are now 12 tribes with active members. The core of the group, however, is centered in Akiak, Akiachak, Tuluksak, and Kwethluk.

Critics say the outspoken group doesn’t represent the majority of Y-K Delta tribal members. Still, the group pushes for a shift of the power to tribes in rural Alaska.

Phillip Peter Senior is Akiachak’s Native Community President. He says his ancestors controlled their own destiny and today there are too many laws and regulations. Still, he wants tribes to be partners with existing governments.

“The vision is to help ourselves. And work with our federal and state governments We’re not trying to take away the power from the government and state. All we want to do is work with them,” said Peter.

Moses Owen from Akiak takes a harder line for the Yupiit Nation.

“You know it’s getting tougher for us to survive, with the laws, the regulations, we have have to get back to where we were before. No laws, no rules, just our way of life, we want to practice that,” said Owen.

Yupiit Nation Chief Mike Williams says the group held off on elections, which were scheduled for their meeting on August 22nd and 23rd. He says they’ll likely take place at an upcoming meeting.

And Yupiit Nation isn’t the only group talking about building new tribal government structures. For example, the Y-K Delta Regional Committee, a group facilitated by Calista, the regional Native Corporation, is also drafting a constitution for a possible future tribal government.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 9, 2014

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:05

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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Board of Regents Rescinds President Gamble’s Retention Bonus At His Request

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted Monday to rescind President Pat Gamble’s $320,000 dollar retention bonus by a 9-1 vote.

New Research Sheds Light On Late-20th Century Walrus Decline

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Pacific walrus populations  in Alaska’s Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea area declined by half between 1981 and 1999.  New research indicates the decline may have slowed down in the years before 2000.

State Presents Election Translation Plan

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in.

Man In Custody After Hours-Long Standoff

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A long standoff between police and an armed man in Fairbanks ended with the suspect being taken into custody alive this afternoon.

Fairbanks Schools Secured Following Unrelated Incidents

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A handful of Fairbanks schools have been on high security alert in the last two days due to two separate incidents.

Alaska Schools At Forefront Of FASD Prevention Effort

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Today is National FASD Awareness day. FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a type of developmental disability caused by being prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alaska and some of its schools are at the forefront of understanding and preventing it.

Unalaska Could Face Fines For Wastewater Plant Delays

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The city of Unalaska is falling behind on construction of a new wastewater treatment plant – and they could face up to $200,000 in federal fines as a result.

Thermal Imaging Cameras Donated To Villages For Use In Search And Rescue

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

Sixteen handheld thermal imaging cameras will soon be in the hands of search-and-rescue teams in the Norton Sound region, thanks to a donation from Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Alaska State Troopers will be distributing these bi-ocular cameras to 15 member communities and Shishmaref within the next few weeks.

Yupiit Nation Members Talk Tribal Sovereignty

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Terms like tribal sovereignty, Native Rights, and co-management, are all open to interpretation.  One of the most vocal groups in the Y-K Delta, Yupiit Nation, recently met to hash out their vision of future governance in the region. Members have a spectrum of views about what tribal sovereignty really means.

Categories: Alaska News

Glenn Highway Project Aimed At Easing Eagle River Commute

Tue, 2014-09-09 16:30

State transportation officials have announced a new project that could improve the commute from Eagle River to Anchorage.

According to Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the state department of transportation, construction starts this week on a

project to widen the Glenn Highway between Hiland Road and Artillery Road in Eagle River. The stretch of highway includes the infamous

“brakelight hill” and the Eagle River bridge.

 ”This project is exciting because it will build a whole new section of highway, extending the three lane section for an additional three miles. That will help the steep grade at Eagle River, which is known as brakelight hill. It will also actually build a whole new bridge over Eagle River. So there will be pretty minimal impacts to traffic this winter,” McCarthy says.

The existing bridge will handle highway traffic during construction of the expansion project. McCarthy says bridge work is better done in winter, because water levels are lower. McCarthy says tree clearing for the extra lanes will be the first step.  The 42. 5 million dollar project is being paid for with state money.

 

 

 

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“This is all state money, which is why we were able to turn the project around in a just a little over a year. A lot of times federal aid projects take a little bit longer, sometimes you know, five to seven years. So this is exciting for DOT and I think you will be seeing more of this as money allows.”

The project is the first phase of a long range improvement plan to increase Glenn Highway traffic capacity. About 52 thousand vehicles use the Glenn Highway every day, and the stretch between Anchorage and the suburban community of Eagle River is often congested  at peak commute hours. DOT officials say driver frustration contributes to vehicle crashes.

McCarthy says the highway improvement project should be finished by spring of next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

‘The Sand Lake Boys’

Tue, 2014-09-09 11:39

Today we hear a story from Mike Byers, a writer for the website “Growing Up Anchorage.” The site focuses on tales from the early days of Alaska’s largest city. Mike’s story is titled “The Sand Lake Boys.”

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Categories: Alaska News

Board of Regents Rescinds President Gamble’s Retention Bonus At His Request

Mon, 2014-09-08 19:21

The University of Alaska Board of Regents met in Anchorage for an executive session. At the end of the meeting, they went into public session and voted 9-1 to rescind President Pat Gamble’s retention bonus. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents Monday voted Monday to rescind President Pat Gamble’s $320,000 retention bonus by a 9-1 vote.

The Board reviewed the decision to award the bonus at the request of President Gamble.

“I think a number of us felt that a deal is a deal and it was a commitment we had made, and so we did it with some reluctance,” Pat Jacobson, the chair of the Board of Regents, said. “At the same time, again, this gentleman, this very capable gentleman who has done such a good job for the university felt it was a thing we needed to do in order to move forward positively – and so we accepted it.”

The Board originally approved the retention incentive at its June meeting.

With the university facing system-wide budget cuts and declining state funding, President Gamble says the timing was bad.

“It just is not a good time to be personally standing up and smiling because you get a big bonus when you’ve got a tight budget and you’re looking at dropping programs or dropping people,” Gamble said.

Ultimately, Gamble says the sentiment of the students, staff, and faculty played a significant role in his decision to ask the Board to reconsider the bonus.

“My ability to actually deal with the people that I have to deal with to move this university forward, that’s where my concern laid,” he said. “And that’s where I was beginning to have feelings that I was starting to lose some of that, and that’s why I made the recommendation to the Board.”

The bonus would have been awarded at the end of President Gamble’s current contract in May 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 8, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-08 18:02

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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Gasline Partner Takes Steps Toward Permitting, Marketing of Project

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The partnership to build a natural gas megaproject has initiated the environmental review process.

U.S. House Passes Bill to Allow Sale of Feathery Art

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House today passed a bill to allow Alaska Natives to sell handicrafts that include the feathers of migratory birds.

Wasilla VA Clinic Without Doctors

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Wasilla Veterans Affairs clinic is without a doctor and now one nurse practitioner is handling the patient caseload.

Support Alliance Endorses Sullivan for Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Senate challenger Dan Sullivan has won a rare endorsement from the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. Rebecca Logan, the trade association’s general manager, says the board made the decision last week.

NPS Proposes Permanent Ban on Predator Hunting Practices in Alaska’s Preserves

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Park Service published a proposal in the national register  Thursday that would permanently prohibit some sport hunting practices in Alaska’s ten national preserves.

Anchorage School District Questions 6th Grade Placement

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District is trying to decide if 6th graders should be placed in elementary or middle schools. Currently there are some in each. District staff have been weighing the options for more than a year because it impacts future school infrastructure upgrades. They’re also looking at what’s best for the students academically.

Aleutian Risk Assessment Unveils Spill Prevention Plan

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

For years, shipping safety advocates have called for better protections against oil spills in the Aleutian chain. Now, the plan for a new response system is finally finished. The Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment’s draft report recommends some familiar solutions in new places – all at a cost of almost $14 million a year.

Does Vigor Still Need Local Tax, Utility Breaks?

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

As Ketchikan’s shipyard continues to grow and attract contracts, questions arose last week about whether the community should continue to offer tax and utility breaks for the property.

Categories: Alaska News

Gasline Partners Take Steps Toward Permitting, Marketing Of Project

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:08

The partnership to build a natural gas megaproject has initiated the environmental review process.

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BP, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, Transcanada and the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation submitted paperwork to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday, notifying the agency that they plan to finish collecting safety and environmental data on the project by 2016. They’re aiming for federal permitting to be completed by 2018, with construction to begin shortly after.

The partners described the pre-filing as a “major milestone” in the development of a liquefied natural gas export project that could cost upward of $45 billion. Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash agrees that this is a good early step for getting North Slope gas to market.

“The fact that the project has achieved certain steps to this date – they are largely on time and on budget – we are satisfied with that. We think it’s indicative of continued success and progress, but there are still many, many, many more steps to go.”

The Alaska LNG Project would involve an 800-mile pipeline extending from the North Slope to Nikiski, and early scoping work for its development began this year. The gasline would be capable of transmitting more than 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day. While some of that gas could be utilized by Alaska consumers, the partnership plans to market most of it to Asia.

To that end, the Parnell administration is courting nations along the Pacific Rim. Balash is currently in Tokyo, where he signed an agreement with the nation’s economic ministry on Monday to exchange information related to a gasline. He says it shows Japan’s government is taking the project seriously.

“It’s a signal from the [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] to Japanese buys that this project and the State of Alaska are credible,” says Balash.

Balash will travel to China and South Korea next, but is not expecting any immediate government-to-government agreements to come out of those visits.

Larry Persily is the federal coordinator for the Alaska Gas Pipeline office. He says the arrangement with Japan is a positive development, but that it’s still a ways from a real deal.

“It’s not the same as saying Tokyo Electric signed the binding contract,” says Persily.

Persily says that of the two recent developments on the LNG project, the diplomatic commitment has less force behind it.

“The memorandum of cooperation is an agreement to keep in touch, whereas the pre-file is the beginning of a long and costly process that is required to get this thing built,” says Persily.

But even so, Persily says “we’ve been here before” with natural gas projects in Alaska. BP and ConocoPhillips entered the pre-file process with their Denali pipeline proposal in 2008, before abandoning it three years and over $100 million later. Exxon and TransCanada went through a similar and even more costly effort, while supported by the Palin-era Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

The development of an LNG project has been a focal point for both of the major candidates for governor. Republican incumbent Sean Parnell sent out a press release heralding both the pre-filing with FERC and the memorandum of cooperation with the Japanese ministry of economy as positive developments. Independent challenger Bill Walker said in a phone interview that he’s “happy to see any activity associated with a gasline” but that the state is still a long way from “pipe being ordered” and that the state should have “more control” over the project’s timeframe.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Passes Bill to Allow Sale of Feathery Art

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:07

The U.S. House today passed a bill to allow Alaska Natives to sell handicrafts that include the feathers of migratory birds. Alaska Congressman Don Young said on the House floor the Migratory Bird Act already allows Alaska Natives to harvest migratory birds.

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“What we have today is a bizarre policy that allows Alaska natives to hunt kill, consume and also use nonedible parts in handicrafts items, but prohibits them from selling these handicrafts,” Young said.

Federal authorities haven’t always enforced the law, but two years ago pursued a case against a Tlingit carver from Juneau. Archie Cavanaugh agreed to pay a $2,000 fine after he was caught trying to sell two wood headpieces online that included flicker and raven feathers. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Young, passed the House by voice vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sponsored a similar bill that’s pending in the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla VA Clinic Without Doctors

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:06

Verdie Bowen, director of the state’s Office of Veterans Affairs, says the Wasilla clinic’s doctors, who worked under contract this summer, have decided not to renew.

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The clinic is supposed to have two doctors on staff at all times, but the Wasilla clinic has used one doctor and a nurse practitioner, while a third, temporary doctor rotates in and out. Now, only the nurse practitioner remains to handle the one thousand case (load)s that the clinic handles in a year.

Bowen says the patients are in no danger of not getting care, however, thanks to agreements the VA has with Southcentral Foundation and Providence Hospital for their clinics in Wasilla:

“Southcentral Foundation is receiving up to 700 patients from that [Wasilla] clinic, and we also have another contract with Providence Care, which is also seeing patients as well. So what we have done is throughout the community of Wasilla we have diversified the patients. And those that live closer to the Anchorage side, say for instance, Peters Creek or Chugiak, have the option of coming into Anchorage to be treated at that larger facility.”

The Wasilla nurse practitioner works under the supervision of the VA doctor in Anchorage.   Bowen says that despite the shortage of staff, the Wasilla clinic is operating:

“We have few people that are still housed out of the clinic in Wasilla that are being treated by the nurse practitioner there. So the veterans are still reciving their care, there is still no waiting list for those veterans to receive their health care.”

Right now, the Wasilla clinic has openings for two doctors, but Bowen says it is difficult for the VA to attract new doctors, because of pay concerns.

“The VA is locked in with the amount of funds that they can pay. And I really don’t know what that is per doctor. And especially now, with the VA not paying incentive compensations, to keep people, you know, and the end of each cycle, then that’s causing a negative factor in retaining those doctors in those locations.”

Cynthia Joe, chief of staff for the Alaska VA Health Care System, said the VA is offering what it is allowed to offer for salaries. That level is capped at $195,000.

Bowen says often the Alaska lifestyle does not appeal to VA doctors who come here to work from the Lower 48, and that could be an additional reason doctors don’t stay.

He says the shortage of doctors is not simply a VA problem, that it is symptomatic of a problem in clinics nationwide, because (of) fewer students are graduating from medical colleges.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Support Alliance Endorses Sullivan for Senate

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:05

U.S. Senate challenger Dan Sullivan has won a rare endorsement from the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.

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Rebecca Logan, the trade association’s general manager, says the board made the decision last week.

“It’s the first time in about 20 years that the organization has endorsed a political candidate,” she said. “We typically don’t do that. But because we feel the outcome of this election has such a huge impact on resource development in the state of Alaska we felt it was important to do so.”

Logan says the board likes Sullivan’s experience fighting for resource development. It also hopes his election will put the Senate in Republican control, which would elevate Sen. Lisa Murkowski to important leadership roles. The Alliance represents service companies in the oil, gas and mining industries.

Incumbent Sen. Mark Begich disappointed the group by backing the EPA’s move to block development of the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay. Logan says that was a factor in the decision to endorse his opponent.

Meanwhile, Begich continues to rack up endorsements from fishing trade associations. The Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association announced their support of him last week, praising his grasp of complex fisheries issues. Begich also has the endorsements from the Bering Sea Crabbers and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

NPS Proposes Permanent Ban on Predator Hunting Practices in Alaska’s Preserves

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:04

The National Park Service wants to permanently prohibit some predator sport hunting practices in all ten of Alaska’s national preserves.
(Credit National Park Service)

The National Park Service published a proposal in the national register last week that would permanently prohibit some sport hunting practices in Alaska’s ten national preserves.  The Park Service has sparred with the state for years over hunting in National Preserves.

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The National Park Service wants to permanently prohibit three predator hunting practices in all 10 of Alaska’s national preserves. John Quinley is the spokesperson for the National Park Service in Alaska. He says those practices were historically illegal in the state until recently.

“For instance, harvesting brown bears over back bear bait stations has historical been illegal,” says Quinley. “That changed a while back under state regulations and when it did, we put in place temporary restrictions so that practice would not occur in national preserves. We are moving to make that a permanent change rather than going back every year and proposing a temporary change.”

The Park Service’s proposal would also permanently prohibit sport hunting for wolves and coyotes in early summer. The use of artificial light to take black bear sows and cubs at dens would also become illegal in Alaska’s National Preserves. For at least the last four years, those practices have been temporarily restricted by the Park Service.

“As the Board of Game over the last eight to 10 years has increasingly liberalized predator uniting rules on National preserves, we have become increasingly vocal,” Quinley says.

Quinley says state laws aren’t in keeping with the Park Service’s federal mandate to maintain natural ecosystems and wildlife populations therein.

“Our opposition to their wildlife management methods is only on national preserves.  How the state of Alaska manages other lands is up to the state of Alaska.”

But Board of Game Commissioner Ted Spraker says he thinks the Park Service just doesn’t understand how the state manages wildlife.

“Well, the purpose of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is very clear,” Spraker explains. “They’re mandated to maintain healthy populations and if they’re harvested, to harvest at some level that sustains the population.  One of the things that’s always been said that’s true is ‘if they’re hunted they’re healthy.’”

In a press release, the Park Service argues that the state is “reducing native predators for the purpose of increasing numbers of harvested species.” Spraker says that’s just not the case.

“The reason the board implemented these hunting opportunities, is just that,” Spraker says. “These populations are healthy.  Predator numbers are healthy at least in all the cases we’ve been presented, if not abundant.  And what we did is just increased hunting opportunity.  That is for the bating of brown bears and the longer seasons for wolves and coyotes.”

This past spring, the Department of Natural Resources Executive Director of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Lands sent a letter to the Park Service as part of a required public process to again temporarily restrict wildlife hunting in national preserves.

We do not support the adoption of these temporary restrictions,” wrote Stan Leaphart. “Nor will we support permanent regulation preempting State general hunting regulations.”

The letter goes on to say the state expected the National Park Service to “begin the process of preparing permeant regulations.”

“We knew it was coming.”

Ted Spraker says the Board of Game will likely submit comments on the most recent proposal published in the Federal Register.  The public comment period opens in October.  But Spraker also calls the process a ‘waste of time.’

“Absolutely,” he says. “When they’re saying they’ve been doing this for four years in a row and . a waste of the public time, it’s a waste of taxpayers dollars for these guys to do it.  I hate to see people give them a free pass.  People should go and testify, but don’t expect that they’re going to turn around and allow baiting or allow flashlights or allow the taking of wolves in May.”

John Quinley says the Park Service expects pushback from the state.

“We do expect a spirited conversation with the state of Alaska,” Quinley says,  “and we will be having formal consultation with the state of Alaska on eh proposals as well.”

The proposal also updates subsistence regulations and prohibits obstruction of lawful hunting or trapping on park service lands. Public hearings on the proposal will take place in various communities in Alaska in October.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School District Questions 6th Grade Placement

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:03

The Anchorage School District is trying to decide if 6th graders should be placed in elementary or middle schools. Currently there are some in each. District staff have been weighing the options for more than a year because it impacts future school infrastructure upgrades. They’re also looking at what’s best for the students academically. 

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Sixth grader Janera Faaaliga enters the deafening lunchroom at Begich Middle School and sits down with her friends.

“So you’re all in 6th grade?” I ask the crowd of girls as they finished their pizza and peaches.

“Yeah,” they say, almost in unison.

“What do you think?”

“Good.”

“Do you like it better than elementary school?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?” I ask, trying to prompt somewhat longer answers.

“Because we get lockers!”

Students eat lunch at Begich Middle School.

Lockers are resoundingly the best thing about middle school according to this group and many others. Faaaliga says she wished they had them in elementary school, too.

“When we switch for classes, like reading classes in elementary, the person who is sitting in your desk may take something out of your desk,” she recalls from her experiences last year.  ”And I don’t like that because they’re invading your privacy.”

Seventh grader Leola Atkinson agrees–she loves the privacy of middle school and the chance to meet more people. She says she survived learning to open her locker and move between classes.

“I think that sixth grade is a good time to move to middle school because I think by 5th grade the elementary schoolers are done with walking in line and no lockers and stuff. So I think it’s good.”

Begich Middle School Principal Brian Singleton agrees. He says middle school is developmentally more appropriate for most sixth graders.

“I guess, in a nutshell, they have more responsibilities to be independent, even though we support them greatly, which I think is more relevant to their developmental age at this time.”

Singleton, who used to work at Government Hill Elementary, says some sixth graders are physically much larger, too, making them look out of place in elementary schools. He says the transition from elementary to middle school is hard for kids who enter both in 6th and 7th grades.

“It’s the differences and the change that seem to be more significant rather than how they respond to it based on their age.” But he says giving families options to keep the kids in elementary or move them up is a positive thing.

A 2007 study from Duke University shows that kids who stay in elementary school for 6th grade do better academically and have fewer discipline problems. The effects last through 9th grade. The researchers think it’s because impressionable sixth graders in the middle schools were mixed together with older adolescents who are more rebellious.

ASD Chief Academic Officer Michael Graham says he was surprised at the national data, but that’s not the only thing the district will consider when making the decision. He says they are also conducting local research, considering the financial impacts of changing the system, and asking community members to weigh in on the questions.

“Sixth graders certainly have a lot more opportunities to do some things in middle school,” he says. “But you’re also leaving behind that safe environment where there’s that couple of teachers who know you well, families are well connected, that kind of thing.”

Some 6th graders at Lake Otis Elementary, like Tommy Lee, say they think staying in elementary school is a mixed bag.

“Yes, because we still get to go outside and all that,” he says. “But, no because I still feel like I’m still a kid inside of elementary, and I want to get to the bigger stuff.”

Sixth grader Jesslyn Sene says she’s not sure if she would have been ready for the responsibilities of being a school role model last year, but she likes it now.

“You have a lot of responsibilities, but in a way it’s more fun because you have more freedom. Because you get sometimes a longer recess and more field trips. And people kind of look up to you, and that’s a cool thing.”

Nevertheless, Sene says she would have rather joined Janera Faaaliga in the middle school hallway. Faaaliga dodges her classmates on her way to her coveted locker.

“Here, I’m gonna show you how to open my locker.” She quickly flips open the combination lock like a pro.

The tall, grey-blue box is pretty empty.

“So… you’re not going to decorate your locker or anything?” I ask.

“No, I’m just gonna leave it.”

The school board plans to decide the future of Anchorage’s 6th graders by the end of October.  They’ll present local data on the 6th grade question during three community meetings this week. 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Risk Assessment Unveils Spill Prevention Plan

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:02

The Selendang Ayu broke apart a decade ago just off Unalaska Island. (Courtesy: USCG)

For years, shipping safety advocates have called for better protections against oil spills in the Aleutian chain. Now, the plan for a new response system is finally finished. The Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment’s draft report recommends some familiar solutions in new places – all at a cost of almost $14 million a year.

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The Risk Assessment started in response to a major disaster just off Unalaska’s shores. Ten years ago, the bulk carrier Selendang Ayu ran aground near the island, killing six people and spilling fuel into the Bering Sea.

It was the worst shipping accident in the region’s history – and the Risk Assessment was designed to make sure it couldn’t happen again.

Since 2009, researchers and stakeholders have been studying everything from tugboat locations to shipping routes to weather conditions – all while marine traffic in the Aleutians continued to increase.

“I certainly wish it hadn’t taken as long as it has,” says Tim Robertson, a lead author of the new report. “There’s been frustration, I think, from all levels, that — why aren’t we doing more, and studying less?”

But he says they wanted to make sure they had all their bases covered before they came out with their recommendation: create a nonprofit organization to manage better monitoring systems, spill response plans and salvage tools in the Aleutian Islands.

“We think there should be one organization that essentially provides all of these services,” Robertson says.

The nonprofit would hire contractors to run equipment like a dedicated rescue tugboat or a heavy-duty helicopter. And it would manage the cost of the whole system. It comes out to about $13.6 million a year.

Robertson says about half of that cost would come from the users themselves: the operators of big vessels heading through places like Unimak Pass, the busiest channel through the Aleutians. In 2012, for example, operators would have had to pay about $13,000 for each ship they sent across.

The Risk Assessment report says that would be lower if they could charge every ship that used that route. But a little less than half of those vessels are only passing through on their way to and from foreign ports – and there’s no way to make them chip in for a domestic response system.

So Robertson says it should fall to the federal government to cover that part of the cost – about $15 million.

“We think it’s probably most feasible if there was a one-time appropriation, instead of trying to get ongoing operational funding,” he says.

Their first purchase would be an emergency towing vessel, which would be permanently stationed in the Aleutians to head off shipping mishaps. The idea’s been on the table for years – but now, researchers are saying it should go in Adak. It’s a town of about 300 people in the western Aleutians.

That recommendation came as a big surprise to Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt. She’s been involved with the Risk Assessment from the beginning.

“When we started first looking at this, we were focused on the marine traffic that is compressed into a part of the region,” Marquardt says, “primarily because they’re either coming or going from our port, or they’re all transiting directly through Unimak Pass.”

The pass is right next to Unalaska, along the popular Great Circle Shipping route. As that track curves around the globe, it leads vessels through the Aleutians a second time – near Adak.

And that’s where they can run into trouble. There are more crossings to choose from in the area, and Adak city manager Layton Lockett says some are too sensitive for commercial traffic – like Buldir Pass. Lockett says it’s an important spot for fishing and seabird habitat.

“If something were to, say, happen in Buldir Pass, through no fault of anyone but the vessel, it could have profound impacts in a number of different industries that we’re all reliant upon, just because someone decided to take the scenic tour,” he says.

To address that, the Risk Assessment wants to close down some offshore zones to shipping traffic. And it calls for expanding the vessel tracking systems that are already in place.

But Lockett says that hosting the dedicated tug in Adak would give him the greatest peace of mind. The Risk Assessment report says if something went wrong in that area, there probably wouldn’t be tugboat close by to assist.

In Unalaska, there are tugboats working near the port year-round. But Mayor Shirley Marquardt isn’t convinced that’s enough. She says Unalaska started out as the Risk Assessment’s priority — they had several residents advising the study over the years.

Now, Marquardt’s afraid they’re getting left behind.

“It just seemed like the focus just kind of shifted — to, we’re no longer trying to prevent this happening in the first place, as to, ‘Well, gee, response out far West might difficult,’” she says. “I was really cognizant of that, this whole way through, all these years doing this, that we don’t shift. If that’s an important issue, then it needs to be addressed on its own.”

It’s concerns like that that researchers are hoping to hear before they go any further with their work. They’ve started taking public comment on their draft report. And they’re planning to visit Unalaska soon to present it in person — and explain how it’ll come together to cover the entire Aleutian chain.

UPDATE: The Unalaska meeting set for this weekend has been canceled and will be rescheduled.

The public can read the Risk Assessment report and comment online through the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Does Vigor Still Need Local Tax, Utility Breaks?

Mon, 2014-09-08 16:01

As Ketchikan’s shipyard continues to grow and attract contracts, questions arose last week about whether the community should continue to offer tax and utility breaks for the property.

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Ketchikan’s shipyard is owned by the Alaska Industrial Energy Development and Export Authority, but it’s operated by Vigor, a Pacific Northwest company that owns shipyards in several states.

Ketchikan’s shipyard is seen in 2012. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld)

Vigor bought the operating rights a few years ago, and the Vigor Alaska operation is very likely about to get a lucrative contract to build two new ferries for the State of Alaska.

With that in mind, does the shipyard still need financial support from the community? That’s the question asked at two recent events, a Ketchikan Borough Assembly meeting and the regular Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Here’s Borough Assembly Member Agnes Moran, who said the community should look into developing an exit strategy.

“We now have a very large company running that shipyard that essentially has a monopoly on the West Coast,” she said. “It recently bought a shipyard, it recently bought an ironworks. You’re looking at a subsidy of a million and a half dollars every year, coupled with the fact that the city’s looking at bonding for infrastructure projects.”

The “subsidies” Moran referenced are through local property tax breaks from the city and borough, and a deal on electricity through the city-owned Ketchikan Public Utilities.

Assembly Member Bill Rotecki agreed with Moran that the discussion should take place.

“If the local municipalities and their taxpayers are subsidizing them substantially, it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. “It should be looked at and evaluated. I agree with that wholeheartedly.”

During the Chamber of Commerce lunch, candidates for Borough Assembly were there for a candidate forum. An audience member asked what they thought about maintaining or eliminating Vigor’s tax and utility breaks.

Borough mayor candidate David Landis said a conversation needs to happen.

“Obviously, the shipyard is a cornerstone of the business in this community and it’s vital to keep it here,” he said. “That being said, you don’t want to give everything away.”

Incumbent Assembly Member Mike Painter, who is running for re-election, agrees that the issue needs to be revisited. Incumbent Glen Thompson, also seeking re-election, said local subsidies should go away when the shipyard is self-sustaining.

“I think we’re very close. The Alaska Class Ferry demonstrates the ability of the system, there’s now about 150 people working there on a year-round basis,” he said. “I think last year, there was about $2.5 million of profit. The city and borough subsidized about a million and a half of that, but even if you take that subsidy away they still would have made a profit. Is that enough to sustain a business going forward? That’s question is where we are. We need to answer that.”

Assembly candidate John Harrington suggested that the state exempt the shipyard from paying property taxes, which the state does for an AIDEA property further north.

Lewis Armey Jr. is running for borough mayor. He was generally critical of the shipyard, but didn’t have an answer to that specific question.

Vigor Alaska’s Director of Shipyard Development Doug Ward attended the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. After the event, he said he felt the candidate’s answers were reasonable, and he’s willing to have the discussion.

Ward said the issue of self-sufficiency is always on his mind.

“We’re still operating a complex manufacturing activity in a region and in a state that lacks the basic industries that goes along with supporting these kinds of complex projects,” he said. “I think the question gets to how much employment do we want to create through shipyard investment.”

Ward said the employment projections are 300 to 350 workers once all the facility infrastructure is in place. They’re about halfway there as far as employees go, and the last big piece of infrastructure needed is a large, dedicated ship repair hall.

He noted that the agreements with the city and borough include a profit-sharing component.

“We’d like nothing more than to increase our profitability to the point where AIDEA can begin spinning off our payments to AIDEA back to the community through revenue sharing,” he said. “We’d love to make that happen.”

Ward said it’s a complicated issue, and one that he’s sure the community will be talking about a lot over the next year.

Categories: Alaska News

US Trained Alaskans As ‘Stay Behind Agents’

Mon, 2014-09-08 14:05

WASHINGTON (AP) – Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show.

Invasion of Alaska? Yes. It seemed like a real possibility in 1950.

This March 26, 1947, file photo shows Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover calling the communist party of the United States a “Fifth Column” whose “goal is the overthrow of our government” during testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington. Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show. Hoover teamed up on a highly classified project, code-named “Washtub,” with the newly created Air Force Office of Special Investigations, headed by Hoover protege and former FBI official Joseph F. Carroll. (AP Photo/File)

“The military believes that it would be an airborne invasion involving bombing and the dropping of paratroopers,” one FBI memo said. The most likely targets were thought to be Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward.

So FBI director J. Edgar Hoover teamed up on a highly classified project, code-named “Washtub,” with the newly created Air Force Office of Special Investigations, headed by Hoover protege and former FBI official Joseph F. Carroll.

The secret plan was to have citizen-agents in key locations in Alaska ready to hide from the invaders of what was then only a U.S. territory. The citizen-agents would find their way to survival caches of food, cold-weather gear, message-coding material and radios. In hiding they would transmit word of enemy movements.

This was not civil defense of the sort that became common later in the Cold War as Americans built their own bomb shelters. This was an extraordinary enlistment of civilians as intelligence operatives on U.S. soil.

This account of the “Washtub” project is based on hundreds of pages of formerly secret documents. The heavily censored records were provided to The Associated Press by the Government Attic, a website that publishes government documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Russians never invaded, of course.

So the covert cadre of “stay-behind agents,” as they were known, was never activated to collect and report wartime information from backwoods bunkers. It was an assignment that federal officials acknowledged (to each other, if not to the new agents) was highly dangerous, given that the Soviet Union’s military doctrine called for the elimination of local resistance in occupied territory.

To compensate for expected casualties, a reserve pool of agents was to be held outside of Alaska and inserted by air later as short-term replacements. This assignment was seen as an easier sell to potential recruits because “some agents might not be too enthusiastic about being left behind in enemy-occupied areas for an indefinite period of time,” one planning document noted dryly.

“Washtub” was not, however, a washout.

It operated from 1951-59, according to Deborah Kidwell, official historian of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or OSI.

“While war with the Soviet Union did not come to Alaska, OSI trained 89 SBA (stay-behind agents), and the survival caches served peacetime purposes for many years to come,” she wrote in an OSI magazine last year.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to dismiss “Washtub” as a harebrained scheme born of paranoia. In fact it reflected genuine worry about Soviet intentions and a sense of U.S. vulnerability in a turbulent post-World War II period.

As the plan was being shaped in 1950, Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea, triggering a war on the peninsula that some in the Pentagon saw as a deliberate move by Moscow to distract Washington before invading Europe. The previous summer the Soviets stunned the world by exploding their first atomic bomb. Also in 1949, the U.S. locked arms with Western Europe to form the NATO alliance, and Mao Zedong’s revolutionaries declared victory in China, adding to American fear that communism was on the march.

“Washtub” was known inside the government by several other codenames, including Corpuscle, Stigmatic and Catboat, according to an official Air Force history of the OSI, which called it one of OSI’s “most extensive and long-running Cold War projects.” The FBI had its own code word for the project: STAGE.

“Washtub” had two phases.

The first and more urgent was the stay-behind agent program. The second was a parallel effort to create a standby pool of civilian operatives in Alaska trained to clandestinely arrange for the evacuation of downed military air crews in danger of being captured by Soviet forces. This “evasion and escape” plan was coordinated with the CIA.

Among those listed as a stay-behind agent was Dyton Abb Gilliland of Cooper Landing, a community on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. A well-known bush pilot, Gilliland died in a plane crash on Montague Island in Prince William Sound in May 1955 at age 45. FBI records say he spent 12 days in Washington D.C., in June-July 1951 undergoing a range of specialized training, including in the use of parachutes.

The agents also got extensive training in coding and decoding messages, but this apparently did not always go well. Learning these techniques was “an almost impossible task for backwoodsmen to master in 15 hours of training,” one document said. Details in the document were blacked out.

Many agent names in the OSI and FBI documents also were removed before being declassified.

None of the indigenous population was included. The program founders believed that agents from the “Eskimo, Indian and Aleut groups in the Territory should be avoided in view of their propensities to drink to excess and their fundamental indifference to constituted governments and political philosophies. It is pointed out that their prime concern is with survival and their allegiance would easily shift to any power in control.”

Recruiters pitched patriotism and were to offer retainer fees of up to $3,000 a year (nearly $30,000 in 2014 dollars). That sum was to be doubled “after an invasion has commenced,” according to one planning document. The records do not say how much was actually paid during the course of the program.

At least some recruits were fingerprinted and all were secretly screened by the FBI for signs of disloyalty.

The FBI linked one candidate, a resident of Stony River, to a list of names in a 1943 bureau file on “Communist Party activities, Alaska” that tracked U.S. subscribers to a magazine called “Soviet Russia Today.”

Another candidate was flagged – falsely, it turned out – as a likely communist sympathizer based on an FBI informant’s tip about membership in the “Tom Paine Club, Communist Party, Spokane, Washington.”

One was described in a May 1952 OSI memo to the FBI office in Anchorage as the postmaster in Kiana, Alaska; another was manager of a hotel in Valdez. One agent candidate worked for a tin-mining company at Lost River on the Seward Peninsula, one of the higher-priority areas for placing “Washtub” stay-behind agents.

The peninsula is named after Secretary of State William H. Seward, the primary negotiator in the 1867 purchase of the Alaska territory for $7.2 million from czarist Russia.

The FBI tapped its local contacts, including federal judges, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, an Anchorage physician and others for names of reliable Alaskans to be approached.

“Washtub’ was crafted in painstaking detail. But just as the first trained agents were to be put in place in September 1951, Hoover pulled out, leaving it in OSI’s hands, even though one month earlier his top lieutenants had advised him the FBI was “in these programs neck deep,” with an “obvious and inescapable” duty to proceed.

Hoover worried that when the shooting in Alaska started the FBI would be “left holding the bag.”

“If a crisis arose we would be in the midst of another `Pearl Harbor’ and get part of the blame,” Hoover wrote in the margin of a Sept. 6, 1951, memo from an aide, to whom Hoover added one final order: “Get out at once.”

Three years later, Hoover was pulled back in, briefly.

In October 1954, an envelope and a typewritten letter containing a coded message were turned over to the FBI by a woman in Anchorage. It had been misaddressed by the anonymous sender in Fairbanks. Espionage was suspected, triggering flurries of FBI internal memos. Hoover was informed that bureau code breakers were urgently trying to decipher the message.

They never broke the code but eventually declared the crisis over. The mystery message, they determined, was not from an enemy spy. It was a “practice message” sent errantly by one of the “Washtub” agents.

Categories: Alaska News

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