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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: 43 min 28 sec ago

YK Delta Halibut Quotas Halved

Wed, 2014-03-12 18:01

The statewide halibut and black cod season opened last Saturday. When YK Delta fishermen participate in the Community Development Quota allocations this summer, they will see their halibut quota cut nearly in half.

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Dawson Hoover is the Communication and Community Benefits manager for Coastal Villages Region Fund.

“It’s devastating for a lot of fisherman. We have 184-plus boats that have a couple people in each boat, for a lot of people its their main source of income for the year, these cuts are devastating for our residents who need to pay the bills to sustain their families,” Hoover said.

The 2014 quota stands for Coastal Villages stands at 107,000 pounds, that’s the biggest cut among the CDQ groups and accounts for a 48 percent drop over last year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission finalized the quotas in January. CVRF proposed doubling the CDQ’s quota. Last year’s quota was some 210,000 pounds. It took less than two weeks to catch the entire quota. Hoover says it may take only a week this year. He says CVRF wants a review of the science that exists on nearby halibut stocks.

“We know that there aren’t any recent studies done in the area we fish in. The word of mouth from our fisherman is that towards the end of the commercial fishing season last year,” Hoover said. “They are catching bigger halibut, the girth was bigger. Because there aren’t any studies done, and because of the bigger fish they are catching, we believe that we shouldn’t have gotten these big cuts.”

Hoovers says he doesn’t anticipate any changes in the 2014 quotas. Statewide, the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits for Alaska halibut and black cod are set at 16.8 million pounds and 33.6 million pounds respectively.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Resolution Endorses Fukushima Radiation Monitoring

Wed, 2014-03-12 18:01

The Fairbanks city council passed a resolution Monday in support of state, federal and international monitoring for radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

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Reactors at the facility were damaged during the major earthquake in Japan three years ago this week, and there’s concern about continued long range radiation. Fairbanks borough assembly member John Davies testified in support of the resolution.

He said he has no evidence that there’s currently a problem with radiation impacts in Alaska, but that monitoring is warranted.

Categories: Alaska News

Shakespeare Is Alive In The Capitol City, 24 Hours A Day

Wed, 2014-03-12 18:01

The Riverside Shakespeare is commonly used during Bard-A-Thons. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

If he were alive today, William Shakespeare would be 450 years old in April. In honor of the event, the capitol city is celebrating with its first Bard-A-Thon, 24 hours of Shakespeare readings for eight consecutive days. The non-stop Shakespeare kicked off on Saturday.

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Cahal Burnham is missing school at Montessori Borealis to read the part of Luciana in Act 2 of “The Comedy of Errors.”

“Dromio, thou snail, though slug, thou sot!” he exclaims.

Cahal and four other people are reading the play at the downtown library, while across town at the Alaska State Library, three people are participating by video conference.

City librarian Amelia Jenkins is in charge of organizing each reader’s part.

“Would you like to be Dromio of Ephesus?” she asks Cahal.

“Uh, yeah sure,” he replies.

“Balthasar?” Jenkins calls out, hoping to solicit a volunteer.

When no one replies, event organizer Beth Weigel poses the question over video conference and state librarian Daniel Cornwall volunteers to be Balthasar.

In Act 3 of “The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, 10-year-old Cahal reads the part of Dromio of Ephesus, a servant. Dromio’s master and well-respected merchant, Antipholus of Ephesus, is played by 63-year-old Bruce Rogers of Fairbanks.

Antipholus: “Thou drunkard, thou, what didst thou mean by this?”

Dromio: “Say what you will, sir, but I know what I know.
That you beat me at the mart I have your hand to show;
If the skin were parchment and the blows you gave were ink,
Your own handwriting would tell you what I think.

Antipholus: “I think thou art an ass.”

Cahal is with his mother, but it was his idea to participate in the Bard-A-Thon. His interest in Shakespeare stems from reading the children’s book series, “Alvin Ho.”

Cahal laughs. “He was throwing Shakespearian insults out and this was one of them: ‘Be gone ye beshibbering onion-eyed flap dragon.’ It’s funny,” he says.

Bruce Rogers is Artistic Director of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, which is getting ready to perform its 15th Bard-A-Thon in April. He’s been facilitating middle-of-the-night sessions at Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre, reading parts 1, 2, and 3 of the historical “Henry VI.”

“Nothing else to do when you’re up that late,” Rogers says. “Have another cup of coffee and read a little Shakespeare.”

Juneau organizer Beth Weigel says the Bard-A-Thon is a way for Shakespeare amateurs to begin understanding the literature.

“If you’re at home trying to read it silently, sometimes it doesn’t make sense. It makes more sense when you’ve got different voices reading and you hear the words and you can get a little bit of the jokes that come in and out,” Weigel says.

Thirty-nine plays will be read during the Bard-A-Thon, which is getting statewide attention. Prefer Shakespeare sonnets? Join in reading 100 of  the Bard’s poems at 8 a.m. Friday morningat the Douglas Library.

“Hamlet” marks the finale of Juneau’s Bard-A-Thon. Nome public library plans to participate through video conference.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Committee Supports Native American Veterans Memorial

Wed, 2014-03-12 18:00

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. will be the site of an American Indian Veterans Memorial. A resolution supporting the memorial cleared an Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday. Photo by cayusa, Flickr Creative Commons.

The Alaska Legislature could join the chorus of voices calling for an American Indian Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. An Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the project.

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Native Americans have fought in every United States military conflict since the Revolutionary War, and have some of the highest per capita service rates of any ethnic group.

Since Alaska became a U.S. territory and later a state, Alaska Natives have served their country as well. During World War II, the Alaska Territorial Guard included more than 6,000 volunteer soldiers from more than 100 communities.

“American Indians have established a long and distinguished legacy of military service,” said Kalyssa Maile, an intern in the office of Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. ”Senate Joint Resolution 19 affirms the Alaska Legislature’s support of Alaska Native and Native American veterans, and recognizes their great sacrifices for our country.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 19, which supports construction of an American Indian Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Skip Gray, Gavel Alaska.

Wielechowski sponsored SJR19, approved Tuesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee. He said the American Indian Veterans Memorial is supported by theAlaska Federation of Natives, the National Congress of American Indians and Vietnam Veterans of America, among other groups.

“There were several people that came up from Florida to attend AFN and push for this resolution,” Wielechowski said. “I attended the Vietnam Veterans of America national conference in Florida last year and they were there. I spoke with people there. They were urging us to do this as well.”

Congress approved the Native American Veterans’ Memorial Act in 1994, but the project didn’t go anywhere. Stephen Bowers, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a Vietnam veteran, started lobbying Native American groups to support the memorial in 2011. Bowers says it’s long overdue.

“It’ll mean that finally someone is recognizing the fact that the American Indians fought for this country and against the European invaders back since 1492,” he said.

While Bowers says many supporters want the memorial to be built near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, President Obama late last year signed legislation to place it at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, two miles away. Bowers says the location isn’t as important as getting a memorial concept approved, a process he says will take several years.

“When they built the National Mall, they didn’t make it easy for organizations or for anyone to put a statue or a memorial on the mall,” said Bowers.

He expects the National Museum of the American Indian to sponsor a contest and form a committee to shepherd the project through the design phase.

Senate Joint Resolution 19 now heads to a vote on the floor of the Alaska Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 12, 2014

Wed, 2014-03-12 17:28

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

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Without Necessary Votes, Senate Leadership Pulls Controversial Education Amendment

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Over the past two legislative sessions, conservative lawmakers have prioritized an amendment that would allow public money to be spent at private schools. Wednesday was supposed to be the grand showdown, where the State Senate would take a vote on it. The measure did not even make it to the floor. The bill was pulled because it did not have enough support to pass.

Arctic is Top Priority for Homeland Security – But One of Many

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Senator Lisa Murkowski today pressed the Secretary of Homeland Security to make the Arctic a priority for the Administration, particularly for the Coast Guard.

Program Helping Medical Professionals In Under-Served Communities Pay Back Student Loans Comes Under Fire

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A State House committee has eliminated funding for a state program that helps medical professionals repay their student loans if they serve poor or rural patients.  It’s called the SHARP-II program and clinics say it’s an essential tool to convince physicians and other medical professionals to care for patients in under-served communities.

Low Income Sitkans Fall Through Medicaid ‘Donut Hole’

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Affordable Care Act is a big law with plenty of ripple effects, but at its heart is a pretty simple premise: Americans who lack health insurance should be able to go online and pick a plan, and if their income falls beneath a certain threshold, then the federal government will cover part of the cost.

That is, unless you live in Alaska, or one of the other states that has opted out of the federal Medicaid expansion. Then, you can actually make too little money to qualify for help.

This is what some are calling the “Medicaid donut hole.” And falling into the donut hole can be a frustrating experience.

Fairbanks Resolution Endorses Fukushima Radiation Monitoring

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks city council passed a resolution Monday in support of state, federal and international monitoring for radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Reactors at the facility were damaged during the major earthquake in Japan three years ago this week, and there’s concern about continued long range radiation.  Fairbanks borough assembly member John Davies testified in support of the resolution.

He said he has no evidence that there’s currently a problem with radiation impacts in Alaska, but that monitoring is warranted.

YK Delta Halibut Quotas Halved

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The statewide halibut and black cod season opened last Saturday. When YK Delta fishermen participate in the Community Development Quota allocations this summer, they will see their halibut quota cut nearly in half.

Alaska Senate Committee Supports Native American Veterans Memorial

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Legislature could join the chorus of voices calling for an American Indian Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. An Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the project.

Shakespeare Is Alive In The Capitol City, 24 Hours A Day

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

If he were alive today, William Shakespeare would be 450 years old in April. In honor of the event, the capitol city is celebrating with its first Bard-A-Thon, 24 hours of Shakespeare readings for eight consecutive days. The non-stop Shakespeare kicked off on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod 42 Most Certainly One Of The Toughest

Wed, 2014-03-12 12:15

Martin was greeted by hugs galore from friends and family, handlers and his Nome hosts. KNOM Radio Mission photo.

This year’s Iditarod is not only record-breaking, it may have broken some mushers as well.

The 42 annual race will not soon be forgotten.  It’s being called on of the toughest in the race’s history.

There isn’t a veteran Iditarod musher who doesn’t agree this year’s was one of the toughest in the race’s 42 year history.  Aliy Zirkle is a 14-time finisher.  This year, she says the challenges between Anchorage and Nome were endless.

Moments after arriving at the finish line, Dallas Seavey crouches down in his sled, overcome with emotion. KNOM Radio Mission photo.

“Everyday has been harder than the next day, every day has been harder,” she said.

Early on, the Happy River Steps cracked sleds, snapped gang lines and left mushers bruised. The run through the Dalzell Gorge and over the Farewell Burn forced a dozen teams to scratch in a single day.  Teams faced long stretches of snow free trail in the Alaska Range, between Kaltag and Unalakleet and along the Bering Sea Coast.  But it was a fierce, Arctic wind that really shook Aily Zirkle on her final run to Nome.

“That was the most challenging couple of hours of my life dog mushing and that was very touch-and-go as far as whether I was going to make it to safety or not with my dog team,” Zirkle said.

Safety is the last checkpoint on the trail. The irony of its name isn’t lost on Zirkle. She says hurricane-force winds could have easily blown her petite sled dogs straight into the inky, roiling waters of the Bering Sea.

“For some reason they keep saying there’s no snow out here, but then there was a ground blizzard and you couldn’t see, so there’s snow somewhere,” Zirkle said. “If a person were to stop out there, that was a life or death thing there.”

At least two mushers did stop as the wind howled. Jeff King’s dog team got stuck for more than two hours just outside the last checkpoint on the trail. Hugh Neff’s team hunkered down overnight on thick glare ice outside White Mountain.  Eventually, both scratched from the race.

Mitch Seavey, who finished third and won last year, half-joked that he’d have to write a book about how he got his dog team down the trail.

“There’s a thousand things that happen, you know,” Seavey said. “One particular instance, we were trying to cross a sloping section of glare ice and the wind was blowing so hard from our right that one couldn’t stand up on a normal day, much less on glare ice and caught the sled dragged the entire team 100 yards backwards.”

Working his way down the line first with salmon strips, Martin came back down the line with pets, hugs, and kisses for his team. KNOM Radio Mission photo.

Seavey’s son Dallas won this year, claiming a second championship.  It’s likely the two will return to defend what’s becoming something of a family tradition. But things are different for Martin Buser.  He’s run the race 31 times, more than any other musher.  His arrival in Nome was extremely emotional. After a tearful greeting with his lead dogs at the finish line, Buser hugged his wife Kathy for a long time.

“You never have to do this again if you don’t want to.”

Buser is disappointed in his performance as a musher. He says he doesn’t believe he did well by his dogs.

“I’ve been out of control for so long. I can’t balance, I can’t do anything. I can’t steer a sled, I keep wrecking and falling,” he said. “I can’t do the dogs justice, that’s what’s so bad.”

Despite his long-lived mushing career, it’s unclear if Buser will come back to the race.

“I never say ‘never.’ You don’t get me to fall in that little trap,” he said. “I’m the only one that has never said ‘never,’ that way I don’t need to come back.”

Receiving congratulations from Iditarod Trail Committee Executive Director Stan Hooley. KNOM Radio Mission photo.

The same question came up for another long-time veteran.  More than once, Sonny Lindner has commented about retiring from the sport, but this year, he says it’s official.

“Well I started in ’78,” Lindner said.

He’s finished the race 21 times.  He says this year’s run was reminiscent of them all.

“Well, it had little part of all of them,” Lindner said. “The bad parts, I think.”

With that, Lindner climbed on the back of his sled, called to his dogs and took off out of the finish chute for what very well be the last time in a career that spans nearly as many decades as the race itself.

Categories: Alaska News

Not Guilty Plea For Fall Diving Death Near Ketchikan

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:59

A fisherman pleaded not guilty Monday in Ketchikan Superior Court to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The two charges against 32-year-old Joshua Wodyga stem from a crew member’s death last fall while diving for sea cucumbers near Ketchikan.

Levi Adams of Kansas was declared dead at Ketchikan Medical Center on Oct. 8 after he was transported there from the F/V Ostrich.

In court on Monday, District Attorney Steve West said that Adams died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and West blamed the air compressor.

“The air compressor he used has a plate permanently attached to it that says not for human use,” he said. “The instructions specifically say don’t use this for breathing – that’s what he was using it for. And the mechanic went over it and said the defendant did a terrible job maintaining it.”

Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens set a trial date for June 3, and asked the attorneys for bail suggestions. Diane Tobin, representing Wodyga for Monday’s arraignment, asked for a low bail of $500. She said that while the charges are serious, Adams’ death was accidental. Tobin noted that Wodyga has close ties to the community and is not a flight risk.

“This is a responsible young man,” she said. “He is in a relationship, tantamount to a marriage. He has a 2-year-old daughter, he also has a 10-year-old daughter from a past relationship. They are very important people in his life.”

Judge Stephens set bail at $1,000 cash, and appointed the state Public Defender Agency to represent Wodyga.  The next scheduled hearing in the case is April 2at 1 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan-POW Ferry Aids Seafood, Retail, Tourism

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:56

A small southern Southeast Alaska ferry line is of large value to the region’s economy. That’s according to a new report studying the Inter-Island Ferry Authority.

The authority, known as the IFA, carries about 52,000 passengers a year.

A single ferry leaves the eastern Prince of Wales Island port of Hollis each morning. It arrives in Ketchikan about three hours later, and then waits ‘til the evening to sail back.

The Inter-Island Ferry Authority ship Stikine sails through Ketchikan’s Tongass Narrows. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

A new study shows it’s an important part of the region’s economy. (Read the report.)

“No one is no more dependent on IFA’s daily timetable than those trying to get fresh or live seafood to market,” says Meilani Schijvens of Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates. She authored the report, funded by a state grant to the authority.

Schijvens says the ferry carries 3 million pounds of seafood a year, with a value of $15 million.

Researchers talked to Prince of Wales Island fishermen, divers and logistics workers for the report.

“And the businesses told us that without the IFA, they wouldn’t be in business,” Schijvens says. She says the ferry also supports seafood processors in Ketchikan.

The report says tourists and others traveling to the island spend close to $6 million a year. And islanders headed to Ketchikan purchase about $10 million in goods.

“We talked to the floor manager in Wal-Mart there and he let us know that approximately 10 percent of all of his customers are coming off the ferry. And those numbers add up,” Schijvens says.

A map of southern Southeast shows the route taken by the IFA ferry. (IFA image)

The Inter-Island Ferry Authority study also shows close to 4,000 students sailing the route in a year. About the same number traveled for medical care in Ketchikan or elsewhere.

Other details of economic and human impacts are included in the full report. (Read the report.)

“I think what it means to us is being able to explain to other people what we mean to them,” says Dennis Watson, the IFA’s general manager. He’s also mayor of Craig, the largest city on Prince of Wales.

He says it’s important to note that the ferry authority covers three-quarters of its costs through ticket sales. That‘s far more than the state ferry system, and better than its cousins in Washington state and British Columbia.

Watson says that still leaves about a $750,000 hole in the IFA’s $4 million-a-year budget.

The Parnell administration has put $500,000 in a funding bill, though there’s no guarantee it will make it through the Legislature.

Watson says some of what’s left will be raised internally.

“The board has entertained a fare increase just for adult walk-ons. The seniors and children or vehicles won’t be affected by it,” he says.

That’ll be a few dollars on top of the $46.25 one-way fare.

The Inter-Island Ferry Authority has provided Prince-of-Wales-to-Ketchikan service for about a dozen years. It also ran a northern route for a few seasons, but it didn’t attract enough passengers.

Before that, the Alaska Marine Highway System made port calls, but they were less frequent.

Report author Schijvens says that didn’t do a lot for island residents.

“They absolutely made it work for them at the time. But this is so much better, in terms of being able to have student groups travel, and to go from Prince of Wales to Ketchikan and back again during the day, and not have to get up in the middle of the night, and being able to go one way by ferry and to also come back by ferry,” she says.

Before it began, IFA critics predicted it would have to rely heavily on state funding to survive. The report says conditions have changed and the authority is doing well, given the situation.

That includes fuel costs that have risen five-fold since then and the island’s population shrinking by about a fifth.

Categories: Alaska News

Second Fat Tire Bike Race is Held in Talkeetna

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:52

Photo by Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna.

This past weekend, the second annual Mike Sterling Memorial Bike Race was held in Talkeetna.  Unlike summer events like the Clean Air Challenge or the Big Wild Ride, this race featured a type of bike specially built for ice and snow.

Fat tire bike racing has grown significantly in popularity over the last few years.  The bikes are not an uncommon sight in and around Anchorage, and more riders outside of the city are joining in.  At last weekend’s race, approximately eighty competitors pedaled their way for twenty, forty, or sixty miles on off-road trails.

The race is named in memory of Talkeetna resident Mike Sterling.  Greg Matyas, owner of race sponsor Fatback Bikes, explains how Sterling helped him plan for the first Talkeetna race before his passing in 2013.

“Mike was the sole reason for me coming up and checking out the trails, there.  He would talk non-stop about how nice it was,” Matyas said. “I had the pleasure of going up several years ago and seeing it for myself, and I agreed.”

“I spoke with Mike many times about possible courses and distances I had in mind.  He made some suggestions, and here we are.”

The race began at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, with temperatures a few degrees below zero.  By the afternoon, it had warmed up considerably, and riders who had finished were hanging out on Main Street talking about the beautiful view of Denali afforded by the race’s route as well as the good weather.

Paul Pierce of Anchorage was one of the competitors in the 60-mile division.  It is his second year competing in the event, and he had high praise for the trails and groomers.

“It was better than last year.  I came up last year and this was far better….You can definitely tell people spent a lot of time out there…real labor of love putting the trail in,” Pierce said. “It’s great.  I didn’t really know trails like this existed around Talkeetna until last year.  They’re excellent.  It would be well worth a trip up here on just about any weekend to check those trails out.”

Pierce has been riding fat tire bikes for about five years.  He says his bike, which he proudly describes as one of the original aluminum models produced by Fatback, has changed more than just recreation for him.

“I see a lot of people who are into it just for the novelty of the fat tire.  I think if you want to ride your bike up here year-round, you can’t go wrong,” Pierce said. “I was a year-round commuter for ten years, maybe.  The first five were on skinny tires.  That was commuting, and now it’s riding for fun.”

Fun on the trail is not the only aim of the race, however.  After all, Alaska is full of great wilderness rides.  Race sponsor Greg Matyas says he and his fellow sponsors like to have the race in Talkeetna because of…Talkeetna.

“The town of Talkeetna is such a fun place to visit, and it lends itself very well to putting on an event like this,” Matyas said. “One of the requirements for me for putting on the race is to end on a high note.  For me, that’s not ending in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere.  People can cross the finish line and have a beer in their hand within a minute.”

With the race beginning and ending mere feet from the door of race co-sponsor Denali Brewing Company, it’s safe to assume that many riders took the opportunity to do just that.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Men Sentenced In Shooting At Sitka’s Pioneer Bar

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:45

Sitka’s District Court has sentenced two men linked to a September shooting at Sitka’s Pioneer Bar.

Fifty-five-year-old Richard Davis will serve two months in jail for assault and misconduct involving a weapon.  Twenty-two–year-old Tyler Westlund already served five days in jail, and still owes a $1,000 fine for criminal mischief resulting in property damage. The two men were not from Sitka – Davis is from Juneau and Westlund is from Port Townsend, Washington.

The incident started in September when Davis and another man were arguing inside of the men’s restroom of the Pioneer Bar. The pair reportedly have had a longstanding-feud. According to court records, the man fled the bar when Davis pulled a gun from his waistband.

Davis fired the gun, leaving a hole in the floor. Davis then handed the gun to Westlund who ran out of the bar with it tucked in the waistband of his pants. At the time of the shooting, Police said Westlund was Davis’s deckhand on his fishing vessel.

No one was injured in the incident.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Victories, Big Problems for Buccaneer In Alaska

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:29

Since Buccaneer Energy arrived on the scene in Alaska in the summer of 2011, it has seen a few victories and a host of unexpected problems.

Thanks to incentives passed by the Alaska State Legislature and investment of taxpayer dollars in new oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet, the Australia-based company had big plans for Alaska.

A key part of the plan was the 400-foot-tall jack-up rig Endeavor, which arrived in Kachemak Bay in August of that year with the intention of getting right to work on several leases the company held throughout the inlet.

Endeavor jack-up rig. Photo by Bill Smith

It wasn’t long, however, before Endeavor became the first of many problems for Buccaneer. While the 30-year-old rig sat idle at the Homer Deepwater Dock, it was discovered that it needed many repairs. The company had to scrap plans to drill at Tyonek and the Cosmopolitan Unit while Endeavour awaited permits and inspections at the Homer harbor.

Then, during a massive windstorm in September, the Endeavor damaged the Deepwater Dock and was forced to extend its legs into 18 feet of mud in Kachemak Bay in order to stabilize the rig. Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game eventually decided that the presence of the Endeavor – even with its legs extended – did not violate provisions of the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.

In the spring of 2013, as Buccaneer prepared for a busy summer drilling season, the company’s relationship with the Homer community, which had not seen any oil and gas activity since the 1970s, suffered a setback. The City of Homer accused the company of falling more than six weeks behind in its dock payments, owing a total of more than $75,000.

At the same time, a group of local workers who had been repairing the Endeavour rig walked off the job, saying they had also not been paid in weeks. Buccaneer eventually settled its debt with the city and blamed the labor dispute on a subcontractor. That argument quickly found its way into the court system.

The Endeavour rig did eventually drill at Cosmopolitan Unit last summer, finding a gas deposit at a depth of about 4,300 feet and flaring a well at that location.

Meanwhile, Buccaneer saw some success with its onshore project at Kenai Loop, near the Kenai Wal-Mart, although the company is now locked in a legal battle with Cook Inlet Region Incorporated over whether that project was conducted properly. The two sides will go back to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for another hearing next month.

While the company struggled to meet deadlines for its work in and around Cook Inlet, Buccaneer also found itself under fire at home in Australia. An attempted board of directors’ coup was fought off last July and company CEO Curtis Burton kept his job. But the message was clear that many of Buccaneer’s shareholders were not happy with the company’s direction.

A series of capital raising efforts and selling of assets followed, with Buccaneer giving up much of its stake in several Cook Inlet leases and onshore projects.

Last December, as the company prepared to move its onshore Glacier drilling rig from Kenai to Homer, to begin work on its West Eagle project out East End Road, the shakeups continued at Buccaneer. Alaska President Jim Watt was fired, as was Vice President Allen Huckabay and Alaska Spokesperson Christina Anderson.

2014 began with Buccaneer selling off its remaining 25 percent share in the Cosmo Unit and half its interest in Kenai Offshore Ventures, the partnership between a Singapore-based investment firm and Alaska taxpayers that helped fund the purchase of the Endeavor rig.

With new loans secured, the company began work at West Eagle in January. A few weeks later, however, the company faced its latest hurdle when the only well it drilled at the location came up dry and it was forced to abandon the project.

Now, with Buccaneer Energy’s stock on the Australian Stock Exchange sitting at less than a penny per share, some shareholders are calling for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to conduct an investigation of the company’s activities.

The State of Alaska will be on the hook for much of the cost of Buccaneer’s efforts in the area.

In his latest quarterly report, Burton said the company has so far recovered $30.5 million from the state through ACES, with another $24.5 million co-invested in the Endeavor jack-up rig through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Seafoods Fined $205,000 for Ammonia Dumping

Wed, 2014-03-12 10:57

A Kodiak seafood processor has been fined over $200,000 after pleading guilty to illegally dumping 40 pounds of ammonia into the city’s sewer system in 2011. The announcement came Tuesday from U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler in Anchorage.

North Pacific Seafoods chief engineer Bill Long is scheduled to be arraigned in state court on Friday on a charge of violating the permit regulated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The count North Pacific Seafoods pled guilty to was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The company is based in Seattle and is a subsidiary of Japanese seafood giant Marubeni.

The 40-pounds of ammonia, which is used in cooling and ice making in canneries, broke the secondary treatment at the city’s sewer treatment plant, causing a violation of the city’s Clean Water Act permit.

The dumping was detected Nov. 29, 2011 and was traced by the Kodiak Public Works Department to North Pacific’s APS plant on the Kodiak Waterfront. Long initially said the ammonia dump did not come from his plant, but later admitted to the discharge.

A joint investigation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation determined that the facility had been discharging ammonia into St. Paul Harbor before and after the sewer incident.

The city of Kodiak will receive $55,000 of $205,000 fine to be used for hazardous wast response training. The terms of probation ordered by Judge Ralph Beistline also require that North Pacific Seafoods provide training for its employees at all five facilities in Alaska regarding proper handling of hazardous wastes and specifically ammonia.

Categories: Alaska News

Labor Language Reinserted In Gasline Bill

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:33

The latest version of a bill advancing a natural gas megaproject restores language concerning collective bargaining.

The Senate Finance Co-Chair Pete Kelly announced on Tuesday evening that the committee will scrap the less specific language they had planned to use when dealing with labor terms. Instead, the new version of the bill will include provisions encouraging Alaska hire and addressing “project labor agreements.” That means labor organizations will be involved in setting the wages and benefits for work on the project. Union and non-union firms could both secure contracts with the provision.

Sen. Click Bishop, a Fairbanks Republican, pushed to include the language in the bill.

“We want to make sure that as far as practicable, that the producers and the state contract with Alaska businesses,” said Bishop.

The North Slope gas project is seen as a jobs bonanza by many members of the Legislature – it would involve the construction of an 800-mile pipeline and cost at least $45 billion. The oil companies that are party to the agreement already signed off on the idea of project labor agreements when they inked a deal with the Parnell administration in January.

The Senate Finance Committee also accepted two separate amendments to the bill on Tuesday. They added a non-compete clause, which prohibits state officers involved in gasline negotiations from taking work with the other parties involved in the contract for three years after their termination date. They also specified that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation should represent the state’s interest in a natural gas liquefaction plant, rather than creating a subsidiary to do so.

The changes build on the revisions the Senate Finance Committee debuted on Monday, which include bumping the tax rate from the 10 percent proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell up to 13 percent. That would give the state 25 percent equity in the project.

The bill is expected to be sent to the Senate floor for a vote within a week.

Categories: Alaska News

High Winds Battering Iditarod Mushers During Final Stretch To Nome

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:45

2014 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey celebrates his victory in Nome. Photo by David Dodman, KNOM Radio Mission.

The 42nd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race proved to be one of the most dramatic from start to finish.   Dog teams were lost, ganglines were broken, mushers were injured – some severely.

The trail from Anchorage to Nome threw everything possible at mushers from rocks to tree stumps to hurricane force winds.

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The Iditarod is by no means easy, but even the most veteran of mushers were surprised by what they faced in this year’s race.

Before he left White Mountain, Jeff King was confident he’d set his team up for a solid 5th championship.

“My team charges into these checkpoints with more reckless abandon than many other teams do,” King said. “No matter how tired they are, they dig deep and just have to make me step on the brake to come in.”

If King’s team had been able to hold out against hurricane-force winds blowing off Norton Sound, he would have become only the second musher to win the Iditarod five times. The 58-year old would have also become the oldest musher to win and in record time, but it was not to be. The team was blown into a pile of driftwood roughly four miles out of the Safety checkpoint. King spent more than two hours trying to untangle his dogs, but they shut down and he had to ask someone on a snowmachine for help.

It’s a story this year’s second place finisher, Aliy Zirkle relayed to winner Dallas Seavey during a post-race press conference in Nome.

“So I got to Safety and the sheet was blank and I said ‘Where’s Jeff?’ they said ‘you didn’t see him?’ So we were all highly concerned about all the teams so I had two dogs I was really worried about and myself, so I said ‘to heck with it, I’m staying,’” Zirkle said. “And then some snowmachiners came in and by golly if they didn’t have Jeff on the back of the snowmachine.”

As Seavey fought his way through stiff winds toward Nome, he had no idea what was happening to the competition in front. He didn’t know King was out and he had no idea Zirkle was struggling to rework her race plan inside the Safety shelter cabin.

“It was really, really bad out there and it was the safest thing for me to do to just get my act together and not leave,” Zirkle said, chatting with Seavey. “So I took a nap, had some coffee, listened to people talk about how bad it was outside and then I saw [Seavey] go through, so I left.”

When Seavey spotted a headlamp behind him, he assumed it belonged to his father Mitch.  He thought he was racing for third place.

He came sprinting down Front Street in the wee hours of the morning, red faced and panting.  He collapsed on the back of his sled where he sat for a few minutes after his dogs crossed the line.

It’s the second time the younger Seavey has beat out Zirkle for the top spot.  It’s also the third consecutive year Zirkle has finished behind a Seavey in second place.  Dallas’s father took the win last year.  Zirkle was visibly disappointed, but she says it’s not the worst that could have happened.

“Sure yeah, hindsight blah, blah, blah, but second’s pretty good,” Zirkle said. “It’s better than scratching.”

Clearly the favorite in this year’s race, the crowd chanted her name even after she arrived in Nome.  She says that kind of support is humbling.

“Over the last eight days’ I’ve really run into the people who’ve… I’ve brought them down the trail with me in my heart and it’s very motivating,” she said.

Just over three hours after he claimed his second Iditarod championship, the younger Seavey waited for his father to finish the race in third place.  The two hugged, but Mitch Seavey had no idea his son had won.

The elder Seavey came into Nom, clearly exhausted and completely bewildered.

“We crashed and tipped and whatever countless times,” he said.

The wind is still blowing wildly out along the coast of the Bering Sea.  Teams are fighting to travel over thick, uneven glare ice without getting too close to the open ocean. The drama that ensued for the first few mushers may not be the last in Iditarod 42, as teams continue to make their way for the finish line.

Categories: Alaska News

House Committee Discusses State Of Alaska Native Law And Order

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

Tuesday, the State House Community and Regional Affairs Committee heard from several people about the sorry state of law and order for Alaska Natives. Legislators asked them why they think the state is the source of the problem, but the person in the best position to answer that question couldn’t make it to the hearing. The Attorney General had a scheduling conflict.

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Categories: Alaska News

Permitting Bill To Only Be Considered By Resources

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

Senate Resources is expected to be the only Senate committee to consider a sweeping bill that proposes changes to Alaska’s permitting system.

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A revamped version of HB77 emerged in Senate Resources on Monday. Public testimony is scheduled for Wednesday.

The bill currently has no other committee of referral. If the bill advances from Resources, Senate Majority Leader John Coghill said the intent is to send it to Rules, which schedules bills for the floor.

HB77 last year was stuck in Senate Rules after failing to win sufficient support in the Senate for a vote.

The bill is expansive, touching on issues like land exchanges and permitting procedures. Its more contentious provisions have focused on appeals, general permits and the issuance of water reservations.

Categories: Alaska News

For Self-Employed Sitkans, Health Act Makes A Difference

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

New figures from the Obama administration show more than 6500 Alaskans have enrolled in insurance plans on healthcare.gov. The deadline to sign up is March 31st. And that has prompted many Alaskans to bite the bullet and figure out what the Affordable Care Act means for them. For some commercial fishermen and others who are self-employed, what they’ve found has been a pleasant surprise.

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Back in 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld most of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, Wendy Alderson hoped the ruling would mean good things for her family.

“I know what I would hope that it would do for us, and I hope that it would basically just bring down the cost of our health insurance,” Alderson said, in an interview with KCAW in June 2012, right after the Supreme Court decision cleared the way for the Affordable Care Act to go into effect.

Alderson and her husband are commercial fishermen. They own their own boat, a combination freezer troller and longliner. And for the past decade, they have bought a very basic health insurance plan. They paid over $12,000 a year to cover themselves and their daughter. The plan had a deductible of about $2,500 per individual – meaning that’s how much they’d have to pay before the insurance kicked in.

“You know sometimes I felt like I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor because I had to pay my health insurance bills,” Alderson said.

The insurance only covered major events, like hospitalization — not preventive care or routine doctor’s appointments. In her 2012 interview, Alderson said that could be frustrating.

“It’s wondering whether you should go to the doctor or not,” she said. “It’s knowing that it’s $200 to walk into a doctor’s office, and you may or may not have a prescription that’s going to be $45 to $50.”

“You know, it’s kind of scary having a sick kid, and thinking, OK, are you sick enough to go to the doctor? Is your earache going to be gone in the morning?”

So now that the Affordable Care Act is actually going into effect, we checked in with Alderson to see if it was living up to her expectations.

And at first, Alderson actually didn’t think the act would do much for her family. In fact, she wouldn’t even have looked for a new plan, but her current insurance costs suddenly increased, from about $1100 a month to $1400 a month. All told, her family would be paying $15,000 a year just for catastrophic insurance.

“I decided I better get on the stick and look at what was available,” Alderson said.

So she logged into healthcare.gov, the new online health insurance exchange. And…

“I was astounded,” she said.

Her new plan will cost about half as much as her old one.

“Honestly, [it was] a too-good-to-be-true thing for me,” Alderson said. “It was like, wow, really?”

The new plan is actually quite similar to her old plan, but instead of paying $1400 per month, she’ll pay just $680. In total, it will cost $7,000 this year, instead of $15,000.

That’s because Alderson’s family qualifies for a tax credit. Families that make up to four times the federal poverty level can qualify for tax credits and subsidies that cover part of the cost of health insurance bought on the exchange. In Alaska, a family of three making up to about $98,000 can be eligible.

Alderson said the change is a big deal for her family.

“This is really going to help,” she said. “This last time, if we had just gone ahead and stepped it up and paid this increase, we would have been paying more for our health insurance than we would for our mortgage.”

Still, Alderson said the new system isn’t ideal. She had hoped that the act would reduce the cost of health insurance by introducing new efficiency and accountability into the world of healthcare.

“That is not the case,” she said. “The case is, the plan still costs the same, it’s [just] the government subsidizing those of us who qualify. I do understand that now, and that’s a little bit of a bummer. But I also feel that paying $700 a month for a catastrophic plan, is still a good chunk of money. I don’t feel like I’m getting anything for free. So, I’m pretty pleased.”

Sitka resident Dan Evans is also self-employed, as a photographer and home inspector. Evans hasn’t had health insurance for most of the past five or six years. For the past three years, he tried to enroll in insurance, but says he was denied because of preexisting conditions. He finally got a plan this past December. He paid $400 a month for a catastrophic plan with a $10,000 deductible.

“Really the only time you’d ever use it is if you really got hurt or sick real bad,” Evans said. “And it took me a long time to even get that.”

The issue of health insurance weighed so heavily on his mind, that he was considering giving up his photography business.

“I’ve been self-employed for 25, 30 years now,” he said. “And I actually started looking for jobs that could give me insurance, even though I don’t want them. But I just feel…I see a lot of my friends and other people when they’re getting up there. Things happen. And I just kept thinking that something might happen to me and I could have everything taken away.”

Like Alderson, Evans at first thought that the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t change anything for him. He tried navigating the health exchange website himself, and got discouraged. Then his wife heard about a program at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, in Sitka. SEARHC outreach manager Andrea Thomas has been helping people navigate the website. She worked with Evans to find a plan that will cost him just $189 a month. The deductible is $1500 dollars.

RW: Were you surprised?

DE: Way surprised. I actually said to Andrea, I said Andrea you’ve got to stand up right now, I have to give you a hug, because this is unbelievable. [[laughs]] She knew I was really happy.

Evans said the new plan is literally life-changing.

“I was checking with the city, I was checking with the state [for jobs],” he said. “And I really don’t want to do that. The only reason I was doing it is to get medical coverage! But now, I don’t have to. I can keep doing what I’m doing, and not worry anymore.”

As for Wendy Alderson, when asked what her family will do with the money they’re no longer spending on health insurance, she said: ”Pay bills! Nothing glamorous, sadly.”

“It’ll be nice to just know that I don’t have to struggle to come up with money to, you know, pay bills.”

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage’s National Archives Office Closing

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

The government’s top archivist, David Ferriero announced today the Anchorage branch of the National Archives will close this year.

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Its collection will be shipped to Seattle, where he says it will be digitized and made available to historians and researchers on the Internet.

The closure of the Third Avenue facility, along with consolidations in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, are projected to save more than $1 million a year.

The National Archives also owns a 9-acre lot in Midtown Anchorage, purchased a decade ago with the sponsorship of then-Sen. Ted Stevens. Sen.

Lisa Murkowski suggested today Archives should use money from the sale of that land to more quickly put the Alaska collection online. She also asked the national archivist to consider affiliating with an Alaska library so the documents could stay in-state.

Categories: Alaska News

Herron Asks Legislature To Support Izembek Road Campaign

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

Alaska’s legislature is still searching for ways to connect King Cove and Cold Bay by building a road through a federal wildlife refuge.

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Their latest effort is a joint resolution introduced by Aleutians representative Bob Herron. The six-page resolution urges Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reconsider a land swap plan she turned down in December.

The state of Alaska and the King Cove Corporation are still offering 61,000 acres of land. In return, they want 1,800 acres in and around the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

King Cove would build a gravel road through that parcel to the town of Cold Bay, where more reliable commercial medevacs are available.

That’s one reason why Herron calls the rejection of the land deal “heartless and cold” in his resolution. It advanced after a hearing in Alaska’s House Resources Committee Monday afternoon.

Senator Lisa Murkowski called in from Washington to offer praise.

“I think this resolution will help affirm that as Alaskans we are united in opposition to the secretary’s decision, and that we’re united to protect the health and safety of those who live in King Cove,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski has criticized the Interior Department’s approach on multiple occasions.

During her testimony, Murkowski reminded the Alaska House Resources Committee that Interior Secretary Jewell pledged to find a different solution when she rejected the road almost three months ago.

“But there has been no idea, no proposal transmitted thus far,” Murkowski said. “Not one employee that I can find at Interior has done anything to improve the situation. And each day, each day that passes, the people of King Cove are further put at risk because of a decision that our own federal government has made.”

Jewell based her ruling on testimony, studies, and site visits by Interior staff — including her own trip last summer. Jewell said the road would do irreversible damage to land and wildlife in the Izembek refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall Glacier Inspires Awe, Demands Respect

Tue, 2014-03-11 17:41

This area near the entrance of the ice cave at Mendenhall Glacier may not necessarily be the safest place to sit. Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau.

Juneau’s most popular attraction is Mendenhall Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Visitors and residents took advantage of the recent cold, clear weather to hike across a frozen lake in front of the glacier to find an ice cave. They’ve taken pictures of themselves inside of the awe -inspiring tunnel and surrounded by blue-tinted ice walls.

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Laurie Craig, a naturalist at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center, has this advice for people embarking on the mile-and-a-half hike on the frozen Mendenhall Lake out to the cave:

Just for people to be really cautious, be safe, (and) be prepared.”

The ice cave is located near the western terminus of Mendenhall Glacier. While the Forest Service is not encouraging people to visit the cave, it’s not prohibiting access either.  In case of an emergency, it will be Capital City Fire & Rescue – not the Forest Service – that will arrive on scene and try finding a victim in distress in the vast expanse of the glacial area.

It’s kind of thing that people need to be aware of, particularly those folks taking a lots of children out. Keep the children with you, be prepared for rescuing yourself because it’s very difficult for anybody else to get out there.”

Signs are posted warning visitors of the dangers of the glacier and lake ice, part of which she calls a dynamic environment.

Jason Amundson is associate professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Southeast and has researched tidewater glaciers and glacier ocean interactions. He said the cave was likely formed by a stream coming down off of Mount McGinnis.

The water is carrying heat with it and that heats goes to melting the ice. As it’s gotten bigger in the summer, there’s water running into that ice cave, but there’s also warm air that can make its way into the ice beneath the glacier.”

Another stream on the glacier surface found a fissure or crack and, over time, created the giant circular shaft or moulin that allows daylight into the far, accessible end of the cave. Amundson said it’s a fairly common feature on glaciers.

You get water running over the surface of the glacier and it drops into a crevasse. Water is more dense than ice and it wants to move downward, and so it basically drills a hole through the glacier. That’s probably just something that formed at the surface. It could’ve been there for a long time and maybe – as the glacier has moved down-valley – it’s now just right in the same spot as where that ice cave is.”

Amundson said different layers of the glacier may flow at different rates. It’s the same for the center versus the edges where friction with the ground and surrounding hills can slow the ice movement.

UAS environmental science associate professor Eran Hood believes the ice in that area may be over 200 years old.

You can see in the walls there’s a lot of subglacial sediment that’s been entrained. Some areas of the ice looks actually quite dark because there’s a lot of the sediment in there which the glacier has just picked up.”

Visitors to the glacier can be deceived by the apparent stillness and sublime beauty of the area.

The Mendenhall calves all the time, even in the winter. Craig said the five-story high, snow-covered blocks of blue ice near the western edge broke off about a week ago. Calving events can cause lake ice to undulate or even shatter over large areas.

Someone who was skiing on the lake when that happened on Thursday afternoon, he said he could feel the ripple as it rolled across the lake.”

Landslides off Mount Bullard near the eastern edge of the glacier and the slow, constant movement of the glacier could mean perpetually thin and unstable lake ice at the terminus.

Underwater currents can also erode the underside of ice-locked icebergs, causing them to unexpectedly flip or roll with a change in the center of gravity.

Laurie Craig said she will never cross the lake ice.

There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen, but you can always hear creaking and groaning because it’s continuously moving down the slope, even in the winter time. If you get a look at the terminus, you’ll see that’s just a huge jumble of great big icebergs and they’ll stay there until the lake ice thaws. But it’s indication of how much ice is falling off all the time. So, any place that people congregate, it should hopefully be on land.”

While the interior of the ice cave is located on land and several dozen feet under the glacier, the overhead ice at the entrance may only be a few feet or even several inches thick.

Eran Hood said he escorted a National Geographic photographer to the back of the cave two years ago, but he won’t take his child there.

The one dangerous place, in my view anyway, is near the entrance to the cave where you have some overhanging ice that’s pretty thin and you can actually have blocks breaking off there. I just didn’t feel like taking my five year old daughter back through there and feeling like something could fall down on us.”

Hood said the ice that’s deep inside the cave may be relatively solid, but there is always a risk of collapse.

Categories: Alaska News

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