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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: 6 min 41 sec ago

Local Researchers Find New Home As Japanese Agencies Leave

Mon, 2014-06-09 10:02

The University of Alaska Board of Regents gave their formal approval for a $4.4 million project to re-purpose the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Building on the campus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks during a regular meeting last week.

The project comes after two Japanese agencies vacated the buildings. Their absence means a loss of funding that would otherwise pay to maintain the building.

(Credit International Arctic Research Center)

How the university will make up the deficit remains a mystery as the UA system continues to struggle with an anticipated $12 to $14 million budget shortfall in the coming year.

The Akasofu building, home of the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) was constructed in 1999 as a joint venture between UAF, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology. But after 15 years, the Japanese have decided to refocus their polar research efforts and vacate the building.

“We’ve had an incredibly strong partnership with the Japanese and they’ve been giving us between $3 and 5 million a year in research support,” Larry Hinzman, IARC’s Director, said. “And they’ve been paying for half of the lease on the building, so it’s been a tremendous boon for the university and we’ve had some huge research accomplishments through our partnerships with them.”

With the Japanese agencies gone, Hinzman says other research units directly associated with the University will move in. One of those organizations is the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP).  For the last five years, SNAP has been paying more than $180,000 to lease offices off campus. Director Scott Rupp says moving into the Akasofu building means more than financial savings.

“SNAP was set up by the university as sort of a bridging entity to take a lot of our high latitude research, get it more applied and to cultivate collaboration across the institutes and schools,” Rupp said. “So we’ve been doing a lot of that already, but the really big boon is just going to be the ability to walk next door to researchers and not have to get in a car or walk.”

But savings on SNAP’s lease won’t make up for a revenue loss.  The Japanese paid for a lease that covered 60 percent of the annual upkeep costs for the Akasofu Building. In fact, they paid extra over the last decade and a half.  The unspent money was held in a reserve account that now totals more than $5 million. More than half of that will pay to renovate offices for SNAP personnel. The rest will be reimbursed.

Hinzman says IARC will have to find other ways to cover maintenance in the future.

“Our researchers have been focusing on getting other external research funds, so we’ve been doing a lot more proposals to NSF, a lot more proposals to the department of energy, and NASA and the USGS, and so we are seeking other ancillary funds through external funding agencies,” he said. “So yeah we are making it up. And it is going to hurt us, we’re losing, just this year we’re going to lose $3.5 million from the Japanese support for research. And so that’s hard to absorb. It’s going to hurt us but it’s not going to kill us.”

The renovation is scheduled to start in September, with completion slated for early 2015. Once moved, SNAP will join three other research organizations that focus on climate assessment, policy and fire science in the Akasofu building.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Fisheries Money Heads to Senate

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:05

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a spending bill that includes more than $150 million for federal programs important to Alaska’s fishing industry and marine navigation.

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It includes $4 million for electronic monitors for the fishing fleet. Alaska fishermen on small boats have asked for cameras as a substitute for some of the human observers that record catch data. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told her colleagues electronic monitors will allow the mission to continue while “recognizing that our small fishermen just simply cannot put another body on their boat as they’re out working.”

The bill also includes $25 million for sonar mapping of coastlines, with an emphasis on the need for more data on the Bering Straits and the Arctic. It has $6 million for removing marine debris, especially debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami that washed up on federal land.

The bill funding commerce, justice and science programs passed the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. Both Alaska senators sit on that committee, and Murkowski sits on the subcommittee that drafted the bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Kerttula Takes Ocean Policy Job In Obama Administration

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:04

Former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula has joined the Obama Administration as Director of the National Ocean Council Office.

Since January, Kerttula has been a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions. She was appointed to the federal job on Wednesday and is already at work in Washington, D.C.

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Photo by Skip Gray – Gavel to Gavel.

The job was announced in an email to her Stanford colleagues, where Kerttula has been working on ocean issues. She has described her role there as a conduit between state legislatures and science policy makers, bringing them together to discuss ocean policies. In that job, she had worked with the National Ocean Council.

President Obama established the council by executive order in 2010. Kerttula will lead the office that supports it.

Former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho says it’s a perfect fit for Kerttula, who was a coastal zone management lawyer in the law department when Botelho was AG.

“Given her background as a lawyer for the state, her years of involvement with coastal zone management in representing statewide council, but also being intimately involved in developing the regulatory and statutory scheme, she has the clear legal expertise in the area,” he says.

Botelho says her political experience also gives her a unique perspective for the federal job.

Kerttula represented Juneau in the state legislature for 15 years. She authored the first cruise ship pollution legislation in Alaska. In her last term, the district grew to include Petersburg, Gustavus and Skagway. During her tenure she served on several national boards dealing with environmental and coastal policy, including the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.

Kerttula will be in the National Ocean Policy job for a year, with the option of continuing through the end of Obama’s term. Botelho says it can only benefit Alaska.

“I expect that Beth, not only having the responsibility of translating national policy around the country including to Alaska, will be serving as someone who can convey the issues that are directly impacting Alaska and what that means for the country as a whole,” he says.

Alaska boasts the largest coastal area in the U.S., but is currently the only state that does not have a coastal management program. In 2012, Kerttula worked on the failed citizens’ initiative to restore the Alaska Coastal Management Program. The Alaska Legislature in 2011 did not re-authorize the program.

Categories: Alaska News

AEA Holds Public Meetings In Upper Valley, Anchorage

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:03

This week, the Alaska Energy Authority held public meetings in the Upper Valley and Anchorage to discuss the plans for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition to AEA’s updates on the progress and plans for the megaproject, opponents to the dam expressed continuing concerns.

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Both the Talkeetna and Anchorage meetings began with a presentation by Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana.  He says that the Susitna Dam remains a key part of the state’s goal for fifty percent of Alaska’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.  Wayne Dyok says that, while AEA is interested in wind and other alternative energy projects, that the large dam would provide stability to the overall grid.

“Without having some kind of resource, like a hydro, it’s difficult to put that into the system and still have a stable electric system.  We also want reliable energy, and sustainable energy, and energy that’s clean.”

Wayne Dyok says that the Susitna-Watana Project would also have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Susitna-Watana would displace about 1.3 million tons of CO2, annually.  That’s actually a pretty significant number.  That’s equal to the emissions of about half the cars that are registered in the State of Alaska.”

AEA refers to Susitna-Watana as, “Clean, reliable energy for the next 100 years,” on nearly all of its distributed materials.  It also claims that the long-term price of energy would stabilize, then drop with Susitna-Watana.  AEA’s estimates show the cost of natural gas generation catching up to the price of power from the dam about twelve years after completion, in 2036. It says the price of power from Susitna would then drop sharply in 2052, after the project would ostensibly be paid off.

Those cost estimates have met with some challenge, however.  In 2012, Dr. Steve Colt, of the Institute of Economic Research at the University of Alaska in Anchorage said that the initial cost of power when the dam comes online will be significantly higher than what AEA estimates.  That study was brought up at the Talkeetna meeting.  Wayne Dyok says that the different results are a product of different assumptions regarding the financing of the project.

“We looked at his study, and we looked at some of the assumptions that he did.  We gave him our information, so he actually has what we put–and the model should give you the same thing.  If you put the same inputs, the model should be the same.”

Many of the comments from the crowd of eighty-plus in the Upper Susitna Valley centered around environmental concerns.  Fish habitat, seismic activity,caribou migration, and other topics that have consistently been brought up as concerns were reiterated by residents of the communities that would be downstream from the project if it is built.  Many of those questions were answered by the members of the project team that were also in attendance.

A few members of the audience also challenged the reliability of the material that AEA is sending to the general public.  One those is Molly Wood, a member of the Chase Community Council.  She specifically referenced a graphic that shows fish passage up to and beyond the proposed dam site.  She says the way the information is presented is incomplete and misleading.

“That really makes it looks like there aren’t any fish in this river, and you know–you’ve had much feedback, already.  That continues to show up at all of these meetings, and it’s being sent out in pamphlet form all over Alaska.  It misrepresents the results of your studies, number one, and you’re drawing very premature conclusions about potential impact.”

Other members of the audience, such as Ellen Wolff, challenged the fact that they see AEA as promoting the dam’s environmental impact and utility as a foregone conclusion as opposed to coming to a decision after all of the studies have been completed.  Her view is that advertisements and other materials are more sales pitch than science.

“[You] put it in all the newspapers, and it must have been very expensive.  They made the public think like this was a done deal.  It’s very promotional.  That was not waiting for the data.  You have fancy little water bottles that say “SuWa.”  You’re doing these meetings that, to me, seem promotional.”

Wayne Dyok says that AEA is using those tools primarily as a means to convey information to the public, and that all of the current study data is available in the Initial Study Report released this Tuesday.  That report includes over 8,600 pages of information from the fifty-eight studies required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

At a similar meeting on Wednesday in Anchorage, AEA faced many of the same environmental questions as in Talkeetna from an audience of about fifty.  Nobody in the audience rose to speak in favor of the megaproject at either meeting.

AEA plans to conduct studies this summer, despite budget cuts, and field work is scheduled to continue through 2015. If all goes to plan, construction would begin on the project in 2019.  That is all contingent on receiving the $90 million in funds that AEA says are necessary to complete the pre-licensing process.  With legislative attention shifting to a gas pipeline, and with the project receiving less than half of the total funds requested by Governor Sean Parnell this year, however, that is far from a certainty.

Categories: Alaska News

Indignant JDHS Alum Rallies Stanford Campus Around Rape Case

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:02

Sarai Gould and Chelsea Green at a rally on the Stanford University campus raising awareness about sexual assault and supporting Leah Francis. Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy Sarai Gould.)

Until this week, Leah Francis was probably best known as an Alaska distance running champ from her days at Juneau-Douglas High School.

That all changed after she went public saying she was forcibly raped by a fellow Stanford University undergraduate while in Juneau.

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Leah Francis came out as a rape survivor, and as an activist indignant over Stanford University’s in-house adjudication process.

“No one wants to do the Alternate Review Process, it’s super-traumatizing. I mean, it, it, it drags out, it’s mishandled.”

The university panel formally concluded the male student did sexually assault Francis. The decision was based on a university investigation and statements from both sides, according touniversity documents via The Stanford Daily.

The university has kept the male student’s name confidential, and Francis declined to name him; she wants to keep the focus on the bigger issues.

Like the university’s consequence for rape. The panel recommended 40 hours of community service, a sexual assault awareness education class and a five quarter suspension. That suspension wouldn’t take effect until the summer, which Francis says, is after her assailant graduates.

It’s a slap on the wrist, she says, that “invites my rapist back to campus” for grad school.

“In the end, you have a sense of futility. Like, you’ve, you’ve spent, you know, months of your life, reliving one of the worst nights of your life and you don’t get anything out of it.”

She emailed out her story on Tuesday, and has been riding the wave of support since. Thursday night, she said, “I haven’t eaten today, and haven’t slept in 48 hours.”

Earlier, Francis had led hundreds of students in a campus rally and protest to raise awareness about sexual assault and to demand reforms. They want mandatory expulsion for sexual assault, as well as better resources for victims.

Students yelled in unison for administrators to “Stand with Leah.” They plastered campus surfaces with posters and signs incorporating the #StandWithLeah hashtag, and blew it up on Twitter.

“This was awesome, I mean, today was more healing for me than anything that’s happened since I was raped.”

And, she’s gotten a lot of media attention.

“So I communicated with BuzzFeed, with Huffington Post, with the New York Times … I just can’t even keep track of them all. … L.A. Times, Palo Alto WeeklyStanford Daily.”

Francis says a criminal case is also open with the Juneau Police Department; the incident happened in Juneau early on New Year’s Day. She says she was in no condition to consent when it began — drunk and unconscious. Police could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Categories: Alaska News

Volunteers Still Searching For Missing Juneau Hiker

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:01

The volunteer search table is located behind the Mt. Roberts Tramway building. Volunteers are needed. The team will meet up Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Volunteers can also contact Luke Holton on Facebook. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KT

Luke Holton doesn’t know 48-year-old Sharon Buis, but he’s helping to organize the volunteer search effort that started Wednesday, less than one week after Alaska State Troopers called off the official search.

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“I’m an outdoorsman myself and I understand if I was out here in the cold, I wouldn’t want anyone to give up on me,” he says.

Holton and other volunteers have set up a search table at the bottom of the Mt. Roberts Tramway and meet there each morning.

On Wednesday, three teams of three searched Granite Creek Basin and Perseverance Trail, getting off the trail as much as possible when safe to do so.

Thursday afternoon, Holton was on top of Mt. Roberts, along with six other volunteers. They hiked to Icy Gulch and are sending skiers there by helicopter Friday.

These areas were covered extensively during the five-day search led by the Alaska State Troopers. But Holton says there’s no reason to give up hope of finding some sort of clue.

“It’s unlikely that we’ll find anything too positive at this point, but for the family’s sake, we want to keep looking no matter what we find,” Holton says.

Holton met with Buis’s brother and sister-in-law who came to Juneau from Ontario, Canada. He says they left Thursday but asked to be kept updated on the search.

One of Buis’s hiking friends said Buis owned a yellow backpack. It’s an unofficial lead, Holton says, but it’s something to look for. He hopes the volunteers can find anything that will restart the official search.

“The best option we would have is to find some of her personal property up here or anything else,” Holton says. “The further we go in, the less tracks you’re going to find in the snow, so once we get past Icy Gulch and you find tracks on the gulch or tracks on the peak of Gastineau, that could potentially also be enough evidence.”

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says a decision to start searching again will be based on what’s found.

“It’s going to be evaluated based on what is located and if we can confirm it belonged to Ms. Buis or not. Certainly if they find something and it is identified as one of her possessions, it gives us a new place to look,” Peters says.

Buis is in the Alaska State Troopers Missing Persons Clearinghouse, a database for law enforcement only. Peters says any missing person in Alaska is entered into the database and stays there until they are found dead or alive.

She says a volunteer search group could help close a missing persons case.

“Troopers can’t always be everywhere. There are a lot of things that we have to go and put our attention to and our resources towards. Certainly with search and rescue cases, we want them to have a positive resolution. And finding somebody even if they’re deceased at that point, at least we can provide some type of closure. We can return them to their families,” Peters says.

When Troopers called off the search and rescue effort May 29, Juneau Police Department took over the case. Spokeswoman Erann Kalwara says detectives started working on it this week.

“The detective has started reaching out to the missing person’s friends and her family, just discussing things that had been going on in her life, talking about where they think she might be, if they have any ideas of any lead that he could investigate, just trying to ensure that if she was hiking and she went missing, that that’s truly what happened,” Kalwara says.

She says they have no reason to believe anything suspicious occurred although they haven’t ruled anything out.

Juneau police are in the process of collecting Buis’s dental and medical information to enter into a database of the National Crime Information Center.

Kalwara also says there’s no information to connect Buis’s case with Sandra Gelber, the 61-year-old woman who died May 4 after being found in the water off Salmon Creek Trail. Both women were physical therapists and both cases are linked to hiking trails.

Buis has been missing since May 24. When she didn’t show up for a planned group hike with the Juneau Alpine Club that morning, a friend reported her missing. Buis was last seen May 23.

The volunteer search effort for Buis continues this weekend. Community members interested in helping should meet at the bottom of Mt. Roberts Tramway at 9 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And look for Luke Holton’s messages on the Facebook group Juneau Buy ~ Sell ~ Trade.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 6, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:00

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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Federal Fisheries Money Heads to Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a spending bill that includes more than $150 million for federal programs important to Alaska’s fishing industry and marine navigation. It includes $4 million for electronic monitors for the fishing fleet. Alaska fishermen on small boats have asked for cameras as a substitute for some of the human observers that record catch data.

Kerttula Takes Ocean Policy Job In Obama Administration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Former Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula has joined the Obama Administration as Director of the National Ocean Council Office.

AEA Holds Public Meetings In Upper Valley, Anchorage

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The Alaska Energy Authority held public meetings in the Upper Valley and Anchorage this week to discuss the plans for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition to AEA’s updates on the progress and plans for the megaproject, opponents to the dam expressed concerns.

Indignant JDHS Alum Rallies Stanford Campus Around Rape Case

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Until this week, Leah Francis was probably best known as an Alaska distance running champ from her days at Juneau-Douglas High School.

That all changed after she went public saying she was forcibly raped by a fellow Stanford University undergraduate.

Volunteers Still Searching For Missing Juneau Hiker

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

It’s been just over a week since Alaska State Troopers called off the search for missing Juneau hiker Sharon Buis. But a group of volunteers have taken on the effort and are still looking.

Chitina Dip Net Salmon Fishery Opens At Midnight

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Chitina Subdistrict Dip Net Salmon Fishery opens at midnight.  Dip netters can expect to see plenty of fish during the first opening.

Video Collars Provide Polar Bears’ Point Of View

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are using new video collars to get a glimpse into the daily life of polar bears.

AK: Police Dogs

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Dog owners know the challenges of dog training… the difficulties in getting their pet to stop jumping up on people, or barking. Police dogs have to excel at those basic tasks and then go beyond to meet a remarkable level of obedience.

300 Villages: Togiak

This week, we’re heading to Togiak, on Bristol Bay. Daryl Thompson is city administrator for the city of Togiak.

Categories: Alaska News

Chitina Dip Net Salmon Fishery Opens At Midnight

Fri, 2014-06-06 16:00

The Chitina Subdistrict Dip Net Salmon Fishery opens at midnight. Dip netters can expect to see plenty of fish during the first opening.

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Categories: Alaska News

Video Collars Provide Polar Bears’ Point Of View

Fri, 2014-06-06 15:59

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are using new video collars to get a glimpse into the daily life of polar bears.

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Researchers have been using radio and GPS collars since the 1980s to track polar bears’ movements along the Arctic sea ice. But, that data lacks a lot of contextual and observational information that allows for a better understanding of the bears.

Anthony Pagano, a research biologist with USGS, says these new collars were deployed in April on four female bears along the sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay.

“We can start to get a much more in-depth understanding of how bears are using these different habitats,” he said. “Potentially how often they’re eating, and get an understanding of how much time they spend walking, how much time they spend swimming, how much time they spend resting – which is information we really don’t have that much knowledge about now.”

Pagano hopes the new information will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of how polar bear behaviors might change with different sea ice conditions and other environmental patterns.

The cameras were on the bears for a little over a week and gathered between 30 and 40 hours of footage each, which scientists are still sorting through.

Clips released by the USGS show bears swimming under the sea ice, eating a seal, and interacting with potential mates.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Police Dogs

Fri, 2014-06-06 15:58

Dog owners know the challenges of dog training – first to get them housebroken, then to stop jumping on people or perhaps to pull on their harness on command. But police dogs have to meet a remarkable level of obedience. KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus recently met up with Aerie, a police dog with the Anchorage Police Department, and his handler in an Anchorage parking lot, and has this story.

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Aerie’s sitting on the asphalt, alert and focused on his handler and the thick rubber stick Anchorage Police Officer Lonnie Brown is holding in both hands.

(Photo by the Anchorage Police Department)

“So I’ll give the command to… see he’s looking at the toy right now,” Officer Brown said. “And I’ll give him the command that he can have it, which is the free command. Free! So he’s biting the toy right now.”

Aerie tries to try to rip it from his grasp.

Brown tosses the toy a couple dozen feet away, and frees Aerie to go after it. Then he gives the “Stop!” command. Aerie stops in his tracks. Then, on command, Aerie walks backwards away from the toy.

Brown has been a handler in the Anchorage Police Department’s K-9 unit for almost 15 years. His 2-and-a-half-year-old K-9 partner Aerie is black and brown. You can see a few of Aerie’s ribs, which Brown says is a sign Aerie’s at just the right weight for a Belgian Malinois.

“Belgian Malinois’s are considered… they kind of look like a shepherd but they’re real skinny,” Brown said. “But they have the play drive and the activity drive of a Dalmation. So they’re really an active dog.”

Along with that high drive, Brown says, police dogs have to have the right personality or character – a strong hunting and chasing instinct, and loyalty. They need to be obedient to a fault, but also independent enough to work alone and to make certain decisions.

“If you became aggressive and you shoved me right now, he’d automatically bite you,” Brown said. “Because that’s a trained behavior, because you became aggressive toward the handler, or aggressive toward another police officer.”

Brown says Aerie’s trained to track people through scents on the ground. Aerie has tracked down several suspects – his latest, for example, was finding a burglar who had fled and hidden behind a wooden box – and apprehended two in his year and a half in service, including a man who took a shot at a police officer. Brown says Aerie is trained to take a flying leap to get the suspect on the ground.

“If a dog apprehends somebody when they’re running away, and hits them high center of mass, between the shoulder blades, it will force the suspect to the ground,” Brown said. “Because you know you have a 70-pound dog, going certain miles per hour, launching through air, it will topple somebody over.”

Brown says once the dog launches, it’s trained to bite the suspect. It sometimes gets an arm or leg, but it’s trained to bite in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

“Because there’s not a big muscle group there,” he said. “Not a lot of injury is inflicted by that. They can’t really get hold of any bones and break them.”

But if the suspect stands still, or is passive, Brown says Aerie is trained to hold them in place and bark. He’s also trained to bark when he finds a suspect, and to not bark on command.

“So say you have him barking at a door, and you gave commands for the guy to give up,” he said. “And you want to see if the guy’s going to answer you back, you don’t want this dog to bark. So you give the command down and quiet.”

“So I’ll give him the command to bark, and to be quiet, which is the command ‘still.’ Give it up!”

Aerie pulls the wind sock off my microphone! He thinks it’s a toy. Brown gives the rubber stick to him, who looks pretty pleased as he chews on it. Judging by its tattered look, he’s made some progress in tearing the tough toy to pieces, which is not surprising since the Belgian Malinois can exert hundreds of pounds of force through its jaws, another characteristic of the breed that makes it a favorite for police work.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Togiak

Fri, 2014-06-06 15:57

This week, we’re heading to Togiak, on Bristol Bay. Daryl Thompson is city administrator for the city of Togiak.

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Categories: Alaska News

Proposition 1

Fri, 2014-06-06 12:00

Alaska’s budget is based on oil taxes, and the Legislature changed the oil tax structure last year to allow the industry more income when prices are high. In August Alaska’s voters are being asked whether they want to repeal that change.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Senator Bert Stedman, Republican from Sitka
  • Former Governor Tony Knowles
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

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

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Court Says Alaska Must Translate Election Materials Into Alaska Native Languages

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:23

A federal judge says the constitutional right to vote requires the state of Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English proficiency.

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The Anchorage Daily News says U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason plans to conduct a 10-day trial this month in a voting rights lawsuit brought by several Native villages and elders with limited English skills.

Gleason denied requests for summary judgment yesterday (Wednesday). She also laid out her standard for the trial, saying that the state is obligated to match all English materials including pamphlets, instructions and ballots with Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations.

Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar is representing the state in the case, and she says the state will have to prove that its translation efforts measure up to those terms.

“That is the statutory rubric that Judge Gleason has laid out for the parties at trial,” Bakalar said. “She hasn’t made any findings at all about what our program is or does.”

The lawsuit alleges the state is violating language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act by not providing election materials in their Native languages.

The state defends its Native languages program as robust.

APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

What Do The EPA’s New Carbon Rules Mean For Alaska?

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:22

Alaska utilities and policymakers are puzzling over President Obama’s proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants and what the rules would mean for Alaska. Around the country, the proposal is viewed as a push to get states to clean up their coal plants, but that may not be the easiest way for Alaska to meet its target.

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Look around the state for big carbon dioxide emitters and it’s easy to point the finger at Fairbanks. Southeast Alaska is largely dependent on hydropower and Southcentral has natural gas. But in Fairbanks and other parts of the Interior, about a third of the electricity comes from coal. Cory Borgeson, CEO of Golden Valley Electric Association told KUAC this week its rate-payers should expect higher bills if it has to install new emission controls.

“You go in and put in additional controls to take out CO2, or limit those emissions, and – it’s just hard to speculate on the cost,” Borgeson said. “But, ultimately, it’s a big cost.”

If the rules go into effect, Alaska would have to cut carbon emissions from power production 26 percent by 2030. But Fairbanks isn’t in this alone. The state would have to develop a plan to meet its carbon target, and Chris Rose, executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project, says clamping down on smokestacks is just one option.

“There are tremendous opportunities both on the efficiency and the generation sector for electricity that would be applicable to a state implementation plan,” Rose said.

The EPA target is a reduction in carbon intensity, the rate of carbon production per megawatt of power, not the amount of emissions. Without touching Fairbanks’s coal plants, Alaska, Rose says, could lower its carbon intensity by adding more hydro or wind power, or maybe with geothermal and tidal generation. The regulations also give credit for cutting demand. Rose
says the state’s ongoing initiative to make buildings more energy efficient will help.

“The public buildings the state owns, over 5,000 buildings, currently have a mandate to be retrofitted … by 2020,” Rose said.

Alaska Energy Authority Deputy Director Gene Therriault says his organization is still studying the proposed regulations, but he says the pressure to cut carbon would clearly fall on the Railbelt.
The diesel-fired generators in the Bush are too small to be included in the carbon regulations. He wonders whether the federal government would accept an Alaska plan that doesn’t reduce coal plant emissions.

“We’re not sure yet exactly how the EPA is going to apply these rules, if it is just a blended, emissions per mega-watt generated,” Therriault said.

One thing on Therriault’s to-do list is to calculate how far Alaska has already come in meeting the target, with wind generation and improved efficiency. Therriault says the Susitna-Watana dam, still in the application phase, would also move the state toward the target. Alaska’s energy policy, signed by Gov. Parnell, calls for producing 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2025. Therriault says if that comes to pass, Alaska would likely meet its EPA carbon goal, five years ahead of schedule.

“Yeah I think if we did meet that goal by and large that would put us into compliance,” Therriault said.

He says upgrading the Railbelt’s transmission lines would also help. With expanded capacity, Therriault says the utilities could move electricity around more efficiently, add wind generation and accept power from independent producers, although it would cost some $900 million.

“Very positive cost-benefit analysis, even if Susitna does not get built, but that more robust transmission system would mean that more energy could be sourced from cleaner, lower-cost sources in the Railbelt,” Therriault said.

You can expect to hear a lot more about the carbon rules as Election Day nears.

“Yesterday, President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan.”

In Washington, Republican groups immediately saw carbon as the new healthcare, a controversial Obama policy to hang on the necks of Democratic senators they hope to oust in November. This is a robocall the National Republican Senatorial Committee is running against Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and against Democrats in three other states.

“It’s not surprising Mark Begich stands by Barack Obama’s costly regulation…”

Begich says he wants to make sure the state has the flexibility the EPA is promising, but he’s not condemning the proposed carbon rules.

“At least at this point it seems to us, it does not affect rural Alaska in anyway, and second as you know the goal of the state is to get 50 percent renewable energies by 2025, so it’s very possible we’re already on the way,” Begich said.

Alaska’s Republican delegates to Congress, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young, both say the regulations are likely to hurt the economy.

Categories: Alaska News

Company Operating Red Dog Mine May have to pay Fine Over Wastewater Pipeline

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:21

The Canadian company that operates the Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska says it won’t build a pipeline to carry wastewater away from the mine site to the Chukchi Sea—now a court will decide if the company must pay a fine laid out in a 2008 lawsuit settlement.

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Categories: Alaska News

NPFMC Meets in Nome; Bering Sea Pollock Remains Flat, Chinook Bycatch Is Up

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:20

After days of scientific subcommittees, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had its first round of meetings Wednesday in Nome. The Council heard reports from fisheries across the North Pacific.

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When it comes to Bering Sea pollock, catches remain flat. Glenn Merrill, an Assistant Regional Administrator for the Council, said this year’s catch is “almost identical to what it was last year at this time.”

But the Chinook bycatch within the pollock fishery is higher than last year’s rates—a major issue as subsistence fishermen along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers face unprecedented restrictions in anticipation of one of the worst king salmon runs on record.

Merrill reported, “The total Chinook salmon bycatch last year at this time last year was 8,237 fish. And the current Chinook salmon bycatch is 11,536. The rates are slightly higher this year for that same metric tonnage.”

Merrill also said, halibut bycatch is also higher—by about 12-percent—this year.

On the Russian side of the Strait, pollock fisheries are in full swing as well. Coast Guard Capt. Phillip Thorne said the Russian pollock fishery opened on May 15 of this year. Seven vessels are operating within 20 nautical miles of the maritime boundary line. Thorne said the Coast Guard patrolled the line May 29 through 31 and is continuing to send out patrol ships and aircraft as the season progresses.

As for other species in the Bering Sea, snow crab were slightly down. Karla Bush with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the season ended about two weeks earlier than it had in the past.

When the floor opened for public comment, representatives from At-Sea Processors Association, United States Seafood, and Glacier Fish Company asked the Council to reapportion 100 metric tons of halibut bycatch for this year. The representatives said the measure would help “maximize” catches of yellowfin sole and cod. The representatives said fisheries could enter a voluntary agreement to capture 60-percent of the reapportion and leave 40-percent in the water for future savings. The Council said it will examine this request on Saturday at 1:00 pm.

The Council continues its meetings in Nome today at the Mini Convention Center. Today’s two topics are the Observer Program for Tendering and Electronic Monitoring.

Categories: Alaska News

NPFMC Looking to Reduce Salmon Bycatch

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:19

This morning an advisory panel of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council heard public testimony on proposed policy changes to salmon bycatch. The panel makes recommendations to the governing board of the council, which is meeting this week in Nome.

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Chinook runs are down. The pollack fishery bycatches tens of thousands of these salmon every year. And the North Pacific Fishery Marine Management Council is seeking ways to reduce those numbers.

The Council is meeting in Nome this week, and Tuesday the Scientific and Statistical Committee, which advises the Council, heard a presentation on salmon bycatch management.

Three years ago, the Council implemented a Chinook bycatch program. Diana Stram is a Fishery Analysis for the Council and said since 2011 the Council has been “struggling to either fold their Chum bycatch management…into the existing program” or to create a new program for Chum.

Explaining the issue Stram said, “We found that any measure that we layered on top of the same fishery for Chum tended to make the Chinook bycatch worse. And since the purpose was never to exacerbate a problem in an existing program by layering another measure, the Council took a step back and decided to consider them together.”

Stram said the Council is considering “whether to move forward with an analysis that would change how Chum salmon bycatch is managed” and whether to modify Chinook bycatch regulations.

When the floor opened to public testimony, the demand was to include the impact of bycatch on subsistence in that analysis.

Brandon Ahmasuk is the Subsistence Resource Director at Kawerak and a lifelong subsistence user. To support salmon bycatch reduction, Ahmasuk explained, “Subsistence users’ diet is composed 80-percent of fish. Now the subsistence user is being asked to lower their diet of fish to 20-percent or less. These are areas where supermarkets aren’t readily available. These people, they do live off the land.”

Ahmasuk said while the pollack fishery is allowed to waste tens of thousands of salmon, the subsistence user “bears the burden of conservation” when gear restrictions are imposed and rivers shut down because of low runs.

Rose Fosdick is the Vice President for Natural Resources at Kawerak. She said the low runs go beyond reducing the subsistence users ability to feed themselves and restricts their ability to continue their culture.

Fosdick explained, “the knowledge of biology, the knowledge of processing, the knowledge of respect for elders and for the environment is being lost without the opportunity to have fresh salmon to work with.”

The public asked the Committee to gather more scientific data on why runs are declining in the Norton Sound and to collect surveys on how bycatch affects subsistence users throughout rural Alaska.

As a mitigation measure for the low runs, Tim Smith with the Norton Sound Regional Aquaculture Association proposed activating a local hatchery. The Committee also suggested investigating an incentive-based system to reduce bycatch.

Categories: Alaska News

Shipwrecks Take Long Path To Cleanup

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:18

Photo by Jennifer Shockley.

An abandoned crab vessel will finally be pulled off the beach in Unalaska, more than seven months after it ran aground. But, the Arctic Hunter isn’t the only wreck that’s been waiting on a cleanup.

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When the Arctic Hunter hit the rocks, it was four a.m. the morning after Halloween. Hardly anyone was there to see it — except for a few cameras, from the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.”

A recent episode showed the Arctic Hunter’s accident:

Narrator: ”The distress calls echoes across the fleet. And the closest boat capable of a rescue–”

Elliott Neese: “Uh, we need to get a life sling ready to pull guys out of the water.”

Narrator: “–is Captain Elliott Neese, of the 107-foot Saga.”

Neese and his crew helped evacuate the stranded fishermen on TV. But we don’t see what happened to their vessel. Until recently, the answer was, “nothing.”

But at the end of May, a salvage company signed a contract to remove what’s left of the Arctic Hunter. Dan Magone is with Resolve Magone Marine Services.

Magone: “Just a matter of having the divers go down and torch holes in it to rig cables to it, so we can pull it out of there.”

Once they drag the wreck away, Magone says his crew will clean up boat debris that’s been washing up on Unalaska’s beaches. It’s been a big concern for locals.

But Magone says you can’t blame the whole mess on just one vessel.

Magone: “If there’s urethane foam and fiberglass, and you know, flotsam and jetsam, it’s not necessarily from the Arctic Hunter.”

It could be from the Chaos — another fishing boat that ran aground near Unalaska last fall, and is still sitting on the beach today.

Magone says he’s removed a lot of shipwrecks in southwest Alaska over the years.

Magone: ”You know, I’ve done virtually all of them out here. And I’ve not seen any of them get delayed as long as these two, considering that they both had adequate insurance.”

It turns out there are a lot of reasons for the delay. Insurance is one of them.

When a fishing vessel sinks or runs aground, the insurance company pays for the cleanup. And they also hire the crew that’s going to do it.

It can get complicated if there’s more than one insurance company involved, though. Magone says two insurers had to look over the Arctic Hunter case before they were ready to take bids from salvage crews.

There were also multiple insurers for the Chaos. Jack McFarland was hired to help them coordinate the salvage contract. He says they decided pretty early on to use Magone’s shop in Unalaska.

But after that, McFarland says things stalled out.

McFarland: “Obviously the salver was pretty busy on many other projects, and we eliminated the pollution immediately from the vessel.”

That’s mandated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. But once the oil and fuel is removed, the threat to the environment goes way down. If the responsible parties keep in touch with the state, they can take their time getting the rest of the wreck cleaned up.

Both vessels took a beating over the winter — the Arctic Hunter and the Chaos, which is the case Jack McFarland’s been working on.

McFarland: ”And in a way, it being broken apart might be a little easier at this stage than not, because the risk of assets initially was a concern. The approach is pretty rocky and dangerous. The weather would have to be very stable.”

It would have been a tough job no matter what, and that translates to higher costs. McFarland says that the insurance company probably did save some money by waiting to move the Chaos off the beach.

McFarland: “It wasn’t done on purpose. It just happened to be the way this one shook out.”

It hasn’t fully shaken out yet. There’s still no deal in place to get the Chaos cleaned up. But Dan Magone says that won’t matter to his salvage company.

When they start working on the Arctic Hunter wreck later this month, they’ll have to pick up all the debris they find to meet the state’s standards for clean beaches — regardless of which vessel it came from.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough School District Seeks Pre-K Funds

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:17

The Matanuska-Susitna School District’s pre-school program is in jeopardy. “Widening the Net” brings pre-kindergarten education into selected district schools, but school funding reductions may force the district to shut down the innovative program in the fall.

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School district officials vow to continue the program on a reduced basis, if a state grant does not come through in time.

The merits of pre-school education are obvious to teachers of young children.

Students who attend high quality pre-school are more likely to succeed not only in school but to graduate from high school,” Kelly McBride, one of the teachers who spoke up at a recent Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting, said.

But next day’s news headlines trumpeted how the Assembly shot down a move to give $350,000 in Borough funds to its school district to help continue its public pre-school program. Mat-Su School Superintendent Deena Paramo says keeping “Widening the Net” in the seven communities it has been serving now depends on whether or not the district wins a state grant.

“If we don’t receive those funds, then we won’t continue them,” Paramo said. “Because there is not a funding stream if those funds don’t come through.”

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbis says that the private sector can fill the need for pre-school. But many parents in the Borough can’t afford to pay for pre-K and having the school district provide it is a boon to hard working couples. The issue at hand is not about the merits of formal education programs for four year olds, but, “who is going to pay for them?” Paramo says, ultimately, the public will, one way or another.

“We want kids to have the best advantage they can have when they get to kindergarten. If they don’t have the skills needed, they are coming to the school district anyway,” Paramo said. “And the school district and all of those public funds will pay for that child in the end if they are behind or on grade level either for remediation or not. And so, to me, I look at it as, what is the biggest impact we can give in student learning for the most effective rate, and certainly, pre-school has a place in there.”

Paul Sugar, who heads the state department of education’s pre-K program, says there is $2 million in this year’s education budget to fund pre-K programs within school districts. Sugar says the state encourages district’s which apply for the funds to partner with private pre-schools.

“We were looking at ways to expand services to more folks, and if possible and to build partnerships so that we would see the strengths of other programs being infused in to school districts, and the strengths that the district offers being infused into the other works of the partners,” Sugar said.

Paramo says that Mat-Su’s school district partners with Palmer’s Head Start program.

Last year, the state money helped eight school districts in Alaska fund pre-K programs. Sugar says state money pays for between two and three hundred students enrolled in public pre-schools each year. This is the sixth year that state money has been available for such programs.

The Mat-Su program for the seven pre-K’s cost $650,000 this past school year, according to Lucy Hope, the district’s student support services director.

The Mat-Su’s pre-school program has just finished its second year. But that is time enough for the now kindergarteners and first graders to be monitored for their progress, according to Hope.

“We measure all of our kindergarteners at the beginning of kindergarten in their literacy skills, and then we measure actually, all children throughout the school year,” Hope said. “And we have seen not only the children who have attended Widening the Net come in with better skills in literacy, but their learning accelerate through the end of kindergarten at a greater rate than the rest of our kids.”

Paramo says that Mat-Su’s school board has asked her to find pre-school money outside of the base student allocation, and that she is examining all available sources to continue the program. Paramo says the school district’s pre-school plan has always been scalable to fit whatever money is available, even if it is a one-time grant.

“And some people think, well that’s kind of a waste of money, you’ll have it for a couple of years, but then you won’t, but we affected 150 kids positively, that we could have, and that’s why we built programs that are scalable,” Paramo said. “We try, and then, we may have to tell some families that we can’t do it.”

She says, unless more money is found, only Talkeetna’s pre-K will open in the fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Remembering The Internment Of 83 Alaska Natives During WWII

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:16

Martin Stepetin digs a hole for the Atka memorial plaque. Onlookers are those who also joined the Friends of Admiralty Island tour. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

More than 70 years have passed since the U.S. government forced the people of Atka from their homes to an internment camp on Killisnoo Island in Southeast Alaska.

To protect them from Japanese invasion during World War II, they were moved 1,600 miles from the Aleutian Islands to an old whaling and herring village across the water from Angoon on Admiralty Island.

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Bishop David leads the blessing of the graves. Parish council president Julia Erickson and Ann Stepetin are part of Juneau’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

They have not been forgotten. A group of Southeast Alaskans traveled to Killisnoo last weekend to memorialize the Aleut people of Atka.

While digging a hole for a memorial plaque, Martin Stepetin breaks down in tears. His wife, Ann, comforts him with a long embrace before he continues digging. He said he felt like he was digging a grave.

Stepetin is from St. Paul in the Pribolof Islands. His grandparents were evacuated in June 1942 and brought to an internment camp in Funter Bay, about 50 miles north of Killisnoo. His father was born there.

He has come to Killisnoo with about a hundred people on a Friends of Admiralty Island tour. Most are from Juneau, some are past and present Angoon residents.

Though Stepetin’s family wasn’t in Killisnoo, he feels a profound connection to the Atka people interned here.

“They’re Aleuts just like us and we’re related to them and they went through very similar hardships like we did and it changed our entire history,” Stepetin says.

Stepetin heard about the Funter Bay internment camp all his life growing up in St. Paul.

“The things that come to my mind are the stories of the babies that were born there and didn’t have the medical care to live and they were just babies and they died because they couldn’t be taken care of,” he says tearing up.

Besides Atka villagers, many others are buried in the Killisnoo cemetery. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Stepetin now lives in Juneau and visited Funter Bay for the first time three weeks ago. When he heard about the Friends of Admiralty trip to Killisnoo, he immediately joined.

“Coming here is the closest thing you can do to paying your respects. It’s the ultimate way for me to put closure on it,” Stepetin says.

K.J. Metcalf helped start Friends of Admiralty Island in 1997 to advocate for the island’s cultural, historic and wilderness preservation. He was the first U.S. Forest Service ranger when Admiralty Island was designated a National Monument in 1978. Metcalf and his wife lived in Angoon for 18 years.

Funter Bay was more isolated that Killisnoo. Metcalf says the Atka Aleuts interned in the old Killisnoo herring factory had Tlingit neighbors a few miles north.

“These people were not provided any assistance at all – no medical help, no clean water, no sanitary conditions,” Metcalf says. “And the people of Angoon were incredibly important in their survival because they brought goods over and they helped take care of them.”

Dan Johnson grew up in Angoon hearing stories from his grandparents about the people of Atka and their time at Killisnoo. He says the two communities became close.

“They interacted on a daily basis so our people always talk about remembering the people that were here, and how they worked and helped each other. It wasn’t just our people helping them. It worked back and forth,” Johnson says.

While Johnson says the situation in Killisnoo was deplorable, he was told of lighter times as well.

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“The happy moments, I guess, my grandparents used to talk about is that the people that were brought here loved their movies. Whenever they knew there was a new movie in town, they’d come rowing over to Angoon in their dories,” he says.

Few signs of the Killisnoo internment camp remain. The island now has a sport fishing lodge. It’s dotted with private homes, but on the south side is the cemetery where five wooden Russian Orthodox crosses mark the graves of Atka villagers.

The new memorial plaque sits atop a wooden post among the graves. It tells the story of the Atka people in Killisnoo.

When the plaque is in place, Joe Zuboff cries out a Tlingit chant. Zuboff is of the Deisheetan Clan (Raven/Beaver) of Angoon and is caretaker of the Raven House. His chant stems from the story of a crab apple tree during a big storm.

“The tide came really high and it washed this crab apple tree away and all we could do is watch this crab apple tree drift away,” Zuboff says. “And this is how we refer to our loved ones that we lose. There’s nothing we can do but watch them float into the other world.”

A history of the World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska by Charles Mobley indicates 83 people from Atka were brought to Killisnoo in 1942. Before returning to Atka three years later, 17 of them died.

Back at the cemetery, Russian Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey of the Alaska Diocese sprinkles holy water on the memorial plaque and the area around it. He leads a blessing of the graves.

The plaque in memory of the Atka people looks east. It’s Orthodox tradition for altars and memorial graves to face the rising sun.

Categories: Alaska News
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