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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: 10 min 15 sec ago

Child sex abuse survivor wants to shatter the silence with Erin’s Law

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:15

Writer David Holthouse shares his story of being raped as a child during a talk at the Alaska Capitol. Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) first introduced Erin’s Law last year. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Alaska raised writer David Holthouse has told his story of being sexually abused as a child before. It’s appeared in newspapers, on the radio, on stage in New York City and may even end up on the movie screen.

But when he spoke in the Alaska Capitol building today, it was to support Erin’s Law. If passed, the bill would require public schools statewide to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

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David Holthouse has distinct childhood memories of learning how to stop, drop and roll if he ever caught on fire. He remembers McGruff the Crime Dog telling him to stay away from strangers.

“But neither McGruff nor anybody else warned me about the homecoming king,” Holthouse says.

In 1978, Holthouse was 7 years old and his family had recently moved to Anchorage. They befriended another family with a daughter his age and a son in high school. The son was a star athlete, good looking and well spoken. He was nice to Holthouse.

But he changed his demeanor the night he invited Holthouse to his room to play karate.

“He took those ninja throwing stars and he pushed me up against the wall and he started throwing them like a knife thrower at the circus – thunk, thunk – so they landed right next to me saying ‘Don’t move’ – thunk – ‘Don’t move,’” Holthouse says. “And then he took a samurai sword off the wall and he drew it out of the sheath and he put the blade to my neck and he said, ‘If you don’t do exactly what I want, I’m going to kill you.’”

Holthouse was raped, and then threatened with death and the death of his family if he ever told anyone. After a state of shock, Holthouse quickly realized what happened, but he didn’t know what to call it.

“I didn’t have a word for what had happened to me. To go back to McGruff – McGruff had never taught me about ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch,’ or ‘good secrets’ and ‘bad secrets.’ If I had even been able to come forward and say, ‘That thing we talked about in school – that happened to me.’ I didn’t need any graphic terminology. I just needed a few words and the invitation to speak them,’” Holthouse says.

He says if Erin’s Law had been in effect before he was raped, he might have never been assaulted.

“Perpetrators of these crimes, they rely on shame and silence. They rely on our collective conspiracy of denial and silence about this. And if that silence had already been shattered, which educating every kid in a public school statewide will do, he might have thought that he couldn’t get away with it,” Holthouse says.

But he says he can’t know that for sure. What he does know is that Erin’s Law will prevent kids from being sexually assaulted. He says schools need to have curriculum and talk openly about it.

“I’m not just speaking on my own behalf. I’m speaking for tens of thousands of Alaska children and the adults they’ll grow up to be. And what I’m saying is, ‘Help us,’” Holthouse says.

Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr introduced the bill last year and it appeared poised to become law. Then-Gov. Sean Parnell supported Erin’s Law, the Senate passed it and the House version had 21 co-sponsors. But the bill got stuck in committee.

This year, there are four identical Erin’s Law bills – two from Republicans and two from Democrats. And Gov. Bill Walker wants it on his desk. Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner’s versionwas the first to get a hearing in Senate Education.

Tarr hopes the bill will pass this session. She understands some lawmakers are uncomfortable with Erin’s Law being a requirement, but she says there are likely community resources and private dollars available.

“We approached the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Children’s Trust, Mat-Su Health Foundation and just put the idea out there of would they be a resource for helping implement a curriculum and they all responded in a positive way,” Tarr says.

Erin’s Law has passed in 20 states and is pending in 21 others, including Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Seeks New Limits On National Monuments

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:12

For over a hundred years, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to order permanent protections for federal land and resources at sea. Now, Alaska’s congressional delegation is looking to curb that authority.

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Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are co-sponsoring a bill that would require lawmakers to sign off before a president can set up a national monument.

Murkowski introduced similar legislation last year, and the issue has also come up in the U.S. House. But it’s closer to home now that there’s a campaign to get federal protection around the Aleutian Islands.

The boundaries of a marine sanctuary proposed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. (Credit: PEER)

Rick Steiner, an Anchorage-based shipping advocate, has been leading that effort.

“Overfishing, shipping, fishing, habitat degradation, debris, climate change, what have you,” Steiner says. “They all need to be managed in an integrated way. So, I’m sorry the delegation is having a knee-jerk reaction to this potential.”

They had a similar reaction in December, when Steiner helped nominate more than 550,000 square miles of the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean to become a marine sanctuary.

Unlike monuments, sanctuaries are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Damaging protected resources inside a sanctuary can lead to civil fines, which the Antiquities Act doesn’t address.

But NOAA ruled there wasn’t enough backing from affected communities in the Aleutians — let alone elected officials — to move forward.

Matt Brookhart is a policy chief in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

“We understand what we don’t want to see with a nomination, and that is the nomination comes from a community that is very focused on one or two interest groups,” Brookhart said in an interview this winter.

While conservationists and research groups are still interested in a sanctuary, Steiner is pushing for executive action.

The White House has not responded to his proposal to create marine monuments in the Aleutians, along with the Bering Strait and the Arctic Coastal Plain. But as long as the president has veto power, Steiner says he’s not concerned about any legislation to limit new monuments.

Categories: Alaska News

As The Iditarod Start Shifts North, So Does The Economic Boon

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:11

Spectators await the start of the 2014 Iditarod in Willow. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

This year’s Iditarod restart will be in Fairbanks for only the second time in the race’s 43-year history.  Poor trail conditions prompted the move, and many some mushers are happy with the change. For businesses in the Susitna Valley, however, there will be a significant economic impact.

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The changing of the Iditarod restart location to Fairbanks has some mushers excited.  Four-time race winner Jeff King told KUAC’s Emily Schwing that he’s looking forward to the new route.

“I’m personally thrilled.  Not because of any other reason than I love a new trail, and I love going to new places, so I’m looking forward to some variation,” he said.

The decision to move the start of the race came after Iditarod Trail Committee board members observed very poor conditions on parts of the traditional trail. Talkeetna musher Jerry Sousa says that some sections, like the Dalzell Gorge, are rough even under favorable conditions.

“In a good year, the trail is bad,” Sousa said. ”So, if they say it’s bad and snowmobiles can’t get through there, I certainly don’t want to risk my team mushing through a bad section of trail like that.”

While mushers have expressed approval of the change, it comes with an economic impact to many businesses.  Paul Roderick is the owner of Talketna Air Taxi.  He says he had more than 30 passengers booked for a flight to the Rainy Pass checkpoint, which are listed on the company’s website at $650 each.  Normally, the Iditarod provides a monetary shot in the arm for businesses like his.

“It’s a pretty big hit, especially when you’ve got 30 or 40 people going somewhere,” Roderick said. “So, we’ve got to call them and re-work all the logistics–see what everybody wants to do.”

Paul Roderick says Talkeetna Air Taxi will likely still end up with business as a result of the 2015 Iditarod, and that businesses and villages are working quickly to reorganize logistics.

“They were getting phone calls at midnight last night looking for rooms and figuring out how they were going to switch everything, basically, from the Interior, like McGrath, to basing it solely out of the Yukon River,” he said.

Villages along the traditional Iditarod Trail will also miss out on the boost in visitors and money.  Instead, that business will go to another set of villages further to the north.  Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley says this year’s race will include checkpoints in Koyukuk and Huslia for the first time.

“Those are two communities with strong ties to the very start of mushing, so it will be exciting from that standpoint and meaningful in a lot of different ways,” Hooley said.

This winter is the second in a row with warmer temperatures and less snow than usual along the Iditarod Trail.  Stan Hooley says this is not likely the end of the traditional trail, however.

“What it means for the future, we don’t know,” he said. “We certainly would prefer to travel the traditional Iditarod Trail, and we’ll do everything we can to do that in the future, but this year it’s just not in the cards.”

After the ceremonial start on March 7 in Anchorage, the 2015 Iditarod will begin in earnest in Fairbanks on Monday, March 9.

Categories: Alaska News

Learning to Sew With Seal Guts

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:10

Recently, about a dozen students gathered at the Cultural Center in Bethel to learn the traditional art of ‘gut sewing’. Seal intestines were prized throughout Yup’ik history for their waterproof performance before modern materials took hold. And now culture bearers are trying to bring back the skill.

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For most students, today is the first time they have ever worked with guts.

Their 71-year-old instructor however, Mary Tunuchuk, has a lifetime of experience with the traditional material. She says imarnitet or “gut parkas” were critical for survival in her youth.

“The waterproof gut parkas were very important for men while hunting in the ocean. The way it reacts to moisture makes it a more effective insulated raincoat than most modern raincoats. In my first memories, women would learn to make raincoats, and other waterproof items before they get married, to ensure a better chance at survival. These days I never see anyone practice the art anymore,” said Tunuchuk.

Mary Tunuchuk applying wax to thread. (Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK)

Revitalizing the practice is part of the goal of the workshop, hosted by Bethel’s Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and sponsored by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and the Anchorage Museum. Besides parkas, seal intestines were used to make all kinds of waterproof items like bags, mittens, boot-linings and even windows. Curator Sarah Owens explains students will be using two kinds of material.

“There’s going to be a mixture of Native students who will be using seal intestine that Mary’s providing, but there’s also going to be non-Native students like myself and we will be using a substitute. We’ll be using hog intestine to sew with because it’s actually illegal for us to be sewing the seal intestine,” said Owens.

Tunuchak explains the process starts with the raw seal intestines, which are washed. She uses a dull scraper to remove the soft fleshy material from a membrane, which later is painstakingly cleaned of any flesh or blood. It’s washed in brine or freshwater before being inflated like a long balloon and hung to dry.

Tunuchuk taught the class the basics of sewing and the use of taperrnaq or grass as spacers between seams.

“It’s not just any grass, it’s beach grass, they are flexible and we use them around the seams so we could tighten the thread without breaking the membrane. You have a tighter more reinforced waterproof seam, without tearing the intestine,” said Tunuchuk.

The students bent the edges of the material with their mouths, using their saliva to make the material more flexible and hold its shape while sewing.

Students end up having made an amber colored translucent window. In ancient times, the window would have served as more of a skylight, called tanqin, Yup’ik for ‘something that brightens’.

Bethel resident, Annie Roach says she’s at the class because she wanted to connect with her culture.

“I’ve heard about some of the traditional skills and practices. I’ve always wanted to learn and now I understand a small part of it,” said Roach.

Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center staff say there are plans for more workshops exploring traditional skills, like a doll making class in the last week of March, and a fish skin crafting class later in April. The seal intestines for the class were provided by Mary Tunuchuk, who processed the intestine from seals caught by her children ad grandchildren.

Categories: Alaska News

Story49: Love Series – Coffee and Rolls

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:09

(Photo courtesy of Shana Theobald)

This is the tale of two people who had given up on the idea of soul mates until they met each other on an island in the middle of the Bering Sea.

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This story starts with Shana. Shana’s a doctor in Nome and she agreed to sit down with me to talk about one of my favorite things, love.

“I definitely believed in soul mates when I was younger and that was something that started to fade. I started to give up on the idea of soul mates,” she said. “There’s a lot of reasons I came to Alaska. I wanted to go to a place where I could do a lot of medicine, and out here we do pretty much everything. But also thinking, that potentially the same kind of person who like adventure and wants to serve in a community that’s under-served…who knows what they would be doing, but potentially I could meet that type of person in Alaska.”

Now meet Dave. Dave currently lives in Nondalton, but he originally came to Alaska several years ago, drawn by the flying and teaching possibilities. Last year, he was a teacher out on the island of Little Diomede.

Dave: “I wanted to go somewhere where there was a high teacher turnover rate and stick around, you know, actually invest in the community and the kids.”

Kristin: “Alright, so what were some of your general beliefs about love?”

Dave: “Let’s see, love at first sight, no. Nah, I’m a science teacher I know how science works. I don’t buy that.”

Kristin: So when would you say your love story begins?”

Dave: [laughs] “As soon as I walked into the room and saw her.”

Their paths crossed last May when Shana traveled to Little Diomede for a medical trip and stayed in the school.

“We were getting settled in and this guy came by and he was wearing this Hawaiian shirt that he calls his island shirt because he lives out on the island of Diomede,” Shana said. “Had a mustache, longish hair and the brightest eyes and a big smile.”

“She smiled and had this amazing smile that just about knocked me out, so I turned around and walked out of the room,” Dave said.

“My impression was, ‘oh he’s really busy.’ He was like, ‘hey you guys okay? Great I’ll see you later.’ And I was like, wow that’s really nice to check on us, but he must be also really busy,” Shana said.

They didn’t really think they’d see each other again, but Before Shana left they traded blog sites.

“His blog is like the soul mate of my blog,” she said.

Blog comments turned into short emails, which turned into longer and longer emails.

Shana: We shared our lives with each other and they were similar in a lot of ways. But then I sent him a poem…”

Dave: “This poem, one of the lines in this poem, was..uh,oh something, what did it say?”

Shana: It’s a poem by Hafiz who’s a Sufi poet, mystic from Persia and it says plant so that your own heart will grow, love so God will think…

Dave: “Ah, I got kin in that body”

Shana: “Ah, I got kin in that body” I should start inviting that soul over for coffee and rolls. Sing because this is a food our starving world needs, laugh because that is the purest sound. And I said, it reminds me of you, especially that part that says, “I should start inviting that soul over for coffee and rolls.”

Dave: “What got me was she said this poem reminded her of me and I was like…wait…could that mean that maybe she’s interested in me, maybe she kind of likes me.”

Yes, it turned out Shana did like Dave. They had their first date in Anchorage where they went flying. They had their second date in Nome where Dave secretly got her ring size…and for their third date, Dave flew up to Nome again.

Dave: “I’m sitting there in that 737 coming into Nome, I looked out the window and I saw the most stunning, amazing, beautiful, low sunlight coming in over the Bering Sea.”

Shana: “It was a gorgeous day, it was right before the solstice, Dec 20th, the sun was shining it was one of the brightest days we had had.”

Dave: “And I saw that and said, well this is it. We gotta go for a walk. So I kept it simple, asked her “Will you marry me?” And she kind of gasped and said…”

Shana: “Honestly, my first thought was “Are you serious?” But I knew that couldn’t’ be the first thing I say.”

Dave: “She knelt down beside me and said, yes. A million times yes.”

Shana: “Yes, a million times yes.”

This segment is part of KNOM’s Story49 love series. If you want to hear the full version and other stories of Western Alaskan couples, you can visit knom dot org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 12, 2015

Thu, 2015-02-12 17:08

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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Facing First Cuts In Years, Alaska Lawmakers Tackle The Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Right now, the Legislature is facing a deficit that some leaders are describing as a “$4 billion problem.” With oil prices half what they were a year ago, lawmakers are having to cut agency budgets for the first time in years.

Today, the finance committees in the House and the Senate held their first hearings on the operating budget.

Alaska Writer David Holthouse Shows Support For Erin’s Law

Lisa Phu, KTOO

Alaska raised writer David Holthouse has told his story of being sexually abused as a child before. It’s appeared in newspapers, on the radio and on stage in New York City.

But when he spoke in the Alaska Capitol building today, it was to support Erin’s Law, a bill that would require public schools statewide to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

Sullivan Stands With House on DHS Funding

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out February 27, unless Congress can resolve an impasse over immigration policy riders the House added to a funding bill.

BOEM Assessment Suggests Shell’s Chukchi Leases Remain Intact

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Federal regulators are recommending that Shell’s disputed oil leases in the Chukchi Sea be left intact. That’s the conclusion of a new assessment of Lease Sale 193 – the 2008 auction where Shell picked more than $2 billion worth of Arctic drilling prospects.

Alaska Delegation Seeks New Limits On National Monuments

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For over a hundred years, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to order permanent protections for federal land and resources at sea. Now, Alaska’s senators are looking to curb that authority before the Obama administration tries to apply it in the 49th State.

As The Iditarod Start Shifts North, So Does The Economic Boon

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Moving the Iditarod start from Anchorage to Fairbanks will impact businesses across the state.

Learning to Sew With Seal Guts

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Students at the Cultural Center in Bethel recently learned the traditional art of ‘gut sewing’. Seal intestines were prized throughout Yup’ik history for their waterproof performance. And a culture bearer from Chefornak is teaching the skill.

Story49: Love Series – Coffee and Rolls

Kristin Leffler, KNOM – Nome

Valentine’s day is just a few days away. KNOM Producer Kristin Leffler found this story of two people who had given up on the idea of soul mates until they met each other on an island in the middle of the Bering Sea:

Categories: Alaska News

AVTEC Nursing Programs Cut

Thu, 2015-02-12 16:44

 

AVTEC, the state’s vocational and technical school with campuses in Seward and Anchorage, will be losing programs due to the budget ax. AVTEC’s three allied health programs will be eliminated by the end of this year, according to Paloma Harbour, administrative services division director with the state Department of Labor and Workforce development.

“As a part of the governor’s endorsed budget, all agencies were asked to contribute to the reduction because of the revenue shortfall for the state. Our departments contribution was overall an eight percent reduction to the department, so it wasn’t just AVTEC. AVTEC’s share of the reduction was just over $450,000 in state funds alone.”

Harbour says allied health program cuts will save the other AVTEC programs.

“The choice wasn’t made lightly, but because it was one of the most expensive programs, based on statutory requirements on instructors to students and other expenses related to the program, it was the one they could cut to meet their target reductions. If they were to cut other programs, they would have had to cut multiple other programs. ”

Harbour says board of nursing requirements make hiring multiple instructors a necessity for the health programs.

AVTEC has three nursing programs. The registered nursing program is coming to an end in July, anyway, because it has lost federal funding. Two other programs, licensed practical nurse and nursing assistant, will end in November because of the state cuts.

 AVTEC’s three allied health programs combined  serve about 140 students a year. Harbour says the school partners with Cook Inlet Tribal Council on funding for the registered nurse program, and it is possible that that could continue if AVTEC can find alternate funding sources for its share of the costs.

“One of the things that AVTEC’s looking into right now, is the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, who is the partner that was helping to supply federal funds to support the registered nurse program, they are looking to again apply for federal funds, and if they are successful, they want to continue some partnership.”

Currently enrolled students in the nursing assistant and licensed practical nurse classes will be able to finish classes before the closures go into effect.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Stands With House on DHS Funding

Thu, 2015-02-12 16:16

Sen. Ted Cruz addresses press conference, with Sen. Dan Sullivan on deck.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out February 27, unless Congress can resolve an impasse over immigration policy riders the House included in its funding bill.  Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan today stood with conservative lawmakers, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, calling on the Senate to pass the House bill.

Sullivan told reporters at the Capitol he wants to work with President Obama. In fact, he said, he was heading to the White House that afternoon to watch him sign a veterans mental health bill. But when it comes to Homeland Security funding, Sullivan says Democrats shouldn’t support Obama’s immigration policies.

“And I think it’s very important that we make the case that this is something the American people don’t support and it’s something the Constitution of the United States does not authorize,” he said at a press conference that included Republican Sens. Cruz, Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, along with a host of House conservatives.

The House bill blocks funding for executive orders that would temporarily shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled whether President Obama has the authority under the Constitution to issue the orders, which opponents call “executive amnesty.”

Senate Democrats are demanding a bill free of the funding blocks, and time is running out. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among other Republicans on the Senate leadership team, said the House needs to come up with another solution because the House-passed bill doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. But Cruz and the other lawmakers at the press conference want to hold firm.

“The House of Representatives has done its job,” Cruz said. A flurry of camera shutters followed each of his hand gestures. “It has voted on funding for DHS. And Senate Democrats are playing partisan politics with our national security by preventing the Senate from even taking up that funding bill.”

Senate Democrats say it’s the Republicans risking furloughs at DHS. The Department includes the Coast Guard, the immigration service, border protection and FEMA.

Categories: Alaska News

Jeff King Takes Cautious Approach To Frigid Yukon Quest

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:22

Denali Park musher Jeff King competes in the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Jeff King won the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race back in 1989. He is also well-known on the Iditarod trail, having won Alaska’s other 1,000 mile sled dog race four times.

This year, he returned to the Quest, but decided to scratch from the race after only 300 miles.

This year, Jeff King signed up for both of Alaska’s 1000-mile sled dog races. Over the year’s he says he’s seen other dog teams improve after their first 1000-miler.

“This one wasn’t going to make them stronger, this one was going to need recovery,” King said.

When King left the Pelly Crossing checkpoint, temperatures were frigid – between minus 30 and minus 40 degrees. That was still the case when he reached the Stepping Stone hospitality stop.

“After 16 hours, I fully expected to leave,” King said. “I also expected the temperature not to go down to the lowest I had seen since I had arrived and when I stepped out on the porch at 6 a.m., after having fed the dogs three times, food that was really intended for Scroggie creek and Eureka, it was 47 below zero.”

When King first started running the Yukon Quest in the mid-1980’s, those temperatures were the norm, but King says that’s was never fun for him.

“I don’t think fun is the word,” he said. “I think I shared the mentality of wanting to be the toughest and I wanted to know that I could endure and overcome these challenges.”

But King says he’s changed after 40 years of working with sled dogs.

“I love having a fast dog team that loves me and nothing anymore will tempt me into jeopardizing that,” he said.

King is used to running teams that move down the trail between 8-10 miles per hour, but subzero temperatures slowed dogs teams to nearly half that as they approached Dawson City.

“I don’t need another trophy; I don’t need another pay check,” he said. “I want to have fun and that was not fun.”

King says his dogs are recovering well. He also says had the weather been warmer, the race’s outcome could be different.

“I don’t expect any of the teams that make it the whole way to be very competitive again this year, would be my guess,” he said.

King admitted that prior to the race, he confided in close friends that he planned to scratch if conditions hard on his dog team. He wouldn’t say for sure whether he would return for the Quest again in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Assessment Suggests Shell’s Chukchi Leases Remain Intact

Thu, 2015-02-12 13:14

Federal regulators are recommending that Shell’s disputed oil leases in the Chukchi Sea be left intact.

That’s the conclusion of a new assessment of Lease Sale 193 – the 2008 auction where Shell picked more than $2 billion worth of Arctic drilling prospects.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its latest analysis Thursday, after a federal appeals court ordered them to take another look at how much development the sale would trigger in the Chukchi Sea.

Regulators had previously guessed that leases in the region could yield up to 1 billion barrels of oil. But Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that was an arbitrary figure – and it cast doubt on the government’s justification for the sale.

BOEM has revised its estimate, saying that companies could get up to 4 billion barrels of oil from the Chukchi. That’s worried environmentalists, who are concerned about the risk of a spill.

But BOEM isn’t suggesting any changes to the lease sale. According to the study released Thursday, ”It continues to represent a reasonable balance between environmental, economic, and technical considerations.”

This isn’t the first time that BOEM has had to go back and recheck this sale. Judge Beistline made a similar order five years ago. But once the agency put together extra environmental studies, Beistline allowed Shell to explore its leases in the Chukchi.

For now, that activity is still off-limits. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has to wait 30 days before she can weigh in and issue a final record of decision – on whether to uphold the sale, adjust its parameters, or strike it down altogether.

The waiting period will end on March 25.

Categories: Alaska News

Layovers Vital To Yukon Quest Mushers, Dogs

Thu, 2015-02-12 09:58

Sled dogs take a rest in the dog yard at Pelly Crossing. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

After Yukon Quest mushers arrive in Dawson City, they drive their teams head across the Yukon River to a public campground, where handlers build elaborate camps for the dogs. They’ll get massaged, fed and sleep for during the 24 hour layover.

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Brent Sass had his dog team lined out and waiting to leave the dog camp more than a half hour early.

“I’m a little anxious, because it’s a lot easier once you get out on the trail,” he said. “This is like before that big game.”

He says he and his team were well rested.

“I feel great. I slept down here with the dogs in the wall tent and I got a good seven hour rest and then a couple naps in between feedings and the dogs did the exact same thing, we’re kind of all on the same schedule,” Sass said. “They ate really well at this stop, which is awesome. They drank really well before we left so they’re all super hydrated.”

A few minutes later, Sass was checking his mandatory gear, just to make sure, and then he took off.

As Sass left camp, handlers for most of the other teams were still setting up.

Beth Shepard and Jake Berkowitz pull at the legs of a collapsible cot. They were also organizing gear and food for rookie musher Jason Campeau.

“…A good wide open place for the dogs to sleep, ample room for the dogs and you… time and energy that you should, a nice Arctic oven to keep everyone warm and yeah that’s pretty much it.”

Berkowitz drove dog teams in the Yukon Quest in 2012 and 2013 before he retired. Behind him, a giant blue tarp hangs between the trees from three ropes. It’s a makeshift tent, tall enough to stand in. Piles of snow topped with straw line the sides. They look like little nests.

“Every dog has their own little spot. We’ll get the dogs up about every six to eight hours,” Berkowitz said. “We’ll get them out of the tent I’ve always found when the dogs go in here they kind of into hibernation mode where you’re not going to see them devour food, so getting them out of here and then they’ll come back, snuggle back up.”

Brent Sass was the first musher to reach Dawson during the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

Joel Switzer has been a handler on the Yukon Quest trail many times. He says he’s learned plenty about dog care during the layover.

“You learn things from other teams and other tricks and how other people recover their dogs,” Switzer said. “Well, how to stretch them out and rub the muscles and shoulders and what to look for in the feet.”

After they’re massaged, Switzer will feed dogs a mixture of hot water, kibble and meat.

“There’s something called BLT that people talk about – beef, liver and tripe – what we have isn’t exactly that, but the BLT has a whole new meaning in the dog mushing world,” he said.

It’s the kind of food that’s among a variety Cody Strathe’s dogs will devour. The Fairbanks musher checked in at Dawson exhausted from a run over King Solomon’s dome.

“We had to break trail all the way up and over and around and down, yeah there’s about a foot of snow up there and it’s drifting,” he said.

He was ready to bed down his team, but he had hoped for more rest.

“It’s short, really short, I miss 36,” he said.

Strathe is among a majority of mushers who would have preferred to layover for 36 hours halfway through the race. But this year, the rules committee decreased that time by 12 hours and added two six hour stops elsewhere.

Overall, total mandatory rest time will drop from 52 to 50 hours this year.

Categories: Alaska News

In Rare Appearance Before The Legislature, Walker Announces Plans For Point Thomson Lawsuit

Wed, 2015-02-11 18:14

(Skip Gray/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker has announced that on Friday, he will drop his Point Thomson lawsuit against the state and instead try to address his concerns with the settlement through a piece of legislation. It’s exactly what legislative leaders have been calling on him to do for the past two weeks. But the way Walker went about it left some of those same lawmakers less than amused. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The House Resources committee was scheduled to get an overview on the Point Thomson case on Wednesday afternoon. Bill Walker had filed the lawsuit when he was a private citizen in 2012. The litigation argued that a settlement between the executive branch and Exxon concerning the development of North Slope natural gas reserves violated state regulations. But now that Walker is governor, Republicans in the Legislature have questioned the propriety of having Alaska’s top official suing the state.

The Resources committee had invited the Department of Law to speak on Point Thomson. So, it was a surprise when they got the governor himself.

“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, you asked for someone from my Administration to testify on the Point Thomson lawsuit that I brought several years ago as a public interest litigant,” said Walker. “I am here to talk to you directly about this and set the record straight.”

The last time a sitting governor spoke directly before a committee was in 2007, when Sarah Palin testified on an ethics bill.

First, Walker reviewed the history of the lawsuit. Then, he said he would drop the lawsuit upon filing legislation to change the way the state deals with oil and gas settlements. And after seven minutes of testifying, he said thank you, stood up, and walked out of the committee room, leaving some members stunned.

“I thought our understanding with the governor is that we would have time to ask questions of him before departing our committee?” asked Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, of the committee chair.

After taking a brief at ease to collect themselves, the committee came back to order and tried to parse Walker’s statement. As that was happening, the Governor’s Office announced a press conference on Point Thomson would take place within the hour.

When Walker met with reporters, he said he had not reviewed the finalized Point Thomson legislation, but that it would not be “voluminous.” He added that he was tying the dropping of the lawsuit to the bill’s introduction rather than its passage because he did not think it was appropriate to pressure the Legislature that way. If lawmakers do not pass his legislation, Walker said he would consider the matter closed.

“Well, I’ve done all I can,” said Walker.

One of the questions from reporters was why Walker would take questions from them but not the House Resources committee. Walker said he had concerns about the fact that the lawsuit was still pending, and that a press conference was a fundamentally different venue from a legislative hearing.

“It could be an awkward situation,” said Walker. “I’m a strong believer in the separation of powers between me as an individual, and as governor, and their role as the Legislature. So, I was sensitive to that and didn’t think it was appropriate from me to stay and answer questions.”

But after the Resources hearing, Rep. Hawker said that addressing a committee without allowing for questions violated protocol.

“I’m personally very disappointed in the abrupt departure of the governor after we availed him the courtesy of addressing our committee,” said Hawker. “He turned it into a press event that he got up and walked away from, instead of allowing us the opportunity for a dialogue to raise some of the very questions that you all are raising here today.”

While he welcomed the decision to abandon the suit, Hawker felt that the committee should have been alerted to governor’s appearance earlier.

“We received notice about 10 minutes before the committee meeting that the governor wanted to come and say something. That’s all we had to go on,” said Hawker. “So, I’ve just to say the process — this is not good process.”

House Speaker Mike Chenault also had reservations about the roll-out of the Point Thomson announcement.

“That’s part of the problem is lack of communication in that form,” said Chenault. “If we knew what was going on, it makes the decision making a lot easier.”

Chenault added that he was pleased with the substance of the announcement, and that Walker is not putting conditions on the dropping of the Point Thomson suit.

“Regardless of whether the legislation moves through or not, he’s dropping the lawsuit. So he’s not going to try the lawsuit over passing the piece of legislation,” said Chenault. “That’s how it should be.”

Chenault said he could not comment on the likelihood that the bill will advance without seeing the text of the legislation.

Categories: Alaska News

Chief Justice Stresses Need For Rural Presence

Wed, 2015-02-11 18:07

(Skip Gray/KTOO)

With lawmakers reviewing the state budget for cuts, Chief Justice Dana Fabe made the case for preserving the judicial branch’s funding in her annual speech to the Legislature on Wednesday.

“The court does not control the number or types of cases that come before us, or which charges will be brought or tried,” said Fabe. “But it is our responsibility to resolve all of them as promptly, thoroughly, and fairly as we can.”

Fabe specifically addressed the importance of keeping a judicial presence in rural Alaska and the value of letting litigants face trial in their home regions.

“This will likely be our greatest challenge: to resist the financial pressures to centralize our operations in the hub communities and insist that Alaskans come to those hubs for justice or do without,” said Fabe.

In the State of the Judiciary, Fabe also said the court is reevaluating the way it approaches child custody cases to better accommodate litigants who represent themselves, and noted that the judiciary is making advances toward a paperless filing system.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Aerospace Corporation CEO Pitches Privatization

Wed, 2015-02-11 17:17

The CEO and board president of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation were before the Senate Finance Committee this morning, making a pitch, not so much for funding, but for the opportunity to move on. CEO Craig Campbell even raised the possibility of taking the state-owned corporation private.

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Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Restart Moving To Fairbanks

Wed, 2015-02-11 17:15

For the second time in its history, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will begin in Fairbanks, though race officials still plan to hold the ceremonial start in Anchorage. Last night, the Iditarod Trail Committee’s board of directors voted unanimously to move the start of the race from Willow.

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Stan Hooley, CEO of the Iditarod Trail Committee, says the decision was made after board members observed potentially dangerous areas on the trail by helicopter.

Last year, poor snow conditions led to broken sleds and injured mushers. Aaron Burmeister, who sits on the Iditarod Trail Committee board, was one of those injured in the 2014 race.

Stan Hooley says the overall length of the 2015 Iditarod will be about nineteen miles shorter than usual as a result of the changes, but that won’t necessarily make it easier on mushers and dogs.

“The first part of this race will see longer distances between checkpoints than the traditional route sees,” Hooley said.

Hooley says while mushers would generally prefer to race on the traditional Iditarod Trail, those he’s spoken to accept the change.

Categories: Alaska News

Stampede State Rec Area Advocates Say They’ll Persist, Despite Budget Woes

Wed, 2015-02-11 17:13

Supporters of the Stampede State Recreation Area say it’s becoming so popular that is needs management by the state. It’s a favorite of outdoor recreationalists of all kinds, like these hikers enjoying the trail around Eightmile Lake.
(Credit Friends of the Stampede)

Supporters of the proposed Stampede State Recreation Area near Healy aren’t giving up. Tonight the Denali Borough Assembly will consider and probably pass another resolution urging the Legislature to create the new rec area. Supporters hopes grew after a local official and Stampede supporter was elected to the state house last fall. But the new lawmaker says it’s unlikely to pass this session, because of state budget concerns.

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The most recent version of legislation to create the Stampede rec area would designate 88,000-acres of state land west of Healy, in the northeast corner of Denali National Park for that use. Denali Citizens Council President Hannah Raglund says it would protect the area and local and traditional uses ranging from berry-picking to off-roading.

“The rec area was chosen because of the range of recreational activities that are allowed,” she said. “People can still fish, can still hunt, can still trap.”

Raglund says state management is also needed to limit damage to the Stampede Trail and other areas, like the abandoned bus made famous by Christopher McCandless and the “Into the Wild” book and movie about his wanderings into the Stampede.

Several research sites are scattered around the Stampede, including this one that monitors the changes in the area’s permafrost.
(Credit Friends of the Stampede)

“We see people from all around there world out there, all year round now. Walking, skiing, winter, spring, summer, fall.”

Raglund says the rec area also would protect habitat, wildlife surveys and scientific research venues operated by the University of Alaska and other organizations.

“They found it to be a great site to study permafrost that’s beginning to thaw,” she said.

The citizens council has gotten lawmakers to introduce bills to create a Stampede Recreation Area in each of the past three legislative sessions. The measures haven’t gone anywhere, but  group members were more optimistic about its chances this year

“A lot of us here were pretty excited to see we had a local Healy resident that was elected to represent us in Juneau,” she said.

The old Fairbanks city bus made famous by “Into the Wild” has become one the Stampede’s favorite attractions.
(Credit Friends of the Stampede)

Raglund says the election of former Denali Borough Mayor and Stampede state rec area supporter Dave Talerico to the state House raised optimism among supporters. But Talerico says since the election it’s become clear that any proposal requiring any additional state spending will probably be dead on arrival.

“With the budget concerns that we have this year, I would say there’ll be a lot of things that will be put on hold for the time being, just due to the fact there’ll be expense involved,” he said.

Raglund says the rec area would pretty much support itself through user fees.

And David Evans, the deputy presiding officer of the Denali Borough Assembly, says he believes it wouldn’t cost much to create and manage the rec area.

“I think it’s relatively minor, when you look at the state as a whole,” he said.

Evans says the Assembly will probably pass another resolution in this month’s meeting that again calls for creation of the rec area.

“It’s been widely supported by the Denali Borough Assembly and a lot of the area residents,” he said.

But Talerico cites other issues beyond cost, including opposition by the Alaska Miners Association and Usibelli Coal Mine. A Usibelli spokeswoman says the company is concerned the rec area would create regulatory obstacles to its plans to explore for natural gas in the Stampede.

Raglund says the most recent version of the legislation preserves Usibelli’s exploration leases and continued mining operations.

Categories: Alaska News

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest Not So Tiny

Wed, 2015-02-11 17:12

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series has become anything but tiny since its inception in 2008. And this year, the series began a contest, open to all, where the winner gets to travel to NPR in Washington DC and play a concert at the tiny desk. In this inaugural year, the contest received over 7,000 entries, including 17 from Alaska.

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Playing a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR is a big deal—Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne, and Lucinda Williams are among the names who have performed in front of the book, CD and record shelves at the All Songs Considered office.

All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson conceived of the Tiny Desk Concert after leaving a bar show, frustrated they couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise. When Boilen introduced the first ever Tiny Desk Concert in 2008 he says, “So we’re going to video tape this for our blog and maybe it’s the start of something and maybe it’s not.”

Alaskans compete for a seat at the tiny desk

Almost seven years later, the series has over 400 performance videos on its website. Boilen had no idea.

“I never really thought that it would go much beyond a little novelty thing that we did now and again,” Boilen says.

The name “Tiny Desk Concert” is a double entendre that references Boilen’s old psychedelic band the Tiny Desk Unit, and that artists literally play at his desk. The series was a success from that first video.

“This series spoke to people , the moment we put Laura Gibson online, in a video form, the reaction we got to that very video, because of its intimacy, connected on a level I didn’t really expect,” he says.

Fast forward eight years through concerts by Pat Benatar, T-Pain, Trey Anastasio, Nickel Creek, Neko Case, Lyle Lovett, Wilco, Steve Earle and hundreds more—and add and a twist.

“Yes there’s a contest, and wonderful there’s going to be a winner, but the most important wonderful thing is for people and friends to get together and make something—that’s the value of art, the value of community, that’s what we wanted to inspire,” he says.

Juneau-based musician Marian Call, who also happens to be a KRNN DJ, couldn’t agree more. Call, the Wool Pullers, and George Kuhar performed at a house concert in Juneau where three video entries were recorded for the contest.

Call says, “I’m anti-contests in general, but I felt like this one both had a good prize, a good mechanism, and was good for everyone even in the entering. It wasn’t exclusive, it wasn’t dangling money, it wasn’t dangling a record contract, it was just about performing in a venue that all of us have always wanted to perform in, right? But then, even better than that, they gave us an excuse to create our own space that felt like a Tiny Desk Concert, and claim it. So now 5,000 people have claimed a little stake of their own Tiny Desk world and I think that’s exactly the best possible outcome. More art was born.”

A Sleetmute- and Anchorage-based musician named Emma Hill also made some new art.

“One of the very first videos I watched,” says Boilen, “was a woman named Emma Hill and she did a song about Denali, just dedicated to her home and the thing that she loves. It’s a beautiful song, she did it with a banjo player who had the most fantastic looking banjo—it was like this refraction paper, psychedelic looking banjo. They both sat on little tiny chairs next to a little tiny table and it was delightful. I loved it.”

Boilen will announce the winner on NPR’s Morning Edition on Thursday. He says the choice was difficult and meant a lot of long nights at the Tiny Desk reviewing videos. Ultimately, he says the winner’s talent and charisma is undeniable. But who really cares about winners, it’s about the creation of new art, right?

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 11, 2015

Wed, 2015-02-11 17:11

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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Senate Takes Up Controversial Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, the Environment and Public Works Committee took up a controversial plan by President Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA program would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide from power plants by 2030.  Republicans call it federal overreach, and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan had more objections than time allowed.

Three Weeks, No Flights: Diomede Residents Stranded without Mail, Food Deliveries

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The only aircraft flying to one of Alaska’s most remote communities has been down for maintenance for nearly three weeks—leaving residents of the Bering Strait community of Little Diomede with empty mailboxes, bare grocery store shelves, and no way on or off the island.

Gov. Walker Dropping Pt. Thomson Lawsuit

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
Gov. Bill Walker has announced that on Friday, he will drop his Point Thomson lawsuit against the state and instead try to address his concerns with the settlement through legislation. It’s exactly what legislative leaders have been calling on him to do. But the way Walker went about it perplexed some of those same lawmakers.

Alaska Aerospace Corporation CEO Pitches Privatization

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The CEO and board president of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation were before the Senate Finance Committee this morning, making a pitch, not so much for funding, but for the opportunity to move on. CEO Craig Campbell even raised the possibility of taking the state-owned corporation private.

Chief Justice Fabe Argues For Judicial Branch Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With lawmakers reviewing the state budget for cuts, Chief Justice Dana Fabe made the case for preserving the judicial branch’s funding in her annual speech to the Legislature.

Iditarod Restart Moving To Fairbanks

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

For the second time in its history, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will begin in Fairbanks, though race officials still plan to hold the ceremonial start in Anchorage.

For Musher Lance Mackey, ‘Retirement’ Is A 4-Letter Word

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Lance Mackey is currently running in 8th place on the Yukon Quest trail. He is the winningest musher in Yukon Quest history. The four-time champion is a cancer survivor and the lifelong musher knows he can’t run dogs the way he used to.

Stampede State Rec Area Advocates Say They’ll Persist, Despite Budget Woes

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Denali Borough Assembly considers a resolution tonight urging the State Legislature to create a Stampede State Recreation Area near Healy. It’s the latest attempt to push the proposal with state legislators.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest Not So Tiny

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series has become anything but tiny since its inception in 2008. And this year, the series began a contest, open to all, where the winner gets to travel to NPR in Washington DC to play a concert at the tiny desk. In this inaugural year, the contest received over 7,000 entries, including 17 from Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Senators Grill EPA Clean Air Chief over CO2 Rule

Wed, 2015-02-11 16:10

In the U.S. Senate today, the Environment and Public Works Committee took up a plan by President Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The proposed EPA regulation would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2030.  Republicans call it federal overreach, and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan had more objections than time allowed.

Each senator at the hearing had eight minutes to confront EPA Clean Air boss Janet McCabe. Some questioned the point of reducing U.S. emissions if China and India aren’t lowering theirs. Others raised home-state details they say make the regulations impossible. Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, when it was his turn, challenged the Obama Administration’s authority to regulate C02 emissions from power plants.

“You’ve tried to get this authorization before and Congress has not passed it,” Sullivan told McCabe. “You’re not allowed to then move forward with the regulation to do what Congress won’t allow.”

Sullivan likened it to the president’s executive action on immigration, and Obama’s quest for a wilderness designation in the Arctic Refuge. Sullivan quoted from a Supreme Court opinion scolding the EPA for over-reach in another Clean Air program, and tried to get McCabe to acknowledge a parallel.

Do you think that this regulation dramatically expands your authority?” he asked.

“I believe we’re following what the Clean Air Act requires,” she said. “This is a statute that Congress enacted to protect public health from air pollution. The agency over a number of years … has made a determination that CO2 endangers public health and welfare. That determination was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Sullivan didn’t get into specifics about how the regulation would apply in Alaska, but the senator implied bad stuff ahead.

“Mr. Chairman, my time has expired. I have several additional questions that I’ll submit for the record, particularly as it relates to Interior Alaska, communities such as Fairbanks that pay enormously high energy costs and are going to be severely, severely negatively impacted by this rule,” he said.

In Alaska, the proposed emissions rule would apply only to power plants on the grid, and it’s easy to see why Fairbanks would feel it’s in the regulatory crosshairs. The Fairbanks utility relies on coal and oil for about 60 percent of its power supply. The CEO of Golden Valley Electric has already warned of higher rates if it has to install emissions-reducing equipment to satisfy the mandate.

But that may not be necessary, says Michael Tubman, who worked on energy issues in the State of Alaska’s D.C. office for a string of governors, from Knowles to Palin.

“It’ll be completely up to the state as to where they want to put their resources, how they want to make those reductions,” said Tubman. He’s now a Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington-based think-tank formerly known as the Pew Center for Global Climate Change.

The power plant rule sets a reduction target for each state. Alaska’s is 26 percent. Tubman says the rule wouldn’t necessarily require changes at the power plants themselves.

The state, he said,  ”could choose to reduce emissions from coal and natural gas plants. Or it could decide to build more renewable energy. It could decide to institute an energy efficiency program and get most of the reductions that way.”

Reductions in CO2 that have come since 2012 will count toward the state’s target. Tubman says modernizing the Railbelt transmission grid could be a big source of carbon savings.

Alaska has considered that for years, to save money and improve reliability, but the price tag is about a billion dollars.

Tubman points out the rule isn’t final yet.

“I think Sen. Sullivan’s position on the Environment and Public Works committee really offers him an opportunity to have EPA look at their proposal and look at it from an Alaska lens and perhaps make some changes that are advantageous to the state,” he said.

Tubman suggests Sullivan might ask to expand what counts as a carbon reduction to include off-grid sources, like new wind generators in diesel-dependent rural Alaska.

“That might allow the state to reduce its emissions while achieving other policy goals,” he said.

The EPA hopes to issue final rules this summer, with state compliance plans due a year later.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Lack Of Snow Pushes Iditarod Restart To Fairbanks

Wed, 2015-02-11 12:58

 

The lack of snow in the Alaska Range has persuaded the Iditarod Trail Committee to move the race start to Fairbanks. After a flyover, mushers say the Dalzell Gorge is impassable and the Farewell Burn area is, again, completely bare.

The race started in Fairbanks in 2003, for weather reasons. For Interior musher Aliy Zirkle, the move is somewhat welcome news, from a competitive standpoint.

“It’s too bad, because the Iditarod is the Iditarod and I like the traditional route, just like I like the traditional Yukon Quest Route,” Zirkle said. “But, in the same sense, it’s actually ‘easier’ for us as a kennel because our dogs and I can sleep in our own beds the night before the race.”

The Iditarod’s ceremonial start will still take place in Anchorage. Mushers will then truck their dogs to Fairbanks for a restart on March 9.

The race route will travel west to Nenana, and then head north to Manley before they pick up the northern route near Galena – a trail the race usually follows in even numbered years. Dog teams will also make stops in Huslia and Koyukuk this year.

Categories: Alaska News

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