APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 52 min 23 sec ago

Unalaska Youth Take Part In National Community Planning Month

Fri, 2014-10-31 17:10

Laying out neighborhoods isn’t the world’s most glamorous job. But every October, urban planners make an extra effort to get people interested in that work for National Community Planning Month.

In Unalaska, that meant helping some of the town’s youngest residents design a world all their own.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Twin Hills

Fri, 2014-10-31 17:08

This week, we’re heading to Twin Hills, near Bristol Bay. William Ilutsik is a grant writer for the village of Twin Hills.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 31, 2014

Fri, 2014-10-31 17:07

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

Download Audio

Governor’s Office Releases Hundreds Of National Guard Documents

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The governor’s office has released hundreds of pages of documents relating to the Alaska National Guard issues.

Economists Say It’s Too Early To Determine Effects Of Current Low Oil Prices

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Crude oil prices are hovering in the $80 range, and in Alaska that brings with it worries over the budget. But economists from either side of the political spectrum have roughly the same take on what’s playing out: it’s too early to tell.

Leroy B. Dick Jr. Murder Trial Next Week in Dillingham

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The trial of Leroy B. Dick Jr is scheduled to get underway Monday in Dillingham. Dick, now 44, is accused of murdering Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole in Manokotak on March 19, 2013.

Fire Investigators Wrap Up Work in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Two investigators from the state Fire Marshal office completed their work at the site of the fire that destroyed the new Bethel alcohol treatment center.

State Senator Lyman Hoffman Explains Endorsement Of U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman surprised some people when he endorsed Republican Dan Sullivan for US Senate.  In an interview with KYUK today, Hoffman explained why he took a stance in the high profile race in which Sullivan is seeking Senator Mark Begich’s job.

Unalaska Youth Take Part In National Community Planning Month

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Laying out neighborhoods isn’t the world’s most glamorous job. But every October, urban planners make an extra effort to get people interested in that work for National Community Planning Month.

In Unalaska, that meant helping some of the town’s youngest residents design a world all their own.

AK: Murder

Dave Waldron, KSKA – Anchorage

Don’t worry, nobody’s actually getting killed. Instead, we’re planning a murder mystery party with an Anchorage business called outcast productions. Elisa Hitchcock and Kimberly Gray have been running the business for two decades. APRN’s Dave Waldron enlisted a few colleagues to give a murder mystery party a try.

300 Villages: Twin Hills

This week, we’re heading to Twin Hills, near Bristol Bay. William Ilutsik is a grant writer for the village of Twin Hills.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 General Election Information

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:30
Where do I vote?

vit.load({});

What are the statewide Ballot Measures? Who are the candidates?

Click here to find information about this year’s candidates. Many of this year’s candidates in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley appeared on Alaska Public Media’s 2014 Running program. You can find the videos here. For more information about this year’s candidates for: U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor, and Lt. Governor, you can find the videos for this year’s Debate for the State here.

Where can I find more coverage of this year’s candidates and ballot measures?

Alaska Public Media and public radio stations from around the state have worked to provide complete coverage of this year’s election season through both news reporting and public affairs programming. This year’s coverage can be found on our Elections page.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Files FOIA Lawsuit Against EPA

Fri, 2014-10-31 13:38

In October, the Pebble Limited Partnership filed its third lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, this time seeking documents Pebble alleges were not turned over through prior Freedom of Information Act requests. The EPA is moving forward to establish restrictions against water use in Bristol Bay which will likely prevent development of the Pebble deposit.

Pebble’s first lawsuit against EPA, filed in May, challenged the agency’s legal authority to veto necessary permits before the developer has applied for them. That lawsuit was dismissed as premature by Judge H. Russel Holland on September 26. Holland said the EPA must have issued a final agency decision or final agency action to provide the basis for a legal challenge.

The second lawsuit, filed in early September, alleges that the EPA has been collaborating with scientists and environmental groups to implement EPA’s “scheme” to prohibit mining the Pebble deposit. Those collaborations, says Pebble, were violating provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. FACA, established in 1972, seeks to ensure that the outside citizens and committees who consult with federal agencies “provide advice that is relevant, objective, and open to the public.”

Pebble alleges EPA’s work with Trout Unlimited, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and others dating to at least 2008 has been anything but objective and open to the public. Judge Holland will hear from both parties in this lawsuit in November, as Pebble has asked that he issue a preliminary injunction against further EPA action.

Pebble is basing their accusation on a paper trail left behind from years of behind-the-scenes work between a number of environmental groups, scientists, and the EPA. The documents Pebble has obtained come from FOIA requests, but Pebble says the EPA is holding back from releasing more.

“We’ve received what I’d call the tip of the iceberg from EPA,” said Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for Pebble. “In just one of our Freedom of Information Act requests, we now know that EPA withheld at least 30,000 pages.”

Much of what EPA turned over to Pebble so far is “heavily redacted,” according to Heatwole, and there are noticeable gaps in the email chain.

“We’ve received no emails from Administrator Lisa Jackson,” he said. Jackson served as EPA Administrator from 2009 to 2013, visited the Bristol Bay region, and was briefed by agency staff about the issues surrounding Pebble. It is also believed that Jackson used a private email account under the name “Richard Windsor,” and Pebble says so far they have received none of those emails either.

Pebble also points to missing emails of former-EPA official Phillip North. From the emails it has obtained, North appears to have been actively encouraging the agency to use its 404c authority long before a 2010 request made by area tribes, perhaps as early as 2005. North coordinated closely with environmental activists and others adamantly opposed to Pebble.

But the EPA told Congress this year that North’s emails from 2002 to 2010 are missing. It was reported by the National Journal that the hard drive on North’s laptop “crashed” around 2010, and the emails have not been recovered.

“If this is the most open and transparent process they’ve undertaken, as they’ve said it is, then the question is what are they hiding?” said Heatwole.

The FOIA lawsuit asks the federal court to force EPA to turn over the rest of any and all documents relating to the agency’s involvement in the Pebble process.

“There’s a counter-narrative to what the EPA has been putting out,” said Heatwole. “They’ve said their interests and actions started against Pebble when they received a tribal petition. But the email traffic clearly shows that they’ve had a lot of internal conversations well before that May 2010 petition.”

The complaint documents filed by Pebble, including some of the memos and emails it has obtained, can be downloaded here.

Categories: Alaska News

In Years Prior To Investigation, Chaplains And Parnell Aide Submitted Guard Complaints To Governor’s Top Staff

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:46

While the governor’s office is now being ordered by a superior court judge to provide more records or explain the reasons for withholding them, the administration did provide a 352-page log of records that could be relevant earlier this week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that hints of a timeline emerge in the document that outline the Parnell administration’s response to the allegations.

Download Audio

The log begins from the day that Gov. Sean Parnell took office in 2009, and was produced using search terms like “National Guard,” “misconduct,” “fraud,” and “assault.” Many of the 12,000 e-mails do not seem relevant to the request, and cover things like Arctic policy meetings and disaster response. But about 60 pages in, the name of a whistleblower shows up in the subject line of an e-mail between the governor in and his scheduler in November of 2010. From that point on, Alaska National Guard chaplain Matt Friese sent 30 separate e-mails to the governor’s office through the end of 2011.

While Friese could not be reached, his colleague Rick Cavens says those correspondences began after chaplains teleconferenced with the governor four years ago and that they were a group effort.

“We then started conversations through Mike Nizich, who worked for the governor,” says Cavens. “We were to go through him and not go through the governor.”

Cavens says many of the complaints specifically concerned National Guard leadership and did not name victims. The subject lines are vague, but many contain subject lines like “Request you forward the attached or “Please forward to the Governor …” and “Toxic Leadership.” Nothing in the log indicates that those records were directly forwarded from Nizich’s account to Parnell. The Governor’s Office declined to comment on the log and did not clarify if the governor was provided physical copies of e-mails or briefed on them, but Parnell has previously said he was informed of every complaint.

Cavens says one of the specific requirements the chaplains had in dealing with the governor’s office is that their communications not be shared with then-adjutant general Thomas Katkus – who was asked to resign in September — for fear of reprisal.

“We didn’t want leadership involved,” says Cavens. “We had tried to talk to leadership, and it hadn’t gone anywhere.”

At the end of 2011, communications between the chaplains and Chief of Staff Mike Nizich suddenly broke down. On December 22 of that year, Cavens sent an e-mail with the subject line “Compromised.” He shared a copy with APRN, and in it, he accused Nizich of violating confidentiality. Cavens wrote that Adjutant General Katkus told one of the chaplains that he was aware that a group of them “have been a conduit to the governor.”

Cavens believed Nizich had identified them to Guard leadership.

“You understood that confidentiality for chaplains is dear and that we all have tried our chain of command and why Chaplain Friese contacted you in frustration,” Cavens wrote in the e-mail. “At this point in time I do not see you as a trusted agent for positive change and growth in the Alaska National Guard.”

Cavens still holds the same view.

“The only way that they would know it was that individual and us is because we had given that information to Nizich. Nizich, in a rebuttal e-mail, became quite agitated but clearly – and I wrote that e-mail – I wasn’t going to communicate with that man anymore. I did not trust him. And if he was giving information to the governor, it was compromised information.”

Nizich emphasized that progress had been made with the Guard that year, and that was because of the work of the Governor’s Office.

“I have served in the military and know all about the chain of command and the sensitivities of going outside those lines,” wrote Nizich. “Since my conversations with DMVA leadership (still on-going) there has been several positive changes made at DMVA and more on the horizon. These changes have not happened by coincidence.”

Cavens disputes that.

“No, it actually got worse,” says Cavens. “There was more leadership that was installed that had a tendency to bully. We were distanced, or I felt I was. I didn’t see any positive changes and I don’t feel that there were any really instigated.”

Nizich also strongly denied breaching confidentiality in his e-mail response.

“I don’t have much more to say to you except I am extremely frustrated right now and disappointed in receiving your communication suggesting that I breached the chaplains confidence,” Nizich wrote.

After the e-mails from the chaplains stopped at the end of 2011, there was a lull in obviously relevant communication about the Guard’s problems to the Governor’s office. But at the end of 2012, subject lines that directly relate to complaints about the National Guard begin popping up again. They are forwarded e-mails delivered by Nancy Dahlstrom, who was then a special assistant for the Parnell administration. She passed on nearly a dozen complaints between December 2012 and February 2013. One e-mail specifically mentions National Guard whistleblower Ken Blaylock in the subject line. Some are colorfully titled, like “Another example of theft – Ghost Employees” and “Imprecatory Prayers and ‘that Racist Holiday.” One forward is just labeled “Kodiak Entertainment Group,” a pornography company owned by one of the leaders of the Guard’s recruitment unit.

“There were allegations of different kinds of sexual assault, fraud, theft, drug smuggling, gun running, really serious things like that,” says Dahlstrom, who also served as a legislator from 2003 to 2010. She left elected office to serve as Parnell’s military affairs in 2010, before resigning from the position because of ethics concerns. She rejoined his staff in 2012.

Dahlstrom says that when she first reached out to Nizich about complaints about the Guard and its leadership, she was directed to involve Katkus even though some of the messages concerned him. She was also told that the Administration had already addressed these types of allegations.

“When I first brought these e-mails to the attention of the chief of staff, I was told some similar things had come up before and that they had been checked out and that there was nothing to them,” says Dahlstrom. “But when the different allegations kept coming to me, I kept on sending them up the chain, and I was not privy to any information on who had investigated or what. I was just told it had been done.”

Dahlstrom says that one of the people who regularly e-mailed her was perceived as having an axe to grind.

“Well, I was told that one of the people that was complaining was a former employee who was disgruntled and that most likely played into why these things were being said,” says Dahlstrom.

Dahlstrom says that even so, she continued to pass on the complaints and at one point delivered a package related to the National Guard to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. She says that while she can only speak for herself, she took the complaints seriously.

“I knew it needed to be dealt with one way or another,” says Dahlstrom. “If it was true something needed to be done, and if it wasn’t true, something needed to be done.”

Once Dahlstrom left her position with the Department of Military Affairs, there was again a drop-off in clear communication about misconduct in the National Guard. Obvious e-mails only pick up at the end of 2013, when the Anchorage Daily News first published a story about problems with the Guard that October. Communication within the Governor’s office about misconduct within the Guard appears active from that time on, with subject lines referring to news stories, records requests, and involvement of the National Guard Bureau.

["Compromised" e-mail]
[National Guard E-mail Log]

Categories: Alaska News

Judge rules state must comply with National Guard records request

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:13

John McKay argued the case on behalf of Alaska Public Media and ADN.

An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the governor’s office must start providing documents about the National Guard scandal to Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News.  The State has until noon Friday to hand over any related public records they have already identified and cleared and a privilege log that explains why they cannot provide other documents.

Download Audio

Judge Gregory Miller said that the state had violated its own regulations and statues by waiting until September to reply to the records requests submitted in May and June. When the state did finally reply, they did not provide either documents or a privilege log.

Attorney John McKay argued the case on behalf of the news organizations. He says the judge acted reasonably by requiring the release of documents.

“The judge’s order says if there is something that’s disclosable, do it. And if it’s not disclosable, provide a privilege log like the law requires. Neither of which they’ve been doing and both of which they agreed to do,” McKay said.

The news organizations sued the state in the beginning of October and soon after came to an agreement with the Department of Law. The state said they would start producing the documents as soon as possible and provide them on a rolling basis. They did not.

Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar argued the case on behalf of the State. She said that the delay was due to the privilege of the executive branch to review all of the documents and see if releasing them would violate anyone’s rights.

The governor’s office was given 717 pages of documents cleared by the Department of Law on October 21, none of which have yet been logged or released. Bakalar said the governor’s office is working on many issues.

Judge Miller asked Bakalar at least four times how much time the governor’s office needed to complete the request and was never given a straight answer.

The state could still appeal the judge’s order to the state’s Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 30, 2014

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:12

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

Download Audio

Judge Rules State Must Comply With National Guard Records Request

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the governor’s office must start providing documents about the National Guard scandal to Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News.  The State has until noon tomorrow to hand over any related public records they have already identified and a privilege log that explains why they cannot provide other documents.

Organizations Making Final Push To Encourage Alaska Native Voters

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

As Election Day nears, Native organizations in Juneau are making one last big push to encourage voters through a Get Out the Native Vote information rally on Saturday.

YKHC Moves Into New Prematernal Home

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A facility that has lowered infant and mother morbidity rates in the Y-K Delta has a new home. Bethel’s Prematernal Home has moved to a new building along the Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. The new Home is three times the size of the old one and has improved amenities for the region’s expectant mothers during the final stage of pregnancy.

Timeline Begins To Emerge From National Guard Documents

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

While the governor’s office is now being told to provide more National Guard records or explain the reasons for withholding them, the administration did hand over a 352-page log of records that could be relevant earlier this week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that hints of a timeline emerge in the document that outlines the Parnell administration’s response to the allegations.

Refuge Proposes Shooting Caribou that Swim Off Adak

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Adak Island is home to something you won’t find elsewhere in the Aleutians: a herd of caribou, introduced in the 1950s as a hunting option for the old naval base there. The base is closed, but the caribou are still thriving — and lately, some have been striking out for newer pastures. It’s got wildlife refuge managers looking to keep a herd from forming where hunters can’t follow.

Report: Second-Growth Logging Can Start Now

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Tongass National Forest officials want the timber industry to log and process fewer old trees. They’re planning a 10- to-15-year transition to harvesting younger forests.

Two Oregon researchers, one an industry consultant and the other an environmental activist, say it can happen sooner.

Categories: Alaska News

Organizations Making Final Push To Encourage Alaska Native Voters

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:12

As Election Day nears, Native organizations in Juneau are making one last big push to encourage voters through a Get Out the Native Vote information rally on Saturday.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC Moves Into New Prematernal Home

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:11

A facility that has lowered infant and mother morbidity rates in the Y-K Delta has a new home. Bethel’s Prematernal Home has moved to a new building along the Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. The new Home is three times the size of the old one and has improved amenities for the region’s expectant mothers during the final stage of pregnancy.

Download Audio

With her flowing black hair and a light blue dress that shows off her full, pregnant belly, the woman in the window art at the front door of Bethel’s new Prematernal Home, could be any of the hundreds who stay at the facility while they await the birth of their babies.

“These are not stained glass but there’s three of them in the windows and they’re an acrylic paint that’s completely washable, so she’s pretty prominent here and she’s pretty special.”

She’s even painted onto the barriers in the parking lot. That’s Doreen O’Brien, who’s run the Prematernal Home for 24 years. The Home is run by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. It houses pregnant women from the surrounding 58 villages that YKHC serves, during the last month of their pregnancy, so that they can more easily access care required and are closer to emergency services should there be a complication. The new home is a huge improvement over the old one says O’Brien.

“The first and foremost thing that everybody notices is there’s more bathrooms, said O’Brien.

The rooms where women stay are larger, and they have nearly double the number of beds of the old home, 45. There’s a movie and game room, a commercial kitchen, a laundry room and even a workout room. The home is spacious.

“This place is 17-thousand square feet with 15 bedrooms, eight bathrooms, in their rooms. We have two public restrooms as well. And just the size; the old building was 5,000 square feet, this is 17,000 square feet, so it’s three times the size that we were in,” said O’Brien.

The home started out as a stand-alone non-profit in the late sixties, after local health care workers realized that many Native women from surrounding villages who had been directed by health care providers to relocate to Bethel, had nowhere to go. Some were living in poor conditions, even outside.

“In 1967 there was a lady found living under an under an overturned boat up by the old Indian Health Service hospital, about where the new Y-K building is now. And when the medical staff – somebody went out and found her out there and said what are you doing? She said, ‘Well they told me to come to Bethel to have my baby and be safe but I don’t have any place to stay.’ So that woke people up and realized that the women were coming in from the surrounding 58 villages but where were they staying?” said O’Brien.

An ad-hoc committee got together and the Hoffman family donated a house. By 1971, the home had relocated to what is now the old pre-maternal home, a little pink building near the Lutheran church. YKHC took over in 2004. O’Brien says the old Maternal Home wasn’t ideal.

“There was one time that I had 37 women in that prematernal home. We had a big storm come in in a January and every time a plane went to a village they’d throw the pregnant women on it an bring em to town and they’d be standing in the door and I says, I can’t just put you in the street. And there was no place else for em. We had ladies sleeping on the couches. I went into town, in Bethel, and bought every roll away bed that was known to man in Bethel and we put them up,” said O’Brien.

Today each woman gets her own bed in a spacious dorm room with a shared bathroom. Back at the front entry, O’Brien gazes up at the design of the pregnant woman on the glass between the entry and the dining area and marvels at just how far the home for expectant mothers has come.

“The first design of new maternal home back in ’96 or something and that was on the proposal booklet that was going out for grants, so there she is and she’s just kind of there, waiting,” said O’Brien.

And now she, along with the hundreds of women who spend the final weeks of pregnancy at the home, will have a much nicer place to bide their time until baby arrives. Construction of the new Prematernal home was paid for through a state capital appropriation of 12.6 million dollars. The official grand opening is set for Tuesday, November 18th (4-6pm).

Categories: Alaska News

Refuge Proposes Shooting Caribou that Swim Off Adak

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:09

Adak Island is home to something you won’t find much of elsewhere in the Aleutians: a herd of caribou, introduced in the 1950s as a hunting option for the naval base. The base has since closed, but the caribou are still there — and lately, some have been striking out for new pastures.

It’s got wildlife refuge managers looking to keep a herd from forming where hunters can’t follow.

Download Audio

Kagalaska Island makes pretty appealing habitat for an enterprising caribou. It’s uninhabited, roomy and full of tasty lichen beds. And it’s just a short swim away from Adak.

Caribou on Adak in 1985. (Credit: USFWS)

Both islands are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, where Steve Delehanty is manager. Of the 2,000 or so caribou on Adak, he says a handful have been spotted on Kagalaska in the past two years:

“I’m not a caribou; I don’t know just what’s going through their mind,” he says, “but if you’re standing on Adak, you can look across on a semi-clear day and you can see land there. And caribou are well known to be swimmers, and I guess once in a while, they decide to take the plunge and look for new habitat, a new place to call home.”

Kagalaska’s only about a half a mile away from Adak at its closest point, but Delehanty says the rough water between the two islands makes it impractical to even try to hunt there. And since the Aleutians aren’t home to any of mainland Alaska’s other big mammals — like wolves — the caribou could flourish in their new environment.

“It’s pretty common to have kind of a population boom in an island setting when an animal is brought that doesn’t have any natural predators,” he says. “The population will grow and grow and grow, and sometimes, they’ll sort of eat themselves out of house and home and the population will crash.”

Delehanty says it’s his job to preserve the natural order of the refuge — and the non-native caribou don’t belong. So the refuge is proposing sending staff workers to Kagalaska about once a year, to walk around and shoot any caribou they find.

After that, Delehanty says they’d follow government policy, and decide case-by-case whether it was worth it to salvage and donate a dead animal to subsistence users back on Adak.

“I think everybody prefers that if it’s possible, but there becomes a balance of reasonableness and cost-effectiveness,” he says. “You have to realize how remote this site is, and how logistically challenging this is. And again, there are a couple thousand [caribou] on Adak.”

He stressed that the control plan wouldn’t interfere at all with Adak’s well-established herd, which is a food source and a big tourism draw. On Kagalaska, though, Delahanty says the caribou aren’t just introduced — they’re invasive.

“Even though they’re swimming by themselves to get to Kagalaska Island, they never would have gotten there except for the fact that humans brought them to Adak,” he says. “So it’s kind of a human-originating problem.”

But he’s not sure yet how their human-powered solution will work. Staff could do the caribou control during their annual Aleutian tour on their research ship Tiglax. It’d be convenient, since Adak’s hard to get to otherwise, and it’s already in the refuge budget.

An annual visit to Kagalaska might not be enough, though. Refuge staff set foot on the island so rarely right now that they don’t have good data on how many caribou are moving there, or how often. That’s something else they’d look to find when they went scouting for new herds.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is still taking public comment on the caribou control plan for Kagalaska Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Second-Growth Logging Can Start Now

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:08

Remains of a Tongass clear-cut and logging road north of Ketchikan. New growth in parts of the forest could be cut to jump-start a modern timber industry, a report says. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

Tongass National Forest officials want the timber industry to log and process fewer old trees. They’re planning a 10- to-15-year transition to harvesting younger forests.

Two Oregon researchers, one an industry consultant and the other an environmental activist, say it can happen sooner.

Download Audio

Loggers working the Tongass National Forest harvested large numbers of older trees from the 1950s through much of the 1990s.

Harvests have since slowed, and in recent years, almost stopped.

Tongass officials and environmental groups say the future is in young- or second-growth, mostly trees that have grown back after earlier decades’ clear-cuts.

But that’s a challenging goal.

“Transitioning out of old growth and into young growth, you cannot just flip a switch and do it,” says Catherine Mater, president of Mater Engineering, where she consults for timber companies on industry issues.

She’s based in Corvallis, Ore., but has worked in Southeast for Viking Lumber and the Sealaska Corp.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that all old-growth logging is going to go away. But I do feel very optimistic that there’s an opportunity to have a transition and replacement from a majority of old growth now to a majority of young growth,” she says.

Mater’s partnered with Dominick DellaSala of the Ashland, Ore.,-based Geos Institute, which researches climate change and related environmental issues.

Together, they’re promoting a study detailing how the Tongass National Forest can quickly change from old-growth to younger-growth harvests.

DellaSala says they began by looking at the most controversial forest stands, the ones that lead to appeals and lawsuits.

“So we took those off the table. And then we wanted to see what was left, where we could come up with some higher levels of certainty, where the wood can get to the mills quicker without litigation, without the appeals and without the expenses that go into that,” he says.

They also eliminated areas too far away from roads, or otherwise economically unfeasible.

Mater says that leaves enough land to start a sustainable young-growth timber industry. That includes forests that could produce 25 million to 30 million board feet of timber – very soon.

“We have pre-commercially-thinned lands in the national forest system that offer a unique opportunity to do that,” she says.

She — and DellaSala — say a young-growth  industry could start now and be fully functional in about five years, instead of the 10 to 15 years the Forest Service is shooting for.

Another difference: They say 55-year-old trees can be harvested, while the agency usually considers 90 as the minimum marketable age.

Mater says the new industry would be different from what we have today.

She says it would move from construction lumber to smaller, more heavily processed products.

“This is the stuff that goes into your windows and doors that you see in your homes and in your buildings, in panel-grade material and in custom-grade material,” she says.

“No one has evaluated Southeast Alaska second-growth material in those particular grade factors.”

She says that research could be done in about a year and a half.

Many looking at the issue question whether second-growth Tongass timber can compete with large Pacific Northwest tree farmers, which have been in the business for decades.

Mater says that used to be an issue, but not anymore.

“The reality is that the U.S. markets are already familiar with Southeast Alaska wood species going into those higher value-added markets. What we don’t know, and this is what we are going to test, is whether we can get that same characteristic coming out of old-growth that goes into factories and shops from second-growth,” she says.

Mater says new mills would need to be built to process the younger trees. But she says some old-growth harvests would continue to keep existing mills going.

DellaSala says making the transition–soon–is the only choice. Otherwise, the Tongass will become like Pacific Northwest forests that were badly damaged before such changes kicked in.

“If it goes in the direction of continued old-growth logging, it runs into a wall of litigation and uncertainty for all the stakeholders. If you go the direction of where Catherine Mater’s reporthas been guiding our analysis, then you have the potential for a wall of wood, and much more certainty,” he says.

DellaSala and Mater have submitted their report to Tongass officials, who are planning such a transition with the help of an advisory committee.

They’ve also toured Southeast, presenting their finds to environmental and timber organizations.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Way Race For House 10

Thu, 2014-10-30 11:48

House 10 stretches from the northern outskirts of Wasilla up to Trapper Creek and the Denali border, swinging West to include Skwentna and the most remote areas of the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Republican Wes Keller has served the district since he was appointed in July of 2007 to replace Vic Kohring. He’s won every election since, and has served on a wide variety of House committees and subcommittees. He currently chairs the House Judiciary. Keller’s campaign slogan :”Your experienced voice” sums up his involvement in the legislature. Keller reflects pro-family, pro-gun and limited government regulation views.

“I’m ready to take on another two years. I’ve been endorsed by the CPG, the Citizens Patriot Group, the National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association’s Sports Caucus.”

The incumbent was faced on KAKM’s Running by upstart Democrat Neal Lacy, a semi – retired educator, and interestingly enough, a former bow hunting safety instructor for state Fish and Game.

“I would like a chance to be your legislator. I will listen, I will not be condescending toward my constituents.”

Lacy opposes Keller on almost all points. He challenged Keller on women’s issues, resource development and the minimum wage. Lacy charges that some of Keller’s legislation — on voter id — was actually written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an outside organization which attempts to rewrite state laws. Keller says he only uses ALEC legislation as a starting point, not as a template.

And, Lacy says the Susitna Dam project is a boondoggle.

“The Sustina Dam project is a complete and absolute waste of money. We have spent, since the 1980s, somewhere close to about 400 million dollars, and just this last year, the legislature appropriated 20 million more. We know that large scale dams are a problem.”

Keller says the Susitna project is worth the current level of state investment.

You know,we need to look at it, and we don’t just write it off , you know, based on some pre-determined predjudice or bias. Even now, we don’t have the information we need to make a rational decision. We are waiting for data, that was part of the deal. That was part of the reason we spent 20 million dollars to get more information to see if it is, in fact, feasible. And I would contend that if the gas pipeline doesn’t come into being and progress, that affordable electricity is still going to be something we have to look at. Maybe smaller projects maybe elsewhere. “

 Keller also supports investment in Port MacKenzie, because of the economic benefits it could have for the area.

Keller and Lacy spar on health care, and the best way to keep the budget in check. Wes Keller:

“What we have to do is figure out a realistic picture of what the revenues can be, and then ask the agencies to modernize their budgets to accommodate the amount of money available. And some of the departments have done really well with that already, and we are going to have to ask them again to do it. “

Neal Lacy says cut waste.

“We need to look for efficiencies in everything that we do. My bone of contention comes when we give tax credits to organizations that really do not need them. If your business model requires you to have a tax credit from the government, you probably shouldn’t be in that business to begin with.”

Keller, who serves on the Alaska Health Commission, says escalating health costs in Alaska can be checked with some innovation

“..Introduce competitive services to try to de-regulate some of the things that are going now. We have to start taking some risks maybe, but we need to take the lid off the providers and the industry out there, so they can make the best use of technology, distance delivery.”

Lacy argues the state needs to expand Medicaid

“The governor’s refusal to do that was a huge mistake for the people of the state ofAlaska. As I go and visit the constituents around my area, there are a number of people who could be benefiting, I’m talking about retired people.”

Stirring up the two party mix – Roger Purcell, a former mayor of Houston, running as a non-affiliated candidate

“I didn’t give up my Republican registration, and I’m still a registered Republican.”

Purcell says an effective representative works with city councils in his district to find out what the actual needs are.

Purcell says substandard roads are a big problem, as is flooding and underfunded senior centers. He says the state’s road upgrades are too slow, and that long term loans are available to get highway upgrades on the fast track.

 

“But unless your district Rep. is able to meet with them and have the dialogue that goes along with it, especially in the upper Susitna area, and our roads, which are way, way overused and underfunded, you can’t really go down to Juneau and find out what the needs are working with DOT.”

Purcell says the proposed Susitna dam is not in the right place, and that he wouldn’t have voted to spend state money on the project.

 ”Hydro is good, the dam in this location is not. As far as I am concerned, it is not in the correct place to put it.”

 Purcell resigned his mayor’s post in 2008, a day before a recall election was set to oust him, but Purcell says the railroad link between Houston and Port MacKenzie came into being under his watch. He says Port MacKenzie is the future economic driver of the Mat Su region.

“Port MacKenzie is actually the future of the Valley and the state of Alaska. And, the reason is, is with the rail spur going in, which I fought for strongly as mayor, when we put the road beside it all the way down, we will have a truck route highway, a real highway going beside the rail spur down to the Port. You’ll see at that point the different mines opening up in Interior of Alaska, the jobs that will be created. With the high unemployment rate we have now in District 10, you’ll see the ability of folks in this area to get jobs at Port MacKenzie.”

 As of the most recent reports, Keller and Lacy have spent about 8 thousand dollars each, on their campaigns, Purcell a little over 3 thousand dollars.  

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Public Media, Alaska Dispatch News Take State To Court Over National Guard Documents

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:47

Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News are taking the State to court because the state government has failed to provide documents regarding the National Guard Scandal.

Download Audio

The two media outlets sued the state on Oct. 8 after being denied public records requests filed last spring. The Attorney General’s office agreed to provide emails, documents, and document logs related to the scandal to avoid going to court. To this date, they have only provided a few emails.

The media outlets are asking the courts to expedite the process and hear the suit as soon as possible. They want the Governor’s Office to provide the documents before next week’s election.

In the request to the court, the media outlets say they believe the Attorney General’s office is trying to get the documents but they are reaching a bottleneck at the Governor’s Office.

The judge will hold a hearing on the issue tomorrow afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Reform Group Hears Passionate Testimony On Proposed Cuts

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:46

The State’s Medicaid Reform Advisory Group has met for the last six months in relative obscurity. That changed today (Wednesday) when more than 200 parents, doctors and physical therapists showed up to testify about a list of proposed “innovations” the group hopes will help curtail the growing cost of program. The message the group heard was that the reforms would have huge impacts on the people who rely on Medicaid for health services. 

Download Audio

Jamie Robinson approached the microphone with an 11-month-old baby snuggled on her chest in a baby carrier.

Robinson’s second child, a first grader named Brooke, is one of more than 150,000 Alaskans who benefit from the state’s Medicaid program. Brooke has cerebral palsy and other developmental delays. Robinson became emotional as she said Brooke was born by emergency c-section:

“She’s my miracle child because she should have died,” Robinson said. ”When she was born doctors didn’t know if she would walk or talk. We didn’t know anything, so we just had to wait.”

Robinson says Brooke is now walking and talking- and thriving in school. She says her daughter has benefited from frequent occupational, physical and speech therapy. One of the proposed reforms would limit the number of therapy sessions to no more than six per year, after that a patient would need to be reevaluated. Robinson says frequent evaluations would be harmful to Brooke and cutting back on therapy would be devastating.

“Brooke has to work really really hard. you gotta think of this as a gym membership right,” Robinson said. ”If you go to a gym, if you go six times a year, are you going to see a result? No you are not, you have to go and you have to work your body and she works her butt off.”

Nearly everyone who testified in the morning talked about problems with requiring frequent evaluations for therapy. And it was a message Division of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur had heard even before the meeting began. He committed to revisiting the issue.

“It was excellent testimony and it helped us realize we need to focus on the person, on the kid, on the child, on the parent on the family,” Streur said.

Commissioner Streur says he was pleased with the level of public involvement at the meeting. He says he heard good recommendations on specific reform ideas. One of the things he took away from the meeting is that a cookie cutter approach to reform won’t work:

“Focus the treatment on the stuff that you preach about Streur and that’s right care, right time, right place for the right person,” Streur said. ”So it has to be person specific. What we came out with are broad recommendations and folks have come back to us and said, ‘tailor it and we can live with it.’”

Commissioner Streur says he’s committed to getting a list of reform ideas to the governor by the deadline of Nov. 15. But he says that is just the start of the next phase of the process, which will involve more analysis on each reform.

Still, for committee member Sandra Heffern, the testimony highlighted how rushed the process has been. Governor Parnell announced he was creating the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group last November. Members were appointed in March and have been meeting monthly since April. Heffern, who is a health care consultant with a background in home healthcare services, says there hasn’t been enough time for deep discussion on the recommendations:

“The recommendations are these are things we need to further explore, but to say were going to do any kind of reform based on any of the innovations that are brought forward is well I don’t want to use the word ludicrous, but that’s what comes to mind,” Heffern said.

Several people who testified brought up new reform ideas for the group to consider, like paying for hospice care at the end of life to save on hospital costs and reusing expensive medical equipment like wheelchairs. That last idea came from Medicaid recipient Ric Nelson, who uses a wheelchair and serves on the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. He is also getting a graduate degree in public administration. Speaking through an interpreter, he left the committee with this thought:

“Without these services or therapies, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So I urge you to please look carefully at what you’re doing- you might affect someone like me in the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

DOJ May Intervene In Alaska Supreme Court Case

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:45

The U.S. Department of Justice may intervene in an Alaska Supreme Court case concerning a non-Native couple’s adoption of an Alaska Native child. In September, the Native Village of Tununak lost its appeal against the State of Alaska and the adoptive couple.

Download Audio

DOJ is trying to determine, does the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Baby Veronica case apply to the Tununak case? Baby Veronica was about a private adoption. The Tununak case is concerned with a state-sanctioned adoption.

Matt Newman is an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which has been involved in the Tununak case as a friend of the court.

“I think what is definitely of note and definitely what was a bit surprising is the Tununak decision is now on the radar of the Department of Justice,” Newman says. “Through this extension they’re certainly not committing to anything. They’re not saying ‘we have a brief to file.’ But they’re at least showing that there’s an interest in the case at levels higher than just the bar here in Alaska.”

The fate of a 6-year-old the court calls “Dawn” is at stake in the case. Dawn was placed into foster care as an infant in Anchorage near her mother in the hope that they could be reunited.

That was a deviation from the Indian Child Welfare Act, which mandates a preference for Native family placement. But the tribe and the child’s grandmother Elise agreed–initially. After a year Dawn was placed with a new non-Native family, the Smiths, who are now trying to finalize their adoption of her.

Three years after Dawn first entered the State of Alaska’s custody, her mother’s parental rights were terminated. After the termination the tribe argued that keeping Dawn in Anchorage was no longer warranted and they stepped up their efforts to have Dawn placed with her grandmother in Tununak. According to the September decision, Elise had requested custody of Dawn since the beginning and had made efforts to bring her home into compliance for placement.

During the last appeal the state court had initially granted the tribe a stay of the adoption. Four days later the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, otherwise known as the Baby Veronica case. In light of this, the state court requested supplemental arguments from the parties.  Because the grandmother did not formally file for adoption, the court reasoned that the Baby Veronica decision meant that there was no ICWA placement preference to apply.

A window to appeal the decision to federal court closed Friday, the same day that the DOJ requested its own extension. The DOJ wrote that the “United States has a strong interest in the interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” and that the department was not aware of the case until after the September decision.

The DOJ has until November 24 to decide if it will intervene in the case. The Village of Tununak’s tribe is represented by Alaska Legal Services Corp.

Categories: Alaska News

GOP’s U.S. Senate , House Hopefuls Try To Tie Democratic Foes To Obama, Reid et al.

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:44

Candidates for Alaska’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate squared off at a forum in Fairbanks Tuesday.

Download Audio

On the Senate side, Republican Dan Sullivan relentlessly tried to tie incumbent Democrat Mark Begich to President Obama and majority leader Harry Reid.

“Under the Obama administration, where you’ve supported those policies 97 percent of the time, most of that has been about consolidating power in Washington, consolidating power with regard to D.C. bureaucrats,” Sullivan said. “And I think that Alaskans have a very different approach.”

Sullivan also reminded Begich that Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowksi took issue with a Begich political advertise suggesting she supported the Democrat. Begich responded saying he and Murkowski mostly vote the same way.

“Y’know, when you’ve have an 80 percent voting record together on every single item — I’m for that,” Begich said. “That’s what we need more of in Washington, D.C. , than the partisan bickering that goes on, especially in this campaign, by my opponent, who only talks about Reid and Obama. This is about Alaska, and what’s important for Alaska.”

Candidates vying for the House seat talked about the problem of gridlock in Washington. Democrat Forrest Dunbar pointed to term limits as part of the solution, citing the connection between Washington D.C. K Street lobbying firms and Congress.

“Right now, there’s a huge incentive for those staffers to go to K Street firms for million-dollar salaries, and then funnel money back to their former bosses on various committees,” Dunbar said. “We need to reform D.C., reform the system in D.C. And that will help change the partisan nature of our capitol.”

Incumbent Congressman Don Young, the longest serving Republican in the House, blamed the ineffectiveness of Congress on a structural shift.

“When I was chairman of both of my committees, the partisanship did not exist,” Young said. “We worked together. And then Nancy Pelosi created what we call the ‘brain trust’ in the Speaker’s office. The Speaker runs the Congress, regardless (whether) it’s a Democrat of Republican. And the chairmen have no real authority anymore. I want to get the chairmanship back to have the authority to run the Congress.”

Libertarian House candidate Jim McDermott maintained a third-party Representative is the best way to break up the zero sum game being played in Washington.

“The elite side of the Democrats and the Republicans are in a room,” McDermott said. “They’re in a room with a can of paint and a brush. They start at the door, there’s only one exit, and they paint themselves into a corner. So they don’t have any room to maneuver. They have to go one way or another, or I guess they get thrown out and annexed out of the party. Where in the Libertarian Party, we obviously are going to start painting towards the door. Which means we can give ourselves options.”

The House and Senate candidates also responded to questions on numerous other topics during the forum sponsored by the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, ranging from resource development to health care and the federal deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

Property Crime Victims Often Given The Back Seat

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:43

Nikiski residents are frustrated by a recent rash of property crimes and are dissatisfied with law enforcement’s response. A state agency set up to help crime victims claims there is a larger trend of disenfranchisement among property crime victims across Alaska.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Holds On As America’s Top Fishing Port

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:42

The port of Dutch Harbor will hang onto its title as the nation’s busiest fishing port for another year.

Download Audio

According to the latest rankings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 753 million pounds of seafood were landed here in 2013. That’s more than any other port in America. And it marks the 17th consecutive year Unalaska has gotten that distinction.

It’s mostly due to the large volume of pollock brought in from the Bering Sea, along with crab and other groundfish. Those deliveries were worth slightly less last year. But at $197 million, they were still the second most profitable in the nation behind New Bedford, Mass. Their sea scallop harvest helped bring in $379 million.

Overall, Alaska’s fishing ports saw the biggest value from their catch. Kodiak came in third, with landings worth $153 million. Cordova, Naknek, and Sitka were in the top ten, with Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Seward trailing close behind.

Those ports were also some of the busiest in the country, thanks to a record-breaking salmon season. Alaska’s seafood landings spiked 26 percent — getting close to 5.8 billion pounds of fish statewide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Ranks Among Nation’s Least Energy-Efficient States

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:41

Alaska rates near the bottom in a nationwide survey on how states are improving energy-efficiency programs. A state energy official says the survey may not be giving Alaska enough credit for the programs it has put in place in recent years.

Download Audio

Energy-policy analysts say the U.S. industrial base is riddled with energy-inefficiency. A2009 study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says the United States wastes more than half of all energy it produces, about 58 percent, due to such inefficiencies as unused waste heat from power plants and poorly heated and insulated buildings.

Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economyhas for eight years now been tracking those inefficiencies, and issuing an annual survey on how, and whether, states are making progress to improve.

Annie Gilleo, the council’s state policy research analyst, said in a Wednesday teleconference announcing this year’s survey that energy efficiency doesn’t just save money; it also boosts economies.

“The benefits of energy efficiency have been proven,” Gilleo said “We see it creating jobs, we see it saving customers money on their energy bills. We see it cleaning up environments.”

This year’s survey shows Alaska for the second consecutive year rates 47th in the nation, with Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming rounding out the bottom five.

“Most of these states at the bottom have not made energy efficiency a priority in their policies, with low scores across the board,” Gilleo said.

Much of Alaska’s low rating is based on the state’s failure to develop energy-efficiency programs for utilities and the transportation sector. It gave credit to some state policies, such as those based on legislation passed in 2010 that among other things set a goal of generating half of the state’s electricity with renewable-energy sources by 2025. But the state doesn’t get credit for that because it’s voluntary, not required.

Sean Skaling is the Alaska Energy Authority’s deputy director for Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency. He believes Alaska’s low rating is largely because the council isn’t giving enough credit for its energy-conservation efforts.

“The state-government-led initiatives are where our score is very good, actually,” he said. “We’re well above average there.”

Skaling’s referring to the high marks that the council gave for the state’s Village Energy Efficiency Program, which provides audits for public buildings in remote communities and helps pay for improvements; and the Commercial Building Energy Audit program, which provide similar help for those qualifying private-sector property owners.

Skaling suspects the council’s low rating for Alaska is based at least in part on statistical quirks arising from a small population spread over a large area in a cold, requiring high energy use.

“Y’know, things are a little different in Alaska,” he said. “Sometimes a lot different.”

The council also credits Alaska for its two residential energy-efficiency think tanks, including Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. And the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s energy-rebate program, which gives qualifying homeowners up to $10,000 to improve their house’s energy efficiency.

But the Council faults Alaska for among other things not requiring commercial buildings to comply with thermal- and lighting-efficiency standards, like those required of all public facilities. It also cites the state’s failure to require all new construction to adhere to the state’s building-energy codes, instead of just state-financed construction.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages