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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: 50 min 3 sec ago

Juneau Non-Profit Bridges Spanish Language Gap

Tue, 2014-10-14 17:51

About 5 percent of Juneau’s population identifies as Hispanic. Some are non-English speaking immigrants who need help translating official documents or government forms. Others require assistance navigating the Alaska Court System. A national nonprofit that started a Juneau branch last year now offers Spanish translation and interpretation services in Juneau. Piedra de Ayuda, or A Helping Rock, began as a homeless outreach program on the East Coast.

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A Latin American immigrant moved to Juneau recently with her boyfriend and met a local man who helped her get settled and find an apartment. She claims he asked to live with her family temporarily, and then things went downhill.

“Tuesday he was a good man, Wednesday he was a good man, Friday he was a good man, but Saturday he was a monster,” the woman says in Spanish.

We’ve omitted her name due to the ongoing nature of her case, which involves accusations of domestic abuse and sexual assault. She claims the local man was often drunk and abusive.

“I was afraid,” she says. “Because, I said, ‘What if he kills me? What do I do?’ Because he said he was going to make me disappear.”

She needed a protective order from the courts, but her English was limited.

“She didn’t know her way around and basically was harassed by this man because of the lack of the language,” says Wanda Peña. “She couldn’t communicate with anybody, so she ended up going to the courthouse and they provided her with our number and she immediately called.”

Peña is a volunteer with Piedra de Ayuda, a national nonprofit that started a Juneau branch last year and now offers Spanish translation and interpretation services. Peña helped the woman fill out paperwork and interpreted for her in court.

New Jersey native Eddy Reyes helped found Piedra de Ayuda, or A Helping Rock. It began as a homeless outreach program on the East Coast and is now based in Florida. After he moved to Juneau, Reyes started a local branch. He says government agencies like the Division of Motor Vehicles had not provided many language services in the capital city.

“Because there’s not maybe an interpreter or they don’t understand the language there to fill out a form, suddenly someone had to walk out of there without a picture ID,” he says. “Cause of course, if you’re gonna try to get a job, you have to identify yourself. Well, how do you do that if you have no ID?”

Reyes says Piedra de Ayuda is made up entirely of volunteers. Since last year, the local branch has added seven board members and helped about 20 different clients.

Although the law requires courts to provide interpretation to people with limited English proficiency, nonprofit and commercial organizations that offer language assistance are rare in Alaska. Neil Nesheim is court administrator for Southeast. He says 60 to 70 percent of interpretation is done over speakerphone, which is not always the best option.

“Obviously it’s more effective to do it in person only because you get to see subtleties such as facial language, hand language, intonation and those sorts of things,” Nesheim says.

About 5 percent of Juneau’s population identifies as Hispanic. Some, like the woman Peña helped, don’t speak English and need help translating official documents and government forms, or navigating the Alaska Court System.

The woman says she’s grateful to Piedra de Ayuda.

“She came to help me so quickly,” the woman says. “They didn’t charge me anything. They were wonderful people.”

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Native Ice Testing Stick Will Be Used On National Research Vessel

Tue, 2014-10-14 17:50

Two people stand on the ice with their testing sticks, hooks visible at the top. The hook could be used to grab onto an article of clothing if someone fell into the water. (Photo courtesy of Gay Sheffield)

Conducting research at sea in Arctic, ice-filled conditions is a tricky endeavor, requiring a host of high-tech gear. But, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new, ice-capable research vessel Sikuliaq, at least one piece of equipment dates back generations.

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In a few months, the ice-classed research vessel Sikuliaq, owned by the National Science Foundation, will be equipped with about a half dozen Arctic Native ice testing sticks as part of the ship’s safety outfit.

“It’s a multi-tool. Sometimes there’s a hook on the end for retrieving things, and the other end is used for poking the ice. It could be a harpoon with a rib bone, or some type of bone sticking out on the other end to test the ice,” said Brandon Ahmasuk, subsistence director at Kawerak. “Obviously, if it goes through, you don’t want to step there.”

Ahmasuk said it’s a highly valued safety tool for Alaskans who live in coastal communities and venture onto the ice for hunting in the winter. By testing the ice in their path with the stick, they can prevent accidentally falling through the weaker patches. He said his family always takes this tool with them on the ice because of its many functions.

“If you do happen to fall through, hopefully you can catch yourself before you fall past your waist and pull yourself back out,” said Ahmasuk. “If you do happen to fall all the way through, it’s still there, so you can pull yourself up like you’re doing a pull up. It’s a safety tool. They almost always have a dual function—whether it’s a harpoon, a retrieving hook, or a mooring hook.”

Ahmasuk said, fortunately, he has never fallen into the water, but he’s seen it happen to others, and it can be pretty terrifying.

“One of my brothers did fall in, and he said immediately it just took his breath away. He couldn’t breathe,” said Ahmasuk. “I mean, within a second he was able to pull himself out. A lot of times, individuals are out seal hunting or walrus hunting, and they’re miles and miles from the nearest town or village. So, if you do fall in, you’re going to be soaking wet. More than likely, you’re not going to make it back to wherever you came from because, within a matter of minutes, hypothermia is going to set in, and you’re going to freeze to death.”

The Sikuliaq is not an icebreaker, but it is an ice-classed vessel capable of breaking through up to two-and-a-half feet of ice. The vessel will operate in ice during some of its research missions in the Arctic—and scientists may be walking out on to the ice to collect data samples, which means they must be prepared for potentially dangerous situations.

Daniel Oliver is the marine superintendent at UAF’s Seward Marine Center. Oliver was in the U.S. Coast Guard before taking his current job at the Seward Marine Center, and he said it was through visits to coastal communities aboard Coast Guard icebreakers that he realized how functional and necessary the tool is. After consulting with Gay Sheffield, Marine Advisory agent in Nome, he decided to request those ice testing sticks as safety tools for the Sikuliaq.

“I found it was a pretty universal tool within the coastal communities, [with the people] that spend a good portion of their lives out on the ice with subsistence hunting,” said Oliver. “From talking with a number of folks from the villages, it certainly made sense to me. Which is why, when we were looking at what we were going to carry on board Sikuliaq for equipment, having this capability aboard made sense to me.”

Perry Pungowiyi is a craftsman in Savoonga, a member of the National Science Foundation Sikuliaq Oversight Committee and alternate commissioner on the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission for Savoonga. Pungowiyi will be making the sticks with materials Sheffield and Oliver have sent over to St. Lawrence Island. He said the tools are “time-tested by ice walkers of Alaska.” In Siberian Yupik, the name for the ice testing stick is “unghaq.”

Oliver said he hopes someone from Savoonga who is part of the ship’s science oversight committee will be able to join theSikuliaq crew at some point during ice trials, to share knowledge about the ice testing sticks and Bering Sea ice conditions.

The Sikuliaq, which is home-ported in Seward, will be used by U.S. and international scientists. Its first funded science trip this fall will be in the western Hawaiian island chain.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 14, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-14 17:09

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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Judge Denies Stay On Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Alaska Dispatch News

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess Tuesday denied the state of Alaska’s request for a stay in his decision overturning Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban. The Alaska Dispatch News reports Burgess’ denial means same-sex marriages in Alaska can continue.

Feds Seek Dismissal of King Cove Lawsuit

The Associated Press

Arguments have been scheduled on the federal government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over the Interior Department’s refusal to allow for a road from King Cove to an all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

More Big Thorne Timber Sales Announced

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Forest Service plans three more timber sales in a part of Prince of Wales Island conservationists say needs to be protected. They’re much smaller than a recent sale in the same area.

Groups Criticize State For Renewal Of Wishbone Hill Coal Mining Permit

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A coalition of environmental organizations are criticizing the state for issuing a coal mining permit for a site near Palmer.

Community-Based Solutions For Coastal Erosion Discussed In Anchorage

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

As climate change brings new threats to subsistence communities across Alaska’s coastlines, a conference held in Anchorage is advocating community-based solutions, and not waiting any longer for government assistance.

Fish & Game Releases Commercial Salmon Fishing Summary

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its summary report for the 2014 commercial salmon fishing season. Continued low king salmon numbers and new management tools were at the heart of this year’s fishing.

UAF Vice Chancellor Visits Bristol Bay Campus

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The man who oversees all of the rural campuses of the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been touring those campuses since being appointed to the job back in July.  Evon Peter visited the Bristol Bay Campus last week.

Juneau Non-Profit Bridges Spanish Language Gap

Kayla Deroches, KTOO – Juneau

About 5 percent of Juneau’s population identifies as Hispanic. Some are non-English speaking immigrants who need help translating official documents or government forms. Others require assistance navigating the Alaska Court System. A national nonprofit that started a Juneau branch last year now offers Spanish translation and interpretation services in Juneau. Piedra de Ayuda, or A Helping Rock, began as a homeless outreach program on the East Coast.

Arctic Native Ice Testing Stick Will Be Used On National Research Vessel

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

Conducting research at sea in Arctic, ice-filled conditions is a tricky endeavor, requiring a host of high-tech gear. But, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new, ice-capable research vessel Sikuliaq, at least one piece of equipment dates back generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Old Federal Building trees avoid the chopping block

Tue, 2014-10-14 15:48

Two large spruce trees in front of the Old Federal Building in downtown Anchorage will not be cut down. The General Services Administration, which looks after the site, had planned to remove the more than 50-year-old trees. Administration officials said the trees were damaging the walls and the roots could hurt the foundation. They said the spruces needed to come down in order to preserve the building. After conducting a meeting where public sentiment was strongly against the plan, GSA concluded that tree removal was not necessary.

Categories: Alaska News

Same-sex couples apply for marriage licenses, State asks for a stay

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:49

After a federal judge decided Sunday that Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, the State of Alaska started accepting applications for gay marriages this morning. But the state’s Attorney General is asking for a stay on that legal decision, which would put a hold on actually issuing any licenses.

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Courtney Lamb and Stephanie Pearson were part of the lawsuit seeking to overturn the gay marriage ban. They were first in line in Anchorage to apply for a license.

“Do you have an application?” the clerk inquired.

“Yes!” they replied in unison then started to process their paperwork.

Between giggles they took the oath and planned to pick up their license as soon as they could after the state’s mandatory three-day waiting period. That would be 8 am on Thursday morning.

Lamb and Pearson applying to marry. Hillman/KSKA

“What time is your wedding schedule?” I asked.

“8:30!”

Lamb and Pearson were joined at the front of the line by Ann Marie Garber and her fiance.

“It feels very surreal. I’ve been out since I was 17 and I had no idea this day would come in my life time.”

But whether or not the day actually comes depends on the state’s appeal for a stay. Attorney General Michael Geraghty says the ban should not be lifted yet because the law is in a state of flux.

“The cases around the country have gone off in different tangents in terms of finding these laws unconstitutional. It’s a bit of a smorgasbord, and that’s why I think ultimately the US Supreme Court is going to have to accept a case and decide this issue once and for all.”

The motion says a stay is in order “to avoid chaos in the administration of Alaska’s marriage laws pending ultimate resolution of this fundamental issue.”

Geraghty says the state wants a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges to hear the case. He says they’re hopeful because some judges in other circuits have stated they interpret same-sex marriage bans as constitutional.

Carl Tobias is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond and has been closely following same-sex marriage cases around the country. He says he doesn’t think the state has any new arguments to make.

“So I think it’s very much a long shot in terms of what is being argued in the stay. And I don’t think it reflects the reality on the ground from what we know right now.”

Christopher Ruff married his husband in California years ago and applied for an Alaska marriage license this morning. He says the governor’s appeal reflects badly on the state.

“It’s a little embarrassing on the state to have them codify discrimination in law and try and hold it. And I’m embarrassed with Parnell right now still continuing to say they want to hold it after the courts have said straight out they are degrading and discriminating. I forget the exact words but they were pretty harsh.”

Ruff says they applied for a license immediately because they are afraid the state will take away their rights again.

Judge Timothy Burgess will rule on the state’s request. If the stay is denied then licenses could be issued on Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Bureau of Vital Statistics Prepares New Marriage License Documents

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:47

With same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses across the state, the office that processes those documents made sure new applications were ready to go Monday morning.

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Categories: Alaska News

Report Details Rural Health Care Challenges

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:46

A new report details the challenges involved in providing health care to rural communities in Alaska.

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The study concludes there is a lack of professional expertise in the state’s smaller communities.

The report – called “Alaska’s Community Capacity Review: A Statewide Public Health System Assessment” – also notes that an aging health care workforce is a challenge as well.

State health promotion manager Jayne Andreen, who worked on the report, says there’s a need for mentors to counter an aging workforce.

The report says northern and southwest regions of the state are most lacking in health care providers.

The report was released October 1st. It is based on a performance review of the public health system earlier this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Push To Mobilize Alaska Native Voters

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:45

Over the last few months, the non-partisan ‘Get Out the Native Vote’ has made a big push to mobilize native voters across the Alaska. Roughly one in five potential voters in the state is Alaska Native. A number of native organizations have signed on to help with the movement.

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Categories: Alaska News

Protesters Block Access To BC Mine As It Nears Completion

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:44

A nearly-completed British Columbia mine in the Stikine River watershed is expected to begin full production at the end of this month. Meanwhile, protesters blocking access to the controversial Red Chris mine may be forced out Tuesday.

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Imperial Metals owns the Mount Polley Mine in eastern British Columbia, where an August tailings dam break spilled an estimated 2 billion gallons of silty water into the Fraser River watershed.

Now, Imperial’s Red Chris Mine, near the Southeast Alaska border, is raising concerns with groups on both sides of the border.

The Klabona Keepers, a group of Tahltan First Nation members living near that mine, are blockading its access road.

Red Chris’ owners were recently granted a temporary injunction against the blockade.

But Klabona Keepers spokesperson Rhoda Quock said that order is still a victory.

“For one, the companies usually walk into the courtroom, they get their court injunction, and they get their enforcement order. What they didn’t count on is that we had people in Vancouver to go into the courtroom and challenge it. And they didn’t get their enforcement order that day,” Quock said.

The Red Chris copper and gold mine is in the Stikine River watershed, upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg. Groups on both sides of the border are worried its tailings dam might be too similar to the one that spilled contaminated water and sediment into the Fraser River system.

For now, Klabona Keepers protesters continue blockading at the mine. When the enforcement order goes into effect, the police can act on the injunction and force them to leave.

An earlier blockade of the mine ended with an agreement between the Klabona Keepers, Imperial Metals and the Tahltan Central Council.

Protesters left the mine in August when Imperial Metals agreed to pay for an independent review of the Red Chris tailings dam. The Tahltan Central Council chose the reviewer. British Columbia will not issue final permits for the tailings dam until the review is complete.

The review is still pending, but protesters returned two weeks ago.

Quock said the blockade went back up after the group learned more about the impact of the Mount Polley dam breach.

“Red Chris is only 18 kilometers from our community. And not only that, once the dam breaks, it’s going to go into [the] Klappan. [The] Klappan goes into [the] Stikine. And that will affect our salmon,” Quock said. “It will also affect everyone downstream; it will affect their salmon.”

Vancouver-based Imperial Metals did not respond to requests for an interview.

In its injunction application, the company stated, “Red Chris has been forced to severely limit its construction activities at the project site, and if the blockade continues, will be forced to halt them altogether.”

Categories: Alaska News

Gubernatorial Candidates Square Off Over Medicaid Expansion

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:43

When Alaskans vote for governor on Nov. 4, they’ll also be deciding the fate of Medicaid expansion in the state. Incumbent Governor Sean Parnell has said he won’t expand the federal health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act. But his opponent, Independent candidate Bill Walker says if elected, he will immediately accept the federal money.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Murkowski, Julie Fate Sullivan Bring Senate Campaign To Bethel

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:42

Just weeks before the November election, the Sullivan campaign has come to Bethel.

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As former Attorney General and Natural Resources Commissoiner Dan Sullivan works to unseat incumbent Senator Mark Begich, he’s yet to visit the Y-K Delta, in his year-long campaign, but plans to soon. In the meantime, his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, was here on his behalf last week to introduce her husband to Southwest Alaskan voters. Despite a career spent in urban Alaska and Washington D.C., Fate Sullivan says her husband first connected with the state at her family’s Yukon fish camp.

“24 years ago, that’s the first place I ever brought him. To get up there and work with all of us, that’s the first part of Alaska Dan came to know and love, long before Anchorage or Fairbanks…we’d go into Fairbanks to pick up supplies. So he’s got a deep respect and understanding of rural Alaska, more than most people know,” said Fate Sullivan.

Fate Sullivan is Koyukon Athabascan, and has deep connections in the state. She’s worked as a journalist and as a staffer for the late Senator Ted Stevens. Her mother was the first female co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. And Sullivan also had the support of a powerful surrogate in Bethel: Senator Lisa Murkowski, who’s filmed one commercial for him.

“I need a partner who will work to advance Alaska’s interests, not the Obama agenda,” said Murkowksi in the campaign ad.

Fate Sullivan accompanied Murkowski to the Association of Village Council President’s Convention in Bethel Tuesday. Murkowki addressed the Convention during her visit but also fit in some campaigning for Sullivan. Senator Begich also addressed the AVCP convention and campaigned in Bethel last week.

The national implications of the race are not lost on the outside donors pouring millions into the race. If Republicans take six seats from Democrats in November, they will control the senate. Murkowski, as the ranking member of the Senate’s Energy and Interior Appropriations committee, would become Chair, and that becomes part of her campaign pitch.

“We stand to gain a great deal from the seniority position and chairmanship position that I would hold. That’ something that Alaskans should consider when they look at this race,” said Murkowski.

The rural vote was essential to Murkowski’s successful 2010 write-in campaign. But to connect with rural voters, Murkowski says, candidates have to be here in person.

“There’s no substitute for being on the ground, with the people, and being part of the people,” said Murkowski.

Although Sullivan was not part of the people at the region’s largest gathering of tribal leaders last week, sending his wife as his proxy, was a first step.

“It’s a better understanding of who he is. We’re a family obviously. When people realize that not only am I born and raised in Alaska, but I’m Alaska Native, there’s a better understanding. Like I said, there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” said Fate Sullivan.

Dan Sullivan is set to be on the ground in Bethel on Friday, October 17th where he’s scheduled to speak at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, among other campaign activities.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Sides With Anchorage In Ride-Sharing Lawsuit

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:41

A state court judge says ride-sharing company Uber cannot offer transportation for hire in Alaska’s largest city unless it complies with a local ordinance.

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Superior Court Judge Michael Corey issued an order Monday barring the company from charging people for rides in Anchorage unless it uses regulated vehicles and otherwise complies with municipal law regarding for-hire vehicles.

Corey ruled in a case brought by the municipality of Anchorage.

Uber provides a smartphone app that allows people to order rides in privately driven cars instead of taxis.

Corey, in his order, said Uber had not been charging riders for transportation it arranged but had the capability to charge at any time before his ruling.

A phone listing for an Uber attorney rang unanswered Monday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Leaders Gather In Bethel To Discuss Rural, State, Federal Issues

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:40

Leaders from around the state gathered in Bethel last week for the 50th Annual Association of Village Council Presidents Convention.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 13, 2014

Mon, 2014-10-13 17:30

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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Same-Sex Couples Apply For Marriage Licenses, State Asks For A Stay

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

After a federal judge decided Sunday that Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. The State of Alaska started accepting applications for gay marriages this morning, but the state’s Attorney General is asking for a stay on that legal decision, which would put a hold on actually issuing any licenses.

Gubernatorial Candidates Spar Over Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Following a federal court decision overturning Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage, the major candidates for governor are sparring over the appropriate response.

Bureau of Vital Statistics Prepares New Marriage License Documents

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

With same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses across the state, the office that processes those documents made sure new applications were ready to go Monday morning.

Report Details Rural Health Care Challenges

The Associated Press

A new report details the challenges involved in providing health care to rural communities in Alaska.

Groups Push To Mobilize Alaska Native Voters

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Over the last few months, the non-partisan ‘Get Out the Native Vote’ has made a big push to mobilize native voters across the Alaska.  Roughly one in five potential voters in the state is Alaska Native. A number of native organizations have signed on to help with the movement.

Protesters Block Access To BC Mine As It Nears Completion

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

A nearly-completed British Columbia mine in the Stikine River watershed is expected to begin full production at the end of this month. Meanwhile, protesters blocking access to the controversial Red Chris mine may be forced out Tuesday.

Gubernatorial Candidates Square Off Over Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

When Alaskans vote for governor on Nov. 4, they’ll also be deciding the fate of Medicaid expansion in the state. Incumbent Governor Sean Parnell has said he won’t expand the federal health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act. But his opponent, Independent candidate Bill Walker says if elected, he will immediately accept the federal money.

Sen. Murkowski, Julie Fate Sullivan Bring Senate Campaign To Bethel
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Just weeks before the November election, the Sullivan campaign has come to Bethel.

Judge Sides With Anchorage In Ride-Sharing Lawsuit

The Associated PRess

A state court judge says ride-sharing company Uber cannot offer transportation for hire in Alaska’s largest city unless it complies with a local ordinance.

Leaders Gather In Bethel To Discuss Rural, State, Federal Issues

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Leaders from around the state gathered in Bethel last week for the 50th Annual Association of Village Council Presidents Convention.

Categories: Alaska News

Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in Alaska

Sun, 2014-10-12 21:01

A federal judge legalized same-sex marriage in Alaska on Sunday. Governor Sean Parnell said in a press release he will appeal the ruling in order to “defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution.”

Judge Timothy Burgess found that the same-sex marriage ban was a violation of both due process and equal protection under the 14th amendment. He ordered the state to immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize legal marriages from other states.

Same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho were overturned last week by the Ninth Circuit Court, which oversees Alaska. The Supreme Court declined to hear appeals for other rulings legalizing same-sex marriage.

The Division of Public Health says they will not waive the three-day waiting people for getting a marriage license, however they will start accepting applications from same-sex couples immediately.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of the country.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Judge to rule on same-sex marriage in Alaska “soon”

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:59

Same-sex marriage supporters stand in the rain outside of the federal courthouse after the hearing. Hillman/KSKA

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Alaska — yet. The US District Court judge chose not to make a decision today after hearing oral arguments from both the state and a group of couples who are fighting the marriage ban.

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The arguments were complicated by the recent 9th District Court decision in the case Latta v. Otter that overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Idaho. Alaska is within the 9th Circuit, so that decision holds here as well.

The Idaho decision says that same-sex marriage bans violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because straight couples have the right to marry but same-sex couples do not. The plaintiffs argue that same-sex couples don’t have the same rights when buying property, visiting each other in the hospital, or even seeking a divorce.

The state tried to argue that Idaho decision could be overruled by a higher court especially since marriages there were put on hold because of a stay. That stay was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as today’s oral arguments were concluding in Alaska.

The judge and the attorneys all referenced and joked about the complex, fast changing legal landscape surround same-sex marriage.

Alison Mendel argued the case on behalf of the couples. She says she’s been working on this issue for 25 years, and she sees this as a done deal.

“It was very enjoyable. You know we came into this pretty confident we were gonna win. When the Latta decision was decided, we knew we were gonna win. So this was just an argument about the details, but it’s still very satisfying anyway.”

The State declined to make comments on the case beyond what they argued in front of the judge, which could not be recorded.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom and spilled into an overflow room gathered in front of the courthouse after the hearing.

Josh Hemsath is with the Pride Foundation in Alaska. He said he’s hopeful.

“As an Alaskan, I think it’s really exciting that we’re not being left behind. we’re not the last state to get heard, with the momentum on our side and being on the right side of history.”

Judge Timothy Burgess said he would issue a decision soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Elections Chief: Parties Say What They Want in Voter Pamphlet

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:58

The Division of Elections voter pamphlet is arriving in mailboxes across the state. Way in the back is a page that caught some voters by surprise. It’s a negative ad against Sen. Mark Begich. The ad itself is standard fare in this election. But Mary Toutonghi  a retired speech pathologist from Soldotna, says it has no place the voter pamphlet, which she thinks of as a source of non-partisan information.

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“The idea of actually attacking somebody — Doing an attack ad in neutral pamphlet is just absolutely egregious,” she says.

The Republican Party of Alaska paid for the ad.  Alaska Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says state law lays out the rules for ads in the pamphlet.

“The parties are allowed to purchase two pages and there’s nothing in law that limits what they can include in their materials,” she says.

State law even sets the price:  Political parties pay $600 per page. She says she doesn’t know whether the pamphlet has ever carried negative ads before.

Most parties run a one-page ad staking out their platform. The Republican Party does that, but in recent years has also bought a second page, showing children running a lemonade stand or holding puppies. This year, it decided to devote the second page to the Senate race. State party chair Peter Goldberg says it went negative because it had to prepare the ad before the Primary election, before they knew Dan Sullivan would be the Republican nominee.

“(It) had to be kind of a generic ‘let’s attack Begich but we don’t know who to support,’” Goldberg says

The pamphlet cost the state about $200,000 to print. This year, the state paid an extra $45,000 for a supplemental because the original publication left out gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker. The Elections Division says, due to administrative oversight,  it failed to send him a follow-up letter with details about how to submit his statement.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Campaign Believes Race Comes Down To Rural Alaska

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:57

Just weeks before voters decide the future make up of the U.S. Senate, Bethel residents heard what might be the start of the final push by the incumbent Senator.

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Begich is trailing Republican challenger Dan Sullivan in several polls and is gambling on gaining an edge off the beaten path.

“So I make it very clear that rural Alaska and more specifically Alaska Native people will determine the outcome of this election, no question about it,” said Begich.

Begich’s campaign repeats that statement over and over, including in a friendly reception at the annual Association of Village Council Presidents Convention in Bethel Thursday. He hopes delegates and volunteers there will bring his pitch to 56 villages, but he’s also banking on a small paid staff. Begich stopped at his Bethel field office, one of 16, which are responsible for delivering votes in the Y-K Delta and the Aleutian chain.

A couple dozen supporters eat chili and sign up volunteers for door knocking calling at a table full of berry buckets with his logo on them. Bethel resident Betsy Taguchi signed on to help.

“I think the race might be close, we could be the tipping point we’ve been a little, sit back about things over the years, and haven’t gotten out the vote the way we could have, and I think this year needs to be different,” said Taguchi.

Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is slated to make his first campaign stop in the Delta in the next couple weeks. His wife, Julie Fate Sullivan attended the AVCP convention and campaigned locally.

As Begich leaves his campaign office to catch the jet back to Anchorage, he contrasts his ground presence with his opponent’s and lists his visits over the years

“I was out here when I was [Anchorage] mayor, I was out here as an assembly member almost 25 years, ago, it’s a great community. I’ve been in the great parade on the 4th of July parade that starts on one end and it ends in the same place,” said Begich.

Begich did well on the Kuskowkwim in his 2008 election, winning over Senator Ted Stevens by a two-to-one margin in the region. He stands to gain from more turnout and is pushing hard for early voting, which starts October 20th. He says his ground game for election day is high tech and low tech.

“Our people who work for us and volunteers will be working the vote and the people every single day as soon as early voting starts. It’s not as simple as dial up and call people, that will be part of it, some will physically go to their doors and remind them, especially in small communities.”

Election day is November 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Juneau Resident Sets New Pre-Teen Book Series In Alaska

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:56

“Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes” is the first book of writer Katherine Rue. Rue now lives in North Carolina but often visits Juneau, where her parents, Sally and Frank Rue, still live. (Photo courtesy of Katherine Rue)

Born and raised in Juneau, writer Katherine Rue used her childhood as fodder for a recently published book for middle school readers.

“Braving the Brontes” is the first in a series that introduces “Carly Keene, Literary Detective” – a Juneau girl whose adventurous spirit allows her to brave time travel, ghosts and Victorian England.

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Any Southeast Alaskan who picks up “Braving the Brontes” will notice what footwear the protagonist is wearing on the cover – XTRATUFs.

Katherine Rue made sure the book’s New York illustrator had an idea of where 12-year-old Carly Keene is from.

“I sent him a picture of my XTRATUFs. Then I sent him a picture of a tent set up in the marsh in Alaska. ‘Here’s the kind of mountains I’m talking about. Here’s what the water and the mountains and islands look like together. And just so you know, people from Juneau don’t use umbrellas. We all make fun of them. She needs a raincoat on the front’ – that kind of thing,” Rue says lightheartedly.

Published by New York-based In This Together Media, the book begins and ends in present day Juneau. It takes an interesting turn when Carly is walking downtown with her best friend Francesca.

“They go into a bookshop they’ve never seen down a little alleyway they’ve never seen when they’re walking home from getting hot cocoa downtown. And she’s reading a first edition of ‘Jane Eyre’ and falls asleep, and wakes up in 1846,” Rue says.

Carly finds herself in the home of the Bronte sisters in England as Charlotte Bronte is trying to write the classic “Jane Eyre.” Carly is stuck there until she can solve a mystery involving the literary family.

Rue mirrored the fictional Carly after herself as a young girl – someone who read a lot of books, spent a lot of time outdoors and romanticized the past. She says it was important to have Carly be an adventurous, independent Alaskan girl.

“Challenges that Carly faces are things that she feels better prepared to deal with because she is Alaskan, like how they approach situations, like a chamber pot,” Rue says.

Braving the Brontes is geared for kids ages 9 to 14. Rue warns there is some challenging vocabulary that parents may need to decipher. The book also references many other great works of literature besides those written by the Bronte sisters. But Rue doesn’t expect her readers to have read “Jane Eyre” or to know who the Bronte sisters are.

“The goal with this was to sort of say, ‘Hey, you’ve probably read ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or the Narnia books, ‘Harry Potter’ and you’re looking for something else to read. Here’s what’s coming up and it’s really fun.’ Sort of introduce readers to the possibilities that they’re going to get to in a few years,” Rue says.

In the next book of the series, Carly and best friend Francesca find themselves in 1862 during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg where Louisa May Alcott is a nurse.

Writing the series allows Rue to explore a childhood fantasy. She was always waiting for her turn to walk through the wardrobe into Narnia. She says she’s still waiting.

Categories: Alaska News

Upper Valley Residents Remember Barbara Washburn

Fri, 2014-10-10 16:55

Recently, Barbara Washburn passed away at the age of 99. She was the first woman to set foot on the summit of Denali, but her legacy in the Talkeetna area has as much to do with who she was as what she did.

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Barbara and Brad Washburn’s adventure together began in New England.  Ken Pauley, who worked with the Washburns at the Museum of Science in Boston, explains how they met.

Barbara Washburn/ (Photo: Museum of Science, Boston)

“She was his secretary.  Needless to say, over time, there was a relationship developed.  They spent a lot of time together, and became husband and wife…”

After Brad and Barbara were married in 1940, Ken Pauley says it was not common to see them apart.

“They were inseparable. Whither he or she went, they went together.”

That led to shared adventures around the world, from the Grand Canyon to Mt. Everest.  One such adventure occurred in 1947, when the Washburns were part of an expedition on Denali.  RKO films documented the expedition in the short, “Operation: White Tower.”

Not only had no women summited North America’s highest peak as of 1947, but Mountaineering Ranger Roger Robinson says that Barbara Washburn may have been the first to even try.

“Essentially, she was the only woman along, and one of the first women, probably ever, to venture into the Alaska Range on a climbing trip.”

The expedition was a success, and Barbara Washburn was the first woman to set foot on Denali’s summit.  Mountain guide Brian Okonek says that her fortitude went even further, however.

“She must have been tough as nails on the trail, because she not only did Denali…but she did both summits, and did the first summit of Mt. Hayes…”

Being the first woman to summit Denali cemented Barbara Washburn’s place in mountaineering history.    The fame that earns someone in a place like Talkeetna is self-evident, but Diane Calamar-Okonek says that didn’t translate back on the East Coast.

“They enjoyed their notoriety here, which Barbara said they didn’t have at all at home.  They were just regular people, and her friends didn’t particularly know that she had been a climber or done all of these amazing things in Alaska.  They had no clue.”

A big part of the reason that Barbara Washburn’s fame was somewhat subdued outside of the mountaineering community is that she didn’t talk about it much, as former Denali National Park Ranger Daryl Miller explains.

“She was so understudied.  She was always so gracious, and accomplished so much, but never really said much about anything she did as a climber.  If she did, or was asked about it, she would always downplay it.”

More important than fame to Barbara Washburn were individual relationships. Diane Calamar-Okonek says that people were a big part of what drew Barbara to climbing.

“One thing she really enjoyed was the camaraderie of climbing.  When we had a woman here who soloed Denali, her first reaction was, ‘Oh, what’s wrong?  Doesn’t she have any friends?’”

That sense of friendship and camaraderie extended well after Barbara Washburn’s relatively brief climbing career. Roger Robinson says that the Washburns made a priority of befriending many people in the Talkeetna area.

“The people that lived here were like family to her.  When she would come, they were always keen on looking up a lot of people and making connections.”

That sense of family holds especially true for Taras Genet.  Taras is the son of Ray Genet, an accomplished climber who died while descending Mt. Everest in 1979. Taras says his relationship with the Washburns was very close.

“My dad had passed away when I was only a year-and-a-half old, and they were kind of surrogate grandparents in some sort of way, because they gave my mom a lot of support, and they always connected with us when they did come up…”

In addition to helping his family after the loss of Ray, Taras Genet says the Washburns served as an inspiration.

“They were just so full of energy.  The things they were doing, most people just don’t have that kind of energy, especially in their older age.  They just never slowed down.”

Taras would go on to summit Denali at the age of twelve, making him, at that point, the youngest person to do so.

Brian Okonek also says that the Washburns’ sense of adventure never seemed to fade, and that, during conversations, they were, “always watching over their shoulder at the weather, because they never, ever skipped an opportunity to go on yet another flight around the mountain.”

Barbara Washburn passed away on September 25th in Lexington, Massachusetts.  November 10th would have marked her 100th birthday.  Here, in the shadow of Denali, she won’t be soon forgotten.

Categories: Alaska News
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