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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: 15 min 7 sec ago

Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:43

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia, is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control says he has no doubt that the disease will be stopped in its tracks in the U.S.

Red Cross volunteers prepare to bury the body of an Ebola victim in Pendembu, Sierra Leone. The Ebola outbreak in Africa has claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Photo by Tommy Trenchard for NPR.

Still, public health officials in Alaska are prepared to respond to Ebola if it arrives in the state.

Michael Cooper is the Infectious Disease Program Manager with the state’s Division of Public Health. He says Alaska is making sure everyone at every level is ready for a potential case of Ebola. But he says because the state has few people with roots in West African countries, Alaska isn’t likely to see a case of the disease:

“Our risk is exceptionally low. It’s harder to get here and the we have fewer people who have ties there that are from there or going over there to work and coming back to Alaska.”

But Cooper says even though the risk is low, the state is taking extensive precautions. The division of public health has issued health alerts and is ensuring that any health care worker or airline worker who could be involved in responding to Ebola will know what to do.

“We’re making sure that whether it’s today or in three months, if somebody comes and they fit certain criteria, they were over there, they have a high risk exposure, they have certain symptoms, that everyone they were to come into contact with in Alaska has a high index of suspicion and they know what to do and who to call very quickly.”

Cooper says if a patient is diagnosed with Ebola in Alaska, the disease could be quickly contained. That’s because Ebola can only be transmitted through bodily fluids.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa, in countries that lack basic public health infrastructure.

 

Categories: Alaska News

How Should U.S. Lead in the Arctic?

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:42

Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.

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Recommendations ranged from the lofty to the concrete. David Hayes, recently the second-highest ranking official at the Interior Department, made the case for better infrastructure planning. He says climate change and the fragile Arctic environment make it vital to choose the right locations for ports, oil wells and other developments.

“If we just go project by project, as we tend to do in the United States today, we’re going to make really bad decisions,” he said, at a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s what integrated Arctic management is all about. Getting a science base and getting everyone together to make sound planning decisions going forward so we don’t screw it up.”

If the U.S. can coordinate that integration at home, he says it can carry the banner for the region.  Hayes says it will take a lot of cooperation to prepare for the oil development that’s coming to the Arctic Ocean, in Russia, Greenland and possibly the United States.

“I went through the Gulf oil spill; I went through the Shell issues. And holy cow, we have got to be careful, as a world, on how this is developed,” he said.

Hayes says there’s no infrastructure to support spill response and suggests it might be time to consider international governance for oil and gas rules. He also says the United States should use the chairmanship to promote renewable energy for Arctic communities that are now mostly dependent on expensive fuel. Combination wind and diesel generators have been successful in Alaska, and Hayes says now it’s time to bring down the cost of the generators with standardized parts and better control systems.

“This is an opportunity for the United States to use its technological leadership in renewable energy to bring to the world small-scale renewable options to replace diesel and to just show, to remind everyone that the Arctic is about people,” he said.

That was a common theme at the one-day conference: Arctic policy isn’t just about conserving wildlife or exporting oil but improving life for Arctic people. Alaskan speakers, like Democratic legislator Bob Herron of Bethel, say Alaskans should be included at every level of decision-making when it comes to Arctic policy.

“We believe that northerners are Arctic experts. And our advice should be inclusive. We want it, and we’re going to strive for it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Robert Papp, the State Department’s special representative on the Arctic, says he’s been searching for a way to make the Arctic a priority for the nation, the way putting a man on the moon was in the 1960s, and building the Alaska Highway was in the 1940s.

“What I have finally concluded is perhaps it’s not defense or security related. Perhaps rather than a national imperative, what we have here is a moral imperative,” Papp said. “We all have a responsibility, an obligation to protect this area of our Earth for future progress, for the people who live there and to preserve this wonderful asset.”

The U.S. assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council after Canada hosts its last meeting in late April.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Walrus Are Hauling Out On Alaska Shores In Record Numbers

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:41

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms an estimated 35,000 walrus were photographed Saturday near Point Lay. That’s about 700 miles northwest of Anchorage.

The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA’s annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey.

The gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.

Walrus dive from sea ice to feed on snails, clams and worms on the ocean floor.

In recent years, walrus have come ashore as sea ice has receded north beyond shallow water and into parts of the Arctic Ocean where the water can be 2 miles deep.

 

Categories: Alaska News

None Testify In Favor of Pot at Hearing In Bethel

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:39

The Bethel Legislative Office was packed Monday afternoon as Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell lead a hearing on Ballot Measure 2, a marijuana initiative that will appear on the November 4 ballot.

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Elder Elizabeth Lake came from Akiak by boat to testify. She said she was concerned that legalizing marijuana could create more social problems in a region that already struggles with high rates of issues associated with substance abuse.

“Those people who smoke marijuana don’t work, they’re unemployed. If they have a craving for marijuana they break into business so they can smoke and they end up in jail.”

The initiative would legalize, tax and regulate recreational use of marijuana in Alaska for those 21 years and older. Charlene Egbe, also known as reporter Charlo Green now famous for quitting on air at Anchorage TV station KTVA, to campaign for Ballot Measure 2, said she began using marijuana to stop abusing alcohol.

“That allowed me to curb my drinking, big time,” the ex-TV anchor says. “I actually stopped for the first time since I started when I was 15-16 years old. Six years later, hard-core alcoholic. I stopped drinking because I started smoking weed. And not only that, but my transcripts from college will show that I went from failing out of the entire semester to staying on the dean’s list.”

Green flew in from Anchorage to attend the hearing in person. Ana Hoffman, the president and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, testified against the initiative, saying she believes that marijuana can be addictive.

“I’ve seen people of my community of Bethel, I’ve seen people in area villages and people in my own family prioritize marijuana over other basic needs. I have been in homes equipped with indoor plumbing but these home s do not receive water or sewer services. The children in these homes are not able to bathe or flush the toilet because that is not important. What is important in these homes is that the parents in these homes are never without marijuana.”

There were 14 testimonies at the Bethel hearing. No one from Bethel testified in favor of Ballot Measure 2.  The final hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Carver Revives an Old Woodworking Tool: The Adze

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:38

Sealaska Heritage Institute is incorporating a traditional Native carving method into the building of the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau. Wayne Price is a Tlingit carver from Haines. He’s using an adze, a tool used by his ancestors thousands of years ago.

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Like most construction projects, the building site of the Walter Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau is filled with modern power tools.

But if you walk to one corner of the building, Tlingit carver Wayne Price has been texturing hundreds of board feet of red cedar using just one tool – an adze.

To be more precise, it’s an elbow adze that Price made himself.

“The blade is made from a leaf spring out of a truck and the handle is made from the branch of an alder tree and it’s held together by string and a chunk of leather.”

The handle is about two feet long and he grips it with both hands as he chips the wood.

“It’s quite heavy. It’s, I don’t know, three pounds, maybe a little more, so it’s pretty heavy to be swinging all day.”

That’s what Price has been doing. Since the beginning of September, Price has been adzing red cedar board after red cedar board, all day long.

“I’m in pretty good shape right now.”

The work he’s doing on the board requires Price to read the wood,

“…and spot the knots and see the grain changes and be able to hit it and turn around and go the other way and keep all the adze rows in a straight line.”

With each swing, Price chips off a little piece of cedar, leaving behind a textured finish, the same seen on traditional Tlingit structures and pieces of art.

“When my ancestors, oh so long ago, were able to make the first adze, that was the foundation that gave them the ability to make all the clan houses, all the totems, all the dugout canoes, all the masks, all the art work.”

Price says the use of an adze is one of the foundations of Tlingit culture and something he’s trying to keep alive. He started using one as a young man. Taught by master carver Nathan Jackson, Price adzed a clan house floor in Ketchikan.

Since then, he’s used the tool on a lot of his work, including 36 totem poles and eight dugout canoes.

“It roughs and shapes and chops and digs and chews all that material out of the way until we get to the hull of the ship.”

The 680 board feet of red cedar that Price is adzing for the Walter Soboleff Center will be used as columns surrounding the staircases of the four floor building. The heritage, culture and arts center is scheduled to open in May.

“I think if Walter’s looking down, he would be smiling. He would be very supportive of an adventure like this – something that’s old and something that’s new being able to merge together to the benefit of the all the people that are going to come for generations here. They’ll be able to walk up the stairs and be able to see that each one of these marks was made one at a time.”

As he chips away all day long, Price says he’s brought back to the past. He sings Native songs to the beat of the adze, as his ancestors watch over his shoulder making sure he keeps his standards high.

Categories: Alaska News

School Board seeks suggestions for $22 million budget shortfall

Mon, 2014-09-29 21:12

Community member giving comments during the meeting at Wendler Middle School.

The Anchorage School Board knows that unless the state funding formula changes, they will have a $22 million budget shortfall next year. They’re asking the community to give suggestions on how to deal with the budget crisis during community listening sessions.

Most of the district’s budget is spent on salaries, said School Board President Eric Croft, so they only real way to reduce it is by cutting positions–up to 220 next year alone. But he said community members do offer creative solutions for saving some money.

“We want to hear ideas for cost savings, big or small. People talk about having People Mover move the students, not busing.” He says suggestions range “all the way to here’s the way garbage collection can be done more efficiently in my high school.”

During the listening session, Kristi Wood suggested getting more parents involved to do things like maintenance work on school buildings.

“I think there’s a potential for having a lot of volunteer support in your parent base. I think you need to ask and you will get a response.”

Wood also suggested spending less money on technology and more on teachers.

ASD explains the budget shortfall during a PowerPoint presentation.

English teacher and parent Janel Walton spoke out against increasing the number of periods in a high school day from 6 to 7. She says each teacher would have to grade for 180 students instead of 150.

“But it hurts the kids. Because what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have teachers start to compromise what they teach in the classroom. Because they know they can’t get it graded in a timely fashion. They know they can’t get it done. It’s just not humanly possible.”

Many community members, like Celia Rozen, also spoke in favor of supporting the highly gifted program.

“People always assume that gifted kids will do okay in school, but they need counselors, they need special classes, they need advanced math,” she said. Gifted children often need help with social issues and with applying to colleges, too.

The School Board will host two more sessions — Tuesday at Alpenglow Elementary and Wednesday at Lake Hood Elementary. Both sessions start at 6 pm.

Categories: Alaska News

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Mon, 2014-09-29 18:23

In April, it was reported that Gov. Sean Parnell’s top staffer used his personal e-mail account to communicate with Alaska National Guard whistleblowers about sexual assault response. In an interview with APRN that month, the governor said Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s correspondence on the National Guard should be a matter of public record.

PARNELL: I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels. However, I’ve asked Mr. Nizich to check his personal e-mail for that and his recollection is that it’s one email, but again that was four years ago, five years ago. I’ve asked him to check for that and move it to the state account, which is protocol to follow. And that will be a part of the public record at that point.

Shortly after that interview, APRN filed a records request to learn how the Office of the Governor handled complaints about the Guard. Four months later, that request has been denied. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one.

The request asked for any e-mails Parnell Chief of Staff Mike Nizich sent to National Guardsmen using his personal account from 2010 on. It also sought interdepartmental correspondence between the governor’s office and the top two officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre. The governor asked both of those men to resign this September, after a scathing federal report concluded the Alaska National Guard mishandled sexual assault reports and was plagued by a lack of trust in leadership.

APRN asked for these documents to find out how the Governor’s Office responded to complaints about the National Guard from its own members: Did they respond efficiently, and did they take complaints seriously?

Since the request was filed in May, APRN put in more than two dozen calls to the governor’s office to find out when the request would be satisfied, many of which went unreturned. The response finally came in as a three-page letter that arrived on Friday, September 26, at 6p.m.

The three-page denial letter, sent by Policy Director Randy Ruaro, brings up three major reasons for rejecting the request. It cites the legal right to privacy, and it makes reference to a recent attack ad by Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign that upset the family members of sexual assault victims. It mentions not wanting to identify victims, even though two victims have already publicly come forward. It also suggests the documents fall under privileges protecting personnel and the communications of clergymen.

The letter notes that a “significant amount of information on the subject of alleged misconduct in the National Guard has already been made public.” To that end, the Governor’s Office also included a 56-page enclosure of news stories on the matter, including some done by APRN, instead of any actual documents.

Gov. Parnell was aware of the request, but not of its denial. After a Monday debate in Juneau, Parnell did not say if he believed records related to the National Guard should be made public, and instead repeatedly referred questions to his policy director before telling a reporter she was not “serious” in her questions.

PARNELL: I’ve known about the request, but I have not reviewed any records. I don’t know what he has done.
CANFIELD: Do you want to release the records?
PARNELL: We will comply with the statute to the best of our abilities and that’s why I suggest you go see and ask Randy Ruaro.

So, that’s what we did. First, Ruaro apologized for the slow response.

“That is a long period, I agree,” Ruaro said in a phone interview.

Ruaro said they were “swamped” with requests and lacked manpower to deal with them. He said there was no political calculation behind the delay, and that there was no effort to avoid potential litigation over the request being processed before Election Day.

As far as the denial itself, Ruaro said he took a “broad view” when he opted to reject the request wholesale instead of partially fulfilling it or releasing redacted documents.

“There’s no exceptions for partial releases of records when it’s coming to identities of victims, their circumstances, personnel records,” said Ruaro. “The statutes don’t just say in those instances that you can release part of a record but not all of it. As I read it, they’re more of a blanket prohibition.”

Parnell’s political rival disagrees with that legal interpretation. Bill Walker, an attorney who is running as an independent candidate for governor, questioned some of the reasons for the denial, specifically the argument that the correspondence with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about leadership should be excluded.

“They’re trying to apply a privilege that doesn’t apply to them,” said Walker. “Those chaplains are not the clergy for Mike Nizich and Sean Parnell.”

Walker said if he were governor, his interpretation of the public records statute would make transparency a higher priority.

“Certainly the victims’ names would be redacted out, but not necessarily the process would be redacted out,” said Walker of the policy he believes should have been followed.

Walker also suggested the governor is stonewalling, and the point of the delay is “to keep the issue out of the public eye — to not expose the governor’s wrongdoing until after the election.”

The chaplains who notified the Governor’s Office of wrongdoing within the National Guard declined interview requests or did not respond to messages. But their attorney, Wayne Ross is disappointed Parnell is not providing more information about his office’s response to the allegations.

“I think you ought to hold his feet to the fire and get them,” said Ross. “Obviously he said if it would be released and it’s not being released, somebody’s not following his orders — or he’s not being truthful. I would like to believe that somebody is not following his orders.”

While the Governor’s Office did not provide any records, APRN was separately able to obtain three e-mails sent by a National Guard chaplain along with one response sent by Nizich from his personal account.

The e-mails were sent at the beginning of 2012, and the chaplain’s correspondence refers to the sexual assault crisis only broadly. The chaplain does not identify victims, but he does name specific Alaska National Guard leaders and proceeds to excoriate them. The chaplain mentions the “misuse of a government credit card to the tune of over $200,000” and the promotion of a senior officer who ignored the problem of sexual assault in his command. On a third message sent February 3, the chaplain expresses concern that he’s “cluttering up” Nizich’s inbox.

Nizich did not respond until more than two weeks after the chaplain’s third message. The e-mail, sent from Nizich’s personal e-mail account, reads “just so you know I am receiving your messages. I got a call … wanting to me [sic] to send an acknowledgement.”

KTOO’s Jennifer Canfield contributed reporting to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Suit Halts Seward Coal Loading

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:52

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs in a ruling on September 3, in which the court rejected the defendant’s claim that the coal facility’s state – issued stormwater permit protects it from pollution liability.  The appeals court has sent the matter back to federal district court.

 Since then, the coal facility, which is owned by the Alaska Railroad and operated by Aurora Energy Services, has ceased operations, to avoid risk of violating the Clean Water Act., until the district court makes a decision.

 Although loading coal has ceased, shipping coal has not. Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage, says shipments by train from Healy to Seward are on schedule.

“We are the transporter. We move the coal to get it down into Seward.” Sullivan says. “We are continuing to move coal.  We have trains going down to Seward twice this week, and we will continue to move coal into the facility down there. “

 Thompson says two ships are on enroute now to pick up the coal in Seward. But now there is no way to load the coal onto those ships.

Lorali Simon, spokeswoman for AES, says the company is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a compliance order, which could allow AES to resume loading.

 

Senator Mark Begich has urged the state DEC to issue a compliance order, if additional conservation measures are met. And Begich has asked Governor Sean Parnell to intervene on behalf of AES. Governor Parnell has sent a letter back to Begich, saying that DEC is working on the compliance order, contingent on Environmental Protection Agency approval.

The EPA has oversight over permits, although permitting authority is delegated to the Alaska DEC. Begich has also contacted the EPA on the issue.

The pollution charge is one aspect of a lawsuit, filed by the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. It charges that the coal loading facility has dumped lumps of coal into Resurrection Bay, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The US District Court ruled against the plaintiffs, who then appealed the decision. Three judges of the Ninth Circuit met in Anchorage in August, and overturned the district court ruling on that aspect of the case.

The Alaska Railroad has not been found liable for any Clean Water Act violations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Man Injured After Crane Crushes Truck Cab

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:45

A Nome man was seriously injured Sunday in what police are calling an “industrial accident” when the neck of a crane fell on to the cab of a truck he was driving at a local gravel pit.

The cab of the truck crushed by the falling crane. Photo: John Handeland.

Nome Police Chief John Papasodora said emergency responders got the call for an “accident involving injuries with a crane” late Sunday morning.

The crane was operating in the gravel pit just east of the intersection of the Nome-Teller Road and the Dexter Bypass.

Longtime Nome resident Louie Green Sr. says his grandson, 25-year-old Bryce Warnke-Green, was behind the wheel in the truck when the crane tumbled down and crushed the truck’s cab. Green said the weight of the crane caved the corner of the cab down right over the driver’s seat—pushing the roof down nearly to the seat.

Emergency responders medevaced Warnke-Green to Anchorage Sunday afternoon. On Monday Green, Sr. said MRIs done at an Anchorage hospital show his grandson has a “crushed spine” with “bone fragments” showing up in the scan.

Green said his grandson is now on his way to Seattle to seek treatment from specialists at the University of Washington. He said surgery is planned.

The gravel pit property is owned by Bering Straits Native Corporation and was leased to ProWest LLC contractors. ProWest was operating the crane and truck at the time of the incident.

Messages to ProWest in Nome were not returned Monday.

Chief Papasodora said the accident is being investigated and the Operational Safety Hazard Administration has been notified.

The Nome Police Department is investigating the incident as an “industrial accident.” Photo: John Handeland.

Categories: Alaska News

Another Begich Ad Alleges Alaska’s U.S. Senators Co-operate

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:44

Sen. Lisa Murkowski keeps trying to shake him off, but Sen. Mark Begich continues to insist they have a good working relationship.

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His latest television ad mentions Murkowski by first name only. It features Margie Brown, former CEO of Cook Inlet Region Inc. Brown says Begich helped expand Alaska’s telecom industry.

“And I like how he works with Lisa,” Brown says.

Brown points out that Alaska is one of the few states with both senators on the Appropriations Committee.

“We can’t afford to lose that. I voted for Lisa. Now I’m voting for Mark,” she says at the end.

Last week, Murkowski very publicly endorsed Begich’s opponent, in a TV ad for Republican Dan Sullivan. This is the second Begich ad featuring an Alaska business person highlighting what they allege is a good relationship between the senators. Begich spokesman Max Croes says there’s nothing wrong with saying that.

“Well the response we had from the first ad was that Alaskans were pretty pleased with the fact that Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Begich work together in Washington,” Croes said.

Murkowski, though, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Begich last month demanding he quit using her name and image in his ads.  The latest ad again shows  a photo of the two senators smiling, standing in Murkowski’s Senate office.

While Murkowski is overtly trying to ditch Begich, Croes says the claim the two senators  make a good team is reflected in their Senate votes:  For the first half of this year, they voted together 80 percent of the time, a figure verified by the independent group Politifact.

Kevin Sweeney, a spokesman for Murkowski’s campaign, says they don’t intend to respond to the latest ad because Murkowski has already made her views known.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Towns Struggle to Retain Safety Officers

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:43

Two Aleutian communities are going without local law enforcement after their village public safety officers resigned.

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Akutan’s officer has stepped down for personal reasons. And False Pass lost its VPSO two months ago, when the officer decided to move closer to his family on the East Coast.

Both of those officers were employed by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, or APIA. They get funding from the state of Alaska to put officers in five communities.

Recruiting officers isn’t difficult, according to APIA public safety coordinator Michael Nemeth. Keeping them is a challenge: It’s rare for an officer to stay in Aleutians or Pribilofs for more than a few years.

Hiring from within the region might help with that, but Nemeth says it’s hard to pull off.

Until the positions are filled, Akutan and False Pass will rely on the Alaska State Troopers for assistance. And if all else fails, Nemeth says he could ”saddle up” himself. He’s a certified VPSO with experience in Nelson Lagoon and St. George.

Categories: Alaska News

Insurer Thinks Affordable Care Act Needs Fix In Alaska

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:42

The open enrollment period for signing up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins November 15th. Customers in Alaska who don’t receive subsidies will have to pay dramatically higher rates for next year’s coverage. And one insurer on the exchange, Premera Alaska, says the state needs to implement a new program to ensure future rate increases aren’t as steep. 

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Premera Alaska is raising rates an average of 37 percent. Moda Health, the other insurer on healthcare.gov in Alaska is increasing rates an average of 27 percent. Larry Levitt, a senior vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation, has been tracking rate increases across the country and says the Alaska rates stand out:

“I don’t think there are any areas where the major insurers are all increasing rates this substantially.”

The vast majority of Alaskans who buy individual plans on healthcare.gov receive subsidies, and that will cushion the impact of the new rates. But thousands of residents pay full price.

Levitt says in the rest of the country, rates are going up an average of eight to 10 percent. So what happened in Alaska?

The law ensures people with pre-existing conditions can buy health insurance. The idea is that enough healthy people will also sign up for coverage to balance out the sick. But Levitt says smaller population states, like Alaska, could have more trouble finding that balance:

“Smaller states will definitely be subject to more volatility. In a small state, even just a couple of very sick people could skew costs a lot, which wouldn’t be true in a bigger state like New York or California.”

According to Premera Alaska, that’s what happened with its members. The company says in the first half of this year, 33 members in Affordable Care Act plans racked up more than $7 million dollars in medical claims. The company has about 7000 people enrolled in ACA plans in Alaska. Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says that math is not sustainable:

“The individual market in Alaska as a whole just isn’t big enough to spread the cost. And what we’re looking at is not a temporary issue. What we’re looking at is long term structural instability for the market for individuals purchasing health care coverage and we think that needs to change.”

That stability in the market used to come from ACHIA- the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association.

The program allowed Alaskans with pre-existing conditions to buy coverage before the Affordable Care Act. A fee assessed on every health insurance plan in the state helped subsidize the high cost of coverage.

Now, many Alaskans who had insurance through ACHIA are buying plans on healthcare.gov instead, where they can get a better deal. Earling thinks Alaska’s health insurance exchange needs its own version of ACHIA:

“Simply a program that helps spread the cost of individuals with very high medical needs across the entire insured marketplace.”

The federal government has its own version of the idea, called reinsurance, but it runs out after three years. Premera says Alaska needs a long term program, where fees from insurance plans across the market, from individual policies to large group employers, would fund medical care for the most expensive enrollees.

The state of Alaska is considering the idea. The division of insurance has contracted with an outside company to figure out how the program would work and what it would cost. Lori Wing- Heier directs the division:

“I don’t think it’s the hidden savior to this program, to the cost of health care in Alaska.”

Wing-Heier points out that at its peak, ACHIA had about 500 members. Alaska’s health insurance exchange includes 16,000 people. And she worries that means the fees assessed on insurance plans would be much larger than they have been for ACHIA:

“One of our concerns was that the assessment would be so great that those that would be assessed would be upset. I mean if they all of the sudden had an increase of 20 percent of their cost, just to pay the assessment, I would expect I would have people calling me on that.”

Wing-Heier says she should have a better idea whether the plan could work when the analysis is complete by the end of the year. She says the legislature would have to approve the plan. The earliest it could be implemented is 2016.

Larry Levitt with the Kaiser Family Foundation thinks the program could work, but he also says Premera may be too quick to declare the system broken. Experts anticipated more sick people would sign up in the early years of healthcare.gov and the hope is that larger numbers of healthy people will follow. Levitt says Premera is forecasting the future based on less than a year of data:

“If after a couple years there’s not a balanced risk pool, then I think everyone will be looking for some solutions to bring down premiums.”

But Eric Earling from Premera says Alaska can’t afford to take a wait and see approach. He says Premera would need a 71 percent rate increase to break even in 2015. And he worries the individual market in Alaska can’t sustain the type of rate increases that will be necessary in the years ahead if the state doesn’t implement a program to stabilize rates.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

‘No Means No’ – UAS Includes Sexual Assault Ed In Freshmen Orientation

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:41

Experts often refer to the first several weeks of college for new students as the “red zone” – a time when they’re more likely to be sexually assaulted.

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The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with sexual assault laws or violations.

This year, the federal government updated guidelines requiring colleges to proactively combat sexual assault by talking to students about consent.

Many people have heard the message, “ ‘No’ means no.”

Lori Klein says there are also situations when yes does not mean yes.

Like, “when someone is intoxicated, high, incapacitated or incompetent, you do not have consent no matter what they tell you,” Klein says.

Klein is the student conduct administrator at University of Alaska Southeast. She’s talking to more than a hundred new students during one of their first days on campus.

Klein says consent must be “active, sober, enthusiastic, informed, mutual, honest and verbal.”

“Whether you’re asking someone out for a cup of coffee or you’re asking them to have sex, you need consent that is all of these things.”

Another important message – saying yes to one thing does not mean yes to anything else.

“Consent for holding hands is not consent for a kiss,” Klein says. “Consent for sex once is not consent for sex twice.”

Freshman Nate Hietala says he appreciated Klein’s frank talk about sexual consent.

“It gave all the major points of what consent is rather than somebody just saying, ‘Yes,’ which is what a lot of people think it is. They gave the point that if they’re intoxicated or high or in some other way impaired, such as depression, that it wouldn’t be true consent.”

Hietala hesitates when asked if he already knew that.

“Not really. It was just kind of like, yes is consent,” she says. “But it’s something that I probably would’ve felt if I had been in that situation, but it’s not something I’d really thought about before.”

As a result of updated federal mandates, this is the first time UAS has given a talk on consent at orientation to the entire incoming class.

Faculty and staff were also required to attend training where they learned how to recognize signs of trauma related to sexual assault, how to talk to a student about it and what to do to help.

Senior Barb Dagata went through the sessions. Along with being a student, she also works at UAS. She says she now feels empowered with information she wishes she had before.

“I’ve had some friends who’ve had roommates get involved with bad relationships or just bad situations. And it was hard for me to give any advice to my friend on what she should do with her roommate. And I always felt at a loss for how involved should I be. And after going through the training, I kind of look back and I wish I would’ve said something. I wish I would’ve come to campus and said, ‘Hey, this girl needs some help.’ ”

UAS had one report of sexual assault during the 2012 calendar year. There was another in 2013 and so far, this year, two reports.

“I think that we can say with surety that those numbers are less than the numbers of sexual assaults that actually occur.”

Mandy Cole is direct services manager of AWARE, Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. The organization helped provide training to UAS staff this summer.

Cole says for many reasons sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

“And those reasons include fear of what the perpetrator may do if you report. It may include fear of what friends and family will think, fear of the impacts on your academic career,” she says.

During orientation, all incoming students learned about the options available for anybody who’s been sexually assaulted, including medical attention and who to talk to if you want to report the crime.

“For some people, making an official report is important. For others, getting counseling is important. For others, they would rather just talk in a peer group.”

Cole says not all intervention has to end in a report; what’s important is that students are equipped with the information and feel safe reaching out.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Spell Helps Growers Salvage Harvest After Cool, Soggy Summer

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:40

Gardeners and farmers around the Interior have pretty much shut down for the winter after a cool, rainy, and for many, disappointing growing season. Some growers salvaged a decent yield by diversifying their crops – and taking advantage of a late-season warm spell to do some last-minute harvesting.

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Better days: Onions harvested back in 2011 at Rosie Creek Farm await processing. A cool, soggy summer and insect pests reduced the yield of this year’s harvest of onions and other crops. Credit: wecangrowit.blogspot.com

Most years, there’s frost on the pumpkins right about now at the Rosie Creek Farm near Fairbanks. But not so this year. Farm co-owner Mike Emers says there’s definitely frost – but, he adds, “There are no pumpkins this year.”

Emers says pumpkins were among the crops that didn’t do so well this year at Rosie Creek, due to a quirky growing season that challenged both farmers and gardeners with too much rain and cool temperatures. Sometime, very cool.

“Not only was it cooler than normal, and wetter than normal, but we also had unexpected frost events during that time,” he said. “So it would rain, it would clear off, and we had what would be called a killing frost around the 10th or 11th of June.”

Emers says he managed to revive much his winter squash and beans, which usually are his most abundant crops, yielding about 4,000 pounds of squash and a thousand pounds of beans annually.

But a second killer frost in July ended his cultivation of the crops this year. Emers even lost half of his potato crop, which usually does OK in cool, rainy weather but this year were flooded out.

“My numbers aren’t in yet on harvest,” he said, “but I know without the squash and beans, (and) losing half of my potatoes, we’re down. A conservative estimate would be 30 to 40 percent on overall crop yield on the farm, from a normal year.”

But like most farmers, Emers always hedges his bets by planting a variety of vegetables that’ll grow well under different conditions. So he managed to salvage a pretty good yield on other crops, including onions, despite an attack of cutworms, and salad greens, some of which he’s still harvesting, and garlic, which he and one of his workers were processing last week.

“The garlic did fairly well,” he said, “because they like it when it’s moist in the springtime.”

Many other growers around the Interior reported similar results, says Steve Seefeldt. He’s the Cooperative Extension Service’s Fairbanks-area agricultural and horticultural agent.

“Some crops really benefited by the rain, the weather we had this year,” Seefeldt said. “My peas were great this year. Everybody talked about the kale and cabbage. Carrots were terrific. Broccoli did fairly well. The parsley was amazing.”

Other growers, like farmers in the Delta Junction area that cultivate grain and livestock feed, pulled-off respectable harvests due to a relatively warm September. Phil Kaspari, who runs Delta’s Cooperative Extension office, says the warm spell enabled many farmers to get in a second cutting and baling of hay after a growing season that two weeks ago looked like a total bust.

“People have been going as fast as they can through these last couple of weeks of this beautiful weather,” he said. “And, a lot of work has been accomplished, and hopefully we get a little more weather yet that’s favorable for baling. Because there is quite a little bit of second cutting crop still out there yet.”

Kaspari says that’ll help hold down the cost of hay this year. But he says it’ll still probably be somewhere around $400 a ton, at least partly because of some farmers trying to recoup some losses they suffered last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Film/Photo Regs in Wilderness Areas Come Under Fire

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:39

As conservationists celebrate 50 years since the passage of the Wilderness Act, a U.S. Forest Service proposal to make certain wilderness area regulations permanent has brought forth accusations that the agency is infringing on First Amendment rights. Nearly a third of the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is designated wilderness.

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Aerial view of Tongass National Forest (Photo by Alan Wu/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Forest Service has extended the public comment period on the regulations and chief Tim Tidwell issued a statement saying the regulations do not apply to news gathering activities. Two public media organizations in the Lower 48 disagree and are attempting to organize national opposition.

Forest Service officials say the regulations are based on the Wilderness Act of 1964. Regulations requiring commercial photographers and filmmakers to apply and pay for special use permits have been in effect for four years. Because the regulations expire next month, the Forest Service is proposing making them permanent.

Breaking news situations are exempt from the permitting requirement, however they have to meet the Forest Service’s definition of breaking news. That aside, permits are required and might come with a cost. The Forest Service’s acting wilderness director Liz Close, clarified the regulations to The Oregonian, saying that reporting in support of “wilderness characteristics” would be permitted. The qualification of such reporting is left up to forest supervisors.

And that is particularly troublesome for news people: A government entity determining which stories are worthwhile and don’t require a paid permit, or charging for access on stories that don’t support their mission.

That became the issue for Idaho Public Television a few years ago, shortly after the regulations were implemented. General Manager Ron Pisaneschi says for years their filmmakers were allowed to go into wilderness areas without permits or pre-approval. Filmmakers showed up to document conservation workers in 2010, and were told they needed a permit. They applied and were then told they would have to pay for the permit.

The decision was eventually reversed, but Pisaneschi says it forced the cancellation of the production. In that case, Pisaneschi says the Forest Service official determined it was a commercial use because the filmmakers were not volunteering their time.

“We are licensed as a non-commercial television station by the FCC, the IRS says we are a non-profit entity,” Pisaneschi says. “To make matters even more non-commercial in nature, we are a state agency, we are a state entity, but none of those seem to be sufficient as the guidelines are written currently.”

Pisaneschi says the regulations define news too narrowly, define commercial use too broadly and are open to interpretation.

“It may be fine if the forest is on fire at that given moment, that seems to be an acceptable thing to film,” Pisaneschi says. “But if you’re going to do a long-form documentary about the impact of drought on forest health, that’s not considered breaking news and you would need to get a permit for that.”
Forest Service officials in Alaska did not respond to requests for comment, so it’s unknown how many applications for permits in the state have been submitted and if any have been denied.

Idaho Public Television and Oregon Public Broadcasting have been fighting the regulations for some time now. OPB President and CEO Steve Bass sent out an email Wednesday to public television general managers across the nation – including KTOO’s General Manager Bill Legere – asking them to join the effort.

Bass wrote that the rules are a barrier for public media and create a system where print journalists have unrestricted access to Forest Service wilderness lands, but multimedia journalists must be permitted.

Conservationist and commercial wildlife photographer Adam Andis says the regulations seem less strict than he would have interpreted from the Wilderness Act.

“As a professional photographer I would rather see a stricter limitation that makes it harder for me to take pictures in those areas than to see those wilderness areas lost,” he says.

Andis is on the boards of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association. He says he’s never been required to get a permit for his commercial photography. He said that he’s filmed a documentary in a wilderness area; a Forest Service official agreed to waive the permit fee because it promoted “wilderness character.”

“It’s not necessarily that they’re trying to make value calls on who gets the right to be there and who doesn’t,” Andis says. “Their job is to make sure that there isn’t this mass of people all using this resource in an unsustainable way, so they have to figure out some way to put limits on it.”
Ultimately, there are a few key things that Andis, the conservationist, and Pisaneschi, the public television manager, agree on. Both think that the Forest Service should be more nuanced in their approach to permitting–two people with a camera and backpack will have far less impact on a wilderness area than a full Hollywood crew. Both also agree that allowing the untamed wilderness to be documented and shared promotes the goals of the Wilderness Act.

The biggest difference between the two is that Andis wants the wilderness protected at any cost, even if it means restricting press access, and Pisaneschi sees documenting the wilderness as one of the best ways to protect it.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Rules in Favor of State on Merged Campaigns

Fri, 2014-09-26 18:21

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A judge sided with the state of Alaska Friday in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid.

The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair.

Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2nd order that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join campaigns with independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor in the November election.

The new ticket is deemed a stronger challenge to Republican incumbent Governor Sean Parnell.

After Friday’s ruling, Strait and his attorney, Ken Jacobus, said they haven’t decided whether they’ll appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Small-scale Hydro Project Proposed for Talkeetna River

Fri, 2014-09-26 18:17



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The proposal for a massive hydroelectric project on the Susitna river is moving forward. The project has generated a lot of opposition in Talkeetna, the closest community to the dam site. Now a private company is proposing a second, smaller hydro project on the Talkeetna river.

The company is Northwest Power Service, Incorporated.  Brent Smith is heading up the Alaska operation, and says that this is the first time that NPSI is proposing building a dam, though it has considerable experience in hydropower.

“Most all of the projects that Northwest Power Service has been involved with in the past is to retrofit existing, federally owned dams in the Lower 48, where we go in and there’s already an existing dam that does not have power generation on it,” he said. “So, what we do is go through a licensing process to retrofit that dam and put power on it.”

The dam that NPSI is proposing would generate 75 megawatts of power, far less than that proposed by Susitna-Watana.  It would also have a much smaller footprint than the Susitna project, with a height of 370 feet.

Brent Smith says he believes that there is room in Alaska for the diversification of the power grid.  He adds that the location of the Talkeetna dam proposal has a lot to do with proximity to the electrical intertie between Anchorage and Fairbanks.  The site is not set in stone, however.

“I’m not going to say, today, that it’s in Talkeetna. I don’t know that, for sure,” Smith said. “What we want to do is take a look at that opportunity, but I am in favor of more of a diversified generation out there, not just one or two very large projects.”

Brent Smith says that he sees the Talkeetna proposal as a way to start a larger conversation about other power sources.  He is a proponent of methods that reduce reliance on fossil fuels.  In Smith’s eyes, the conversation that is part of any hydro project’s public process could help reveal the best option for the Railbelt.

“My hopes would be that we could spend a fair amount of the time, or the majority of the time, talking about, ‘Is there an opportunity for renewables in the State of Alaska, or are we just going to default to natural gas and diesel?’”

Mike Wood is the chair of the Susitna River Coalition, a Talkeetna-based group that opposes the construction of the Susitna-Watana hydro project.  He says that just because hydropower does not use fossil fuel to generate electricity does not necessarily mean it’s sustainable at large scales.

“Overall, this state truly needs to define what good, sustainable hydro is at any level, and the conversation needs to be had, beginning with our state legislature,” Wood said.

Wood says that the proposal put forth by Brent Smith and NPSI, while smaller than Susitna-Watana, still relies on the method of damming a river in order to spin turbines.

“If he wants to start the conversation…about smaller hydro, I would say personally, I believe he could have started it with a more progressive type of hydropower creator.”

Part of the Susitna River Coalition’s reason for opposing the damming of the Susitna River has to do with fish and other environmental concerns.  Mike Wood says there are other methods to consider for smaller hydro than, as he puts it, blocking up the river with concrete.

“It’s lake taps; it’s in higher places where anadromous fish haven’t been going.  It isn’t ruining a world class salmon river…Trading resources is not what we want to do, here.”

In the end, Mike Wood says the Talkeetna dam proposal will not divert the Susitna River Coalition’s efforts in opposing the Susitna-Watana Project.

The proposal for the Talkeetna dam is in the very early phases.

On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent back NPSI’s permit request, citing a lack of technical details for the proposed structure.  Brent Smith says that he is planning on speaking with local community councils, and is open to the prospect of public meetings to discuss non-fossil fuel energy, whether it be in the form of a dam or some other means of generating electricity.



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Categories: Alaska News

Seismologist Says It’s Time to Talk About Earthquake Early Warning

Fri, 2014-09-26 18:15

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Thursday’s 6.2 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska struck without warning. Because that’s what earthquakes do here in Alaska. But state seismologist Michael West says it’s time for Alaskans to discuss the possibility of an earthquake early warning system.

“You can think about it as throwing a rock in a pond and the waves ripple out at some speed, but it’s not instantaneous,” he says. “If you can detect those ripples before they get to you, like with sensors very close to the source, you can very easily have seconds, in some cases, maybe a minute or two of forewarning. “

The warning time would vary, depending on the location and type of earthquake. West says for a quake like the one Anchorage felt yesterday, the warning would likely only be a few seconds.

“If the 1964 earthquake, or something comparable were to occur going forward, an earthquake early warning could easily be able to provide tens of seconds before the strongest shaking.

So what can you do in tens of second? It’s probably not enough time to evacuate a building, but West says it could be enough for an automated shut down of a natural gas pipeline.

“Stoplights,” he says. “Turn all the stop lights red to bring all traffic to a halt, in advance.”

It could, he says, alert a surgeon just picking up a scalpel.

Japan’s early warning system stopped bullet trains and forced open elevator doors during the massive 2011 earthquake. Switzerland and Mexico also have warning systems. California is building one, but West says there’s nothing in development for Alaska.  To get such a system, he says the state would need more seismic stations.

“The reason for that is very simple: The closer you have a sensor to the start of the earthquake, the epicenter, the more quickly you can detect it,” he says.

It would also require fast data communication lines and a way to deliver useful messages to residents without inducing panic.  West says the cost would likely run to the tens of millions.

“Let me be honest. Some of this is expensive, and we need to decide whether or not that’s a priority for us or not. I think that’s a very logical, very reasonable discussion to have,” he said. “My concern is we’re not really talking about it very much.”

West was in Washington, DC this week to rally support for permanent seismic monitors in northern and western Alaska. They’re important for the Alaska Earthquake Center’s ongoing data collection, but West says they’d also be a good first step toward an early warning system.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Housing Conference Gets Underway Monday

Fri, 2014-09-26 18:14

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Two of the country’s foremost experts in the fight against chronic homelessness highlight the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference, which gets underway Monday in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Biologists Trying to Rescue Orphaned Cubs

Fri, 2014-09-26 18:10



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State Fish and Game biologists are in Galena trying to capture 3 orphaned bear cubs.  The state initiated the effort after the cubs mother was reported killed by a local resident. The state is also working to find the animals a new home.

Categories: Alaska News

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