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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: 49 min 18 sec ago

Iditarod Veterans Anticipating Rough Trail Conditions

Sun, 2014-03-02 23:33

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

The 42nd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is underway. Dog teams left Willow Sunday. They’re making their way toward the Alaska Range, where the trail is reportedly extremely rough.

Jeff King waves to fans as he leaves Willow at the beginning of the 42nd Iditarod. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Even the most experienced veterans have concerns about what they might find on their way through the mountains.

Many mushers have their sights set on the checkpoint in Nikolai, including four-time champion, Jeff King.

“If you wipe out your sled or a key dog or sprain your leg, it’s going to happen today or tomorrow,” King said.

Nikolai is the sixth stop along the trail, more than 260 miles from the start line. King says the vast majority of logistical challenges in the Iditarod occur before teams get there.

“Our teams have the most excessive energy they’re going to have the entire way, the teams sizes are largest and it is by far the most challenging piece of trail,” he said.

A YouTube video of the trail outside Rainy Pass shows bare ground, rerouted in spots through the Dalzell Gorge. There are also reports of weak ice on the Rohn River. It’s a trail report Martin Buser is concerned about.

“One slip and it can bring a race to an end or it can really create more challenges,” Buser said.

He’s has run the race 30 times. He’s also a four-time champion with 18 top-ten finishes. He built himself a new sled to handle conditions this year.

Buser: “It’s just a virtually indestructible runner system that’ve built, that I don’t think anybody has in the race, so I know at least my runners are not going to break.”

Schwing: “What did you make them out of?”

Buser: “They’re a high density plastic.”

Buser took the lead early in last year’s race, only to come up short by the time he reached Kaltag. His run-rest schedule was experimental. He was also running a team of young, inexperienced dogs. That team is back, a year older with lots more miles on their legs after a successful mid-distance racing season.

Martin Buser looks on during the 2014 Iditarod. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I tried last year and I’ll try maybe even a crazier move this year, but I think the dogs are ready to keep up with an unorthodox schedule.”

Buser’s pale blue eyes twinkle. He doesn’t elaborate. But that kind of cunning doesn’t scare other returning champions like Kotzebue’s John Baker.

“We should expect to see the strongest team that I’ve ever brought to the race,” he said.

Baker says he’s ready to face much of the same competition he has for the last 18 years.

“The same people are here except for Robert Sorlie is back and that will certainly add some flavor to the race for sure,” Baker said.

Robert Sorlie brought 16 dogs from Norway to try for a third Iditarod championship after a seven-year hiatus.

“Oh, I’m very tough,” Sorlie said. “I have been doing dog races for 25 years now in the top all the time. I’ve always been in the top three in mostly every race, so I know what you have to do when you are out there. But of course you have to the team. If you don’t have the team, you cannot do good races.”

Aliy Zirkle heads out of Willow at the start of the 2014 Iditarod. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Aliy Zirkle believes she has the team Sorlie is talking about. Her petite sled dogs are coming off two years of back-to-back Yukon Quest-Iditarod runs, with two consecutive Quest wins and two Iditarod second place finishes. Zirkle is the favorite in this year’s Iditarod, but that doesn’t worry her.

“I’m going to worry about what’s really kind of critical which will be trail issues, and dog issues and musher issues and that kind of thing, but we’ll just keep figuring it out as we go,” Zirkle said. “That’s what I like about this race. You just keep making decision as you make your way down the trail and hopefully you make the right ones.”

Worry or not, mushers will have to face whatever the trail throws at them as they cross over the Alaska Range. After that, they still might face warm temperatures and there’s plenty of reported glare ice and hard-packed trail as they make their way for Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

Ceremonial Start Kicks Off 42nd Iditarod

Sun, 2014-03-02 11:33

The 42nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race gets underway in Willow, Alaska Sunday.

Aliy Zirkle greets fans at the ceremonial start of the 2013 Iditarod in Anchorage. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

On Saturday, mushers lined out their dog teams in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start of the race.

This year’s race includes six former champions and at least 20 mushers vying for a top-10 finish.

New Zealander Curt Perano, otherwise known as the Kiwi Musher, took off first from the ceremonial start line in downtown Anchorage. He was followed by 68 others. Some are running the race for the experience. Others, like Aliy Zirkle are long-time veterans looking for a win. The Two Rivers musher spent most of Saturday morning shaking hands and posing for photos with fans like Florida tourist Syvilla Morse. “I have run before once or twice…OK, 13 times,” she joked when Morse asked Zirkle if she’d run the race before.

“Have you won?” was the next question. “Actually no, I haven’t quite won yet, but thank you for asking,” Zirkle responded.

Zirkle is running the team that led husband, Allen Moore to a second consecutive Yukon Quest Championship this year. She’s finished the last two Iditarods in second place behind a Seavey. In 2012, she was beat by Dallas Seavey. Last year, his father Mitch managed to stay ahead for the win.

He says he’s running one of his best teams for this his 21st Iditarod.

“Sometimes we start with dogs that we think are sound,” Seavey said. “But when you get out there a couple days, maybe that old injury flares up again. Any of those guys I’m just leaving home.”

Ray Redington, Jr. APRN Photo,

This year’s field is deep. There are six returning champions and countless top-10 finishers among the 69 teams running. Ray Reddington, Junior has run the race 12 times and finished in the top-10 three times. He is well aware of what he’s facing.

“Every year, we say it’s the best field there is, but I think it’d be hard to compare any years to this one,” he said.

The race follows the northern route and he says there is one thing in particular he’s looking forward to.

“We’ll have some good food at Galena I hope. You know, we always do!” Reddington said.

But Galena is more than 500 miles down the trail. Before teams get there, they’ll face a guaranteed rough trail over the Alaska Range. There are reports of snow free rocks in the notorious Dalzell Gorge and open water near Rohn. Glare ice and hard-packed trail will also challenge sled dogs and mushers alike.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Zoo Polar Bears To Get New Home

Sat, 2014-03-01 19:21


Polar Bears in the US were listed as threatened in May of 2008. In past years, the Alaska Zoo has provided a temporary home for nine orphaned polar bear cubs, in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.   It isn’t easy to raise a polar bear cub. Alaska Zoo director Pat Lampi ought to know.

 ”We’ ve had two within the last less than four years. So we feel it is important to be ready.”

 Lampi says the Zoo needs more room for cubs.

“You can’t introduce a young cub with an adult for two to three years. And so we don’t have the facility, currently, to keep any more adults.”

 Right now, The  Zoo’s permanent polar bear exhibit has room enough for two adult residents. Ahpun came to the zoo as an orphan from the North Slope,  Lyutik was born in captivity in Russia, then sent to an Australian zoo before ending up in Alaska.

It is hoped that the two bears will become more than roommates, and plans are to expand the polar bear enclosure to provide denning space for Ahpun, should she become pregnant

“If our female got pregnant, you’d need have to have some separation from her and the male. If we have to separate our bears for some reason, currently they’re either.. one can be inside and one can be outside. So this would give us the opportunity if we have to sep Ahpun and Looie, that we could move one of them over to this new area. They would have a separate denning area and some outdoor area and some small pools to acces. “

 The Alaska Zoo’s ambitious expansion plan will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 will be a transition facility for orphan bear cubs, and Phase 2 will triple the size of the current permanent polar bear exhibit, including maternity dens.

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service gave the Zoo a five year authorization to stand by as a rescue facility for North Slope polar bears. The Alaska Zoo is the only facility in the US to have such an agreement with the federal agency.

And with all eyes on a defrosting Arctic and the area’s new potential for development, there is bound to be more human – bear encounters. Lampi says polar bears are being forced into areas where there are more humans, and that means there will be more orphan cubs looking for a home. )

“Alaska is the only state that has polar bears native to its lands. If there should be a premiere exhibit on this species, it should be in Alaska. “

 Eileen Floyd is the Zoo’s major gifts director. Floyd says the expansion plan has been under consideration for five years. The cost of the combined phases is about 8 million dollars, but the Zoo has most of the 1 point 4 million (dollars) needed to begin work on the orphan cub transition facility. Fundraising has begun on the 6 million (dollars) for Phase Two.

Lampi and Floyd say many zoos are not taking polar bear cubs now, because of recent rules set by the government of Manitoba

 ”Those standards are being adopted by zoos in the United States. That’s the new bar for everybody to reach. ”  ” So if you are building a polar bear exhibit, you’re going to build to those standards. “

 The Zoo’s expansion will be up to the Manitoba standards, with natural substrate in the the outdoor yard area where bears can dig to their heart’s content. Polar bears can live up to 40 years in captivity, and can breed well into their twenties. Breeding polar bears in captivity could help researchers understand the reasons for reproductive failures in declining wild populations

 ”It’s for the benefit of the wild population, and the captive population,” Lampi says.

 The cub Kalli will someday provide wild population DNA for future breeding programs. Lampi says a polar bear raised in captivity would most likely spend it’s life in captivity. He says the future of the polar bear can’t be predicted during this time of change. But science can help:

 ”Keep and eye on the science, and what’s going on with the pack sea ice up there.  They’re an amazing species, and it would be devastating to let them die off. “

 The Alaska Zoo collaborates with the Cincinnati and Memphis Zoos on reproductive studies on polar bears. Other studies could show how much energy it costs a polar bear to swim, and one would even set protocols on how to wash polar bears in the event of an Arctic oil spill. Specially designed washing tables are already in place at Prudhoe Bay and at the Alaska Zoo.









Categories: Alaska News

We Are An Iditarod Checkpoint Oasis

Sat, 2014-03-01 13:44

Winterlake Lodge on Finger Lake is an official Iditarod Trail checkpoint, 153 miles down the trail from Anchorage.

The Dixon family owns and operates the lodge, hosting mushers, their dogs and paying guests alike.

Slavik Boyechko & Travis Gilmour

Slavik Boyechko

Starship Amazing

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Starts The 404-C Veto Process To Stop Development At The Pebble Mine

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:40

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency announced today they are starting a formal process to look at using EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Opponents, Proponents React To EPA Decision

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:39

The EPA’s announcement today was directly targeted at the Pebble Mine. The developers of that project are understandably not pleased with what they say is a gross overreach of federal authority which should be concerning to all Alaskans.

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Mike Heatwole is vice president of public affairs at the Pebble Limited Partnership:

“The initiation of this 404 process is indeed unprecedented; it’s unprecedented federal action, and clearly has far ranging implications beyond Pebble,” Heatwole said.

To date, Pebble has spent more than half a billion dollars studying the environment and developing mining scenarios. They say they understand the importance of Bristol Bay salmon and don’t expect to get permitted if their mine can’t co-exist with the fish habitat. What they do expect is a chance to play by long established rules.

“The strength of the US system, and what attracts foreign investment is the ability to work your way through a very prescribed process. And that is not what has happened here,” Heatwole said. “This is well outside the established process, because we have not yet filed an application to develop the prospect at Pebble.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young says the EPA is setting a dangerous precedent that has nothing to do with Pebble Mine. In Young’s view, the federal government is stepping on the state’s authority over its own land to such an extent it threatens what it means to be a state at all.

“We could possibly lose utilization of any of our other state lands, wherever there was a watershed period, by some interest group saying, ‘No, this can’t be done,’ Young said. “And that goes for airports, schools, any type of activity on any of our state lands. That could occur.”

Likewise, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a written statement today that if the EPA action is allowed to stand, it’ll threaten development across Alaska, and anywhere in the nation.

Sen. Mark Begich is the only member of Alaska’s federal delegation who has come out against the mine. He said today he’ll be watching to make sure the agency doesn’t overreach, but Begich says the EPA is acting within its rights so far.

“My concern is going to be that they don’t have a broad sweep, and the way I understand this effort they’re doing is a very narrow focus on that Pebble Mine deposit and therefore not affecting any other mines in the region or any other type of development,” Begich said.

Begich says Pebble can continue to work on its permit applications. As he sees it, the EPA isn’t exercising a veto as much as it’s drawing up a list of requirements the mine will have to meet to discharge into wetlands.

The Alaska Native, sport and commercial fishing, and environmental groups who have led the charge against Pebble were cautiously optimistic following Friday’s long-awaited announcement.

Kim Williams is the executive director for an association of Bristol Bay tribes and village corporations known as Nunamta Aulukestai. She is among those who’ve specifically asked the EPA to issue 404c protections to block Pebble’s development out of concern that the state agencies would rubber stamp the project:

“It was our last hope. They need that one permit, to put the dredge and fill somewhere up in that mine area, and it will impact water,” Williams said. “That was our only recourse, to go to EPA.”

That today’s announcement didn’t close the book on Pebble wasn’t lost on the mine’s opposition. Robin Samuelson, one of the tribal leaders who signed the 2010 request asking the EPA to intervene, says they are ready and able to keep up the fight:

“We’ve been in this battle for fourteen years. If it lasts another twenty, I’ll be there,” Samuelson said. “And if I’m gone, my grandchildren will be there. We’ll never give up the fight.”

Categories: Alaska News

Senate OKs Medevac Memberships

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

Legislation allowing a popular air-ambulance service’s membership program to resume coverage passed the state Senate on Friday.

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An Airlift Northwest Lear Jet waits for a medevac call at Juneau’s airport. Airlift is ending its medevac insurance program in Alaska after losing a regulatory exemption.

Seattle-based Airlift Northwest has offered its AirCare program since 2008. It covers the difference between what medevac flights cost and the amount insurance covers. Those flights can run $100,000 or more, so deductibles or co-pays can be large.

Alaska officials last year decided the program did not meet state standards. It allowed existing AirCare subscribers to keep their memberships until they ran out. But new memberships and renewals were prohibited.

Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman sponsored the bill that passed unopposed today.

Senate Bill 159 does not name AirCare, but allows it and similar membership programs to operate in Alaska.

The measure now goes to the state House, where Juneau Republican Representative Cathy Munoz has authored a similar measure. House Bill 300 has had one hearing in its only committee of referral.

The AirCare program has about 3,200 members in Alaska. Most live in Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

People Say Final Farewell To Former Territorial Governor Stepovich

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

People from across Alaska and the Lower 48 assembled in Fairbanks today to bid final farewell to former Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich.

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Stepovich died February 14th at the age of 94 in California. His body was returned to Fairbanks where he was buried today. Stepovich was born in Fairbanks and spent much of his life there raising 13 kids with his wife Matilda, while working as an attorney and politician. He’s being remembered as a pioneer and public servant who dedicated his life to Alaska.

After serving three terms in the Territorial Legislature,
Stepovich was named Alaska’s final territorial governor in 1957 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1958, Stepovich resigned from the governor’s office to run for the U.S. Senate. He was defeated that year by Ernest Gruening, and by Bill Egan two years later.

In 1966, Stepovich ran for governor, but lost to fellow Republican Wally Hickel in the gubernatorial primary.

Stepovich is survived by all 13 of his children.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Friday Marks Last Public Day For Alaska State Museum

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

Alaska State Museum’s Bob Banghart explains the moving process amidst pallets and crates of artifacts that have been staged on the second floor’s display space. Signs posted to the top of stacks read “Caution! Artifacts Here”. Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau.

Your last chance to see the Eagle Tree, Science on a Sphere, the Tlingit house posts, and other permanent exhibits at the Alaska State Museum is Friday. The facility in downtown Juneau will be permanently closed to the public this weekend as staff continue boxing up artifacts for this summer’s big move.

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The 24,000 square foot museum will be torn down to make way for a new 180,000 square foot facility that is now under construction on the same site.

The museum’s Bob Banghart said they’ll begin moving artifacts into the new vault in May. All of the permanent exhibits on the second floor of the Museum have already been packed up in wooden crates and metal cases, or covered and stacked on pallets. Salvaged animals and flora from wall dioramas along the ramp that spirals around the Eagle Tree have been set aside. Artifacts in the basement collection are being carefully packed up and prepared for the move.

That six weeks is our actual moving time. So, we have to have everything done in advance. Think of it like a play. You’ll spend months and months and months in rehearsal, development, and everything. The play only lasts like six weeks and then it’s done.”
The second floor of the existing facility is currently arranged as part storage area, part art salon with the display of notable pieces in the museum’s collection produced by Alaskan artists with familiar names like Boxley, Schoppert, Davis, Woodie, Baltuck, Craft, DeRoux, and Laurence.

Banghart said the original schedule for demolition of the current museum was pushed back several weeks after gusty winter winds played havoc with the new vault’s tent or a temporary, inflatable roof covering. They also have to wait for the paint, floors, and other interior materials to release manufacturing gasses before they can condition the air and begin safely moving any artifacts inside.

“The downstairs collection vault is enormous. It’s three times bigger than what we have currently,” Banghart said. “It’s going to be the finest collection facility north of Seattle anywhere.”

The physical structure of the building doesn’t encapsulate the spirit and necessity of collecting and preserving history. It’s just a place to do it. As time moves forward, the buildings need to change because they wear out. But the obligation doesn’t change. It still has to be there and it has to be preserved and collected in the best possible fashion.”

A Final Friday event will feature food, music, and a Five Decade timeline where patrons, artists, staff, and volunteers can add their memories to a new display along the museum’s spiral ramp. The event starts Friday, Feb. 28th at 5 p.m. and runs until 9 p.m.

Admission for the entire month of February is free.

Categories: Alaska News

Willow Runner Sets New Iditarod Trail Invitational Record

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

Willow runner Dave Johnston has set a new foot record in the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race. Dragging a sled over snow, ice and dirt trail, Johnston covered the distance in 4 days, 1 hour and 38 min. That’s over 87 miles per day. Johnston bested the old record set by Steve Reifenstuhl of Sitka in 2005, by more than 14 hours.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: New Bishop

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

David Mahaffey, the new Bishop of Sitka and Alaska at his installation ceremony in Sitka. Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka.

Last Sunday, the Orthodox Dioceses of Sitka and Alaska installed David Mahaffey as its 16th Bishop. A historic and ornate ceremony ensued in Sitka, attracting Orthodox Bishops from New York to Quebec. On the steps of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Native elders welcomed Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in America with traditional bread and salt.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Takotna

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:38

This week we’re headed to Takotna, a village of around 50 people located on the Iditarod trail west of McGrath. Nell Huffman is the secretary of the Takotna community Association.

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Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Passes Bill Shortening Driver’s License Validity For Immigrants

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:07

Starting this year, foreign nationals who wish to drive in Alaska may be getting more scrutiny when they go to the DMV. A bill pegging the expiration date of a driver’s license to a person’s immigration status is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

The point of the legislation is to make sure immigrants who are not legally allowed to be in the United States can’t use an Alaska driver’s license as a cover.

Sen. Fred Dyson, a Republican from Eagle River, carried the bill.

“We have a responsibility to see that our major means of identification is not used inappropriately,” says Dyson.

Instead of letting a foreign national get a license for five years after they pass their driver’s test, the DMV would match the license expiration date to the exit date on their visa. If a foreign national is allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely, they would have to get their driver’s license renewed by the DMV every year.

Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, was one of a handful of senators to oppose the bill. He says bringing immigration status into the licensing process goes beyond the DMV’s mission of road safety.

“It turns the Department of Motor Vehicles into an arm of the federal immigration and naturalization service,” says Dyson.

He believes the law could create difficulties for foreign workers and international students, and that it could open the state up to lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union has already come out against the legislation, arguing that it could pose an equal protection problem by making immigrants jump through extra hoops.

Wielechowski also anticipates it will increase the workload at the DMV.

“This bill requires DMV to become expert in more than 80 different types of immigration and other statuses,” says Wielechowski.

In response, supporters of the bill stressed its simplicity, and noted that dozens of other states already have similar laws on the books.
The legislation passed 13 to four, with the vote breaking down mostly on caucus lines. Mat-Su Sen. Mike Dunleavy was the lone Republican to join the Democratic Minority in opposition to the measure. It passed the House by a sizable majority last year.

The bill isn’t the only piece of DMV policy the Legislature’s considering. One bill in the House would allow military spouses to keep their out-of-state licenses. Another in the Senate would provide subsidies to third-party contractors who do vehicle registrations for people who don’t want to wait in line at the DMV. That bill would let those contractors keep 15 percent of the revenue from those transactions, and it would cost the state over $1 million.

KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal contributed reporting to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 28, 2014

Fri, 2014-02-28 18:00

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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EPA Starts The 404-C Veto Process To Stop Development At The Pebble Mine

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency announced today they are starting a formal process to look at using EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine.

Pebble Opponents, Proponents React To EPA Decision

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham & Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The EPA’s announcement today was directly targeted at the Pebble Mine. The developers of that project are understandably not pleased with what they say is a gross overreach of federal authority which should be concerning to all Alaskans.

Bill Could Link Drivers Licenses To Immigration Status

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Starting this year, foreign nationals who wish to drive in Alaska may be getting a closer look at their paperwork when they go to the DMV. A bill pegging the expiration date of a driver’s license to a person’s immigration status is a step away from the governor’s desk.

Pacific Area Commander Tapped As Next Coast Guard Commandant

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The White House has nominated the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area commander to be its next commandant.

People Say Final Farewell To Former Territorial Governor Stepovich

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

People from across Alaska and the Lower 48 assembled in Fairbanks today to bid final farewell to former Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich.

Senate OKs Medevac Memberships

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Legislation allowing a popular air-ambulance service’s membership program to resume coverage passed the state Senate on Friday.

Final Friday Marks Last Public Day For Alaska State Museum

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Friday is the last day that the Alaska State Museum in Juneau will be open to the public.

Willow Runner Sets New Iditarod Trail Invitational Record

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Willow runner Dave Johnston has set a new foot record in the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race. Dragging a sled over snow, ice and dirt trail, Johnston covered the distance in 4 days, 1 hour and 38 min. That’s over 87 miles per day. Johnston bested the old record set by Steve Reifenstuhl of Sitka in 2005, by more than 14 hours.

AK: New Bishop

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

Last Sunday, the Orthodox Dioceses of Sitka and Alaska installed David Mahaffey as its 16th Bishop. A historic and ornate ceremony ensued in Sitka, attracting Orthodox Bishops from New York to Quebec. On the steps of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Native elders welcomed Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in America with traditional bread and salt.

300 Villages: Takotna

This week we’re headed to Takotna, a village of around 50 people located on the Iditarod trail west of McGrath. Nell Huffman is the secretary of the Takotna community Association.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Area Commander Tapped As Next Coast Guard Commandant

Fri, 2014-02-28 14:59

The White House has nominated the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area commander to be its next commandant.

Vice Admiral Paul Zukunft was nominated Friday to replace outgoing Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp. Papp gave his final “State of the Coast Guard” address of his four-year term on Wednesday.

Zukunft has served as Pacific Area commander since 2012. Before that, his duties included serving as the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Zukunft was in Alaska last month to cut the ribbon on the new Coast Guard Sector Anchorage headquarters at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Senator Lisa Murkowski attended.

She called Zukunft’s nomination good news for Alaska in a statement Friday. She said when she met Zukunft, she was ”impressed immediately with his leadership and intelligence – but also with his background and knowledge base in the Pacific and the Arctic.”

Zukunft’s nomination requires confirmation by the Senate. He would be the Coast Guard’s 25th commandant.

Categories: Alaska News

Strong Deep-Sea Quake Rattles Unalaska

Fri, 2014-02-28 11:40

If there’s an earthquake in the ocean and no one’s there to feel it, did it really happen? On Wednesday in the Aleutian Islands, the answer was yes.

A 6.1 magnitude quake coming from unusually deep underwater shook Nikolski and Unalaska around noon on Wednesday.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center recorded the quake about 215 miles west of Unalaska. Courtesy AEIC.

Natasha Ruppert of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake happened about 180 miles underwater, about 215 miles west of Unalaska.

“So it’s quite large and quite deep, and this is very unusual, both for earthquakes around the globe, and in particular it’s a very unusual event for Alaska,” she said.

But that was all news to most Unalaskans — like PCR recreation assistant Jamie Mendenhall:

“Wow! But no, I didn’t feel anything,” she said on Thursday.

Most kids in the community center’s after-school program said they didn’t feel it, either. A couple of girls, like Karina Villamor, thought they might have:

“I didn’t, unless — was that [why] I fell over at my house? Oh, okay, then I felt it!” she said. “I was standing in the kitchen and I was boiling my eggs, and I fell over and my water spilled.”

Unalaska Methodist Church pastor Dan Wilcox said he felt the quake too.

“I was just sitting at the office at the Methodist Church there, and I suddenly realized that the picture on the wall next to me was kinda shaking a little bit, at which point I realized that the whole room was shaking a little,” he said.

But he wasn’t fazed. Like most Unalaskans, he’s felt quakes before.

Natasha Ruppert at the Alaska Earthquake Center said though this quake was larger than most, no damage was reported where it was felt. And she said the depth of the quake means it won’t create a risk for tsunamis or aftershocks.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition Friday February 28, 2014

Fri, 2014-02-28 10:00

Education and the funding of education remain deeply contentious in Juneau. The Anchorage School District passes the budget for the coming year. Flint Hills refinery closes – controversy follows. Channel 2 has a series “Inside Alaska Prisons.” Anchorage Municipal Elections are barely a month away. US Senate candidate Dan Sullivan not only has raised a lot of money, he has a lot of his own and family money. Eielson AFB remains in the hunt for the F-35 fighter. CH2MHill returns to the troubled port of Anchorage as a contractor. The Iditarod.

HOST: Michael Carey


    • Steve MacDonald . KTUU.
    • Daysha Eaton, KSKA.
    • Dermot Cole, Alaska Dispatch. 

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, February 28 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 1 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 1 at 4:30 PM.

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Categories: Alaska News

EPA Moves to Protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine

Fri, 2014-02-28 09:08

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that they are using section 404 C of the Clean Water Act to halt development of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.

Section 404 C authorizes the EPA to prohibit or limit projects that would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made the announcement during a teleconference this morning.

Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham
Pebble Partnership officials touring an APRN reporter around the pebble prospect in 2011.

“Today at my request EPA’s regional administrator Dennis McClarran has sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to the State of Alaska and to the Pebble Mine Partnership stating that we are beginning the section 404 C process to determine how EPA can best use its authorities to protect Bristol Bay rivers streams and lakes from the damage that will inevitably result from the construction operation and long-term maintenance of a large scale copper mine,” McCarthy said.

The Pebble mine site is located on state land near Lake Iliamna at the headwaters of creeks and streams that flow into Bristol Bay near Dillingham and King Salmon, the center of a thriving sockeye salmon fishery considered the world’s largest.

EPA officials said the reason for the decision is that Bristol Bay produces nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon and salmon is also the primary source of subsistence food for local people and the center point for the region’s Native cultures.

The EPA started looking into the impact the mine could have in 2010 at the request of Alaska Native Tribes.

In January they released an assessment which concludes that a large gold,l copper, and molybdenum mine could destroy dozens of miles of salmon spawning grounds and would pose significant risks to the region’s sockeye salmon runs and its people. Alaska’s Attorney General, Michael Geraghty, has said the state will explore all available legal options if 404 C is invoked.

The Pebble Partnership, the company behind the Mine, has not yet submitted a plan or applied to the state for permits needed to develop the mine. The 404 C process should take about a year. The EPA has initiated the 404 C process 29 times and issued restrictions 13 times and only once done so before a project was permitted.

Categories: Alaska News

Abortion Bill Advances On Tight Vote

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:54

A bill that puts restrictions on Medicaid payments for abortions narrowly passed its final committee of review in the State Legislature. It advanced without any money for family planning services.

After stripping out language establishing a women’s health program on Tuesday, the question of adding that language back in was the first order of business for the House Finance Committee on Thursday. The committee had gotten a chance a chance to debate the idea of boosting funding for things like birth control and STD testing in between, and some members who voted for the version without the women’s health language had warmed up to the idea.

The amendment didn’t even have a shot. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican who co-chairs the committee, decided voting on it would be redundant.

“And I’m going to rule this amendment out of order. It is not substantially – it is exactly the same as the motion we voted on on the adoption of the [committee substitute].”

The family planning amendment was something of an olive branch to social moderates struggling with the bill.

Right now, if a women who qualifies for Medicaid gets an abortion, the state is legally obligated to pay for it if the procedure is considered “medically necessary” by a doctor. Senate Bill 49 defines that term by limiting it to only physical conditions – not mental ones. Supporters of the bill say it’s necessary to prevent state funds from going toward elective procedures, while opponents argue that it’s a way of restricting access to abortion by low-income women.

Lindsey Holmes, an Anchorage Republican, expressed disappointment that the committee didn’t get a chance to reconsider the family planning amendment.

“I would put out there a plea to the sponsors and to others of my colleagues that we not let that issue die here, that we continue working together on what I really do think is where everyone comes together, which is how do we make sure we don’t have unwanted or unplanned pregnancies in the first place.”

Holmes ultimately voted against the bill, and she wasn’t the only member of the majority caucus to oppose it.

Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, said the bill was a way of chipping away at abortion rights.

“I think as long we continue to move down the cumulative path of trying to stop pro-choice I think it’s a problem,” said Austerman. “And I think it creates a problem in the long term.”

Even though some members of the majority caucus broke party lines, the bill still passed out of the finance committee on six-to-five vote.
Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, said that while he opposes abortion on principle, he sees the bill as a fiscal concern.

“This again to me comes down to the state paying for this,” says Neuman. “I think there may be some lives that either may be saved or not saved. I don’t know if we could ever debate that in this committee.”

In 2013, about 500 abortions performed in Alaska were covered under Medicaid.

The bill is now able to advance to the House floor, the final step before it can go to the governor’s desk.

Categories: Alaska News

Industry Says U.S. Fish Law Works Well in Alaska

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:49

The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 1976 law that governs fishing in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and other federal waters, is up for reauthorization in Congress. In past revisions, sectors of the Alaska industry squared off against each other. This time, the industry is mostly united in praising the law. But some of Alaska’s non-commercial fishermen say their needs aren’t getting enough attention.

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Magnuson-Stevens is the law that extended U.S. jurisdiction 200 miles off the nation’s shore and pushed out foreign fishing fleets. It, and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council it created, are said to have ended the dangerous “race for fish. “ Under council management, North Pacific fish and crab stocks have recovered from depletion.  The law is still controversial on the East Coast, but a parade of Alaska industry stakeholders told a U.S. Senate hearing today the Magnuson-Stevens Act is pretty good the way it is.

Here’s Julianne Curry of United Fishermen of Alaska: ”In general, MSA is working well in the North Pacific and we don’t want to see a radical overhaul of the act.”

John Plesha of Trident Seafoods: “The Magnuson Stevens Act has been incredibly successful.”

Lori Swanson of Groundfish Forum: “The result is a true success story for both the MSA and the Council process.”

And North Pacific Council Director Chris Oliver: “Major changes are frankly not necessary at this time.”

Other industry reps filled the back of the hearing room. Those from the At-Sea Processors Association and United Catcher Boats, said they’re mostly watching Congress to fend off revisions. The director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers said he’d be happy if Congress did nothing but change the expiration date. But some witnesses at the hearing did suggest changes. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association says consolidation has squeezed small fishing operators out. Director Linda Behnken says they’re also pressing for video monitoring in place of human observers to police the catch on smaller boats.

“Placing observers on these small vessels presents problems,” she says. “Living and deck space is cramped at best. Fishing families spend months living in a space the size of a station wagon.”

Sport and subsistence fishermen say the fishing law doesn’t give them due consideration. The accidental catch of chinook salmon in the pollock fishery is of particular concern to tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and in Interior Alaska. The pollock industry says it has vastly reduced bycatch, to roughly half the 60,000 salmon they’re allowed.  But chinook returns to the rivers have been devastatingly low in recent years. It’s decimated subsistence use, so Natasha Singh, of Tanana Chiefs Conference, says bycatch of 30,000 fish is troubling.

“When our village residents hear those numbers, they’re just astonished because some of our people who have depended on these king salmon to feed them throughout the river aren’t even able to take one fish today,” she says.

TCC and the Association of Village Council Presidents are asking for a dedicated tribal seat on the North Pacific council, which hasn’t met with support among the industry. The Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization process is continuing in both the Senate and the House. No official bill is on file yet.


Categories: Alaska News

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