APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 11 min 36 sec ago

U.S. Senate Candidates Spar Over Resource Development

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:19

U.S. Senate candidates Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan sparred Thursday over who can better move Washington to bring more resource development to Alaska. The Anchorage debate was sponsored by the Resource Development Council and associations representing the state’s oil and gas, mining and logging industries.

Download Audio

Sullivan, sticking to his main campaign strategy, repeatedly tied Begich to President Obama and the Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid. Sullivan says the Democrats want to impede resource development with regulations, lawsuits and by blocking legislation.

“What I’ll do as a U.S. senator is to follow on what I did as DNR commissioner, to work with people all the stakeholders to recognize we have a problem. Bipartisan support. And I’m very interested in being on the Environment and Public Works Committee to do exactly what we need to do: Really reform our regulatory and permitting system to unleash the energy potential of Alaska and America,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Begich insists the election is not about Obama. He says Alaska is closer to new logging opportunities with the Sealaska land bill, which he says is ready to go to the Senate floor. He says development of the National Petroleum Reserve is progressing, as is Arctic Ocean drilling. Begich says he’s been able to promote resource extraction with his committee assignments.

“When you elect someone like Dan Sullivan, here’s what we do lose. Seniority does matter. How many times before did you have Ted Stevens standing up here talking about seniority? It makes a difference in the U.S. Senate. And when you’re on the appropriations committee – Two seats from the same state, very rare,” Begich said.

At the end, debate organizers polled the audience on whether the forum would influence their vote. Most respondents said it would not.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan Courts Rural Alaska Voters

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:18

Sullivan greets Leif Albertson at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce lunch. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Late last week, U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan took his campaign to Bethel. The challenger to Senator Mark Begich, who, if successful, may be the Senator that tilts the power balance in the Senate from Democratic to Republican.

Download Audio

On a clear and chilly Friday afternoon at the Alaska Territorial Guard Park, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan walks along the Wall of Honor and asks resident Tundy Rogers about names of those who served.

“Sullivan: Is that your uncle?, Tundy: my stepdad’s over there, I’ve got cousins in Eek, Quinhagak, Goodnews, Hooper Bay, damn near the whole wall. Sullivan: Boy, proud tradition.”

US Senate candidate Dan Sullivan campaigned in Bethel October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ben Matheson /KYUK)

Wearing his combat boots, the Lieutenant Colonel in a Marine Corps Reserve unit was getting the face-to-face contact with potential voters that many say is essential to success in rural Alaska. Retail politics of course is one voter at a time. Buck Bukowski is wearing a button that reads Yupik for Begich.

“Sullivan: I’m going to try and convince you to change buttons. Bukowski: I don’t know..”

Less than three weeks before election day, Friday’s visit marks Sullivan’s first to the Y-K Delta in over a year of campaigning. The rhetoric, however, between the two campaigns has already reached a shrill pitch on rural issues. Sullivan alleges that incumbent Senator Mark Begich has been saying that he has the Native Vote.

“Locked up”

A statement that Begich spokesperson Max Croes says his boss has never made. It’s ugly on both sides: the Begich campaign has positioned Sullivan as an adversary to subsistence users, tribes, and rural Alaska. Sullivan, however, is quick to defend his rural cred.

“But I have very deep ties with the Alaska Native community that go much deeper than my opponent’s, because they’re family. My daughters are Alaska Native girls, and my wife is Alaska Native. And we’re going around the state with a great leadership team. I’m very proud to have some of the most prominent Alaska Native Leaders and rural leaders in the state, from all parts of the state, supporting the Sullivan campaign,” said Sullivan.

Begich, has said repeatedly that this race will be decided in rural Alaska and has opened 16 field offices. That presence was apparent at a Bethel Chamber of Commerce lunch, where Democratic staff sat in the back and a tracker with a national group working to elect democratic candidates, videotaped Sullivan’s every word, looking for a slip up or material to be used in ads.

Sullivan visits the ATG Memorial Park Wall of Honor. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

After a stump speech focusing on low cost energy, reducing federal overreach, improving public safety, and dealing with the salmon crisis, Sullivan heard directly from Bethel residents.

In the first question, Bethel resident John Wallace said he was disappointed that Sullivan did not attend the Association of Village Council Presidents Conference earlier this month.

“Didn’t get an invitation, so you, know, you kind of, but we’re here, right, we’re here, I’m here, she was here at the event, for the very reason you mentioned, to get out, talk to people,” said Sullivan.

She, was Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan. Dan Sullivan planned to travel to Hooper Bay and Aniak over the weekend to shake as many hands of potential voters as possible, along with Senator Lisa Murkowksi, who’s endorsed him.

Sharon Chakuchin attended Sullivan’s lunch. She says that not knowing the extent of Sullivan’s involvement in the Katie John lawsuit, which the state appealed when he was Attorney General gave her pause.

“We just heard that term, Katie John, and it strikes a chord in your heart, oh my gosh, Katie John, that’s terrible, so I figured we had to know the other side, we have to know what that’s about,” said Chakuchin.

Sullivan says he was just doing his job to protect state sovereignty, but he say he supports the federal rural subsistence priority. But his opponents consider the decades-long lawsuit an attack on rural and Alaska Native subsistence rights.

A tracker for American Bridge 21st Century films Sullivan. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Sullivan will come face-to-face with his record as Attorney General this week at the state’s largest gathering of Native people, the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both Senate candidates are proudly listing prominent rural and Alaska Native endorsements. Sullivan planned to campaign in Aniak with former state representative Carl Morgan.

“I think and know that he’s going to do a lot of plus for bush Alaska,” said Morgan.

Sullivan says, if he’s elected he’ll forge a new relationship between the region and federal government and work to bring opposing sides together to fix the subsistence system.

“One of the things I’m a big big proponent of is sitting down with all the differnet stakeholders, hearing them out, and trying to get common ground and move forward. Can we do that on subsistence? I think so,” said Sullivan.

Early voting begins October 20th. Election day is November 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

20 Alaska Native Languages Now Official State Languages

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:17

Twenty Alaska Native languages are now official languages in the State of Alaska — after Governor Sean Parnell signed House Bill 216 into law Thursday morning at the Alaska Federation of Native conference.

Download Audio

In a packed room at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage, nearly two dozen elders sat front and center as the governor and a handful of legislators spoke to the importance of the bill.

The lawmakers spoke to the inspiration for the bill, and how it was long overdue. But it was the assembled speakers, teachers, and students of nearly all of those 20 Alaska Native languages who spoke to the vitality of what the recognition means.

Lance Xh’unei Twitchell, an associate professor at Univerity of Alaska Southeast, began in Tlingit before switching to English.

“There is no such thing as language superiority, just as there is no such thing as racial superiority,” Twitchell said. “That is what we’re saying today.”

Ceremonial pens used to sign the bill into law were given out to the assembled elders—with each taking a moment to speak to what the new law means for them, their language, and their communities.

Selina “Ka’seix” Everson — a Tlingit speaker from Juneau originally from Angoon — received the first pen, blushing as she admitted to being the oldest elder in the room and marveling at how much change she’s seen since the days when she says she was punished for speaking her
language.

“My Tlingit … is now the official state language. One of them. And again, you don’t know how thankful we are. We are rising as one,” Everson said.

Nome’s Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle says the new law finally put speakers of all languages on an even field.

“…And that means, the English speakers are now equal with Inupiaq speakers,” Alvanna-Stimpfle said, speaking Inupiaq.

As each of the assembled elders spoke, the speakers agreed that the recognition of their languages was just one step in an ongoing march. Many echoed sentiments of taking the next step in that march by installing the newly-recognized languages into state education programs, and in universities.

Categories: Alaska News

Third Minto Earthquake Rocks Interior Alaska

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:16

There was another strong earthquake, followed by dozens of aftershocks, in the Interior Thursday. A magnitude 5 earthquake at 8:30 a.m. was centered in the Minto area northwest of Fairbanks. There have been no reports of damage, but the quake, the latest in a series in the same area, has drawn concern from seismologists.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Doctor Indicted On Child Porn Charges

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:15

A federal grand jury indicted a Wrangell doctor Wednesday on child porn charges.

The grand jury charged Wrangell doctor Greg Salard with two felonies for distribution and possession of child pornography.

Download Audio

Federal law enforcement officers arrested him last week after executing a search warrant at his residence.

The indictment alleges Salard was in possession of child pornography on the day of his arrest.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent alleges in an affidavit that Salard was also making child pornography available to others through a file-sharing network.

A conviction for distribution of child pornography carries a penalty of five to 20 years in prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska. Possession of child pornography has a maximum 10-year sentence. Both counts carry fines up to $250,000 and the possibility of lifetime supervised release after imprisonment.

According to the press release, the arrest and indictment are part of the Department of Justice’s efforts to increase federal prosecutions of sexual predators and to reduce Internet crimes against children.

Salard is one of four medical providers in Wrangell. He is employed as a family doctor by Alaska Island Community Services and serves under a contract with Wrangell Medical Center, the community’s hospital.

AICS Executive Director Mark Walker said both organizations suspended Salard’s medical privileges after the arrest.

“We know that he’s been charged, but we know nothing more,” Walker said. “We don’t know what his pleading is going to be and the outcome of the case. But at this point he’s not practicing for us or the hospital.”

Walker said he found no reason in the workplace to suspect Salard would be arrested for child pornography.

“There were never any complaints that relate to anything like this,” Walker said. “So we’re completely taken by surprise by all of this and dismayed about the impact on the community and want to do whatever we can to help anybody that is concerned about it, answer any questions, provide counseling for them.”

Salard started practicing in Wrangell in 2009. Walker stressed that job applicants go through a rigorous hiring process that includes a background check.

The hospital suspended Salard’s medical privileges in 2011 and restored them in 2013 after court action and controversy in the community.

The State Medical Board is reviewing the case and may take action on Salard’s medical license in the next few weeks.

Salard is at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau awaiting his arraignment in U.S. District Court Oct. 28. At his last court appearance, he requested a public defender and said he had been fired from his job.

Categories: Alaska News

In Snub To Successor, Palin Endorses Walker

Wed, 2014-10-22 21:10

After her vice presidential run, Sarah Palin’s seal of approval was coveted by conservative candidates. Now, she’s endorsing against the Republican ticket for the first time in the Alaska governor’s race. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

When Sarah Palin stepped down as governor in 2009, she handed the reins to Republican Sean Parnell. Five years later, she’s working against his reelection. Palin has endorsed unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker. Walker is running alongside Democrat Byron Mallott, and has the Democratic Party’s support.

Walker spokesperson Lindsay Hobson says the endorsement is personal as much as political – Walker and Palin have a long-standing friendship. She adds that the two share similar views on resource development, and that Walker welcomes endorsements from across the political spectrum.

“Sarah Palin is known to be a conservative Republican, and we’ve certainly had endorsements from the other side as well,” says Hobson. “I don’t think we’re necessarily looking at initials next to people’s names. We’re just looking at Alaskans that want to see a different Alaska, and that’s what we’re all about.”

It’s unclear how the endorsement will affect the race, and comes as a surprise to some pollsters.

“Oh, I started laughing,” say political consultant Marc Hellenthal.

Hellenthal thinks the endorsement is a risk for Walker. When Hellenthal polled on Palin earlier this year, more than half of survey respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of her. That was especially true among the Democrats and rural voters who form part of Walker’s base.

“With them, Palin is not somebody you snuggle up to publicly,” says Hellenthal.

Hellenthal adds that recent accounts of a drunken brawl involving the family haven’t helped Palin’s reputation.

But the endorsement is still a slight to Palin’s successor. This summer, Palin criticized Parnell for undoing her signature oil tax policy, and threw her support behind a tax referendum movement that narrowly failed.

“At least Bristol wasn’t there beating on him,” jokes Hellenthal.

Palin’s endorsement event for Walker went without incident. Parnell’s campaign had no comment on the matter.

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla Principal Says Congressman Young Offended Grieving School

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:20

The principal of Wasilla High School says Congressman Don Young offended her students at a school assembly yesterday. Young, known for brash talk throughout his four decades in office, spoke to students about suicide and gay marriage in a manner Principal Amy Spargo describes as hurtful.

Young spoke to about 120 students and took questions.

“Congressman Young’s standards are his standards, but in our school, the standards we set for kids are higher than that,” Spargo said in an interview today.

It started to go downhill, she says, after a teacher asked about Alaska’s high suicide rate and framed her question by telling Young that a student at the school took his own life last week.

As reported first reported by Alaska Dispatch News, Young said suicide shows a lack of support from friends and family. Spargo says it was insensitive.

“Our students took offense to that. I took offense to that,” she said.

A spokesman for Young didn’t return messages by our deadline today, but said in a written statement the Congressman was being frank and forthright but acknowledged he should have been more sensitive given the recent tragedy.

Spargo says one student, a friend of the deceased, voiced his disagreement to Young, saying he’d been taught that suicide was a function of depression. Spargo says Young didn’t take it well and the discussion escalated.

“The student eventually did, with emotion, say to Congressman Young that the student we lost had friends and that he had support and his family loved him,” Spargo says.

Young later said the boy needed to learn some respect, but Spargo says she’s proud of how all the students handled themselves.

“We spend a lot of time talking at our school about how we treat people,” she says. “When somebody treats someone in a way that’s disrespectful we call foul on that and, really, what our students did was they called foul on the way they were being spoken to.”

16-year-old Danika Ingersoll arrived at the assembly late. She missed the exchange about suicide but heard Congressman Young condemn gay marriage.

“He made it really clear he thought it was morally wrong and ‘out of the question’ was one of the things he kept repeating,” she recalls.
She also says he brought up animals, saying something like if you put two bulls together they don’t produce a calf. That didn’t go over well, either, she says.

“People were whispering and shuffling in their seats. It was just an uncomfortable place to be,” Ingersoll says.

Classmate Reagan Johnson also missed the suicide comments but heard Young disparage gay unions.

“It was kind of abrasive and he brought in a lot of statements that were kind of hurtful to our school, just because we are a safe space, and it was a little harsh,” Johnson said.

On ADN.Com the story quickly attracted hundreds of comments. Some thought the reaction to Young’s remarks was a case of political correctness run amok.

Young, 81, has been in office since 1973. It’s not the first time his frank talk with teens has raised eyebrows. He once used a crude term for a sexual act in talking to Fairbanks students about the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Spargo, the principal, says some parents are questioning her judgment in allowing the Congressman to speak to students.

“They are thinking I should have seen this coming,” she says. “But I’ve had really great experiences with kids interacting with our national leaders … so I had no reason to believe it would become a hurtful experience for them.”

Young’s Democratic challenger, Forrest Dunbar, agrees Young’s comments were insensitive but says he’s sure the Congressman is sorry he said them. Dunbar says he doesn’t intend to exploit the error for political gain.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanana Youths Speak Out Against Sexual Assault, Marijuana Legalization

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:14

The Tanana 4-H club returned to the Elders and Youth Conference Tuesday, following up on their emotional presentation at last year’s conference. The group’s message is still the same: they don’t always feel safe or cared for and they want that to change, but now they’re also taking a stand against marijuana legalization.

Download Audio

During last year’s presentation, each 4-H member told the audience that they’d been molested, abused, or neglected and that they were tired of it. The youth shocked the unsuspecting audience.

An encore presentation during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention a few days later brought overwhelming support and praise for the group and thousands of dollars in donations.

Those donations brought the group back this year. This time, First Alaskans Institute, which hosts the conference, was more prepared for the intense feelings that the 4-H presentation might stir. A volunteer counselor in the audience was available to anyone who needed to talk.

One 4-H member, 17-year-old Ashely, identified herself as a victim of sexual abuse. She listed off statistics about Alaska’s high rate of sexual abuse and domestic violence and she chided adults for not doing more to protect children from it.

“If you experience sexual abuse you need to report it, but what difference does that make?” she said. “They still send abusers back to villages to prey on us. They don’t change; they’re still a sick, twisted person. This is our time to come out and speak. I challenge every one of you to stop keeping this a secret and protect our children to save our future.”

The youths talked about how their families have been affected by things like rape, domestic violence and substance abuse. A few of the youths took the opportunity to speak out against ballot measure 2, which would legalize the use and sale of marijuana.

“Hi my name is Linda, I’m 15 and I’m against legalizing marijuana. I may be young but I’m already sick of the negative effects the marijuana has (had on) my community. It has destroyed my village, we have crime and outstanding teen usage.”

As the legalization initiative is written, if voters approve legal pot there is nothing stopping people from bringing it into villages. When it comes to alcohol, communities can choose to allow importation but ban sales or they can completely ban it altogether. With marijuana, only incorporated municipalities have local control over retail sales, villages have none. The law will allow for legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants.

The kids also spoke a lot about spice, synthetic marijuana that can cause hallucinations, seizures and psychosis. They said that they’ve been terrified when they were around family members who were using it. The legislature outlawed spice earlier this year.

Group leader Cynthia Erickson said that a few months after the kids returned from last year’s conference, she asked them if they thought anything had changed in their village of Tanana. They said nothing had. A few months later in May, a Tanana man shot and killed State Troopers Sgt. Patrick Johnson and Gabe Rich. The kids looked up to the troopers and were devastated.

“But I said all of you are changing, don’t get discouraged. It took 50 years to get this dysfunctional,” she said. “Seven kids can’t walk on stage and expect a change overnight. But you are changing. You won’t drink and do drugs with a baby in you. You won’t molest. You won’t rape. You are the change; we are the ones we have been waiting for. By one child changing it changes a whole village. One healthy child does make a difference.”

After the presentation Erickson said that the 4-H kids were starting to get a sense of how they impact other youth around the state. Some got to travel to Bethel and Ruby to meet and talk with other youths going through the same struggles. Erickson wondered if kids outside of Tanana might also benefit from getting some weight off their chests.

“I asked the kids how many of you would sign up today to go and take the stage with us at AFN,” Erickson said. “We have seven of you that will come and blast your village’s ass out of the water, they stand up and clap, ‘where do we sign up?’”

The Tanana 4-H club will again take the stage this year at the AFN convention. The group is scheduled to present Thursday after the Elders and Youth Conference report is delivered.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 22, 2014

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:13

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

Download Audio

Wasilla High Principal Says Congressman Young Offended Grieving School

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The principal of Wasilla High School says her students are shaken after a visit from Congressman Don Young on Tuesday. Young, known for brash talk throughout his four decades in office, spoke to students about suicide and gay marriage in a way the principal describes as hurtful.

Tanana 4H Members Follow Up On Emotional Presentation

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The Tanana 4-H club returned to the Elders and Youth Conference yesterday, following up on their emotional presentation at last year’s conference.

Begich, Walker/Mallot Are the Early Frontrunners for AFN Endorsement

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s largest Native organization will vote on candidate endorsements Saturday morning. The Alaska Federation of Natives Board of Directors has drafted two resolutions that will be heard on the final day of the AFN convention in Anchorage.

Debris Lobe Threatens Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Geology and climate are interacting in the Brooks Range, sending masses of debris down mountains toward the Dalton Highway. One of the moving debris lobes has prompted a plan to relocate the road.

High Energy Prices Driving Builders, Homebuyers to More Efficient Housing

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaskan engineers and builders are pushing the envelope in the quest to build ever-more energy-efficient houses. Some of those innovations are making their way into residential construction.

Senate F Race Pits Valley Educator Against Seasoned Legislator

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A new District – Senate F – was created with last year’s state redistricting plan, and now two candidates with solid ties to the the area want to represent it in Juneau.  Educator and Democrat Pat Chesbro,  is challenging long – time  Republican House representative Bill Stoltze  for the seat.

Alaska Writer Presents Simple Philosophy On Wildlife

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Bill Sherwonit knows a thing or two about Alaska wildlife. The Anchorage based writer has spent decades traipsing through swamps, forging rivers and hiking mountains studying and writing about Alaska’s critters. From the superstars like grizzly bears, moose and caribou to the lowly wood frog. Even shrews and spiders have been given respectful literary treatment.

Sherwonit has a simple philosophy about his relationship with wild animals.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich, Walker/Mallot Are the Early Frontrunners for AFN Endorsement

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:13

Alaska’s largest Native organization will vote on candidate endorsements Saturday morning. The Alaska Federation of Natives Board of Directors has drafted two resolutions that will be heard on the final day of the AFN convention in Anchorage.

Download Audio

The resolutions call for the re-­election of Sen. Mark Begich and the endorsement of Bill Walker for governor and Byron Mallott for lieutenant governor. Mallott is a former president of AFN.

Resolutions are typically decided with a voice vote. Roll call votes, however, are not unheard of. In that case, regional caucuses will discuss the resolution with their delegates and a caucus leader will then cast the vote on behalf of each group.

AFN’s co­chairs Tara Sweeney and Ana Hoffman are on opposite sides when it comes to the senate race. Sweeney is co­-chair for the Sullivan campaign. Hoffman has been actively involved in Begich’s campaign.

Sullivan made an unscheduled appearance during a Board of Directors executive session meeting Tuesday. He reportedly received a cool reception. Despite the preference for Begich, board members were urged by delegates to not make endorsements and instead draft resolutions for them to vote on.

The final list of resolutions includes several measures that in some form or another have been voted on at previous conventions. One resolution calls for stronger protection of tribal subsistence resources. Another asks for subsistence priority over commercial and sport use fishing and hunting.

Delegates will also vote Saturday on resolutions to oppose marijuana legalization, reduce chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and support juvenile justice reform during the 2015 legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

Debris Lobe Threatens Dalton Highway

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:12

Frozen Debris Lobe A along the Dalton Highway
(Credit University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering)

Geology and climate are interacting in the Brooks Range, sending masses of debris down mountains toward the Dalton Highway. One of the moving debris lobes has prompted a plan to relocate the road.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

High Energy Prices Driving Builders, Homebuyers to More Efficient Housing

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:11

UAF Professor Tom Marsik, who now teaches at the Bristol Bay Campus, at his home in Dillingham. The 600-square-foot, extremely energy-efficient house has been certified as the world’s most airtight house. (Credit KDLG)

As energy prices continue to rise, Alaskan engineers and builders are pushing the envelope in the quest to build ever-more energy-efficient housing. Some of those innovations are making their way into residential construction, as builders look to meet homebuyers’ demand.

Download Audio

UAF professor Tom Marsik has built what he says is the world’s most efficient house, a small, airtight structure that he and some friends built in Dillingham a couple of years ago.

“It’s extremely insulated – we’re talking 28-inch thick walls, just to put it in perspective,” Marsik said.

Those thick walls are rated at R-90, nearly four times more than the required R-21 for walls; and the ceiling’s R-140 rating is nearly triple the required R-49.

Marsik and friend Gordon Isaacs conduct a blower door test on Marsik’s home in March 2013 to determine how tightly it’s sealed. The test was certified by the World Record Academy, which declared the structure was “the world’s most airtight house.” (Credit KDLG)

Marsik, who teaches sustainable energy, says on most days he can warm his small, airtight home with about the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair-dryer.

“Last year, it cost us about one-hundred-fifty dollars to heat the home for the entire year,” he said.

Marsik says he was inspired to build the house after spending a few winters here in Fairbanks teaching at the main UAF campus.

Cold Climate Housing Research Center President and CEO Jack Hebert marvels at the work of Marsik and others he calls “pioneers” of efficient homebuilding. He includes Thorsten Chlupp, a Fairbanks-area builder who like Marsik has constructed highly efficient homes that are super-insulated and that also often employ sustainable-energy heating systems.

“There’s amazing things done in Alaska by very creative people – like Tom, like Thorsten, like others in the state who’ve always been pioneers in housing,” he said.

But Hebert says not all the advances developed by those pioneers in their quest for a home that requires little, if any additional energy to heat, will make their way into mainstream homebuilding. Because some are too expensive or unappealing to homebuyers.

“I think these pioneers and creative people right now that are approaching net-zero with their passive houses and the work that they’re doing on extremely energy-efficient envelope small home – extremely admirable. But how can we incorporate that into the mainstream, where the market says I don’t want to live in a house like that, or I can’t afford it?”

That’s the challenge that green homebuilders like Aaron Welterlen confront. Welterlen’s Fairbanks-based company, WV Builders, touts its line of energy-efficient and affordable homes. He says most of his customers tend to be first-time homebuyers, often young families or people temporarily here, like military personnel or contractors.

Welterlen says homebuyers in the Interior have increasingly shown a preference for energy-efficient homes in recent years since, not coincidentally, the price of heating oil began its rise to $4 a gallon. But he says he must weigh how many of those features a prospective homebuyer is willing to pay for. Because such features as super-insulated windows and ground-source heat pumps – which extract heat from underground – all add to the upfront cost.

“So we as builders are trying to find ways, constantly, of how do you give people the best house that they can afford, the most energy-efficient house they can afford, for a cost that is reasonable to them – without having them having to bankrupt themselves in order to get into a house.”

Welterlen says despite such incentives as rebates of up to ten-thousand dollars offered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and the payback that energy-efficient features promise, many homeowners still just can’t get past the sticker shock of, for example, a twenty-thousand-dollar ground-source heat pump.

“Yes, the ground-source heat pump is still more expensive, but it’s about 50 percent cheaper to operate,” he said. “So if we can convince the client to spend some money out of their own pocket at the beginning, then you have a heating cost which is now about 50 percent less, so you’re heating a house for a hundred and 10 dollars a month in winter – it kind of becomes unbeatable, very quickly, in the long term.”

Hebert says that shows that shows a demand for energy-efficient homes – but, for many, it’s a demand that has limits, based on cost.

“The market is really the loudest voice,” he said. “If the market starts to demand energy efficiency – a highly efficient heating appliance over a commercial range in the kitchen – then that market demand will start to drive where the builders go.”

Hebert and Welterlen both say that’s already happened, as shown by homebuyers’ sustained interest in energy efficiency. Hebert says building on that progress won’t be easy, and will require educating homeowners by getting the word out about breakthroughs in efficiency and introducing them into the marketplace, then making the case on investing more now to reap the energy savings later.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate F Race Pits Valley Educator Against Seasoned Legislator

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:10

Republican incumbent Bill Stoltze (left) and Democratic challenger Patricia Chesbro (left). (Photos by Josh Edge/APRN)

A new District – Senate F – was created with last year’s state redistricting plan, and now two candidates with solid ties to the the area want to represent it in Juneau. Educator Pat Chesbro, a Democrat, is challenging long – time House Republican representative Bill Stoltze for the seat.

Download Audio

Senate F is regarded as the gateway between the Matanuska Susitna Borough and the easternmost Anchorage suburbs. It stretches from Palmer, and the outskirts of Wasilla to Chugiak. Republican Bill Stoltze has served some outlying Palmer voting precincts – Lazy Mountain and Springer Loop – for many terms in the state House.

Earlier this year, Stoltze chose a downtown Palmer location to announce his decision not to seek another House term in order to run for the new Senate seat.

“I am going to ask your permisstion” Stoltze told an audience of seniors, ” and ask to become your new state senator.”

But the Democrats have positioned a strong challenger. Pat Chesbro has served the area for years, too. Chesbro was a Palmer teacher and school principal for 25 years, did a stint as superintendent of the Mat Su Borough School District, taught at UAA, and administered a statewide federal education grant.

“You know, I have experience in institutions too, and I think at some point in time, unless you shift your focus a little bit, sometimes you loose perspective. And as I read about and learn about what’s happening in the legislature, I just became more convinced that people needed a viable choice.” Chesbro said.

Chesbro has one legislative run behind her.. she ran against Stoltze in 2008.

Stoltze, first elected in 2002, has co-chaired the House Finance committee from 2008 until this year, before that, he was vice chair of House Finance. He says next session, legislators will have to make some tough budget decisions — many of them regarding social services and state pension obligations.

“Fiscal analysts have warned us about another 250 to 300 million dollars in increased pension obligation costs that are going to be before us, notwithstanding the three million dollars forward funding of that to help pay down that debt. The issue of , well the best way to control the spiral of that cost, and the three biggest drivers are Medicaid and welfare increases, and just in FY 06 I think, it was 360 or 380 million dollars. Now it’s over 700 million dollars.”

Chesbro says UAA data indicates state spending is a “billion dollars more than conditions allow”, and one place to look for cuts would be proposed capital projects.

“I think we’ve begun to invest in too many projects at this point, especially, you know, as we continue to talk about where, well where’s the money going and where’s the money coming from to support all of these things. I also think people are underestimating.. for example, let’s take the bridge.. I think people are underestimating the amount of infrastructure development that needs to happen on the Mat Su side, after that bridge is done. Who’s going to pay for that?”

‘That bridge’ is the Knik Arm Crossing, and it gets Stoltze’s support.

“I’m in support of it with a caution of the cost. But I think the opportunities that it represents are pretty big. In conjunction with the gasline development and the opportunity to create a real foundational economic base in the Valley. Right now is a great opportunity .. we have a deeper port than Anchorage does, it’s a ready made industrial port,” he said.

They differ on the Susitna -Watana dam too. Stoltz supports the hydro project, Chesbro says the dam benefits only the Railbelt, and she would favor small, localized renewable projects to benefit bush communities.

The two candidates spar on educational issues, as well.

“I believe that we have given education a short shrift in last year’s, not just in funding but sort of our attitude toward our educators and education. And I think that that needs to shift, ” Chesbro says. Chesbro supports state funding for preschools and funding a year in advance for school districts.

Stoltze points to population growth in the Mat Su, and the current range of educational choices there. He says

“Our delegation and myself as well are going to work on making sure that they have places to put their kids. And that’s just not our brick and mortar, but that’s opportunities for home school, charter school, and looking at the customer side of the counter of an education. Making sure that we have educational opportunities that are relevant and accountable to for what’s best for our students. The constituency for the schools shouldn’t be a teachers union, it shouldn’t be employees, it should be the parent’s and their children.”

Both candidates  have reservations about marijuana. Chesbro supports a minimum wage hike, Stoltze says he’s not sure about that.  And both have some innovative ideas.

Chesbro says she’d like the state to invest 25 million dollars in an Angel Fund to help local entrepreneurs.

“I think we can turn around some of these fiscal issues we have. I think we can invest in new and innovative industries in Alaska, so that people can have good jobs. Oil and gas have been really important in our lives, and will continue to be, but its not the only thing that we can do. I am optimistic that we can make it better by tapping and investing in Alaskans. ”

Stoltze says he’d like to continue work to support an elected state Attorney General’s office. He says an elected AG would be more responsive to criminal issues. Election day is November 4.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Writer Presents Simple Philosophy On Wildlife

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:09

Bill Sherwonit knows a thing or two about Alaska wildlife. The Anchorage based writer has spent decades traipsing through swamps, forging rivers and hiking mountains studying and writing about Alaska’s critters. From the superstars like grizzly bears, moose and caribou to the lowly wood frog. Even shrews and spiders have been given respectful literary treatment.

Sherwonit has a simple philosophy about his relationship with wild animals

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Ret. Colonel runs for House District 15, seeks to reduce and realign budget

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:33

Candidate Laurie Hummel for House District 15

A political newcomer is vying for the House seat in Anchorage’s district 15, which contains Muldoon and Elmendorf. Retired Army Colonel Laurie Hummel, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Gabrielle Ladoux, who has served in the legislature representing first Kodiak and now district 15. KSKA spoke with Hummel about her campaign. Ladoux did not respond to requests for an interview.

°¶8

Laurie Hummel’s calm, measured speech is peppered with expressions like, “It felt like I was pushing a wet noodle uphill each and every day.”

She was describing trying to integrate women into the Afghan military academy.

Hummel says she never planned to run for office after her 34 years in the military. But she says she saw that many politicians were “hiding the football sometimes and not being forthright.”

Hummel says Alaska’s politicians have drained the state’s budget because ”we spend money like a drunken sailor. The Legislative Office Building comes to mind as an egregious example of spending the people’s money to feather your own nest. That’s just ridiculous.”

And that’s why she’s running for state house. Hummel says she doesn’t want to be a long-term politician — she’s already had her career that’s included teaching geography at West Point and being commissioned into the military intelligence corps. But she says she wants to see changes to avoid a grim future for the state.

“So good-bye PFDs, hello income taxes,” she states bluntly.  ”That’s not a place we have to go and we shouldn’t go. We have to get our priorities arranged. We have to spend where we need to spend and no where else.”

Hummel says the spending should be focused on education statewide so that Alaska’s students are prepared to work on projects like the gasline. She says money needs to go back into Muldoon to provide things like parks, sidewalks, and street lighting.

Hummel thinks getting there will take negotiations and compromise, skills she learned when working with international forces on nation building projects and when earning a master’s degree in strategy.

“Throughout my career I’ve had a lot of opportunity to hone my negotiation skills, but also to bring people of differing backgrounds and opinions together. Get them on the same team, and help everybody to look forward to make progress.”

Hummel moved to Alaska for the first time in October of 1996. She lives with her husband in Muldoon.

Her challenger, Gabrielle Ledoux, has been in the state for 36 years. Ledoux did not respond to requests for an interview and declined an invitation to appear on Alaska Public Media’s Running program.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Top National Guard Leaders Fired

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:17

Three leaders of the Alaska National Guard have been fired from their positions.

The removal of Brig. General Catherine Jorgensen, Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, and Col. Edith Grunwald was announced Monday night, and came at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell.

In an appearance on Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning, Parnell declined to give specifics on the staffing change, citing personnel confidentiality. He did say the decision related to an investigation done by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations. The findings were released in September, and they described cronyism, fraud, and the mishandling of sexual assault.

“The report was pretty scathing with respect to the troops and the airmen not having confidence in their leadership. And clearly that played a role in this,” said Parnell.

Two of the leaders targeted for removal were already fired earlier this month, only to be rehired within a day.
Jorgenson, who has served as chief of staff for the Alaska National Guard, and Grunwald, who directed human resources, were slashed from their positions by Acting Adjutant General Mike Bridges. At the time, Bridges said were reinstated at Parnell’s direction to avoid the perception of impropriety because both – along with Bridges – had applied for the Guard’s top position.

All three of the removed leaders had applications in with the Governor’s Office for the position of Adjutant General as of Friday. They are no longer under consideration for the post.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 21, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:07

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

Download Audio

3 Alaska National Guard Leaders Fired Monday

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Three leaders of the Alaska National Guard have been fired from their positions.

The removal of Brig. General Catherine Jorgensen, Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, and Col. Edith Grunwald was announced Monday night, and came at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell.

Military Recruiters Banned From Anchorage, Mat-Su Schools

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Military recruiters are no longer welcome at Anchorage schools. Superintendent Ed Graff made the decision after the Anchorage Press published allegations that an Army National Guard recruiter had sex with and made sexual advances toward high school JROTC cadets.

The Mat-Su Borough School District has also temporarily suspended all military recruitment in Valley schools.

Federally-Managed Cook Inlet Waters Could Open Up For Oil, Gas Exploration

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet could open up for oil and gas exploration in the next few years. Industry interest has spurred the review of sites along the Inlet by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM held the first of two meet-and-greets yesterday with Peninsula residents to reopen the conversation about the proposed sale. Today, it released its intent to draft an environmental impact statement in support of a potential sale.

False Pass Forges Ahead With Tidal Power

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The 40-odd residents of False Pass have waited years to find out if their turbulent seas could ever be used as a source of energy. And they may finally have an answer – and a path to renewable power.

Wrangell Doctor Appears In Court Again After Arrest For Child Porn

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A Wrangell doctor arrested last week for possessing and distributing child pornography appeared in court again yesterday.

After Hazing, Juneau School District Tries To Move Forward

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School District has spent at least $20,000 investigating and dealing with last May’s hazing incident where seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen.

The district took disciplinary action, which resulted in one student appeal. The school board will decide Tuesday behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

AVCP Works to Reopen Flight School

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Association of Village Council Presidents is working toward reopening their flight School, Yuut Yaqungviat, in Bethel.

Public Meetings Begin On Proposed Park Service Sport Hunting Ban

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Park Service will host 17 public hearings across the state beginning Tuesday through November 20th to address the agency’s proposals to prohibit some sport hunting on National Park and Preserve lands.

Courts Rule Against 2 Plaintiffs Challenging Park Service Authority

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 9th Circuit Court of appeals has ruled against plaintiffs in 2 cases challenging National Park Service authority. The court found against hunters John Sturgeon of Anchorage and Jim Wilde of Central, who challenged park service regulation of state waters inside Yukon Charley Rivers Park and Preserve.

After Two Years, Biologist is Still Trying to Count Alaska’s Migratory Shorebirds

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Two years ago, one biologist set out to try and count the number of shorebirds that migrate to and from Alaska each summer. The data collected in conjunction with the National Park Service the will help wildlife managers track bird reproduction and survival rates. It may also be useful as off shore oil and gas development moves ahead.

Ketchikan Assembly Says No To Adding Official Prayer

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly rejected an ordinance Monday night that would have added prayer to the regular meeting agenda. The issue was controversial, with many residents voicing opinions on the issue.

Categories: Alaska News

Military Recruiters Banned From Anchorage, Mat-Su Schools

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:06

Military recruiters are no longer welcome at Anchorage schools. Superintendent Ed Graff made the decision after the Anchorage Press published allegations that an Army National Guard recruiter had sex with and made sexual advances toward high school JROTC cadets.

Download Audio

The Mat-Su Borough School District has also temporarily suspended all military recruitment in Valley schools.

The district is currently reviewing its protocols regarding military recruitment, saying it “values its partnership with the military,” but the safety of students is its highest priority.

Categories: Alaska News

Federally-Managed Cook Inlet Waters Could Open Up For Oil, Gas Exploration

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:05

The federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet could open up for oil and gas exploration in the next few years. Industry interest has spurred the review of sites along the Inlet by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM held the first of two meet-and-greets yesterday with Peninsula residents to reopen the conversation about the proposed sale. Today, it released its intent to draft an environmental impact statement in support of a potential sale.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

False Pass Forges Ahead With Tidal Power

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:04

The 40-odd residents of False Pass have waited years to find out if their turbulent seas could ever be used as a source of energy. And they may finally have an answer — and a path to renewable power.

Download Audio

False Pass sits at the very edge of the Aleutian chain. The only thing separating it from mainland Alaska is a narrow strip of water with a lot of oomph behind it.

(Courtesy of Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

“I mean, you can just see it being on the dock. You watch it rolling by,” says city clerk Chris Emrich. “If you put your fishing line out there? It’s dragged fifty yards within a matter of minutes.”

That force prompted a team of scientists, engineers, and utility experts to kick off an investigation in 2012. Now, they’ve come up with a plan to save False Pass money and fuel by making power with a high-tech ocean turbine.

It’s kind of like harnessing wind, says lead scientist Bruce Wright. But the ocean’s more predictable.

“Also, water is a couple hundred times more dense than air,” Wright says. “So we should be able to produce an awful lot of electricity.”

Enough for five towns the size of False Pass, according to theirresearch. That didn’t come as a shock, but the exact source of that energy did.

Wright used to think a wide-ranging coastal current system was speeding past as it traveled to the Arctic. And he thought False Pass could be the first town in the country to harness that current system for power.

But when researchers dropped a meter into the water, that’s not what they saw. Instead, it was “only the best tidal current we’ve ever measured,” Wright laughs.

Tides are still pretty new, but they have been used for energy before. And that means False Pass should be able to tap into them a lot faster.

“If we get funding, it could happen in four years,” Wright says. “And if we get our permits squared away, it may be less than that.”

Besides permitting, the next step is finding the right spot to put a turbine underwater. It should be where the tides are strongest. But it can’t be too far from town, to avoid the need for expensive transmission lines.

Either way, the costs will be steep — somewhere between $5 and 7 million dollars, according to the turbine manufacturer.

Ocean Renewable Power Company has been running tests around the state, and they have their eye on False Pass. But manager Monty Worthington says they won’t install anything without running the numbers “to assure that this would be a benefit to the community.”

“Not just in the environmental sense, but in the sense of saving them money on their energy and stabilizing their energy costs,” Worthington says.

Electric rates are triple the national average in False Pass. And they can go higher, depending on the cost of diesel. Just getting that fuel can be a challenge.

Last year, the commercial supplier for False Pass shut down. The local government and city clerk Chris Emrich scrambled to fill the gap.

“So we had to convert to one of our tanks into a stove oil tank and the city’s been selling gas,” Emrich says. “Me personally? I’ll be so glad when I don’t have to deal with that too.”

As of this month, the community development quota group for the Aleutians is taking over. They built a new fuel storage facility, to go with their newly remodeled fish plant.

The Bering Pacific Seafoods factory has been expanded so it can stay open year-round.

Processing fish takes a lot of power, and having stable demand should help an expensive tidal energy system pencil out. At least, that’s the argument that Emrich and others are making as they apply for grants to keep the project moving forward.

If tidal power works in False Pass, “then the next village down, it’ll get cheaper,” Emrich says. “And as these get to be more mainstream, hopefully they’ll become very cost-effective within a few years after that.”

And hopefully, that would create a rising tide of affordable — and clean — energy around the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages