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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: 28 min 18 sec ago

Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:16

Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday morning in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.

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The lawsuit challenges the state over what some local officials say is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities, but not others, to fund a minimum level for local schools. The borough argues that because not everyone in Alaska is required to contribute to local education, the mandate is not fair.

The Borough filed the suit in early January. In February, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted to file an amicus brief in support of the Ketchikan Borough’s argument. Other plaintiffs in the case are Ketchikan residents John Harrington, David Spokely, Agnes Moran and her minor son, John Coss.

Louann Cutler of K&L Gates, LLC spoke on behalf of all plaintiffs. Cutler says under the constitution, the state is required to fund education. She acknowledged that the state is not required to ‘fully’ fund education, but reiterated that a statue requiring a local contribution from local sources, imposes an unfair tax on municipalities.

“It’s not just the municipalities; it’s the tax payer who are forced to make this payment to support the state obligation. It’s clearly a dedicated earmarked source of state funding, and that’s the problem with it. It’s not that the state has to fully fund education, it’s that it has to fund it in a way that doesn’t violate other constitutional provisions.”

Cutler says by forcing organized boroughs and cities to dedicate a certain amount to education funding, it is making them tax collectors.

A key case being used to support the Borough’s argument is State v. Alex. The Alaska Supreme Court decision in that case invalidated a state statute authorizing private aquaculture associations to collect fees from commercial salmon fisherman. This was found to be in violation of the dedicated funds clause.

Assistant Attorney General Kate Vogel presented the state’s argument. Vogel says the local contribution is constitutional because it not subject to the restrictions that apply to state money such as legislative approval or dedicated funds prohibition.

“This isn’t a specific funding source; it’s not a specific tax. It is simply an allocation of responsibility to a local government unit. It is no more a dedication that the portion of that same statute which talks about state aid.”

Vogel says if the local contribution was truly state money, the borough would receive 100 percent of its basic need and the money would be under the control of the state which could choose to use it for a purpose other than education. She says local contributions are currently going directly to the school system and municipalities are deciding how that money is spent.

Vogel reiterated that it is not a tax and municipalities could use other means, beside taxes, to fund the mandate.

“It’s not about the state imposing a state tax, which clearly it could do anywhere that it so chose. This is the state cooperating with the local communities and requiring that they themselves exercise their taxing authority or whatever other means that they use to come up with a certain amount. But certainly the state isn’t dictating a specific tax.”
Judge Carey responded.

“To my knowledge every municipality or borough that contributes does it through taxes. They’re not getting it through the bingo hall.”

Monday’s court appearance is the sole time oral arguments will be heard. The case is now in the hands of Judge Carey. It may be months before a decision is reached.

Categories: Alaska News

Pavlof Volcano Eruption Sends Ash Toward Cold Bay

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:15

Lava fountains out of Pavlof Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay
early June 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Stacy)

Pavlof Volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, sending a haze of ash out above nearby towns.

The volcano’s ash plume is up to 18,000 to 20,000 feet Tuesday. That’s put local airlines on alert.

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PenAir spokeswoman Missy Roberts says the ash hasn’t caused problems for any flights just yet. Planes made it in and out of Sand Point last night and Cold Bay this morning.

Ash plumes out of Pavlof Volcano on June 2. (Photo by Christopher Diaz)

“All of our flights are currently on schedule; however, our dispatch and operations continues to monitor the situation on an hourly, if not even more so, basis,” she says. “For the safety of our passengers and our operation, we will make changes as needed at that time.”

She says they’re looking for changes in the wind that could send ash into the way of PenAir’s planes. The ash is a safety risk and can damage the aircraft.

“Whether it’s hanging out over one of our stations or one of our alternates — you know, if we have the ability to be able to go around it… if we don’t, we’re certainly not going to go through it,” she says. “So those are some of the things we look at again on an hourly basis to make sure it’s safe for everybody.”

Right now, Alaska Volcano Observatory scientist Game McGimsey says most of Pavlof’s ash plume is being blown south, out to sea and away from flight paths and towns.

Lower-level winds — at around 5,000 to 10,000 feet — are carrying ash west, toward Cold Bay. There haven’t been reports of ashfall yet, but McGimsey says that could change.

“If there is an ashfall today, it would likely occur in Cold Bay and it would be very, very light, a trace amount, which is about 1/32nd of an inch.”

The AVO first put Pavlof on watch on Saturday. McGimsey says its activity escalated quickly — but that’s not unusual for this volcano.

“The onset on Saturday was fairly abrupt and didn’t have much, if any, seismic precursory activity — we simply saw it on satellite imagery,” he says. “And yesterday [Monday] about 3 p.m. was when the seismicity took an abrupt uptick, and that was commensurate with photographs from Cold Bay residents showing the plume had greatly increased in height and intensity.”

There was also glowing lava visible from Cold Bay last night — fountaining out of the volcano’s crater and flowing down its north flank.

McGimsey says there’s no telling how long this eruptive period will last. This time one year ago, Pavlof erupted for several weeks, sending ash up to 28,000 feet and stranding hundreds of air travelers.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Seismic Activity Continues Near Noatak

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:14

Map for April and May 2014 Earthquakes in Northwestern Alaska. (Image courtesy Alaska Earthquake Center)

Strong earthquake activity continues near Noatak, with a strong aftershock recorded last week that has become the third powerful temblor in what is now a series of strong quakes and potent aftershocks in just the last two months.

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Natasha Ruppert, a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks, said Thursday’s 4.6 magnitude aftershock struck just before 10:30 p.m. about 18 miles northeast of Noatak.

“This one [is] in almost exactly the same area, so this one was another large aftershock,” Ruppert said—a lingering jolt in the wake of the powerful 5.6 magnitude rumble felt April 18, the strongest quake in the region in more than 30 years.

“They all are in the same area, but basically the main shock was … in April 18,” Ruppert said. “There was another large magnitude 5.5 earthquake [on May 3.]” The April quake was followed by nearly 100 aftershocks (represented by blue circles in the above image), five of which were magnitude 4.0 or stronger and one that registered a 5.3 magnitude. The early May quake, though slightly weaker than its April predecessor, was similarly followed by strong aftershocks, seven of which were of magnitude 4.0 or more.

After that earlier May quake, the Earthquake Information Center traveled to Kotzebue and Noatak to install sensors closer to the activity.

“We are able to tell, now with new equipment, we are actually seeing that these events are a little bit more shallower, closer to the surface, than what we thought before,” Ruppert said. “We are able actually to compute locations for these earthquakes much more accurately,” as a result of the new sensors, she added.

Ruppert said the remote nature of the far western Brooks Range means there’s still no firm scientific consensus for what faults are causing earthquakes and other tectonic activity in that region of western Alaska.

More accurate readings on these quakes and aftershocks, she said, could help build that consensus.

“This particular earthquake sequence is just another piece of the tectonic puzzle that we are trying to build for that region,” she said.

As part of their summer fieldwork, Ruppert said a team from the Earthquake Center will be visiting Nome this July for continued work in western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Property Thefts Linked To Drug Use

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:13

The new Alaska State Trooper unit began operations on January 1, and made it’s first arrests that same day, when a pair of 22 year olds smashed into a business and tried to grab an ATM machine. So called “Smash and dash” thefts are escalating in the Valley : thefts of tv’s, snomachines, computers.. and guns

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 The thefts involve home break -ins. What is sparking the crime wave? Trooper Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn [weg zen ] says it’s drugs

“If we can link a theft to a person, normally that person is a known drug user. Very seldom do we find a person who’s just stealing to steal, normally, they steal to support a habit of some sort. “

Sgt. Wegrzyn is part of the four man crime unit. He says Troopers are linking the thefts to the increased use of heroin in the Mat Su

“Heroin is becoming more popular in the Valley. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have found heroin. Today, it’s everywhere.”

 

Vicki Walner is one Palmer homeowner who is taking the offensive against the thefts.

“If you fight property crime, you have to fight the drugs. And the heroin usage out here in the Valley is astronomical.”

She is fighting back using a tool that young Alaskans know well: social media

Walner settles into a chair in her comfortable kitchen, Springer spaniel Charlie at her feet . Her house, on a two lane blacktop outside of town, is in a peaceful setting. Horses graze in nearby paddocks, and chickens cluck in the midafternoon sun.  But crime is spreading a shadow over this bucolic scene. She says crime and drugs go hand in hand.  Walner says she’s seen the effects of heroin addiction written all over her neighborhood.

“We had the neighbors over behind us on the next street had their door kicked in. And they were burglarized. And I thought, why don’t people in the neighborhood know, why don’t we tell each other what’s going on so we can watch out for each other. So I started this web page  for a few friends, and it just blew up.  We have over 5700 members now.”

She says she’s trying to make some changes using Facebook

 ”So this is our main page, here. And this is a vehicle.. stole a gas can out of sombody’s yard, and they got a picture of em.”

 She toggles down the page full of photos, comments, – typical social media stuff.  Only all of it is directed toward locating stolen property.  Photos of snomachines, cars, trucks, televisions, even pets crowd the page.  People are posting them in hopes that someone, somewhere, has information on the stolen property.

 ”We even recovered a semi that has been missing for four months. It’s amazing when you have that many people, that many eyes and ears out looking for things. “

Don Bennice, executive director of Alaska Family Services in Palmer, is looking at the social costs of heroin addiction – a drug he says that wasn’t even on the counseling service’s radar ten years ago.

“Alcohol far and away is our largest area, and then marijuana certainly is number two. But the one that has really changed over the last few years is herion use. Heroin use has dramatically increased.”

 When Troopers shut down the meth labs in the Valley, drug users turned to the prescription drug, oxycontin to stay high. But the expensive opiate oxycontin led to heroin in short order. *According to the online Daily Beast, a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that heroin use in the US has jumped 80 percent between 2007 and 2012, and that three quarters of users live in non – urban locations.

Bennice says a lot of people are moving into the Valley “and they are bringing their baggage with them.”

He says his counselors are also noting “an influx of girls from stable families” coming in for help. He says that the heroin in the Valley is “cheap”, he suspects, purposely so, “to get young people involved. ” But the drug seems to cross all social borders

 ”Both sexes, we see it in middle income families. We see it across the board. “

 He says there are not enough counseling centers in the Valley to cover the growing number of cases.

 ”Clearly right now there’s not. That is one of the things we are very concerned about, and right now, we have about ten or eleven providers in the Valley that do behavioral health services. And we are working very hard to coordinate those services to try and meet the new demand.”

 

According to a health scan released last year by the Mat Su Health Foundation, 36 percent of Valley high school students have tried marijuana, and 3 percent have tried heroin, according to 2011 statistics. But close to 43 percent have tried drugs of various kinds, including meth, oxycontin, spice and cocaine.

Recently state Troopers arrested a 20 year old Wasilla man,Clay Katzmarek, who was providing heroin to juveniles as young as 15.   Bennice says, teens simply can’t handle it.

 

“It affects their brain differently. Their brains aren’t totally formed like an adult’s would be, and it has a much more severe impact on them.”

 

 Where are they getting it? Often, in the mail.  A year ago, a drug-sniffing dog at an Anchorage post office led Troopers to a 37 year old Palmer woman, Amber ODell, who was receiving heroin shipments from California at her Palmer post office box.

In Houston not long ago,  two men, Barretta Faatafuga and James Gwaltney, both 37, were charged with possession and intent to distribute almost four pounds of heroin shipped to their street address from California.

The disturbing trend goes beyond personal property losses. For example, a Wasilla gunshop was robbed last winter. Sgt. Wegrzyn says those arms were recovered

“We are heavily interested in recovering stolen firearms. The other part of it is, if they fall into the wrong hands, and then those guns are then involved in other crimes. In like in the first quarter, we recovered 24 stolen guns. And, I’m positive, that a large number of those would have never been recovered without this unit being formed. Because we had the time to go out and track those guns down.”

 

Meanwhile, Vicki Walner continues her crusade to track down stolen property.

“Nobody used to like a nosey Nora, but nosey Nora is going to be the one that keeps your house from being broken into, “  she laughs.

 Walner says her site provides the oversight to track stolen property quickly, and tells this story about two snomachiners who stopped in Wasilla for a bite after a run. But when they finished eating:

“The trailer and snomachines are gone. So they immediately put it on our group. Well immediately, reports of it start coming in. ..’ I saw them pulling out of the restaurant , and this is the direction they were going’ .. ‘ i saw them on Knik-GooseBay road,’ .. and this went on for about two hours. Next thing we know, someone calls in and say ‘someone just dumped a trailer and two snomachines off on my street’. It got so hot, they just dumped it. “

She says the thieves are keeping up with her Facebook page too, although they probably don’t like what they see there.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Kobuk Meeting on State-backed Ambler Mining Road Weighs Promise of Jobs against Local Concerns

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:11

Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed industrial road that would pass through the region.

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Even getting there presented some challenges, however. Lesley Lepley works with Dowl HKM, the company contracted by the state to handle logistics for moving the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road project along. Lepley said days of rain and seasonal runoff left the Kobuk River swollen, with soft ground making the Ambler runway unusable.

“We had charter flights arranged to bring people from Ambler, and unfortunately both runways got shut down in Ambler,” Leplet said. “Our Caravans couldn’t land, so we had to rely on people boating.”

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, organized the meeting. Leaders from all three communities came together first for a question and answer session with AIDEA representatives. Afterwards, the public gathered in chairs and bleachers for a presentation on the road’s development status, first in English, then translated into Inupiaq.

Perspectives on the proposed road continue to be mixed. Many who spoke at the meeting support the potential for jobs from road work and at the eventual mining district.

Miles Cleveland lives in Ambler, and said the region needs jobs to survive. “We need jobs to continue to pay for our light bills, our water and sewer—those take money.”

Like many other aspects of the proposed road, however, there is very little hard data on just how many jobs it would bring, and to whom.

AIDEA is currently selecting a contractor to begin work on the massive Environmental Impact Study that’s an essential part of the Federal approval process for any road project. Fred Sun, from Shugnak, is on the board of directors for the NANA regional corporation. He spoke at the presentation’s close about the need to wait until environmental data is collected to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with the road.

“Whether or not your decision is to support this road or go against it, I think it’s just as important you support the EIS process,” he said, “because not only is it going to be helpful for the construction of this road, but it’ll be helpful for other projects in the future.”

While a complete environmental impact study wouldn’t be a green light for the road, others feel like the project is advancing toward a point of no return. It’s not clear how frequently AIDEA or the state’s different permitting agencies have shut down development projects after conducting the EIS process.

Jill Yordy is in charge of mining and clean water programs at the Northern Center in Fairbanks. She said even at this point, the rhetoric from the state is shifting.

“One of my big concerns related to that, is that the conversation will then be framed to be ‘what route should the road take,’ not ‘whether or not there should be a road.’ And I think that’s a really important conversation to have. We need to decide whether or not a road in this region is really acceptable before we try to figure out what route it should take.”

AIDEA is hoping to start the EIS process this summer. They’re holding a public board meeting in Anchorage on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The public is encouraged to call in with comments.

A link to AIDEA’s public board meeting agenda, and instructions for submitting public comment, can be found on on their website.

Categories: Alaska News

Shipyard Program Sets Students On Career Path

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:09

There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.

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Kaila Del Rosario, 17, is one of three high school students participating in a new job training program at Vigor shipyard.

Kaila Del Rosario is looking through the window of an observation deck at the shipyard. She watches as workers slowly reel an Alaska Marine Highway ferry onto the dry dock for maintenance.

Right now, Del Rosario  is here as an observer. In about a year, she’ll probably be here as an employee.

“That’s the plan so far and I’m just going along with it and I find it really, really cool and exciting,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario is 17 years old, a high school junior. Her interest in a career at the shipyard started when she signed up for welding at Kayhi, because she wanted to have a class with her best friend.

“When that class started, I actually started liking welding and I started getting really good at it,” Del Rosario said. “My hands were steady. And I did research on how it’s a good skill and a job and it pays well. Cause I kinda live on my own. I moved out when I was 16.”

Del Rosario was born in the Phillipines. She was raised by her aunt and uncle, who moved to Ketchikan when she was 5 years old. She says she was always pretty independent — she started working at 14 and paid for some of her own expenses. When she was 16, her aunt and uncle agreed to let her live on her own. Del Rosario says it helped her take responsibility.

“When I was with my auntie and uncle, I was like I don’t have to worry about this, I was more interested in hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Something about paying bills and getting school done kind of did the trick for me to mature up.”

Del Rosario says when she was younger, she would skip out on school to drink or smoke with her friends. When she started living on her own, she focused more on school and her part-time job at a tour company. But she didn’t really have a plan for the future.

“When I was younger, freshman year, I didn’t really care about a lot of things, all of a sudden bam this happened,” Del Rosario said. “And I didn’t really know what to do with myself after high school, and now this is happening, and it’s just like I’m gonna take this opportunity and go for it.”

David McLavey and Stone Reily are the other two students in the shipyard program. Here, they learn about a painting machine.

Let’s talk more about that “bam this happened moment.” Del Rosario signed up for welding and loved it. Then, she went to a career day at the shipyard last October. There, she talked to Doug Ward, who works in Business Development at Vigor. She told him about her interest in welding and said she’d like to learn more about working at the shipyard.

“She certainly was the one…we just kept thinking about her,” Ward said. “What can we do to get high school kids into the workplace and get them exposed to all of the shipbuilding processes that we do down here.”

Del Rosario’s interest is one of the reasons the shipyard put this 8-week program together. Here’s the way it works: the high school students come to the shipyard for two hours, two days a week. And they actually get paid $10 an hour. Each week, they shadow someone in a different department.

“That was beauty of the program, it would show us the shipyard and all the different departments so we could find out what we’re interested in,” said Stone Reily, one of the other Kayhi students in the program.

“My plan was welding and so far it’s welding,” Del Rosario said. “But I do feel like I want to do different kind of departments, like I actually am interested in mechanic now.”

Del Rosario is planning on taking a math class and auto shop at Kayhi next year — two courses she wouldn’t have been interested in before. And then next May, when she graduates?

“I mean I can’t think of anything why we wouldn’t want to hire someone who is so focused so young in life and knows what she wants to do,” Ward said.

When Del Rosario thinks about where she was her freshman year of high school compared to where she is now…

“I’m actually proud of myself for the first time that I got myself out of that life that I used to do,” she says. “And into wanting to do what I been searching for, something I’m actually passionate about. Cause I was never passionate about a lot of things.”

Vigor is hoping to find more people like Del Rosario. They plan to continue the work experience program next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly considers labor law options

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:05

Anchorage Assembly members met Tuesday to continue the conversation about the municipality’s controversial labor law, AO-37. The labor subcommittee and community members debated Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston’s proposed revisions of the municipality’s old labor laws.

In her version, unlike in AO-37, unions would still have the right to binding arbitration and the right to strike.

However, her amended version of the labor law does give the administration more control over things like scheduling employees and equipment. But Johnston said the regulations could be negotiated.

“And maybe the unions might know best,” she said, explaining that her version allows flexibility. “And if they know best they can plead their case and make their case. And if it’s a good case it should be probably accepted. And if at some point there was a mayor who didn’t accept their good case, that mayor and that administration has the full liability if something went wrong. Which, I’m sorry, but the union doesn’t have that liability. It doesn’t have that accountability.”

Johnston said she wants to discuss the nuts and bolts of the labor laws with the community before bringing it to the Assembly.

The president of the Anchorage Central Labor Council, Daniel Repasky said he appreciates Johnston’s attempt to fix the problems caused by AO-37.

“There are some flaws in it, but I suspect that because of the make up of the assembly right now that if her ordinance goes forward, her changes, that they would be addressed by amendments from the assembly. So I could deal with that. But again I would prefer that AO-37 just disappear.”

And it still could. Assembly member Dick Traini is proposing a motion to repeal AO-37 completely at the next Assembly meeting. Public comments will be taken on June 24.

The city is also working with the state’s Division of Elections to determine how much it would cost to add the repeal vote to the November statewide ballot. If it does not go on the statewide ballot, the vote would be delayed until next April’s municipal elections. They’ll make the decision by July 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 3, 2014

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:01

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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Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.

Pavlof Volcano Eruption Sends Ash Toward Cold Bay

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Pavlof Volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, sending a haze of ash out above nearby towns.

Unusual Seismic Activity Continues Near Noatak

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Strong earthquake activity continued in the far northwest corner of the Brooks Range on Tuesday after a powerful 4.6 jolt was recorded

Thursday and was followed by more seismic activity this week.

Increased Mat-Su Property Crimes May Be Linked To Increased Drug Use

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A jump in property thefts  in  Matanuska Valley communities spurred the Alaska State Troopers to start a new Crime Suppression Unit in Palmer this year. Property crimes in the Valley may be linked to the increased use of  drugs, like heroin, and the trend upward – of both drug use and property crimes  has  social costs that have yet to be tallied.

Kobuk Meeting on State-backed Ambler Mining Road Weighs Promise of Jobs against Local Concerns

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed

industrial road that would pass through the region.

Anchorage Ranks Among Nation’s Top Bike Commuting Cities

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage is celebrating its 10th annual Bike to Work Day, on Wednesday – the event is aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says bike commuting in Anchorage is up more than 150 percent since 1990, making it one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.

Shipyard Program Sets Students On Career Path

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel City Council Investigation Sent to District Attorney’s Office

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:33

Officials are not speaking about the recent referral of the Bethel City Council’s investigation into contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues to the District Attorney’s office.

The document has not been released to the public in the month since the council received it back from attorney Michael Gatti, but it has been passed onto the District Attorney’s office.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney June Stein says no charges have been filed and did not have a timeline for when their review would finish. She declined to speak to any specifics on any potential investigation. Bethel City Attorney Patty Burley had no comment about referring the investigation to the authorities.

KYUK and six other news organizations, including the Anchorage Daily News and the Associated Press are seeking release of the document. The city clerk cited attorney client privilege in the initial rejection of the records request.

The Bethel City Council on Tuesday in a special meeting will go into executive session to discuss that records request.

In other business, the city is getting closer to hiring an interim city manager. They interviewed candidates last week and in Tuesday’s special meeting will look at background checks and could move forward on establishing the contract position.

Port Director Pete Williams has been the Acting City Manager since the council fired Lee Foley last month following the investigation.

In the executive session, the council will also discuss the collective bargaining agreement.

Categories: Alaska News

No Primary, Only General Election Contest For Juneau Legislators

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:32

Sam Kito lll (left), Sen. Dennis Egan (middle), and Rep. Cathy Munoz (right). (Photos by Skip Gray)

All three Juneau legislators will be challenged in the November general election, but not in the August primary.

The candidate filing deadline was 5 p.m. Monday.

George McGuan, 33, filed as a Democrat to run against Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz for House District 34 in November. Munoz currently represents House District 31, which encompasses the Mendenhall Valley and out the road. With redistricting, the number has changed, but not the geography.

Peter Dukowitz, 44, plans to run in November as a Republican against Democrat Sam Kito III for House District 33 (now HD 32). Kito was appointed in February to fill out the term of Beth Kerttula, who resigned her seat in January to take a fellowship at Stanford University. Kito’s new House district will include Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat, will be challenged by Republican Tom Williams. Egan’s Senate District P will change to district Q in November, also encompassing Haines, Skagway, Gustavus and Juneau.

The primary is August 19. With no primary contest, the candidates can concentrate on the general election campaign.

Categories: Alaska News

Low-Level Eruption Of Pavlof Volcano Escalating

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:19

The Pavlof Volcano ssh clouds were reported to reach 22,000 feet yesterday. (Photo by Christopher Diaz at northernXposed Photography)

Alaska Volcano Observatory spokesmen say a low-level eruption of a volcano about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage is escalating, with pilots reporting that ash clouds are getting bigger.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Power said Monday in a statement that pilots have recently reported ash clouds from the Pavlof Volcano rising to 22,000 feet above sea level.

Scientist Robert McGinsey says the current eruption began Saturday and lava has reached the surface. Asked how long the eruption might last, he replied, “hours, days or weeks.” On Saturday, a pilot reported a gas and ash plume about 8,000 feet above sea level.

McGinsey says aircraft flying below 25,000 feet should avoid the area. He says the ash cloud is currently a narrow plume streaming about 50 miles to the east.

The 8,262-foot volcano is one of the state’s most active.

An eruption last year prompted regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities.

Categories: Alaska News

Bergdahl Release Ignites Political Controversy

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:29

Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.

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Categories: Alaska News

New EPA Carbon-Pollution Rules Will Spark Rate Hikes In Fairbanks

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:28

Golden Valley Electric Association customers can expect a rate hike to pay for new federally required pollution controls. The EPA’s emissions control requirements announced today, will be phased in over coming years in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule will require all U.S. powerplants to cut production of carbon dioxide by 30 percent by 2030, based on their output in 2005.

The EPA hadn’t released details of the new rule on Friday, and the agency’s spokesperson in Seattle didn’t respond to a request for comment. But GVEA’s C-E-O Cory Borgeson says all of the co-op’s coal-fired powerplants, and at least some of the other fossil-fuel fired plants, will not meet the stringent standards of the new rule.

“We think it’s very possible that the limitations would affect not only our coal plants, but also our plants fired with naphtha, diesel, …” he said.

About 60 percent of GVEA’s electricity is generated by coal and oil, including diesel. So, Borgeson says, the utility will be required to spend money to bring its powerplants into compliance with the new rule. And more rate hikes will be required to cover those costs. How much, he can’t yet say.

But Borgeson cited as an example the $92 million that GVEA is now paying on emissions controls for the coal-fired 50-megawatt Healy 2 powerplant. That work is required under a deal the co-op cut last year with EPA and the state. Those controls, however, will not remove carbon dioxide or CO2 from the plant’s emissions. So Healy 2 will be out of compliance with the new rules when it’s fired-up in about a year. And Borgeson says it’s not known how much the additional emissions controls for the plant will cost.

“So, you go in and put in additional controls to take out CO2, or limit those emissions, and – it’s just hard to speculate on the cost,” he said. “But, ultimately, it’s a big cost.”

Environmentalists counter that ratepayers nationwide already are paying for the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Colin O’Brien, an attorney with the environmental-advocacy groupEarthjustice, said in November interview that those so-called “hidden costs” come in the form of, for example, increased insurance and medical payments to repair damage from extreme-weather events or health costs associated with poor air quality.

“People pay the cost of energy in several different ways,” O’Brien said. “One is the bill that they get from the utility. Another might be the money that they pay to their healthcare provider, if they have asthma or another lung or heart condition that’s a consequence of the air pollution that comes from coal production or coal combustion.”

The new CO2 rule is intended to encourage utilities to convert from coal, which provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity, to natural gas. Borgeson says that’s not an option here.

“That’s something that will still don’t have in the Interior,” he said. “And even if we do get it, it’s going to be at a much higher cost than the rest of the nation.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the proposed rule is scheduled to go into effect in 2016.

Between now and then, Borgeson says GVEA will be making its case to EPA that the co-op should be granted exceptions and/or extensions for compliance.

He says GVEA will support litigation that he expects the utility industry, among others, will be filing in opposition to the new rule in the coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Discover Years-Old Human Remains On Kenai Peninsula

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:27

Firefighters on the Kenai Peninsula made a disturbing discovery over the weekend.

Alaska State Troopers say human remains have been found near Sterling.

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Troopers say they were notified Sunday that a fire crew found the remains.

According to troopers, the remains appear to have been there for several years. There were no identifying items found and the identity of the remains is unknown.

The state medical examiner’s office has been notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Prescribed Interior Burn Extends To Over 6,000 Acres

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:26

On the Kenai Peninsula, rain over the weekend helped further knock down the Funny River fire, but in Interior Alaska, a wild fire in the Delta Junction area gained major acreage over the weekend. The 100 Mile Creek Fire, sparked by an earlier prescribed burn on military land, went from about 700 acres to more than 6,000, as high winds fanned flames.

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Categories: Alaska News

McGuire Dropping Out Of Lt. Governor Race

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:26

KTUU channel two news is reporting State Senator Lesil McGuire says she will not run for Lieutenant Governor. McGuire says she would be “more effective” remaining a policy maker.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Alaska Chief Medical Examiner Named

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:25

A pathologist who has been working as an assistant Alaska medical examiner has been named the state’s chief medical examiner.

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Gary Zientek has worked for the Alaska Division of Public Health since 2009. Gov. Sean Parnell approved Zientek’s promotion in January.

The Anchorage Daily News reports Zientek’s medical license was suspended for four years in Virginia because of alcohol and drug abuse. His Virginia license was restored in late 2007.

Zientek says he has been sober for 10 years. He says his is a story about redemption.

The Department of Administration says Zientek was the only person interviewed for the job, which pays about $225,000 a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Katie John Honored In 375-Mile Walk For Subsistence Rights

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:24

On Saturday, two Athabascan men completed a 375-mile trek honoring their mother Katie John, and her cause – subsistence rights. Dozens of people joined them for the last few miles, and about 200 celebrated the walk’s end at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

12-Year, Human-Powered Expedition Summits Denali

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:23

This year, more than a thousand people will try to climb Denali. Some of those will be making the attempt as part of a “seven summits” expedition, which involves reaching the highest point on all seven continents. One family expedition, named Top to Top, is attempting the seven summits in a way that has never been done before.

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For most climbers coming to Denali from outside of Alaska, the trip involves long hours of travel via planes and road vehicles.  For Dario and Sabine Schwörer and their children, it meant years of travel by very different means, as Dario explains.

“Just sail from one continent to the other, and then climb the highest peak in each of the seven continents…Denali was actually our second-last.”

To get to Denali, the Schwörer family sailed through the Panama Canal and up the coast to Whittier before cycling their way to Cordova and spending the winter there.  In the spring, they began the trip north to Talkeetna, where local climbing experts Willi Prittie, Brian Okonek, and Roger Robinson provided insight on the terrain and the best way to get in and out of the Alaska Range without an engine.  Dario says the feeling of true wilderness on the way in and out is part of what appeals to him.

“It was a little bit [of] an adventure to get through the willows on the moraine to get to the Kahiltna Glacier, and then it was straight forward.  It was so nice, no people, this wonderful mountain surrounding you…”

Once the expedition reached base camp, they begin seeing other people again, and on the way down, there were hundreds of climbers on the mountain.  Martin Schuster grew up in Alaska and was part of the Denali climb.  He also says that the parts of the trip that were off the beaten path were the most memorable.

“From Petersville up to base camp and from base camp down to Talkeetna, we didn’t see anybody.  That really made the trip for me.  It was really cool just being out in the middle of nowhere without one hundred, two hundred people doing the exact same thing you are.”

The Denali climb was successful, but for Dario and Sabine, that’s not the most important part of the expedition.

“In Top to Top, on this global climate expedition, we really try to volunteer as much as possible for a good cause and then teach the children and inspire them with all the positive examples we encounter on our journey.  That’s actually really filling our batteries.”

Sabine Schwörer did not climb Denali, since the family’s children are too young for the harsh environment. Instead, she stayed behind and conducted homeschooling and other aspects of the expedition. She has been part of the expedition since the first day, back in 2002.  She jokes that Dario told her it would only take four years to finish the journey.  Twelve years and four children later, she says she is still enjoying the trip.

“I really, really enjoy the time in the classrooms, and working with the children, and how amazing [the] ideas they have [about] what we could do better with our planet.  I think it’s really important to invest in the children.  They are so open, and they still have lots of the future in their hands.”

In all, the Top to Top expedition has sailed more than 70,000 nautical miles, and Dario and Sabine have shared their journey with more than 70,000 students in a hundred countries.  Their work in local initiatives has helped clean up more than 50,000 tons of waste.   They have one continent and one peak left to do, Mount Vinson in Antarctica.  They aren’t in any particular hurry to get there, though.

“Our idea is to go through the Northwest Passage, so we go again out to the Aleutians and up to Cape Barrow, then through the Arctic to Greenland, then make it down the East Coast of the U.S., through Panama, then to Patagonia again and Antarctica.  So what we’re trying to do is a figure-eight around the two Americas.”

Obviously, that route takes much longer then sailing straight back down the West Coast of North and South America. Dario estimates another three or four years ought to do it.  No doubt thousands more children will share in the Schwörer family’s one-of-a-kind journey by the time it’s over.

Categories: Alaska News

Layoffs Begin At Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:22

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation started handing out pink slips on Monday.

YKHC officials announced the layoffs in May.

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Officials said the reduction was necessary due to an $11.7 million budget shortfall. They say the shortfall is due to several factors: sequester cuts to Indian Health Service funding, not meeting revenue collection goals and hefty investments in a new elders home and a new medical records system.

It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year. Last fall around 50 positions were cut.

110 employees will be let go across departments and 50 more vacant positions will not be filled. Officials say village clinics will be impacted, but no doctors will be cut.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Officials say the layoffs will continue this week and they’ll release more information Friday.

Categories: Alaska News
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