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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: 47 min 8 sec ago

Buccaneer, CIRI Heading Back To Court

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:33

Buccaneer Energy is going back to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to try and settle issues at the Kenai Loop well site in Kenai.

One hearing has already been held to find some resolve to ownership disputes between Buccaneer and Cook Inlet Region Incorporated, or CIRI. Natural gas is draining from property near the Kenai Loop site that isn’t controlled by the field’s operator, and the two sides are at odds over what to do about it.

Kristen Nelson of the Petroleum News reports that at the January 30th hearing, Buccaneer officials said they didn’t know their wells would have an impact on other wells that were already producing in the area until after they had drilled what they believed were new reserves.

A CIRI official told the commission that work to find a solution with Buccaneer has been brief and not very productive. One idea for how to settle was to create an escrow account for the gas that currently has no legal owner. But lack of a formal unit recognized by the state complicates that.

The two sides will go back to the Commission again for another hearing on April 8.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Gets $21 Million In Federal Disaster Funds

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:48

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced it is sending Alaska $21 million in federal disaster funds for poor king salmon returns in three regions.

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The money covers government-declared disasters for the 2011 and 2012 Chinook runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, plus the 2012 season in Cook Inlet.

NOAA says it will disperse the money through the federal grant process for projects aimed at restoring the fishery, preventing a future disaster or helping the fishing community.

The funds are from a $75 million appropriation Congress approved last month for fisheries disasters nationwide.

Categories: Alaska News

Smooth Trails Help Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Cyclists have set new speed records in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Smooth trail is credited with helping athletes in the 350 race human powered race between Knik and McGrath.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Bases Make Short List For F-35

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Anchorage and Fairbanks are on a shortened list of bases being considered by the Air Force for the stationing of its new F-35 fighter jets. Eielson Air Force Base near North Pole and Joint Base Elemendorf Richardson in Anchorage are among 5 Pacific region bases announced by the Air Force today to Alaska’s Congressional delegation Tuesday.

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Categories: Alaska News

Medical Marijuana Resolution Passed In Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

The Fairbanks city council passed a resolution Monday pleading with the state to provide better access to medical marijuana. Resolution sponsor member Lloyd Hiling emphasized that it’s aimed strictly at supply side of the issue.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pollock Fleet Holds Out For Fish Roe

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Walleye pollock is the Bering Sea’s biggest and most valuable fishery. But that doesn’t mean that the trawl fleet was ready and raring to go when the harvest opened in late January.

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In their first week of A season, fishermen brought in just 11,000 metric tons of pollock. That’s 75 percent less fish than last year.

Krista Milani has been monitoring the catch for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Unalaska.

Milani: “It’s not quite up to where it was last year, but it’s comparable. They had a little bit of a slow start.”

That was intentional, says Randy Rothaus. He’s a deckhand on the Gun-Mar. Rothaus says they and other vessels in UniSea’s fleet were holding out for roe.

Rothaus: “That’s really what we’re looking for. As we get closer to March, where the roe is started to get watered out and higher quality roe, is really why we’re pushing to start later than we really normally do.”

Last winter, the fleet didn’t have much luck finding pollock with lots of roe. Those little eggs help fishermen get a higher price from Japanese buyers. So this year, some vessels chose to wait. A few fished for Pacific cod for a while instead of going after pollock when the season opened.

Rothaus says the fleet is seeing more roe now — and he’s hoping it will bump up their earnings. It also helps that the fishing is starting to go faster.

For the Gun-Mar:

Rothaus: “Here we are into our sixth trip and it was our best, our quickest, and our least fuel consumption.”

Several crew members in the pollock fleet say they’re expecting to wrap up their season by mid-March or April.

About a half-million metric tons of pollock are up for harvest this winter. The total allowable catch between the A season and the summertime B season, which starts in June, is 1,267,000 metric tons of fish.

Categories: Alaska News

Northwest Tribes Oppose Marijuana Legalization

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

An organization representing 57 Northwest Indian tribes has announced its opposition to marijuana legalization, specifically in Alaska and Oregon.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians announced a partnership Tuesday with the Smart Approaches to Marijuana project, which supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.

The tribal group says it supports efforts to reduce marijuana use, especially among young people.

The group represents tribes in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Alaska and Northern California.

Categories: Alaska News

First Nations Students Learning Mining Skills At UAF

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

First Nations students from the Yukon Territory are learning mining skills through a University of Alaska program. An agreement between UA and Yukon College is enabling the 20 students to take underground mining courses at the Delta Mine Training Center.

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Categories: Alaska News

USCG’s Cold Bay Crews Conduct 5th Rescue In Two Weeks

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks for Coast Guard rescue crews in Cold Bay. On Tuesday, they conducted their fifth medevac of crewmen from floating processors in the Bering Sea.

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The Tuesday hoist was a return visit to the 680-foot Ocean Phoenix, which was 85 miles northwest of Cold Bay. A man in his late 20s suffered a severe injury to his left hand, and a Coast Guard duty flight surgeon concurred with the ship’s skipper that he needed to be medevac’d. The unidentified young man was transported back to Cold Bay where he was met by a Life Flight and brought to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Weather at the time of the rescue included 35-knot winds and 10-foot seas.

Adam de Rocher, a search and rescue coordinator at the Coast Guard 17th District command center, said the MH-60 Jayhawk crew that conducted the recent medevacs is deployed to Cold Bay from Air Station Kodiak for just such incidents in the winter Bering Sea and Aleutian Island fisheries.

Categories: Alaska News

Glacier Bay’s Bears A Remnant Of The Ice Age

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Where glacial ice has most recently retreated, Glacier Bay’s bears rely on the intertidal area for food. Photo by Tania Lewis.

Brown bears are one of the most intensively-studied species in Southeast Alaska. Much of the focus is on population management for hunting. But one scientist studies bears for their sake and not ours. Tania Lewis is the terrestrial wildlife biologist at Glacier Bay National Park. She’s made some breakthroughs in both behavior and genetics, and she can’t help but sing about it.

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I have to admit that in my years as a reporter not many stories — well, make that no stories whatsoever — have ever had a banjo component.

Lewis singing

But there’s more to Tania Lewis than her banjo. The song is also an important part of her story. We’ll get back to it in a moment.

When Tania Lewis started her work in Glacier Bay thirteen years ago, there were many instances of not-very-pretty encounters with the brown bears in the northern part of the bay.

“Like 10-20 per year of people getting their tents squished, their kayaks trashed.”

Lewis says it wasn’t a food issue. Campers are required to use bear cans. It seemed to her as if the bears just liked messing with people’s gear. She gathered some of the state’s top bear experts and came up with a new strategy.

“Stand your ground and not let bears destroy your stuff. We hit that safety message hard, and we continue to, and last year we had almost no incidents.”

This is different from the usual advice about brown bear encounters in the rest of Southeast Alaska. Group together, back away slowly, is more common. But Glacier Bay is a little bit different, and so are its bears. Besides rewriting the park’s bear plan, Lewis is also involved in biological time travel.

“It’s pretty cool to look at the genetic consequences of the Little Ice Age.”

The glacial maximum in Southeast Alaska was 18,000 years ago. But the mouth of Glacier Bay opened as recently as 260 years ago. The animals that inhabit the area — biologically speaking — have been isolated in time. By sampling DNA in the fur of brown bears, Lewis has discovered three distinct populations of animals: bears from the Chilkat region around Haines, bears from the Yakutat Forelands, and bears that are unique just to Glacier Bay

“So what that tells us is that this small group that’s only found in Glacier Bay is sort of a remnant population. A population that was isolated at some point, most likely from a small number of individuals that underwent genetic drift and over time developed their own genetic signature. Now, bears from the east and the west — since the ice has moved back from other places they’re able to get in there — they’re all present in northern Glacier Bay.”

Lewis says the Glacier Bay brown bears are smaller than their cousins, bold but not aggressive. Because the land is new, they rely heavily on intertidal areas for food, which is why they so often stroll through the beachfront campgrounds of visitors to the park.

“I’ve just felt, since I’ve been in Glacier Bay, that the bears in the recently de-glaciated areas are just a little bit unique, and it’s pretty cool to find it genetically.”

Lewis thinks a lot about these bears. She was driving to the university in Fairbanks to defend her dissertation, and wrote a song about the two bears who first found each other in one of the small, habitable areas of Glacier Bay thousands of years ago. She signed up to sing it at the Fairbanks Folk Festival, where this recording was made.

Lewis singing.

Think of it as an ode to the very large, furry Adam and Eve brown bears of Glacier Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Ambitions: ‘Doing Business In The Arctic’

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Thursday, the World Trade Center Alaska will host the third Arctic Ambitions gathering in Girdwood. The theme for this year’s two-day event is ‘Doing business in the Arctic.’ Greg Wolf is the World Trade Center Alaska executive director. He says this year’s event is larger and the first day will feature speakers from other arctic nations and industries.

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Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Moves Election to November

Wed, 2014-02-26 02:32

Chris Birch crafted the ordinance that will change elections from April to November. The Ordinance passed 9-2, with Assembly Member Bill Starr the only ‘no’ vote and Assembly Member Patrick Flynn abstaining due to a conflict of interest.

The Anchorage Assembly has voted to move municipal elections from Spring to Fall. Proponents argued it would increase voter turnout, which has been low. Critics say local issues will be lost amongst state and national ones.
Assembly member Chris Birch crafted the ordinance changing the election to November to coincide with state and national ones, saying it will keep special interest groups from influencing elections, be more efficient and increase voter turnout.

“I know there’s been some concern voiced at the election polls. I think it’s a good thing. I mean I think if we had 40-thousand people turn out last April and I would think if we had 100-thousand people turn out for an election, that’s good for the community.”

Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones warned the Assembly that changing the election from April to November could have unintended consequences. She thought the issue deserved more consideration but the Assembly approved the change 6-4.

In 1988 the election moved from October to April. The rational was the same as moving it to the fall, higher voter turnout. Since the early 90s voter turnout has averaged around 29 percent. During public testimony people expressed concern that voters would only check a box for the president and leave the rest of their ballot blank. Others said it would be impossible to find enough poll workers to run multiple elections at the same time. Barbara Jones who runs the Clerk’s office agreed. She said the body needed to slow down.

“The Assembly needs to make sure that it’s taking the time to study this issue, to understand the issue, to avoid any unintended consequences. And I would recommend taking some time to look at it. The Clerk’s office hasn’t even been able to express an opinion because it’s during election season and we are trying to plan the April 1st 2014 election. We would like to request that the Assembly take what we believe is prudent action to delay this item until after the election.”

But that didn’t happen. The ordinance moving elections to November passed six to four with Assembly members Tim Steele, Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman the ‘no’ votes and Patrick Flynn absent. The change won’t go into effect until 2017.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Okays CH2M Hill to Lead Troubled Port Project

Wed, 2014-02-26 02:21

Tegan Hanlon, with the Anchorage Daily News, interviews CH2M Hill Vice President Stacey Jones outside Assembly chamber Tuesday evening.

The Anchorage Assembly approved awarding the engineering firm CH2M Hill a 30-million dollar contract to get the Port of Anchorage Project back on track at Tuesday’s meeting. But assembly members had some questions.
Stacey Jones, a vice president with the Colorado-based engineering firm CH2M Hill stood before thee Assembly to insure them they were making the right choice.

“Our team has been carefully selected to include individuals with local experience, relevant port and maritime facilities expertise and an understanding of local permitting and conditions.”

CH2M Hill will provide project and construction management the the Port intermodal Expansion Project.
The project was started back in 2003 under Mayor George Wuersch and Port Director Bill Sheffield. The Design was approved in 2006 Under Mayor Mark Begich. The municipality has been investigating problems with the port project since they arose 2009. That’s when the ‘open-cell sheet pile’ design crumpled and separated during construction. The Sullivan administration has led the push to get the Municipality reimbursed for it’s losses. The U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration managed the previous project. CH2M Hill purchased the now defunct Veco Corporation, which was involved in the work that had problems and is now party to a lawsuit by the city. Assembly member Adam Trombley asked Jones about that:

“Is it typical of CH2M Hill to do business or to enter into new contracts with an entity public or private that you’re currently in litigation with on the exact same project that you just bid on?”

Jones said it wasn’t typical but did happen from time time and nobody from Veco who worked on the former project would work on the new one.
The contract with CH2M Hill is for 30 million dollars over five years with the option for two extensions at 12 more million dollars each. Design and and engineering work is anticipated to take 18-months to two years with construction likely beginning again in 2016. The municipality has spent upwards of 300 million public dollars on the project so far and are requesting 100 million more from the legislature this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 25, 2014

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:38

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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Pebble Mine Opponents Urge EPA To Kill Project

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

About 30 opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine met in Washington today with White House and high-ranking EPA staff. They came armed with a new EPA study that found a mine of Pebble’s size would pose a significant risk to Bristol Bay and its valuable salmon fisheries. Now they’re asking the Environment agency to take the next step and kill the project. They didn’t get a definite answer.

Quinhagak Man Arrested For Murder of 25-year-old Woman

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Troopers have made an arrest in the death of a woman in Quinhagak.  Troopers had been silent in the three weeks since Lisa’s Johnson’s body was found covered in brush.

Glacier Bay Land Slide Excites Scientists

Margaret Friednauer, KHNS – Haines

A massive landslide in Glacier Bay National Park more than a week ago is exciting scientists around the world for the way it was the detected, the images of the slide and the sheer magnitude of it. It’s also near a similar slide that occurred in 2012 on Mount Lituya.

House Democrats Confirm Kito To Downtown Juneau Seat

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Sam Kito III is now at work as the newest member of the Alaska Legislature.

He replaces Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who resigned her House seat last month for a Stanford University fellowship.

Bill Limiting Medicaid Abortion Payout Back In Discussion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After being shelved for nearly a year, a bill meant to limit Medicaid payouts for abortion is back – and it’s missing a component that made it more agreeable to the Legislature’s social moderates.

Peter Tony Pleads Guilty To 3 Counts Of Child Sexual Abuse

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony has pleaded guilty to three counts of child sexual abuse in a plea deal.  In the agreement with prosecutors, the 70-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing a 4-year-old in 2012 his wife had in day care at their home. Those charges carry sentences from 5 to 99 years each.

Political Solution Sought For China Geoduck Ban

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and members of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association talked last week about the possibility of a political solution to China’s ban on Alaska and Washington State geoducks.

Pro-Union Delta Western Workers Press On

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week, a handful of Delta Western fuel supply employees in Unalaska kicked off an effort to unionize by going on strike. As KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, they’re pressing ahead — even after a visit from the company president.

Former Alaskan Appearing On ABC’s ‘Mind Games’

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new ABC television show called Mind Games premieres tonight and one of the weekly series actors is a former Anchorage resident and East High School graduate. Cedric Sanders says his role is an accountant named Latrell.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Mine Opponents Urge EPA To Kill Project

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:20

About 30 opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine met in Washington today with White House and high-ranking EPA staff. They came armed with a new EPA study that found a mine of Pebble’s size would pose a significant risk to Bristol Bay and its valuable salmon fisheries. Now they’re asking the Environment agency to take the next step and kill the project. They didn’t get a definite answer.

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Katherine Carscallen came representing 1,800 commercial fishermen. She is part of the delegation that urged the EPA to use a section in the Clean Water Act to block the mine’s construction.

“We’re thanking them for the time they’ve taken to study this issue an now we really need to see an action that will give our industry certainty into the future,” Carscallen said.

Executives at Pebble Partnership say it’s far too soon for the EPA to take any kind of action. They haven’t even applied for permits yet. The say last month’s watershed assessment is flawed, in part because it’s based on a hypothetical project. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young also say the EPA shouldn’t butt in now, before the state has a chance to review permit applications.

But Alannah Hurley, from Dillingham, says it’s not too early at all. She says the mine has been a threat hanging over her community for a decade, her entire adulthood. Hurley is in Washington to represent United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

“To spend a ginormous portion of my life worrying about the future of our watershed is horrible,” Hurley said. “It’s stressful; it’s terrifying to think that everything that makes you who you are could be taken away.”

The group was hoping to meet with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, but she couldn’t attend. Heather Kendall Miller, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said an EPA official assured them the agency would soon announce its next step, which she took to mean within weeks. But no one from the Administration indicated what that action would be.

Categories: Alaska News

Family Planning Services Axed From Abortion Bill

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:20

After being shelved for nearly a year, a bill meant to limit Medicaid payouts for abortion is back – and it’s missing a component that made it more agreeable to the Legislature’s social moderates.

Last April, something unusual happened. Sen. Berta Gardner, a member of the tiny Democratic minority caucus, offered an amendment to a bill, and Republicans adopted it.

Some even spoke out in favor of it:

SEN. LESIL MCGUIRE: I think this is exactly the right amendment for the right bill, because I think it allays some of the criticisms about the bill – number one – and I think – number two – it strikes that balance that many of the people in this body are trying to reach.

The amendment was to expand women’s health services, and the bill had to do with abortions covered by state money through Alaska’s Medicaid program.

The legislation does that by defining what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion, and requiring doctors to check off what ailment a woman suffers from a list of specific physical conditions. That list doesn’t include a mental health exception, because bill sponsors believe women and doctors could use that option to cover elective procedures.

In all, the idea behind the modified bill was to bring the number of abortions in the state in two ways: by limiting funds for abortions that bill supporters think are elective, and by increasing access to things like birth control and STD testing.

While the Senate passed the bill, the House version was put on ice. That is, until now. The House Finance Committee took the bill up again on Tuesday, and the family planning language was a point of contention. Especially for bill sponsors like Sen. John Cohill, a Repulican from North Pole.

COGHILL: I prefer not to have the amendment in there.

And Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican:

LEDOUX: That could be something that could be considered in budgetary talks, but I don’t believe that it is appropriate as an amendment to a bill that which is simply trying to define what the term “medically necessary abortion” is.

Before debate on the bill began in earnest, the House Finance Committee voted eight to three to strip the language, mostly on caucus lines. Republican Lindsey Holmes joined Democrats Les Gara and David Guttenberg in voting to keep the family planning section.

During a break from the hearing, Gara expressed his disappointment to reporters.

“The science and the evidence is that family planning can reduce the number of abortions,” said Gara. “By stripping that language out of the bill, they now have a bill that will increase the number of abortions.”

Democrats still plan on trying to reinsert the family planning component of the bill. The issue of family planning was discussed at length after its removal, and Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze suggested he would allow members to introduce an amendment on that subject as a matter of process.

But through the course of the hearing, LeDoux reiterated that she was hostile to the amendment.

“If it’s the will of the Legislature – if it’s the will of the Finance Committee – to increase funding for Medicaid, to increase funding for family planning services, then let’s talk about this in the Health and Human Services budget. There’s no need to ‘Christmas tree’ this particular bill, which is a simple bill, with discussion of family planning services.”

If the family planning language isn’t attached to this bill, it may be a struggle to get it in during the normal budget process. While the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the costs of the Women’s Health Program, the state would need to spend $1.4 million over the next two years to access those funds.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who is in charge of the Senate’s version of the operating budget, doesn’t believe there’s much will to add that in.

“I prefer that that’s not in there. To put it in as a budget item, I don’t see that happening,” said Kelly.

Under current Alaska law, only pregnant women and people with disabilities can access family planning services. The family planning amendment would expand access to low-income men and women who are seeking to prevent pregnancy. A report from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that would prevent 1090 unintended pregnancies and 360 abortions.
Last year, 1,450 abortions were performed in Alaska, and 547 were covered by Medicaid.

Earlier this month, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services made a similar attempt to define the term “medically necessary” in the context of abortion payments. Their regulations cover nearly the same conditions listed in the bill, but they also allow for a mental health exception. A judge prevented the regulations from going into effect after Planned Parent sued the state, arguing that the regulations violate a 2001 Alaska Supreme Court decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak Man Arrested For Murder of 25-year-old Woman

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:19

Harold Smith, 26, was arrested in Quinhagak Monday and charged with the first degree murder of 25-year-old Lisa Johnson.

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Johnson’s body was found off a trail near the end of the new runway in Quinhagak on February 3.

A weeks-long investigation by state troopers determined that Johnson was killed in another location, allegedly during an altercation with Smith. “Smith then moved Johnson’s body to the location it was found and attempted to conceal it with brush,” said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

Smith is being held without bail at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center pending an arraignment Tuesday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Glacier Bay Land Slide Excites Scientists

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:18

Photo courtesy of Drake Olson.

A massive landslide in Glacier Bay National Park more than a week ago is exciting scientists around the world for the way it was the detected, the images of the slide and the sheer magnitude of it. It’s also near a similar slide that occurred in 2012 on Mount Lituya.

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Scientists from NASA, the US Geological Survey, and elsewhere are calling the slide at Mount La Perouse the biggest in the world in the last four years and possibly the largest ever recorded in Alaska

A group of scientists first detected the slide after it happened on Feb. 16.

Colin Stark is a Research Professor with the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. Stark and his colleagues developed a technique, funded by the National Science Foundation, to identify massive landslides using global seismic information. Stark said when the La Perouse landslide showed up among their data, they knew something unusual had taken place.

“Last Sunday I was watching the catalogue generated every day, and I spotted an event that we detected but that wasn’t detected by the USGS or by an agency in Germany or the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. And when that happens it’s kind of a big, red flag,” Stark said.
It sort of says ‘Ooh, this could be an anomalous event.’”

Stark and his colleagues try to identify long period waves in their analysis. Short period waves are the kinds that normally occur in earthquakes. But longer waves can show a slower surface movement that might indicate a landslide.

Stark enlisted help from NASA to get an earth observation satellite to pass over the area. He also put the word out to other scientists, hoping as the news spread, access to satellite imagery would also grow.

Word eventually reached Haines pilot Drake Olson who had located the Lituya slide. He heard the approximated location of this slide to be around Bradley Glacier. He was hesitant to go on a landslide goose chase, but he took the skies and on the southern end of the Fairweather range, he spotted the obvious change in landscape.

“There was a cloud layer in Glacier Bay and I was going ‘You know, I got a lot of work to do, I shouldn’t be going off to do this. This is like a needle in a haystack,’” Olson said. “I was generally perusing everything and looked out and there it was. It stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Scientists estimate the break away from the mountain had started at just under 9,000 feet. Olson landed near the terminus at about 3,700 feet. The debris field is estimated to be almost five miles long with an estimated 68 million metric tons of debris. For comparison, the Lituya slide released less than a third of that.

Olson skiied the area to take photos. At least until he noticed the mountain and debris was still emitted small movements and sounds.

“I put my skis on, I did a quick analysis of the snowpack. And then I hiked all around on the thing. When I got up to the ice fall, wouldn’t you know the thing had a pretty good release,” Olson said. “A big thundering rumble and I hightailed it out of there.”

Stark says its unlikely Olson was in danger. Most of the activity took place at the mountain, when it broke away. The debris field is so large because it was moving across ice and spread out, he said.

“He had nothing to work about at that point. Most of that was sliding over ice. Only the very initial part of the slide was very, very steep,” Stark said. “And that’s what makes the seismic forces we detect, not the sliding over ice.”

Stark said most massive slide events like these happen in Alaska than anywhere else in the world. And more happened then even scientists realize, he said. That’s because most go undetected and unseen. But the new technique used to find this slide will hopefully help notify scientists when other massive landslides occur. Stark said he can even use the analysis to go back through data to identify slides that have occurred in years previous. Doing that, he’s already identified massive slide that he says took place in 1997 near Mount McKinnely.

As for the cause of these slide events, Stark said that’s harder to determine. He says most slides like Lituya and La Perouse happen on south facing slopes, and often in the summer. That gives him a small clue into possible underlying causes.

“One thing I’m hesitant about disseminating too much, but a lot of the events in Alaska have been south facing warm summer events,” Stark said. “So there’s a hint, but only a hint that there may be some sort of rock permafrost thawing related, slowing, steadily losing permafrost ice and that’s affecting the stability of the slopes.”

Seismologists with the Alaska Earthquake Center said once they heard about the landslide they were able to go back and look for long period waves and found the event in their data. It was the equivalent of a 2.5 magnitude earthquake, they said.

Categories: Alaska News

House Democrats Confirm Kito To Downtown Juneau Seat

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:17

Sam Kito III is now at work as the newest member of the Alaska Legislature.

He replaces Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who resigned her House seat last month for a Stanford University fellowship.

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Sam Kito III looks on while House Minority Leader Chris Tuck announces Kito’s confirmation. Photo courtesy of Gavel Alaska.

House Democrats Tuesday morning confirmed Sam Kito III to the legislative seat vacated last month by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula.

Minority Leader Chris Tuck said Democrats were unanimous in their decision.

Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday appointed Kito to the seat.

The governor asked Democrats to take their vote on the House floor.  But the minority met Monday night in closed caucus then Tuck announced the decision Tuesday on Gavel Alaska, statewide television coverage of the legislature.

With pen in hand, Tuck said party confirmations have been announced by letter for the past 25 years.

And with that right now I’d like to sign a letter to both the governor and to the Speaker of the House announcing Sam’s replacing Beth Kerttula in the House Democratic 32 seat,” Tuck said.

Kito will fill in for Rep. Harriet Drummond on the Education as well as Community and Regional Affairs committees.  Drummond is absent from the capitol for a family medical emergency.  Tuck said Kito will continue on Community and Regional Affairs when Drummond returns.

He inherits Kerttula’s longtime staff members, Ken Alper and Hannah McCarty.   Alper was one of nine Juneau Democrats to apply for the seat.  Tongass Democrats nominated Kito, Jesse Kiehl and Catherine Reardon.

Kerttula left the job on Jan. 24 for a Stanford University fellowship.  It took a  month to fill the seat, but Tuck said the small House Minority did not lose any strength while down a member.

House District 32 encompasses downtown Juneau and Douglas, Petersburg, Gustavus, Skagway, and Tenakee Springs.

Categories: Alaska News

Peter Tony Pleads Guilty To 3 Counts Of Child Sexual Abuse

Tue, 2014-02-25 18:16

Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony has pleaded guilty to three counts of child sexual abuse in a plea deal.

In the agreement with prosecutors, the 70-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing a minor in 2012 when he abused a 4-year-old his wife had in day care at their home. Those charges carry sentences anywhere from 5 to 99 years each.

He also pleaded guilty to molesting a 12-year old girl in 1998. She told a police investigator that she would wake up to find Tony touching her. That was the year he lost his foster care license. He could serve up to 10 years for that charge.

Tony was originally charged with 10 felony counts of sexually abusing minors. In Monday’s court appearance, Tony also pleaded guilty to aggravating factors like abusing the same victims multiple times and being more than 10-years older than victims. Those factors could increase his sentence.

Authorities believe he has more victims reaching as far back as the 1970s.  He and his late wife Marilyn ran a licensed foster care facility from 1984 until he lost the license in 1998.

Tony told police that there were several victims whose names he could not remember.  The police affidavit noted that Tony said touching kids was an addiction.

His former stepdaughter Kimberley Bruesch has stated that Tony molested her and her two sisters. Those sisters later committed suicide.

Peter Tony’s sentencing is set for later in June.

Categories: Alaska News

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