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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: 58 min 21 sec ago

EPA Moves to Protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine

Fri, 2014-02-28 09:08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Abortion Bill Advances On Tight Vote

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

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

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:49

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: Alaska News

3 OK After Vessel Sinks Near Valdez

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

Three men are okay after their vessel sank near Valdez while participating in an oil spill response drill. The Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Command Center received a report Wednesday night that the landing craft Belltech 5 was taking on water and sinking near Valdez Arm.

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Categories: Alaska News

4 Snowmachiners Rescued By Alaska Air National Guard

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

On Tuesday afternoon, four snowmachiners were rescued by the Alaska Air National Guard in the Talkeetna Mountains.

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Jason Coffey, Tara Coffey, Robert Milligan, and Jonathan Hines, all of Wasilla, were approximately 10 miles east of the Yoder Road trail head, when one of the snowmachines got stuck.

According to reports from the Guard and Alaska State Troopers, Jason Hines separated from the group in order to get help.  The remaining three snowmachiners called the Alaska State Troopers just before 4:00 p.m. to report that they were stranded and did not have overnight gear.

In addition, the Air National Guard reports that one of the riders did not have necessary medication.

The call was forwarded to the Rescue Coordination Center, and an HC-130 King and an an HH-60 Pavehawk were dispatched.  The rescue teams located the snowmachiners who were “cold, wet, and tired” according to a press release from the Air National Guard.

Due to the terrain, the group had to be hoisted onto the Pavehawk.  Meanwhile, Jason Hines reached the trail head on his own, and met with Alaska State Troopers there. No injuries were reported.

Lieutenant Colonel John Morse of the Rescue Coordination Center says in a press release that this case illustrates the importance of preparedness.

He lists extra food, medications, and a signal device as things the Guard recommends bringing on any backcountry trip.

Categories: Alaska News

Turning The Tide Against Marine Debris

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

It’s been about three years since the tsunami in Japan washed away entire towns, sending thousands of tons of debris out to sea. Less than eight months after the tsunami, items started showing up in Alaska and have continued to do so in the months and years since. It will still be a few months before clean up crews take to Kodiak’s beaches, but the planning process for those clean ups is already well under way.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Polaris Building’s Owner Optimistic About Renovation

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

The owner of the Polaris building is optimistic about financing renovation of the long vacant downtown Fairbanks high rise. Anchorage developer Marc Marlow reported to the Fairbanks city council Monday that he planned to file a federal loan guarantee application with the Bureau of Indian affairs this week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Forever Initiative Survives Challenge in Court

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:41

The Bristol Bay Forever Initiative, which seeks to add a layer of legislative approval to any future hard rock mining within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, has survived a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. Backers expect the initiative to still be on the primary ballot this August.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 27, 2014

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:22

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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Bill Restricting Medicaid Payments For Abortions Passes Committee Review

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

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

Magnuson-Stevens Act Up For Reauthorization

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

3 OK After Vessel Sinks Near Valdez

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Three men are okay after their vessel sank near Valdez while participating in an oil spill response drill.  The Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Command Center received a report Wednesday night that the landing craft Belltech 5 was taking on water and sinking near Valdez Arm.

4 Snowmachiners Rescued By Alaska Air National Guard

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

On Tuesday afternoon, four snowmachiners were rescued by the Alaska Air National Guard in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Turning The Tide Against Marine Debris

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

It’s been about three years since the tsunami in Japan washed away entire towns, sending thousands of tons of debris out to sea. Less than eight months after the tsunami, items started showing up in Alaska and have continued to do so in the months and years since. It will still be a few months before clean up crews take to Kodiak’s beaches, but the planning process for those clean ups is already well under way.

Cost Overruns Add Up To A Bigger Bill For Blue Lake Dam

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka’s Blue Lake dam expansion project will cost about $3.6 million more than expected. The total project – not including new backup diesel generators – was originally estimated to cost about $142 million. Utility director Chris Brewton told the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night the cost is now $145 million.

Fairbanks Polaris Building’s Owner Optimistic About Renovation

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The owner of the Polaris building is optimistic about financing renovation of the long vacant downtown Fairbanks high rise. Anchorage developer  Marc Marlow reported to the Fairbanks city council Monday that he planned to file a federal loan guarantee application with the Bureau of Indian affairs this week.

Bristol Bay Forever Initiative Survives Challenge in Court

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Bristol Bay Forever Initiative, which seeks to add a layer of legislative approval to any future hard rock mining within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, has survived a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. Backers expect the initiative to still be on the primary ballot this August.

Categories: Alaska News

Cost Overruns Add Up To A Bigger Bill For Blue Lake Dam

Thu, 2014-02-27 15:32

Sitka’s Blue Lake dam expansion project will cost about $3.6-million more than expected.

The total project — not including new backup diesel generators — was originally estimated to cost about $142-million. It is now up to about $145-million, Utility Director Chris Brewton told the Sitka assembly Tuesday night (2-25-14).

Blue Lake overflows its spillway Monday morning. Photo by Ted Laufenberg.

Brewton later told KCAW that this is the only major cost overrun the project has seen so far.

Most of the overrun will pay for construction of a temporary water filtration plant at Indian River. Sitka will rely on water from Indian River for about two to four months, starting in late August, when work on the dam will shut off access to Blue Lake, the city’s regular water source.

The city had originally budgeted $2-million for the temporary filtration system at Indian River — but, Brewton said, they always knew that number was a rough guess. As the project engineers completed the final design over the last several months, he said, it became clear that the final cost would be much higher. The city now estimates the total cost for the filtration system will be $4.7-million, or $2.7-million higher than expected.

The other unexpected cost is for debris removal. When the dam expansion is complete, Blue Lake will inundate over 360 acres of currently dry land, Brewton said, drowning trees, shrubs and undergrowth that will eventually die and bob up to the surface. That debris then has to be removed.

The city originally budgeted about $1.5-million dollars for the task, but both contractors who bid on the project estimated that it would take longer than the city thought. The total cost is now estimated to be $2.3-million, or about $800,000 more than originally expected.

The assembly approved a contract with Sitka-based ASRC McGraw Constructors LLC,  to handle the debris removal.

The assembly voted to approve the increased project cost. Assembly member Mike Reif said he felt fortunate that the cost overrun was so small, given the overall size of the project.

Chris Brewton said he felt city staff — especially public works director Michael Harmon — were keeping a particularly close eye on expenses:

“We’ve got a big hairy guard dog on the project,” Brewton said. “He’s doing a masterful job.”

The assembly authorized the administration to apply for a low-interest loan from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to cover the additional expense.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Up For National Environmental Health Award

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:41

A YKHC employee is up for the national Indian Health Service Environmental Health Specialist of the Year. Brian Berbube is representing the Alaska region.

He’s worked in Bethel since 2008. Some of his accomplishments include critical response to flooding in Crooked Creek and a new design for of honey bucket hoppers. He’s also investigated lead exposure, and revamped the Water Plant Operator Training Program.

Berube is competing with environment health officers from all around the country.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges in Date Rape Case

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:39

Ryan H. Sligh, 29, was arrested in October after Dillingham police investigated an allegation he had given Xanax pills to a woman and then had sex with her after she passed out.

Xanax, a drug commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, is used as a substitute for rohypnol (“roofies”) in drug-facilitated sexual assaults, according to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Sligh was never indicted on the original felony charge of delivering a schedule IV controlled substance, and he was never charged with any crime relating to sexual assault.

Instead, prosecutors reduced the charge to attempted delivery of a schedule IV controlled substance, a misdemeanor. Sligh pleaded guilty to that charge on Wednesday, and was sentenced to 49 days in jail and fined $1000.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced to Compensate Victims of Wrongful Imprisonment

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:35

A State Representative from Fairbanks has filed legislation intended to protect Alaskans who are wrongfully convicted of a crime and serve time in prison. House Bill 352 was put forward by Representative Scott Kawasaki.

The Bill would create a process that would allow victims of overturned criminal convictions to request compensation from the State for the time they served in prison. The compensation could be up to $50,000 a year with a cap of $2 million. To qualify the wrongfully convicted person must have served time in prison and then been exonerated. That can come in the form of a retrial, dismissed charges, or an executive pardon because the person was innocent.

If the bill is ultimately approved, Alaska would become the 13th State to have some form of compensation for wrongfully convicted persons. House Bill 352 has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

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

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