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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: 31 min 17 sec ago

Removal of Federal Building trees elicits fierce opposition

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:27

The proposal to remove two trees from the front of the historic Federal Building in downtown Anchorage elicited fiery comments from a handful of community members during a public meeting on Thursday.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/19-Fed-Bldg-Trees.wav

The General Services Administration, which oversees the building, planned to cut down the spruce trees this summer. GSA spokesperson Stephanie Kenitzer says the trees were damaging the building and they needed to repaint the exterior.

“As a homeowner I’ve been told multiple times to not have a tree touching the side of my house. It’s difficult on the siding, it’s hard on the paint. It’s the same kind of philosophy,” she explained.

The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.

But they were stopped from cutting them down by public outcry from community members like arborist Nickel LaFleur.

“Because it’s history. Because our trees are legacies,” she said. “We don’t have that many trees here in Anchorage, and these trees are quite historic.”

Photos show they were planted next to the building at least 56 years ago. Some time around then, a bristlecone pine joined the line up. It’s anecdotally thought to be a gift from Anchorage’s sister city in Japan, though documentation is scarce. GSA never planned to cut down the bristlecone pine.

After the public complained, the agency decided to just trim the trees and repaint — for now. Kenitzer said it’s not a long-term solution.

“The trees will grow again. That’s what trees do. Sunshine, water, they’ll grow again. And we may be addressing this problem again down the road. So it’s really in the best interest of the long term preservation of the building.”

She said an arborist’s report on the situation also claimed that the trees’ roots will hurt the foundation of the building, so they should be removed completely.

LaFleur doesn’t buy the argument, especially since the trees are separated from the building itself by a wide window well.

“The root ball will never hurt the building,” she explained. “If the building is leaking, then roots have a way of heading toward water. But you can’t blame the trees for the problems. Just fix the leaks in the buildings and leave the trees.”

The arborist who completed the initial report on the trees asked GSA to keep his name confidential for fear of damage to his business. Some of the community members have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see the report and other information about the plan to remove the trees.

GSA will make a final decision in 30 days.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 19, 2014

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:20

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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Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

The Associated Press

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

AK: Mushrooms

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Heidi Drygas is a lawyer by day, and a food blogger by night. She features mostly Alaska-grown ingredients in her recipes, and her resume boasts everything from moose chili to devil’s club salad. But, there’s one thing she’s been too afraid to forage, until now.

300 Villages: Chignik

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to fight ISIL

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:02

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIL, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

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Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the measure in the House yesterday, saying it was a tough choice but the only way to stop the atrocities and prevent the group from attacking on U.S. soil.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also voted for it, as part of a short-term spending bill to keep the government operating. She said before the vote she was greatly reluctant and knows Americans are weary of war.

“We don’t willingly want to do this,” she said, “but I think Americans are looking at this and saying, ‘By doing nothing are we putting ourselves at greater risk from these barbaric acts?’”

The bill expires December 11, so Murkowski says Congress will have to face the question again after the election. For now, she says it boils down to selecting among bad options.

“And so I look at what we have in front of us and I see no good options,” she said. “But I’m very fearful of the no-option strategy.”

The issue cuts across normal party and ideological lines. The sole Democrat in the Alaska delegation, Sen. Mark Begich, voted against the bill. In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote, Begich criticized Obama’s plan to arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight extremists, saying it could backfire because alliances often shift.

“Do not arm, with U.S. dollars and weapons, the rebels of today that might not be the rebels of tomorrow,” Begich said.

He says the U.S. should continue air strikes, but he says the Arab countries who are also threatened by ISIL need to provide the ground troops.

“What is the long-term plan here for sustainability in the Middle East to get rid of these terrorist organizations that every single one of those countries know is bad for them – they know it – but they do not step up to the plate enough?” he said.

Begich was one of only 22 senators to vote no. His Republican challenger, Dan Sullivan, said in a written statement he would have voted for the measure because ISIL is a threat to the U.S.

Categories: Alaska News

One-Man PAC To Target Four House Races

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:01

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

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Keithley is launching a $200,000 independent expenditure campaign to install his vision of a more fiscally responsible Legislature in Juneau. He’s hired a campaign manager, he’s done polling, and after collecting candidate surveys, he’s decided to get involved in four races. Keithley is supporting two Democratic challengers — Laurie Hummel against the incumbent Republican Gabrielle LeDoux in Muldoon, and Matt Moore against House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt in East Anchorage. In West Anchorage, he’s backing a Republican, Anand Dubey, against Democrat Matt Claman in a race for an open seat. And in Mountain View, he’s spending on behalf of Libertarian Cean Stevens, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr.

“These are districts where we think we can move the needle,” Keithley says, from the kitchen of his unfussy Anchorage condo.

So, why is he doing all this? For the past two years, Keithley’s been a regular at the state Capitol, preaching a gospel of budget caps. But while he thought his message of limiting state spending to $5 billion was resonating, the last state budget tapped $6 billion from the general fund and the one before took out over $7 billion.

“We went backward over the next two years. Rather than saving, we had the two highest deficits in Alaska’s history.”

To make up the difference, the Legislature and governor had to tap the state’s budget reserves, basically a $15 billion piggy bank the state can dip into when there’s shortfalls. Keithley thinks that instead of draining the reserves, Alaska should let the funds grow and then use the interest to counteract declining revenue from oil production — a plan crafted by retired University of Alaska economics professor Scott Goldsmith, which generated a lot of buzz in the Capitol when it was introduced.

Keithley says he thought there was buy-in for that plan from the Republican majorities when they listed “sustainable budgets” as a priority going into the legislative session two years ago. Based on the spending they did, Keithley doesn’t think they’re justified in using those terms now when running for reelection.

“They’re just saying words. After what happened in 2012, and after the Senate Majority coming out and making the statement it did, and after seeing the two largest deficits in Alaska history, they know what words constituents want to hear. They know what words resonate at voting time, and they’re just saying those words. They’re not living up to the words.”

Keithley has a few objectives with his independent expenditure campaign. Obviously, he’d like his chosen candidates to be successful. But he also wants to get people talking about the state budget. And he believes his spending could have an effect in other races.

On top of targeting four House districts, he also plans to send issue mailers in the Senate district represented by Republican Cathy Giessel and the open Senate district in West Anchorage where Democrat Clare Ross and Republican Mia Costello are squaring off. That means candidates Keithley considered targeting but didn’t find vulnerable enough – like Rep. Mike Hawker, who shares a district with Giessel and has been criticized for the expensive renovations of the Anchorage legislative information office – might still have to address fiscal issues in their campaign.

Keithley has been a vocal critic of incumbent Sean Parnell’s limited use of the line item veto during the past legislative cycle, except didn’t think $200,000 directed at that contest was enough to make a serious difference. By targeting high-turnout districts and doing web and radio advertising that could have a broader reach, he thinks there may be a ripple effect.

“The mailers certainly are going to identify, and the web advertising is going to say, ‘This is both the governor and the legislature that has been doing this.’ It’s both Alaska’s chief executive and its board of directors that is sending the state down this path. So, it may have some carryover effect in the governor’s race, and that’s certainly not going to bother me.”

Needless to say, the independent expenditure effort has ruffled feathers.

Keithley, who isn’t registered with a party but describes his views as libertarian, says he’s lost friends over it. Republicans have accused him of simply trying to elect Democrats. He’s been described as arrogant and dogmatic. People have questioned his attachment to the state – he’s been an Alaska resident since 2007 and uses a cell phone with a Georgia area code – and asked him who he thinks he is to be the arbiter of fiscal responsibility. He says people also wonder why he is putting $200,000 into political spending instead of toward philanthropy.

Keithley, who wouldn’t disclose his net worth but says he’s financially secure after a career as an oil and gas attorney, says he does give money to other causes. And he thinks his political spending may have more of an impact than giving to a specific charity.

“It creates a better world for that philanthropy and for that small segment, but it doesn’t improve the economy of the state or it doesn’t hand off a better world – a better state fiscal world – to the next generation.”

Keithley says he’s also prepared to be negatively compared to political spenders like the Koch brothers and George Soros, who are viewed as election-influencing boogeymen by the left and right respectively. Though, he sees himself more like billionaire Ross Perot, who self-financed a 1992 presidential run centered on reducing the national debt.

“You know, Ross Perot may have lost that election, but he changed the discussion. He changed the dynamic.”

Keithley even considered pulling a Ross Perot and running for governor. But after some self-reflection, he realized he “just wasn’t a good candidate” and did not have a shot at victory. So, he figured he may as well put money behind people who did have a chance. After all, he thought that was the fiscally responsible approach.

Categories: Alaska News

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:00

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

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Categories: Alaska News

Board of Education to Consider Regulations

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

The state board of education will consider regulations surrounding how students can test-out of courses they have mastered.

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Lawmakers this year passed legislation allowing secondary school students to test-out of and receive credit for courses offered in math, language arts, science, social studies and world languages.

The proposed regulations would require districts to provide testing at least twice a year and develop standards regarding the degree of mastery needed.

In public comments, Ron Fuhrer, president of NEA-Alaska, said the regulations, if implemented properly, would allow students to take more advanced classes.

But he said if the testing requirements are too lax, it won’t prepare students for long-term success. He also said he didn’t want new testing days added to the school calendar.

The board meets this week in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

Signs mark the end of Juneau’s Glacier Highway in 2013. The latest environmental impact statement maintains a preference to extend the road 47 miles north along the east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

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The 694-page draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project is a reaction to court challenges to the project’s 2006 environmental impact statement.

The new document maintains a preference to build a road along the east side of Lynn Canal, north to the Katzehin River. There, a new ferry terminal would make a short connection to Haines and the road system.

The new document attempts to fulfill a major regulatory hurdle to highway construction, estimated at $523 million. Ferry terminal and vessel construction is estimated to cost another $51 million.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council was one of the parties to challenge the 2006 environmental impact statement. It may do so again, says Executive Director Malena Marvin.

“Our lawyers have not analyzed it yet but it’s likely that it will be challenged.”

The federal courts in 2009 and 2011 said the original statement failed to adequately consider improved ferry service as an alternative to building the road. The new document addresses that and revises outdated information.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the next step for the department is to collect public comments that will eventually be integrated into an additional report.

“Depending on how many comments we receive will determine the length of time it takes us to put together the environmental impact statement for review by the Federal Highway Administration before we can reach a record of decision. So, that could take several months or longer.”

The public comment period on the draft document is open until Nov. 10.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fish Boat Explodes in Valdez; 1 Injured

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

A Coast Guard spokesman says a 30-foot commercial fishing boat exploded and burned Wednesday evening in the small boat harbor in Valdez. The lone person on board was able to walk off and was taken to a hospital.

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Lt. Ben Bauman says Valdez firefighters and police responded, as did Coast Guard personnel. They found the vessel Fireman afloat, with the majority of its wheelhouse torn apart by the explosion.

Once Valdez firefighters said the area was safe, Bauman says Coast Guard officers were able to board the boat to begin a pollution investigation.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:57

Magnuson-Stevens created 8 separate regional councils to manage fisheries in federal waters. According ALFA’s Linda Behnken, not all regions have placed as much emphasis on resource protection as the North Pacific. (NOAA Fisheries image)

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

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Draft language containing proposed changes to Magnuson-Stevens has been working its way through the US House of Representatives, but the political lines became clearer when Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced his version of the billon September 16.

Read the full text of Sen. Rubio’s Florida Fisheries Improvement Act.

The top priority for Rubio is giving the regional management councils more flexibility in setting timelines for rebuilding depleted fish stocks.

This is exactly what Linda Behnken, the director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was hoping not to hear.

“There’s quite a pushback right now against the rebuilding timelines and the catch limits. You start rebuilding stocks, it means you have to catch less fish, generally, and that’s a painful process for fishermen.”

Behnken says she wasn’t expecting a Senate bill so soon, but Rubio’s paralells some language she’s seen in the House. Fishing Community Coalition is worried about a reauthorization that merely “reaffirms the status quo” or worse “moves backward.” The Mangnuson-Stevens Act was first passed in 1976, and wasn’t considered very effective for its first two decades. But substantial amendments in 1996 and 2006 reinforced the law’s commitment to sustainability.

Behnken would like to stay the course.

“To protect the gains that we’ve made in the last two reauthorizations, for the resource. And also to look for ways to support policy that keeps a healthy resource and provides access for people who live in traditional fishing communities, to those resources.”

Behnken served three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, one of eight regional councils established under Magnuson-Stevens. While there were always politics and tension over the allocation of fish, one thing remained unchanged.

“In this region, in the North Pacific, the council never sets any catch limits for stocks above what the scientists recommend to be optimal levels — the maximum levels that can be taken without undermining the health of the stock. That’s not the case in other parts of the country.”

“We definitely have some out here, with our Georges Bank and our Gulf of Maine cod stocks, that are a mess,” says Tom Dempsey,the Policy Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

“And they’re collapsing right in front of us. We need improve how we manage those stocks, to give ourselves a chance at rebuilding to a point where we can have a sustainable fishery.”

Dempsey says fisheries for scallop and lobster are doing well in his region. But, groundfish, the flagship of the historic New England fisheries, are on the verge of becoming commercially-extinct. As recently as 30 years ago there were 60 boats fishing for cod throughout the summer out of Chatham, Massachusetts, where Dempsey lives. Today there are two part-time boats.

Dempsey also holds a seat on the New England Fisheries Management Council. He says there’s a tendency to distrust science in his area, and unlike Alaska, no annual stock assessment. Management decisions are sometimes being made on biological information that is several years old.

“That is a huge frustration of ours. It’s one of the central things we want to get done in this reauthorization process. And unfortunately there’s been opposition out here to the levels of catch accountability that you need to manage stocks. I say it all the time: When you’re managing fish, there are only two questions. How many fish are in the water, and how many fish are you taking out?”

Sen. Rubio’s bill includes provisions to increase funding for stock assessments and data collection, but the track record of success of Magnuson-Stevens outside of Alaska is not stellar.

Matthew Felling, spokesperson for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says his boss holds some sway over her Florida colleague.

“She is someone that he relies on for guidance and for knowledge. Sen. Begich, of course, has a role because he works closely with Sen. Rubio on the Oceans Subcommittee. But as all three of them are members of the Oceans Caucus, Sen. Murkowski has been able to inform Rubio’s understanding of our waters, our fishing industry, and of our success story that we have in Alaska.”

Felling says that with the Senate likely to go into recess until mid-November, there’s no way any reauthorization will happen in this Congress. He thinks the extra time will produce a more thoughtful bill.

“Just last month at an event in the Kenai, Sen. Murkowski said that the most important priority to MSA authorization was to not just rush it and get it over with, but to do it right, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, and make sure that all possible stakeholders have their voices heard.”

Those stakeholders — according to Sen. Rubio’s office — include some of the producers, processors, and retailers trying to make the most of limited stocks. And although giving the councils “flexibility” to depart from strict conservation guidelines may become the most politically-charged idea in the reauthorization process, ALFA’s Linda Behnken says it doesn’t have to be. She says flexibility — as in the use of new data-collection tools, like cameras rather than on board observers — can actually be a good thing.

“That kind of flexibility doesn’t compromise the resource, but it’s real important to small boats and fishing communities.”

In addition to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the Fishing Community Coalition includes the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 18, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:50

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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Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to Fight ISIL

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIS, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

One-Man PAC to Target Four House Races

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. Attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition  to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Jeremy Hsieh & Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

Categories: Alaska News

Valley Opponents Gather To Fight Prop Two

Thu, 2014-09-18 15:40

A roster of prominent Republicans – both candidates and sitting legislators – showed up  Wednesday night in support of a Wasilla fundraiser for the anti- Proposition 2 group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, although  campaign manager for the newly formed Matanuska Valley arm of the anti- marijuana initiative group, Eric Cordero, says  Big Marijuana, Big Mistake is non- partisan:

“We are kicking off our MatSu fundraiser campaign here and just getting a lot of more volunteers in the MatSu area. This is going to happen in Fairbanks next week, and it’s going to happen also in Ketchikan in a next few weeks. So we are excited that more and more people are coming on board.”

 Cordero says national observers of events in Colorado and Washington are keeping a close eye on the impacts of legalization  since those states legalized marijuana.

“And most of our supporters believe that there is absolutely no reason to rush. That we have a petri dish in Colorado and in Washington and we can see what has worked, what hasn’t worked. What are the pros and cons. “

Mat Su Business Alliance director Crystal Nygard used the occasion to announce her organization’s stand on Prop 2:

“And with all of the uncertainty around how they are going to regulate it, how they are going to tax it, and how businesses will be able to either take advantage of the opportunity or not, are not real clear. And we are in a state in Alaska where we don’t need to risk trying to learn new businesses.”

 Big Marijuana, Big Mistake’s Valley kickoff event was attended by some prominent Republicans, such as Senate candidate Bill Stoltze, Mat Su Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Most of the Valley’s delegation to the state legislature made an appearance.

Supporters of Proposition 2, working for the Marijuana Policy Project, say MMP is the largest organization in the country focused on ending marijuana prohibition. MMP spokeman Taylor Bickford, says MMP empowers local activists with tools needed to fight current marijuana policy.

“I don’t think that Alaskans are particularly concerned with what politicians think about this issue. We’ve seen public opinion at the national level and here in Alaska as well, shift dramatically in favor of regulating marijuana like alcohol over the last ten years, and the political leadership and establishment has lagged behind that trend. “

 Bickford says responsible adults “should be able to make reasonable decisions about how to live their lives without government intrusion and fear of prosecution.”

 Bickford says his group has support from all over the state, regardless of political affiliation. He says proposition 2 is on the ballot because 45 thousand Alaskans signed a petition asking for it. Voters will decide in November.  

Categories: Alaska News

2014 Permanent Fund Dividend Will Be $1,884

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:16

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Commissioner of Revenue Angela Rodell announce the amount of the 2014 Permanent Fund Dividend. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN- Anchorage)

In an announcement Wednesday, Governor Sean Parnell told Alaskans something they have been waiting to hear for months…the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend. 

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“Alaskan’s 2014 dividend amount is….$1,884,” Governor Sean Parnell said to the cheers and applause of a packed room at Anchorage’s Atwood Building.

This is the third-largest total in the 33-year history of the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Governor Sean Parnell says of the nearly 675,000 who applied, the state estimates close to 641,500 will qualify to receive this year’s payout.

“The oldest applicant…109-years-old,” he said. The youngest include 26 children who were born on December 31, 2013…just before the deadline.”

Governor Parnell says over 500 non-profits will benefit from this year’s Pick-Click-Give contributions.

“This year, 26,850 applicants pledged 44,693 contributions..that’s a new record. Over $2.8 million was pledged,” he said.

The 2014 Permanent Fund Dividend will be distributed to Alaskans beginning October 2nd.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Investigate University of Alaska For How It Deals With Sexual Assault

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:15

First snow outside the UAA/APU Consortium Library in Anchorage in 2006. (Creative Commons Photo by Mel Green)

The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office will be visiting four campuses of the University of Alaska next month to check if the school is handling sexual violence complaints according to federal law.

The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary institutions around the nation being investigated for possible violations, but university officials aren’t sure why.

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The Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges under investigation. The list includesHobart and William Smith Colleges, Amherst College and Florida State University – schools that have been in the national spotlight for potentially mishandling sexual assault complaints.

Rules governing how schools deal with sexual violence complaints fall under Title IX. The federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities that receive federal funding.

A few days after the original list was released on May 1, the Department of Education launched an investigation on the University of Alaska.

“We’re not being investigated because we did anything wrong,” says Michael O’Brien, an attorney for the university. “They’re looking into how we handled Title IX to see that we’re doing everything right. There isn’t some active violation.”

In a press release, the Department of Education says the list includes investigations stemming from complaints to the Office of Civil Rights and investigations initiated by the office as compliance reviews. O’Brien wants to make it clear that University of Alaska is on the list for the latter reason.

“To add us in with schools, some of which are accused of some pretty egregious sidestepping of Title IX, is really unfair to the University of Alaska. In my opinion, there should’ve been two different lists,” O’Brien says.

About 35,000 full- and part-time students attend the University of Alaska system, which has three main universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast. The system’s 16 campuses all have a Title IX investigator.

According to O’Brien, the university has had 257 complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault since 2011. Almost all came from UAA and UAF. Eight came from UAS.

As part of the compliance review, the Office of Civil Rights asked for 35 items, including details of each sexual assault complaint since 2011. University of Alaska responded with over 10,000 pages of documents.

O’Brien says the university takes complaints seriously and follows federal law when dealing with them.

“There isn’t a problem that I see that’s unaddressed or something that’s been covered up. We’re very proactive about dealing with these cases and recognize that we have to do everything we possibly can to prevent this sort of situation on our campuses,” O’Brien says.

A letter from to the university the Department of Education says schools are chosen for compliance review “based on various sources of information, including statistical data and information from parents, advocacy groups, the media, and community organizations.”

A spokesman with the Office of Civil Rights declined to comment and says the office doesn’t give interviews or disclose information about the schools under investigation.

O’Brien says the office won’t give him a specific reason why the University of Alaska was targeted, but he thinks it likely has to do with Alaska, as a state, having high rates of sexual assault.

“It’s not like there are no problems in this state, so it makes sense to take a further look at how educational institutions here are handling the problem,” O’Brien says.

Along with the list, the federal government came out with updated guidelines describing how schools must address sexual violence, including Title IX training.

For this school year, UAS required faculty and staff to attend Title IX training sessions. They were offered over the summer, at the start of the school year and online. Last year, none of these trainings took place.

O’Brien says the university welcomes the scrutiny and looks forward to the campus visit portion of the compliance review. In October, the office of Civil Rights will talk to students, community members, university faculty and staff at University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

State OKs Linc Energy’s Tyonek Coal Exploration Plan

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:14

The state has given the OK to a plan by Linc Energy to explore for coal in the Tyonek area. Last month, Linc submitted an application to drill at least five exploratory wells in an area about seven miles from Tyonek, on the West side of Cook Inlet.

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Categories: Alaska News

Energy Development Proponents Meet In Anchorage

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:13

Proponents of energy development are in Anchorage for the 10th annual Alaska Oil and Gas Congress. Canada’s Northwest Territories Premiere Bob McCloud says Alaska and the Territories have a lot in common – great resources that are stranded in remote locations.

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Premiere McCloud says he is closely watching how Alaska goes about pushing for marketing LNG. McCloud says it’s frustrating that the Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone pipeline are not moving forward. The McKenzie Valley pipeline in his region has been in development for decades but is also on hold.

“Now it’s proven uneconomic because the world price of natural gas because of the preponderance of shale gas is not high enough to make that pipeline economic,” McCloud said. “So the key for us is to find other markets.”

Such as Asia or Europe, McCloud says. He says after last year’s resource congress, he went back to Canada and instituted a new energy program.

“We decided to do a pilot project and haul LNG from Delta BC to Inuvik and use it for electrical generation,” McCloud said. “We found out it was cheaper to do that, haul it all that distance rather than use expensive diesel. Now we’re planning on using LNG for all the communities that have road access.”

The pilot project hauls LNG more than 1500 miles.

McCloud says in talks with former Governor Frank Murkowski this week – Murkowski encouraged him to research trying to get oil and gas from the southern part of the Northwest Territories to the existing TransAlaska Pipeline to Valdez.

McCloud says the Northwest Territories struggle with the same economic problems as rural Alaska. High energy costs and low employment opportunities. The Oil and Gas Congress runs through Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Uber ride-sharing enters Anchorage market

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:12

A ride-sharing service called Uber will start operating in Anchorage this week. Instead of calling a taxi, people who need a ride can use a smartphone app to hail a nearby private vehicle. But taxi companies in Anchorage and around the world say it’s unfair competition. 

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I took a conventional taxi to my interview with Uber. I called the taxi company, and the driver arrived right on time in a sweet-smelling Toyota Prius. The ride downtown cost me $17 including the tip. That’s about how much the Uber app estimates using their service would cost as well. So why would I use Uber? Their West Coast general manager Steve Thompson says it’s because of convenience and safety.

A screenshot of the Uber app on an iPhone.

“You sign up, pinpoint your location, click a button that says ‘Request my Uber’ to come pick me up, and from there you can track your ride, to come directly to you. See them street by street. Know exactly who your driver is by photo, name, vehicle make and model number, license plate number. And within the same app you can actually contact your driver.”

Thompson says all drivers have to pass rigorous criminal and traffic safety background checks. They don’t employ any one who was a sex offender or has had a DUI. They also require the vehicles to have 19 point inspections, and the drivers and vehicles have $1 million insurance policies when they’re on the job.

But the cars are not required to have permits from the municipality like conventional taxis, and the drivers don’t have to undergo municipal training and testing. Jim Brennan, who represents the Anchorage Taxi Cab Permit Owners Association, says that’s not fair.

“This would be a blatantly illegal competitor to the local Anchorage taxi cab chauffeurs and owners of the taxicabs who are required to comply with extensive municipal laws which are there for the benefit both of the Anchorage customers of taxicab services and also for the general public.”

So is Uber legal in Anchorage?

“Well, under our existing codes, probably not,” says municipal transportation director Eric Musser. He says that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to the idea of ride-sharing services.

“As with most areas of the country, we’re wrestling with how we want to welcome them into this market.”

Musser says the city recognizes that the transportation industry is changing.

A screenshot of the Alaska Yellow Dispatch app.

Local companies realize it, too. Alaska Yellow Dispatch, the largest taxi company in Anchorage, released an app that works like the Uber app. You can order and track vehicles, and request special items, like a car that is authorized to go on Base or carries a car seat for children. At this point, though, you cannot pay through the app. Uber is completely prepaid through the app.

Yellow Dispatch CEO Sloane Unwin says the major difference is, once the payment feature is working properly, their company is permitted in Anchorage.

Uber’s Thompson says they are already working with the local government to make sure the company can legally operate in the city. He says they’ve already received over a 100 applications for drivers, some of whom already work for taxi companies.

“It’s complete flexibility for moms who drop their kids off at school and just drive during the day. Retired individuals who want to make extra income. Or even students who are paying off loans. So a big part of what we’re focused on is a very dynamic driving community.”

He says they’re appealing to veterans and service members as well. In some parts of the country, however, they are facing lawsuits from drivers who say they are not given the tips they are promised.

Once the interview is over, I need to find a way back to the studio. I figure that being in downtown Anchorage, it should be fairly easy.

I walk straight up to an empty taxi.

“Hi! Are you available?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the driver replies enthusiastically.

“Great!”

And I head back to the studio, chatting with the driver, my smartphone tucked into my bag.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

‘Polaris’ Sculpture Is New Fairbanks Centerpiece

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:12

The city of Fairbanks has a new centerpiece sculpture. The assemblage of silver steel spires stands between the Cushman and Barnett Street bridges, along the Chena River downtown. The sculpture called “Polaris” was created by a pair of Vancouver based artists to mirror the local environment.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Glaciers Shrinking Faster Than Expected

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:11

Alaska’s glaciers are shrinking faster than scientists had thought, but glaciers that terminate in the ocean may be relatively resilient to climate change in comparison to their land-locked counterparts. The data comes from a multi-year airborne survey conducted by NASA.

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Categories: Alaska News

Youth Climate Lawsuit Dismissed

Wed, 2014-09-17 17:10

Nelson Kanuk, seated, and Katherine Dolma, standing, were two of the six young plaintiffs who sued the State of Alaska, demanding it take action on climate change. The pair are pictured here in Barrow, following a Supreme Court LIVE hearing at Barrow High School. (Photo by Jeff Seifert/ KBRW)

The Alaska Supreme Court last week dismissed a case brought by six young Alaskans, demanding the state take action on climate change. The suit was one of several filed nationwide, and the first to take its argument to a state supreme court. In dismissing the case, the Court said that climate policy isn’t an issue the judiciary can decide – it must go through the political process.

But, for the young plaintiffs and the nonprofit supporting them, the ruling included some silver linings.

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Nelson Kanuk was 16 when he sued the state of Alaska along with five other minors, ranging from infants to teenagers. The six young Alaskans argued that the state has an obligation to do more to halt climate change.

Each of the children named in the suit cited direct impacts from climate change, but Kanuk’s were maybe the most immediate. The river in front of his family’s home in the Western Alaska village of Kipnuk was carving away the melting permafrost beneath their land.

This is Kanuk speaking with KCAW’s Ed Ronco in early 2013, after a year in which his family lost eight feet of their yard to the river:

Kanuk: … as the summer progressed, we lost another five feet…

Ronco: How much is left before it gets to your house?

Kanuk: Last fall, before I left, there was about 40 feet, or so, but when springtime comes, there’s definitely going to be a couple more feet that will be lost.

Now, Kanuk is 20, and a sophomore at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. And his family’s house? It’s uninhabitable. In the last year, his family moved first to Bethel, and then to Kenai, driven both by the loss of their home and the escalating cost of food and fuel in Kipnuk.

Kanuk says it’s been a huge change, especially for a family that’s used to getting much of its food from the land.

“We aren’t able to just hop on a boat and go out and catch our dinner that night,” he says. “You know, our subsistence lifestyle changed. Now we’re forced to go to Fred Meyer or Walmart. It’s a big change.”

It was to draw attention to the situation of families like his that Kanuk first joined the suit against the State of Alaska in 2011. The plaintiffs are backed by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit that has worked with kids in several states and at the federal level to bring similar lawsuits. The Alaska case is the first to reach a state Supreme Court on its merits.

And this month, the justices dismissed the suit. But Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, says the court “left the door open” on several key issues.

“The exciting part about the Supreme Court’s decision, is that they said the youth had made a good case,” Olson says. “They noted that the climate science is compelling, it demonstrates real significant impacts to the people of Alaska, and that the plaintiffs had direct injuries…So it did all sorts of really important things. The one thing it didn’t reach was, well, what role does the court have to play?”

Assistant Attorney General Seth Beausang argued the case for the State of Alaska. He saw the ruling in more limited terms.

“The appeal was about where the plaintiffs’ concerns about global warming should be heard,” Beausang said. “Whether it should be heard in court or in the political arena. And the court held that the claims were not the kind of claims that can be resolved in court.”

Claims such as: the state should reduce emissions by at least six-percent a year. That kind of specific policy, the court ruled, should be left to the political process.

But the plaintiffs also asked the court to rule on whether the atmosphere is part of the “public trust.” This is a concept embedded in the Alaska Constitution.  Things like water, wildlife, and fish, are all publicly owned, with the state holding them in “trust” for the benefit of all Alaskans.

Beausang says the plaintiffs suggested a whole new take on the idea of the public trust.

“It was trying to argue that under the doctrine, the state has an affirmative duty to protect public trust resources from harm,” Beausang said. “That is a novel spin on the public trust doctrine.”

The court tip-toed right up to the edge of declaring the atmosphere an asset of the public trust, writing, “the plaintiffs do make a good case.” But, in the end, the court said that a ruling wouldn’t give the state clear direction on what to do next, and wouldn’t give the plaintiffs immediate relief. So while it could issue a ruling, it wouldn’t — not in this particular case.

Olson says the plaintiffs will ask the court to reconsider that decision — specifically, she thinks the court can do something right now, on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Even if it’s the court directing the other branches of government to do the work to set a safe level or a safe standard,” Olson said. “It doesn’t have to be the court that does it, but somebody needs to do it, because no entity within government is doing that right now, and that’s a tragedy.”

As for Kanuk, he says he’ll keep working to bring attention to the issue of climate change in Alaska. For his part, he doesn’t have any choice but to adapt.

“To me, it’s kind of like, [laughs] jumping into a fast-flowing river,” Kanuk said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s tough, but you have to adapt to the new way of life that we’re forced to live now.”

Categories: Alaska News

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