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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: 33 min 24 sec ago

Ousted GOP Leader Plans Run For Governor

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:22

Russ Millette, who was ousted as leader of the state Republican party following a contentious election, plans to run for governor.

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Millette spokesman Matt Millette, Russ Millette’s son, said his father was filing a letter of intent to run Friday.

Millette plans to challenge Gov. Sean Parnell for the Republican nomination in August. Millette is running under the auspices of the Alaska Republican Assembly, which Matt Millette described as the “conservative” wing of the party, as opposed to the “establishment” wing.

Russ Millette was elected chairman of the state GOP, with the help of fellow Ron Paul supporters, during a tumultuous 2012 convention. But party leaders voted to oust him last year before he took over.

The party, at its most recent convention, changed its rules, making future attempted takeovers more difficult.

Categories: Alaska News

Union Leader Files Complaint Against Anchorage Mayor Sullivan

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:21

The head of the state’s biggest labor union has filed a complaint against Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor.

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Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami argues that Sullivan inappropriately used government resources for the purposes of his campaign.

Earlier this month, Sullivan came under fire for likening mandatory union dues to slavery at a lieutenant governor candidates forum, and subsequently issued an apology through his spokesperson in the mayor’s office.

Beltrami holds that the apology should have not have been delivered by municipal staff, and that it amounts to a violation of statute.

Sullivan told the Anchorage Daily News he believes there is no merit to the complaint.The Alaska Public Offices Commission will review the matter within 30 days.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Partnership Files Suit To Stop EPA’s Halt On Development

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:20

The Pebble Limited Partnership filed suit Wednesday in Federal Court seeking to halt to the process underway by the EPA to stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Discretionary Voting Before Sealaska Shareholders

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:19

A measure before Sealaska shareholders could alter the way board elections are held. And that could bring leadership changes.

The measure comes as 13 shareholders compete for four board seats in the Southeast Alaska regional Native corporation’s annual election.

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The measure is a resolution proposing limits to what’s called discretionary voting.

That’s an option on Sealaska’s proxy ballot, which lists candidates for the board of directors.

When shareholders check a box, they give the board the power to cast their ballots for whomever they see fit. And the board votes for its slate of incumbents seeking re-election.

“It’s an unfair document because of the discretionary voting and that is what has kept all our directors in all of these years,” says Mick Beasley.

He’s a Juneau carver who’s campaigned against discretionary voting. He’s also one of this year’s six independent board candidates.

Beasley authored the resolution that would largely eliminate that ballot option. Then, shareholders would pick and chose from the full list of candidates, including incumbents and their challengers.

“If this resolution passes and we amend our bylaws, it will make it equal voting rights for all shareholders,” he says.

Sealaska’s board opposes Beasley’s measure.

“They would wipe out what Sealaska believes would otherwise be a valid vote,” says Nicole Hallingstad.

She is Sealaska’s communications vice president and corporate secretary.

“Those shareholders understand exactly what discretionary voting means and are offering their shares in support of the corporation. To remove that discretionary voting option would remove a choice that at least a quarter of our shareholders select on a regular basis,” she says.

The resolution does not completely eliminate discretionary voting.

Beasley says it would be allowed when an independent group challenges the board and issues its own ballot.

“If there are two slates, two proxies, then discretionary voting is fair game. When there is only one proxy, and that’s Sealaska’s, they cannot use discretionary voting,” he says.

Shareholders are rarely faced with two slates – and proxies. But this year, they are.

A group calling itself 4 Shareholders for Sealaska has sent out its own ballot and posted it online.

Margaret Nelson, Carlton Smith, Ross Soboleff and Karen Taug say their combined business experience could help make Sealaska profitable after several years of operational losses.

The corporate ballot lists board incumbents Sidney Edenshaw, Edward Thomas and Rosita Worl.

Spokeswoman Hallingstad says the three bring knowledge and history to Sealaska management.

“The stability of any corporation’s board is something that’s reviewed regularly by business partners (and) financial institutions. So, board stability is something that is of value outside of our shareholders,” she says.

Longtime board member Byron Mallott is not seeking re-election because he’s running for governor. That leaves an open board seat, with no incumbent, a rarity for Sealaska.

Six independent candidates, running outside of a slate, are also listed on the corporate ballot.

They’re Myrna Gardner, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe, in addition to Beasley.

“Everybody was trying to keep it to one or two independents this year. But we’re back to six or seven independents. It’s just the nature of our shareholders,” Beasley says.

The four top vote-getters will win  three-year terms on the 13-member board.

Results will be announced at Sealaska’s annual meeting June 28th in Seattle.

Categories: Alaska News

Kito: Will There Be Enough Return On Juneau Access To Justify Investment?

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:18

Last summer a ribbon-cutting opened three more miles of Glacier Highway and construction continued to improve existing stretches. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement for a road out of Juneau is now under review by the Federal Highway Administration. That’s the last step in the process before federal highways names a preferred route and issues a Record of Decision.

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State transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the final SEIS, as it’s called, is expected sometime in the next six weeks.

“If it gets the blessing and we don’t need to do anymore revisions on it, we’ll stamp ‘draft’ on it and we can release it for public review.”                       

Once that happens, DOT would hold hearings in Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

Federal highways issued a Record of Decision in 2006 to build a road between Juneau and Katzehin, where motorists would board a state ferry for the rest of the trip north.

Conservation groups immediately filed suit. In 2009, the U.S. District Court ruled the environmental impact statement was invalid, because it didn’t consider improved ferry service in Lynn Canal. That decision was upheld in 2011 by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requiring the supplemental study.

Little by little, however, the road north has grown, completed last summer to Cascade Point. This year $35 million is in the state’s budget for another extension. Woodrow said federal funds account for $30 million dollars and $5 million comes from the state.

“The talking point was that that would help us begin constructing the road toward Kensington (mine),” Woodrow said. “And really how this road’s going to be built, no matter what, is it’s going to be constructed in phases. It’s just such a large project.”

It’s one of those mega projects the state may not be able to afford, according to  Juneau Rep. Sam Kito III. He told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday that Juneau Access has a lot of competition for funds statewide.

Kito is a civil engineer and said he likes big projects. But he wondered about the return on the estimated $500 million investment.

“Do we receive 500 million dollars’ worth of commerce or revenue back to the state or the city? I think that’s a tough one to support.”

Kito didn’t curry much favor with the chamber audience. The business organization and most of its members have long been road advocates.

He said he didn’t have strong personal feelings on building or not building the proposed road, which would not replace ferry use for the trip to Haines or Skagway.

“There may be some savings because the ferry is operating as a day boat as opposed to a 24-hour ferry, but there’s still ferry costs. Which means you still have 12-hours’ worth of fuel, you’re not going to be running full all the time, there may be ferries that are running mostly empty, and then you’re going to have an additional 65 miles of road to maintain,” he said.

Kito’s questions and concerns should be answered when federal highways releases the final SEIS and Record of Decision sometime this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Scavenger Hunt

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:17

Teammates Alysha Richardson, Andy Nguyen and JR Carpentero wrote in the sand at Unalaska’s Summer’s Bay for a scavenger hunt challenge. (Courtesy: Christian Escalante)

Small towns like Unalaska can be pretty close-knit. Grown-ups take care of kids who aren’t their own, and teenagers have adults to turn to when they need them.

One local high schooler wanted to make those relationships stronger. So she planned something special: She put students and adults into teams, and sent them on a town-wide scavenger hunt.

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This is the sound of a community coming together:

Team: “Go. Ahh, earthquake!!”

That’s a scavenger hunt team completing a challenge: stage a dramatic earthquake scene in a public place. Groups of adults and high schoolers have been running all around town for a week, doing activities like that and getting a little closer in the process.

And that was 18-year-old Christian Escalante’s idea when she put this event together. Last fall, the high school senior went to a youth leadership conference in Anchorage. It focused on combating violence and promoting respect and equality in communities around the state.

Escalante: “We talked about what changes we can make in our community, and one of the things I noticed is there wasn’t enough youth and adult participation in the community. So that’s how I started my project.”

Escalante got an $1,800 grant from the conference to make it happen. She set up the teams, trying to mix up people who were new in town with long-time residents, and pairing up kids and adults who didn’t know each other. They had a week to get through more than 60 tasks — taking pictures or video of themselves doing different things.

Escalante: “They’re definitely at least getting a sense of the kids, and the kids are getting a sense of the adults that they’ve never met before. They’re also doing new stuff in places they didn’t know they would do, like building sand castles at Summer’s Bay, or doing silly things at the store.”

Each task had a point value. At stake were cash prizes, funded by the grant.

Teammates JR Carpentero, Andy Nguyen, Emily Bruck and Lennyn, daughter of team member Alysha Richardson, pose on a boat for a scavenger hunt challenge. (Courtesy: Christian Escalante)

And “doing silly things” seemed to be a priority. One of Escalante’s favorite challenges: creep from the front to the back of the local Safeway like a ninja or a spy.

Emily Bruck: Okay, don’t go too fast, ‘cause I’ve gotta follow you. …You guys are being bad ninjas.

Alysha Richardson: Yeah, you guys suck.

That’s Emily Bruck and Alysha Richardson, filming their teammates trying to be sneaky by ducking into racks of sweatshirts or hiding along shelves of detergent.

(sound of silence in a grocery store)

Don’t hear anything?

(continued silence in a grocery store)

Exactly.

So, being kind of goofy in public is one way to get to know each other. Other tasks ask teams to just hang out together, or get to know their town — finding local landmarks, going on adventures and volunteering at different nonprofits.

On the very last day of scavenger hunting, another team is driving around, trying to squeeze in some last-minute points.

Ross Enlow is one of the teenagers on that team. Already, they’ve hiked Mount Ballyhoo in Dutch Harbor, cooked together and had a dance party.

Enlow: “Today we’re gonna plan on going to Summer’s Bay and either find the horses or write in the sand — have to have a meal together, and create something. Then after that, we’ll be done.”

Those are worth 60 points altogether.

Summer’s Bay is just outside town. On the way, the team spots a pile of melting snow and decides their creation will be a tiny snowman.

Enlow: Oh, there you go.

Teammates: We need sticks! — Oh yeah, I have them.

Enlow: We should — I just want to make this look really big, so we should take it from a downward angle. (laughter) Just like, make it look way bigger.

Teammates: Oh my god!

They snap their picture — that’s 20 points down — and leave their masterpiece in the road. The wild horses that roam the valley are nowhere in sight, so instead, they draw a heart in the sand.

Amber Le, another teenager on the team, is their struggling artist.

(sound of rebar drawing in sand)

Le: How do I do the other half?! The other half always sucks!

Johanna Tellman: So much pressure.

That’s adult teammate Johanna Tellman. She runs a local consignment shop. She says it’s been fun to spend this week making some new connections.

Tellman: “I knew who these people were, but I never really got to know them. So it’s nice to get to know them a little more personally. It’s been fun.”

The team has to submit all their photos and videos by the end of the day, and after Summer’s Bay, they’ve checked off all but a few activities. When the results are announced the next day, though, they find out they didn’t win. Still, Tellman’s glad they all participated.

As for Christian Escalante, the organizer? She had one final test for the three top teams as a tie-breaker: a quiz to see how much the kids had learned about their adult teammates, and vice versa.

Escalante: Okay, where did your person go to school?

Teen: …Oregon?

Adult: Dude.

Escalante (laughing): What college in Oregon?!

Teen: Oh. (laughing) Somewhere in Oregon?

Escalante: That’s half a point.

Overall, Escalante says she was impressed with what she heard.

Escalante: “They knew a lot about each other. A lot more than I thought they would.”

And she hopes they can do it all again next year — with new teams and new challenges.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kobuk

Fri, 2014-05-23 16:15

This week, we’re heading to Kobuk in northwest Alaska. The village of about 200 people is steadily growing, nearly doubling in size since 2000. A resident says that’s in part due to reliable seasonal work and efforts to mesh traditional lifestyles with modern ones. Beatrice Barr is a tribal clerk in Kobuk.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: May 23, 2014

Fri, 2014-05-23 07:14

Forest fires fill Southcentral Alaska with smoke. Providence Hospital is opposing MLP’s proposed rate increase. The Anchorage School Board has passed a budget that would restore some teaching positions. More and more farmers markets are accepting food stamps. The Native village of Eklutna has received regulatory help from the Anchorage Assembly. Senate candidate Joe Miller raises global warming as a primary issue. Promoters of the legalization of marijuana hold a seminar on how to get into the business if legalized. People bike to work in Anchorage – but just how many. There’s a lot of negative advertising on TV this political season. How do voters find out what is accurate?

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Steve MacDonald, Channel 2 News.
  • Suzanna Caldwell, Alaska  Dispatch/ADN.
  • Anne Hillman,  APRN

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 23 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 24, at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 24  at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

With Senate Change, State House Feels Ripple Effects

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:05

When the Bipartisan Coalition lost control of the State Senate in 2012, it was a given that its Democratic members would see a big drop in the number of bills they got through. But that loss of clout may have also affected Democrats in the House. With the Legislature adjourned and a pile of bills awaiting the governor’s signature, here’s looks at how power shifted in the Capitol.

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Rep. Chris Tuck sponsored about a dozen bills this past legislative cycle. Only a couple of those items ever got hearings, and just one – a bill dealing with craft distilleries – actually passed. As far as Democrats go, Tuck considers himself one of the lucky ones.

“You’d hope it would be like four to one, but unfortunately we feel blessed to even have a bill passed,” says Tuck.

Tuck is used to it. Democrats have been the minority party in the State House ever since the Nineties, and their caucus only occupies 10 of the House’s 40 seats right now.

Since 2006, the House Minority would get one bill passed per member, if you average it out. That’s only a small fraction of the legislation that gets passed, but it was something.

This Legislature, that number dropped. Instead of one bill a person, it’s now about half a bill. If you were a member of the Majority this Legislature, you were six times more likely to get a bill through.

So, what changed? While the composition of the House didn’t shift much in the last election, the makeup of the Senate did.

“It does have an effect that bleeds over to the House,” says Tuck.

Instead of having a Republican House working with a team of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate, the Legislature effectively switched to one-party government with the last election.

Tuck thinks that means Minority members are less likely to have ownership over some of their policies, even if they introduced them first. For example, a bill requiring babies to be screened for heart defects was originally introduced by a House Democrat, but the version that passed was offered by a Senate Republican.

“It’s not as much about the policy as who gets credit for it,” says Tuck.

There are a few possible reasons for this. If a bill doesn’t have your name on it, it’s harder to campaign on it as a legislative accomplishment. It’s also easier to get a minority bill through one adversarial chamber than it is to get it through two of them. If a Democratic bill made it through the House during the Bipartisan Coalition days, then there was probably a sympathetic ear for it in the Senate.

These days? Not so much, says Tuck.

“A lot of people that were in the minority in the 27th Alaska Legislature are in the majority this year, and it’s all about retaliation in some form,” says Tuck.

In total, the House Minority got six bills passed this Legislature, and Senate Minority got zero. That’s out of nearly 200 bills.

In a lot of ways, that’s just the way the game is played. Wasilla Republican Charlie Huggins currently serves as the Senate President, but before the 2012 election, he was part of the Senate’s small conservative minority caucus.

“Obviously, in the minority you get to do a lot of observing – maybe grit your teeth every once in a while,” says Huggins.

Under the Bipartisan Coalition’s leadership, the Senate Minority fared a little better than the current Democratic Minority, but not by much.

Instead of getting zero bills through, they managed to pass anywhere from one to three bills per Legislature. On the rare occasions they were able to get their bills through the more Democratic Senate, those measures sailed through just fine in the Republican-led House.

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM

Now that Republicans lead both chambers, some of the bills favored by the old conservative minority cleared the Legislature just fine. Huggins points to his bill naming an official state firearm as something that went nowhere in the Senate under the Bipartisan Coalition but passed handily this time around.

That bill wasn’t the only one that Republicans had previously pushed that passed this time around.

Of the 191 bills that passed this year, 21 had been introduced in the past but were effectively blocked by the Bipartisan Coalition.

“There was a lot of pent up frustration by average Alaskans that things weren’t getting through that they thought had merit, and we turned that around,” says Huggins.

Most of those bills were passed by the Republican House but then held up in Senate committees which were often run by Democrats.

The House passed a Stand Your Ground bill twice during the Coalition days, and only got it through this time around. A bill the puts time restrictions on foreign nationals’ drivers licenses also got new life. So did a bill furthering the development of the Knik Arm Bridge.

Legislation regulating abortion also passed for the first time in about a decade. Anchorage Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Hollis French says that would have “never gone anywhere” under the Bipartisan Coalition that he was part of. Abortion was one of the issues they specifically avoided to keep harmony in their ranks.

“The ground rules were that each party would set aside the extreme measures from each end of its own political spectrum. Which means that the Right would not be pursuing anti-abortion bills, the Left would not be pursuing say legalization of marijuana,” says French. “We would work from the middle, pursue ideas from the middle, pursue ideas that we could all agree on – building infrastructure, education, crime bills, and so forth that were mainstream.”

Huggins says the current Senate Majority doesn’t have any terms of engagement like that, mostly because they don’t need to as a Republican-led caucus. While there are differences of opinion within the caucus, many of top leadership positions are held by people who are ideologically aligned.

“You know, I think by and large the biggest contrast between the Bipartisan Coalition and what you saw in the last two years is you probably had more like-minded people who were in leadership and more influential in the body,” says Huggins.

GOOD YEAR FOR THE GOVERNOR

Of all the legislation that had been tried before under the Bipartisan Coalition, arguably the most significant one to pass was a variation Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil tax plan.

During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, Parnell repeatedly clashed with the Bipartisan Coalition over his vision of oil tax reform, with the Senate ultimately blocking his attempts to cut taxes on oil production at high prices. With the 2012 election, six of the Bipartisan Coalition’s 16 members lost their seats under a new political map. Within one session of the new Republican members being sworn in, Parnell’s most recent version of his oil tax plan passed.

Parnell generally did better under the new Legislature, and he has frequently complimented the current political leadership. During the 27th Legislature, five out his 16 personal bills failed. This Legislature, just two of his 17 bills did not make it through the process – a water rights bill that received vocal public opposition, and a timber sale bill that his administration didn’t actively push for.

Huggins says there was frequent communication between the Parnell administration and legislative leadership, which resulted in less political gridlock.

“The governor provided some good input and gave a third set of eyes, if you will, on the administration’s standpoint on a number of issues,” says Huggins.

On top of passing more items from the governor’s agenda, the 28th Legislature passed more bills overall, exceeding the previous body output by 76 bills.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Panel Approves Labeling for GM Salmon

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:04

A U.S. Senate panel today moved to require labeling for genetically modified salmon, if it’s approved for sale in this country.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Senate Appropriations Committee she hopes the FDA never allows genetically modified salmon to reach supermarket shelves.

“But we haven’t been able to get the FDA able to slow down off their track of approval,” she said.

So, Murkowski says, they should at least require “that they put on the package of fish: This is a genetically modified salmon.”

But mandatory labeling repels senators from farm states, who fear it’ll lead to labeling of GM crops. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska defended genetically modified food at the hearing, saying it can help sustain the world’s ever- growing population.  Johanns says labeling would be a compliance nightmare, with consumers footing the bill.

“There’s a cost to that, for no basis in science,” he said.

The company that wants to produce the AquAdvantage salmon says its farmed fish would be just like a conventional Atlantic salmon. Sen. Mark Begich, who co-sponsored Murkowski’s labeling amendment, says the company should just be upfront with consumers.

“If their fish product is so good, then tell us,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking.”

Appropriations Committee passed the amendment on a voice vote with only one audible “nay.” Still, it’s a long way from law. Alaska’s delegation to Congress has fought to require labeling in the past, only to see it stripped out of the final legislation. The bill next goes to the full Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Funny River Fire Consumes Nearly 50k Acres

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:03

The Funny River fire that has been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since Monday has grown to nearly 50,000 acres.

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A helicopter drops water on the fire near Soldotna Monday night (Ariel Van Cleave photo)

Dan Nelson, the Health and Safety Officer for Central Emergency Services out of Soldotna, says the fire is about five percent contained.

“What you’re seeing today, a little shift in action from a game plan and trying to get priorities set and figuring out what’s going on to an actual going out there and attacking the fire,” Nelson said. “We have over 150 people on the ground and numerous aircraft out there. The priorities have not changed. The priorities are still keep the fire away from the Funny River community and the Kasilof community.”

Fire crews from across the state had set up a communications center at Skyview High School in Soldotna.

The fire is still not an immediate threat to life or property. Community meetings were being held Wednesday night for people closest to the fire.

No evacuation orders have been given, as the fire continues to spread into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,800 Acres

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:02

Two Southcentral Alaska fires have grown in size since Wednesday afternoon, covering the Anchorage area in smoke Thursday morning.

Tyonek Fire

On the western side of Cook Inlet, the Tyonek Fire has grown to over 1,800 acres.

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Pete Buist, a fire information officer with the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, says most of the recent activity has been on the north end of the fire.

“Most of that fire growth is due to what we call spotting, where sparks and embers from the main fire are carried on the convection column up into the air a ways and drop out in front of the main fire,” Buist said.

Though the main fire hasn’t progressed much closer to Beluga, Buist says crews are conducting burnout operations around power lines and oil and gas infrastructure.

“It means that those crews got in around some of the infrastructure there and started little fires on their own burning out towards the main fire, so that if the main fire was to get there, it would have less fuel up close to those things that they want to protect,” he said.

There are 108 firefighters working on the Tyonek fire.

RELATED: Incident Meteorologists Help Crews Predict Fire Paths

No evacuation orders are in effect for Beluga or Tyonek.

Funny River Fire

Smoke from a 20,000 acre wildfire looms over Ski Hill Road south of Soldotna. (Photo by Shaylon Cochran/KDLL)

The Funny River fire on the Kenai Peninsula has grown to nearly 50,000 acres since Wednesday afternoon.

Buist says three things affect fire growth: weather, topography, and fuels. For the Funny River fire, he says all three factors contributed almost equally.

“The fire is burning on the southwest and burning uphill towards the mountains, so you’ve got that topographical consideration. You’ve got just miles and miles of black spruce and beetle-killed white spruce and Sitka spruce and Lutz spruce in there – so there’s some pretty heavy fuels involved.”

“And, of course, the weather is still conducive to fire.”

The Funny River fire is still entirely within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Buist says up to this point, no communities or structures have burned down or are imminent danger.

There are 168 firefighters working on the Funny River fire. Four scooper aircraft arrived from Alberta, Canada on Wednesday and will likely focus on the western side of the fire.

Buist says more assets will be added before the fire is contained.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Smoke Cloaks Anchorage

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:01

A thick haze of smoke covered Anchorage and much of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Thursday morning.

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The smoke, from both the Tyonek and Funny River wildfires, was heavy over Anchorage in the early hours, although a light breeze helped to push the smoke away by afternoon.

But Christian Cassell, with the National Weather Service’s Anchorage office, says winds now helping to clear smoke away from the city, are about to change

“The next 24 hours or so through, let’s say, [Friday] afternoon are looking pretty good, with north winds that’ll gust 20-25 miles per hour. So we’re looking at the smoke being pushed off to the south of Anchorage,” Cassell said. “As we get into [Friday], however, the wind is gonna start reversing again and it’s going to start coming out of the south, and that’s gonna start pushing the smoke up towards Anchorage’s way again. And, unfortunately, it looks like we’re gonna be in that pattern through the weekend.”

Cassell says the worst smoke conditions are generally in the late night and earliest morning hours, because of an inversion created when the ground cools faster than the air above it.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Pushing Land Bill for Port Clarence Site

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:00

Congressman Don Young is introducing a bill in Washington, D.C. to speed up development in an area of the Seward Peninsula that many are eyeing as one piece of a future Arctic Port.

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Representative Don Young speaking in Washington, DC. (Photo: Don Young congressional webpage)

House Resolution 4668 would divide about 2,500 acres of federal land among the Coast Guard, the State of Alaska, and the Bering Straits Native Corporation.

The idea is to hasten infrastructure development by creating a public-private partnership.

“The Coast Guard has no money,” Young said. “The [Army] Corps [of Engineers] has identified this one area as a public-private participation—so any facilities should be, very frankly, financed privately with the public input.”

Under the resolution BSNC would take over 2,381 of the land–the overwhelming majority. Matt Ganley works with resources for BSNC, and said by email Tuesday that the corporation has been “discussing the Point Spencer lands with Congressman Young and his staff” since 2010, when the Coast Guard decommissioned it’s facilities in the area.

Ganley added that BSNC “fully support[s]” Young’s legislation.

The acreage that the Coast Guard and the state will receive are comparatively small, but vital for infrastructure development. The Coast Guard has identified the area from an airstrip to the shoreline as essential to future operations. And while there isn’t yet a draft map accompanying the resolution, Ganley says the legislation aims to anticipate future needs and partition the lands accordingly.

Point Spencer is the curved spit closing in the waters West of Teller and Brevig Mission.

It’s one of the geographical features that makes up Port Clarence, which, along with the harbor in Nome, will likely be part of a proposed deep draft port.

Young believes freeing up land the federal government has failed to so far take advantage of is the first step towards building vital infrastructure.

“This has been identified as one of the more likely areas by the Coast Guard and the Corp of Engineers,” Young said. “I’m not going to pick the areas, I’m just trying to provide the areas necessary to have a deep water port—and we need it badly up there because of the arctic participation. And this is the first step.”

Ganley wrote that during a meeting last February residents and leadership in Brevig Mission and Teller supported the prospect of jobs and economic opportunity nearby development could bring. Attendees also raised serious concerns about the effects to subsistence resources. Though the resolution has a special provision recognizing archeological and cultural heritage in the region, there is no mention of subsistence anywhere in the legislation.

The US Army Corp of Engineers is scheduled to release a report with recommendations for an Arctic deep draft port in the region by the end of the summer.

There’s no timeline as yet for how Young’s legislation will advance in the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Passes Water Bill with Alaska Amendments

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:59

Congress has passed a $12 billion water resources bill that may help Alaska gain a deepwater Arctic port, although it doesn’t actually fund one.

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The provision, supported by the entire Alaska congressional delegation, would allow the Corps of Engineers to provide technical assistance to local or tribal governments who want to develop an Arctic port, and accept money from them. For other harbors around Alaska, the bill allows the Corps to consider subsistence use, not just economic development, when selecting projects to fund.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorizes more than 30 major projects in the lower 48, such as harbor dredging and flood control work.

It now goes to the president for his signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 22, 2014

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:59

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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Shifting Power In Alaska’s Legislature

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Bipartisan Coalition lost control of the State Senate in 2012, it was a given that its Democratic members would see a big drop in the number of bills they got through. But that loss of clout also affected Democrats in the House. With the Legislature adjourned and a pile of bills awaiting the governor’s signature, APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how power shifted in this Legislature.

Senate Panel Approves Labeling for GM Salmon

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. Senate panel today moved to require labeling for genetically modified salmon, if it’s approved for sale in this country. The labeling mandate is now part of an Agriculture appropriations bill pending in the Senate.

Funny River Fire Consumes Nearly 50k Acres

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire that has been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since Monday has grown to nearly 50,000 acres.

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,800 Acres

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

On the western side of Cook Inlet, the Tyonek Fire has grown to more than 1,800 acres.

Wildfire Smoke Cloaks Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A thick haze of smoke covered Anchorage and much of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Thursday morning.

Rep. Young Pushing Land Bill for Port Clarence Site

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Representative Don Young has introduced a bill that would help clear the way for a deepwater port outside of Nome.

Congress Passes Water Bill with Alaska Amendments

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Congress has passed a $12 billion water resources bill that may help Alaska gain a deepwater Arctic port, although it doesn’t actually fund one.

Money, Drugs Missing From Barrow Police Station Evidence Locker

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Money and drugs went missing from the evidence room at the police station in Barrow last year—and now the North Slope Borough is launching an investigation into what happened.

UAF Expecting Over $12 Million Budget Deficit

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A University of Alaska Fairbanks committee is recommending cuts to close an expected 12 to 14 million dollar FY 15 budget deficit. The Planning and Budget Committee was charged with developing options to address rising costs and decreased state funding.

New President At Premera Alaska Will Be Based In Seattle

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska has a new president. Jim Grazko is replacing Jeff Davis, who held the job for 17 years and is retiring at the end of June. Premera Alaska is the largest health insurer in the state, serving more than 100,000 customers.

Bethel Elders Home Certified

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Y-K Delta’s first skilled nursing facility is open and just received the federal certification necessary for payment from for Medicare and Medicaid. The certification comes just as the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which runs the Elders Home, faces an 11.7-million-dollar budget shortfall.

Categories: Alaska News

Money, Drugs Missing From Barrow Police Station Evidence Locker

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:58

Money and drugs went missing from the evidence room at the police station in Barrow last year—and now the North Slope Borough is launching an investigation into what happened.

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Categories: Alaska News

UAF Expecting Over $12 Million Budget Deficit

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:57

A University of Alaska Fairbanks committee is recommending cuts to close an expected 12 to 14 million dollar FY 15 budget deficit. The Planning and Budget Committee was charged with developing options to address rising costs and decreased state funding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Elders Home Certified

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:55

YKHC has paid $2 million dollars to keep the Elders Home open since October while officials tried to get a federal certification allowing Medicaid and Medicare billing.

The Y-K Delta’s first skilled nursing facility is open and just received the federal certification necessary for payment from for Medicare and Medicaid.

The certification comes just as Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which runs the Elders Home, faces an $11.7 million budget shortfall.

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The entryway at the Elders Home in Bethel. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Today the staff of the Elders Home in Bethel is celebrating their recent certification with a party. YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman steps away from the celebration and into the airy entryway of the newly constructed Elders Home in Bethel, which is decorated with a mural depicting the seasons.

“You’ll see a seal hunter with his catch there and his kayak and you’ll see a berry picker as you go in a clockwise direction and she’s picking salmonberries and then you’ll see some swans flying across the tundra,” Winkelman said.

The nursing home, which looks more like a fishing lodge from the outside, is a project of YKHC that’s been planned for decades to give elders in the Delta care closer to home.

YKHC is grappling with an $11.7 million budget shortfall due to revenue collections issues and sequester cuts to Indian Health Service funding. YKHC has been picking up $2 million in operating costs since the home opened in October because it lacked certification, said Winkelman.

The home attempted certification twice: In October there were 17 deficiencies and five in December, when they tried again. The home finally passed federal certification in April, allowing Medicare and Medicaid billing.

Gerald Hodges manages the Elders Home. He leads me from the entry into a hallway that separates two wings of the home, past a chapel on our left and a therapy room with exercise equipment to the right and into a common area.

A Hallway at the Elder Home in Bethel is decorated with a photo of fish. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“As we go here then to the right in this side here we have a total of eight rooms. We also have right in front of us here is an area we call our native kitchen and we have a stove with a commercial hood microwave, refrigerator, freezer and a sink. And it’s designed so that family members can come in and prepare foods for their elders,” Hodges said.

Elders recline in cushy chairs watching a DVD of Camai Dance Festival on large screen TV. Signs around the building are in Yup’ik and English and several of the staff speak Yup’ik.

The idea, Hodges says, it to improve quality of life for the aging population of he Y-K Delta region, by allowing them to stay closer to home to receive culturally relevant care. The closest skilled nursing homes are in Nome and Kotzebue. Previously, residents who needed nursing home care had to relocate to the road system. Hodges leads me into a resident room.

“Here’s our typical private room.  We have a bed. We have a dresser. Each room has a countertop with a sink. The other nice feature we have in all the room is that we have an overhead lift. A lot of the elders aren’t able to get themselves out of bed or they need help getting into a chair an this electric lift is so nice, it comes over, it comes around and it actually drives itself along the track and the track goes all the way around and into the bathroom,” Hodges said.

The state’s older population is expected to more than double in the next 20 years from around 72,000 to more than 150,000 in 2030.

Denise Daniello with the Alaska Commission on Aging says more facilities like the Elders Home in Bethel are needed. She cites data showing Alaska has the fastest growing senior population in the nation, and the fastest growing segment includes those 85 and older.

“Currently we have about 5,900 people age 85 and older that is projected to more than triple over the next 20 years to 18,800 people age 85 and older. And this population is the most vulnerable and also most at risk for developing chronic disease conditions as well as Alzheimers disease related dementia.” Daniello said.

Winkelman says the Elders home has received more than 30 applications for the twelve remaining rooms and he says once people see how homey it is, he thinks they’ll be a waiting list.

“That’s the idea with the home is you want to make it nice so people can live here an that ‘s what it’s all about is for the clients to come in and feel comfortable and make it their own home,” Winkelman said.

YKHC worked with senator Lyman Hoffman and representative Bob Herron to secure appropriations for the Elders Home. Construction cost $16.3 million dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Air Quality Impacted By Regional Wildfires

Thu, 2014-05-22 11:00

UPDATE (5/22 – 11 am): The air quality in Anchorage and Eagle River is considered unhealthy for everyone according to the municipality’s Department of Health and Human Services due to smoke from wildfires near Tyonek and Funny River on the Kenai Peninsula. However, the air quality hotline reports that conditions are improving.

The department advises that all people stay indoors if possible and avoid strenuous exercise. They recommend keeping windows closed and avoiding burning things like candles and cigarettes. Vacuuming can also stir up particles and reduce air quality.

The department adds that typical dust masks or surgical masks won’t help to keep out the smoke. You would need a special mask marked “N95.” They can be purchased in some hardware stores.

The hotline number is 343-4899. They will provide another update by noon.

Smoke is expected through the holiday weekend. 

ORIGINAL STORY: Smoke from the wildfire in Tyonek blew into parts of Anchorage Wednesday morning causing concerns about air quality. By mid-afternoon most of the smoke had cleared, but it could be back.

Matt Stichick with the Anchorage Air Quality program said some smoke could blow in Thursday morning, but winds from the north will reduce the impact. However, with fires burning in Tyonek and at Funny River Road on the Kenai Peninsula, he said the problem is not resolved yet.

“Certainly we’re not in the clear yet,” he explained. “And actually there’s a much better chance that smoke from the Kenai Peninsula will be reaching Anchorage by Memorial Day weekend. It sounds like this situation could be with us for a while yet.”

Stichick said the best way to judge if the air near you is hazardous is to measure the visibility. If you can’t see a point that you know to be about 3 to 5 miles away, then you need to be careful. He said people who have heart or lung problems should avoid being outdoors where the smoke is bad and visibility is reduced. He said likely south Anchorage and lower Hillside will see the most impacts.

The Air Quality Hotline is 343-4899 and will be updated throughout the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News
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