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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: 3 min 27 sec ago

Western Aleutian Steller Sea Lions Potentially Falling Prey To Sleeper Sharks

Thu, 2015-01-29 16:10

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

There has been plenty of money spent trying to figure out why the sea lion population in the Western Aleutians is not recovering. But nobody has put much money into studying sharks. The latest data from a study that implanted high-tech tags in the animals suggests that maybe they should.

These are not your ordinary wildlife tags. They are sophisticated pieces of equipment that record temperature, light and other factors throughout an animal’s entire life cycle. They float to the surface after the animal dies and transmit that recording by satellite to Oregon State University ecologist Markus Horning.

In 2005, Horning began tagging young Steller Sea Lions in Prince William Sound and as those animals die, he is putting together a pattern that points to sharks – sleeper sharks, sometimes known as mud sharks – as the cause.

“We don’t have proof of sleeper shark being a major driver of the sea lion population, but we have indirect evidence that suggests we need to consider that,” Horning said.

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

Prince William Sound is a long way from the Western Aleutians, and Horning only has a small sample so far. His team tagged 45 sea lions and by now 17 of his tags have popped up, indicating an animal died. Two didn’t hold their data set – the rest did.

“In 15 out of the 17 instances we actually got the full data set, so we can tell what happened to those 15 animals, and, lo and behold, all 15 of those young sea lions died by predation,” Horning said.

All of them. They can tell that by the temperature and light recordings. They are warm and dark when they are implanted, but show changes when the sea lion dies or is consumed. And in four of those recordings there is evidence of who the predator was.

“I think, and that’s a bit of an interpretation, but I think that most likely Pacific sleeper sharks ate those Steller sea lions,” he said.

As Horning says, that’s interpretation. But the tags do provide enough information to use a process of elimination. If the sea lion dies and the tag is freed, it should sense light. But if the tag shows continuing darkness, then the tag must still be inside somebody.

“We think what happened was that those tags that remained dark were actually swallowed by the predator that killed the sea lion,” Horning said.

So that could have been any predator. But the four tags in question also show cold temperatures after the sea lion died.  That eliminates warm blooded predators like killer whales, or great white sharks, but leaves cold blooded, deep dwelling sleeper sharks – nocturnal predators. If there is any scientist who knows about the mysterious sleeper shark, it’s Bruce Wright of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association, who’s been following Horning’s work. He’s not surprised by the findings.

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

“I’m not surprised at all, no.  I predicted a couple of decades ago that sleeper sharks are not mud sharks and don’t eat mud, despite what a lot of fishermen will tell you, that they’re top predators,” Wright said. “And when I’ve looked inside of sleeper shark stomachs I’ve found chunks of seals, big chunks of great whales, salmon, whole salmon that they’ve sucked down, adult salmon.”

There is not much money to study the sleeper shark, but maybe there should be. Horning says all he’s able to provide is a clue that they might be contributing to the sea lions’ recovery failure – just a clue that leads to a great many un-answered questions, like whether the predators have always been here or have expanded their range to include Alaska.

“We also really don’t know how many sleeper sharks are out there. Are their numbers increasing or are their number decreasing? Which of the sleeper sharks are eating sea lions, if they do?  Is it the big ones, is it the medium size ones, small ones? Probably the big ones. Are there big ones in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska? We don’t know,” Horning said.

Horning says a study that showed no evidence of sharks consuming juvenile sea lions in the Western Aleutians does not rule out his theory.  Sea lion would be a rare item in the shark diet, because there are so few sea lions there, and nobody knows how many sharks there are.

Categories: Alaska News

Conoco Dials Back Investment in NPR-A

Thu, 2015-01-29 15:25

While Shell today announced it’s investing in its Arctic prospects, ConocoPhillips Alaska says it’s dialing back a bit. Conoco issued a statement saying it is “slowing the pace of investment” in its Greater Moose’s Tooth 1 project, in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Company president Trond-Erik Johansen says they are “deferring the final investment decision” but plan to shoot seismic over the area this year and continue engineering work. He cited permit difficulties and low oil prices. Just this month, the Corps of Engineers approved an eight-mile road for Greater Moose’s Tooth and chose the route Conoco wants. The BLM, though, picked a different route and hasn’t issued a record of decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Says It Plans Offshore Arctic Drilling This Year

Thu, 2015-01-29 15:11

The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell says the company intends to return to the Chukchi Sea this summer to drill exploratory wells. But CEO Ben van Beurden  says Shell still needs permits, among other challenges.

“So, will we go ahead?  Yes, if we can,” he said at a press conference in London announcing 4th quarter results. “It will depend upon a number of things.  First of all, will we be technically, logistically ready to go ahead?  I’d be so disappointed if we wouldn’t. We’ve been working on this for a long period of time.  And we’ve kept all our capability in place, tuned it, upgraded it just to be ready to drill this coming summer season. ”

Shell’s last effort to drill in Arctic waters, in 2012, was plagued by trouble, culminating in a drill rig running aground near Kodiak. One of Shell’s subcontractors recently agreed to pay more than $12 million in fines for a range of environmental crimes.

Van Beurden told reporters the company will only proceed if it can do so responsibly. He also says Shell is as prepared as any company can be.

At least five different federal agencies must still issue permits, and the Interior Department has to re-approve the lease sale after a legal challenge. A decision on that is expected in March.

Van Beurden says Shell isn’t deterred by the current low oil prices.

“If you look at the investment decisions you cannot go by today’s oil price,” he said. “We have an investment wavelength of a decade typically in our upstream projects, so you have to take a view of what the oil price will be in the long run.”

Still, Shell is holding its conventional exploration budget flat, so this year’s spending in Alaska will require cutting back on exploration in other countries. And Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry says the Alaska operation is expensive.

“If we drill (in the Chukchi), if we go ahead, it will be over a billion dollars,” the CFO said.  ”Even if we don’t drill, it will be approaching a billion dollars, because of the commitment to keep the fleet of ships that we need.  Remember, this is a logistics operation as much as drilling.  The drilling is the easy bit.”

Returning to the Arctic means Shell would also be coming back to its support hub in Unalaska. The company left a mark on the town in 2012. The Noble Discoverer drill ship nearly ran aground there during a summer storm. Then, at its new moorage, it discharged oily bilge water into the bay.

“We’re not going to tolerate that kind of behavior or operations any more,” says Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt. “We’re supportive of Shell. We’re supportive of what they bring to the community in terms of business opportunities, revenue. We just want them to know that we’re not going to trade that, however, for turning a blind eye or just saying ‘do whatever you need to do in order to take care of yourselves.’ That is not what’s happening.”

The mayor says she’s pleased Shell has made changes to its roster of subcontractors and added employees to work on environmental compliance. But If Shell does return to the Arctic this summer, the Noble Discoverer will be back.

This story was written by Liz Ruskin in Washington and KUCB News Director Lauren Rosenthal in Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Common Core Stirs Mat Su Debate

Thu, 2015-01-29 13:45

Common Core, the federally – sponsored education standards adopted by many states, has raised the hackles of some Alaska  legislators. 

Representative Lora Reinbold (R Eagle River ) has been outspoken on the issue, and recently, the Matanuska Susitna Borough has been drawn into the argument.  On January 20, in Palmer,  the members of the Matanuska Susitna Assembly and the Borough’s School Board met in a joint session to hear about school standards. At the heart of the discussion — Common Core — a set of educational standards that has been voluntarily adopted by some states. Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss  convened the information – only meeting, saying:

“I just want you to know, this is not a ‘gotcha’  moment. We are partners here together and I think we all have the common interest of the very best education our kids can get. “

DeVilbiss told Borough School Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo that he wanted to know a how closely the Borough school district is, or is not, aligned with Common Core. DeVilbis said he’d gotten quite a few questions about it from residents. Paramo fielded the questions one by one in a presentation to the joint panels. Later she said in a phone interview with APRN:

“If you put the Common Core standards, and our state standards next to each other, they are going to be quite similar.”

Paramo told the body that standards determine what expectations a student needs to meet, grade by grade.  Curriculum is the means used to meet the standards.

“And then we have one hundred percent local control over writing the curriculum that would meet those standards. So what happens in the classroom with how we teach, how we purchase textbooks, the materials that go with that… ”

Standards matching Common Core are used in  the Mat Su School District for math, she said:

“And in the Mat Su, we did only implement the math standards for Common Core. There are only math and English language arts standards.  So there are only two constructs for which the standards are written.  But in our community, we only implemented math, and we did find that they (standards) were more rigorous.”

It’s that increased rigor in math education that has pushed the state into developing new standards since 2012, according to Susan Macauley, director of teaching and learning support for the state department of education.

“Alaska opted to not adopt the Common Core state standards. What Alaska did do, and this is where some of the confusion is, what Alaska did do, as is required by statute and regulation, is adopt English and math standards. We did that in 2012.  Those standards are significantly different from the standards that we had previously, in terms of for lack of a better word, rigor, and there are similarities to the Common Core state standards, “  Macauley says.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association devised the Common Core standards in an effort to create a uniform set of standards that would be the same state to state. To date 43 states have either totally or partially adapted Common Core or are moving toward it. But some parents, and some state legislators, are apprehensive that Common Core represents the long arm of federal outreach. Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold is one critic of the standards. Reinbold spoke at a Moose Lodge meeting in Palmer prior to the Mat Su Assembly/ School Board meeting, according to Borough Mayor DeVilbiss, in essence prompting many of the questions the mayor brought to the meeting.   DeVilbiss says parents of school students are pressuring him to find out more:

“One of my concerns is that this is the beginning of a progressive agenda that goes beyond math and English and language and arts. We know that in the works there’s history and science. I just hate to see a progressive agenda like this that has not been tested and is being criticized by a lot of educators. ”

DeVilbiss also says the Borough Assembly needs to evaluate how much time, and money, is needed to exceed state educational standards.  

“You know, I can’t speak for the Assembly, but we’re going into budget session and I would say that opens the door for some negotiations.”

Representative Reinbold did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Digging Up Augustine’s Top-Heavy Legacy

Thu, 2015-01-29 11:59

Augustine Volcano during its 2005-2006 eruption. (Photo by Cyrus Read, Alaska Volcano Observatory/USGS)

Augustine Volcano sits alone, a 4,000-foot pyramid on its own island in Cook Inlet. Like many volcanoes, it has a tendency to become top heavy. When gravity acts on Augustine’s oversteepened dome, rockslides spill into the ocean. A scientist recently found new evidence for an Augustine-generated tsunami from a time when Egyptian pharaohs built their own pyramids.

Zebulon Maharrey’s record of a tsunami deposit from 4,200 years ago extends a long record of Augustine’s collapses into the sea. A graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Maharrey has spent the last four years looking at the volcano. Augustine last erupted in 2006, sending an ash cloud two miles high and oozing enough lava to create a new summit.

In Nanwalek, a village on the southern flank of the Kenai Peninsula and 50 miles east of Augustine Volcano, Maharrey found small pieces of wood and other tsunami debris in an eroded face of peat, 21 feet above high-tide level today. He also discovered more than one dozen ash layers that came from Augustine and mounts Katmai and Spurr.

Maharrey’s dating of tsunami deposits from more than 4,000 years ago extends the Augustine tsunami record by about 2,000 years. Maharrey’s academic advisor Jim Beget had found evidence of Augustine splashes into the sea from 1,400, 1,700 and 2,100 years ago.

A peat exposure near the village of Nanwalek that holds evidence of many volcanic eruptions and a few tsunamis. (Photo by Zebulon Maharrey)

Maharrey became interested in looking at Augustine’s history after Beget showed him the following account from the logbook of the Alaska Commercial Company. Someone wrote on Oct. 6, 1883:

“This morning at 8:15 o’clock, 4 tidal waves flowed with a westerly current, one following the other . . . the sea rising 20 feet above the usual level. At the same time the air became black . . . and it began to thunder.”

That writer indicated something happened in 1883 that didn’t in 2006: part of Augustine crumbled. Because the mountain is surrounded by wide apron, it takes a tremendous landslide to send a wave in the direction of Nanwalek, now home to 177 people.

During field expeditions to the western shore of Cook Inlet, Beget found debris from the 1883 tsunami near Mount Iliamna, Nanwalek and Homer.

The newfound tsunami date at Nanwalek shows that Augustine is a repeat offender at piling lava above the tipping point.

“Augustine didn’t just start having debris avalanches 2,100 years ago,” Maharrey said.

In 1883, the extreme tides of Cook Inlet saved the village from being swamped. Because the Augustine-induced tsunami happened at low tide, the 20-foot rise of the sea had the same effect as a random high tide. Researchers think perhaps a few kayaks were lifted away and a few shelters were destroyed, but no one was killed.

Most of the village of Nanwalek is built on a high terrace above the beach, Maharrey said, but an Augustine-generated tsunami today at high tide could inundate the airstrip and low-lying areas along the beach. As the tsunami wave progressed, it would flood coastal areas all around southern Cook Inlet to several feet above the tideline. Or, if it happened at dead low tide, another Augustine tsunami might not wet anything.

Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano’s Eruption Hits One-Year Mark

Thu, 2015-01-29 11:43

Shishaldin lets off steam on day one of its eruption in January 2014, and again in early December. (Credit: Janet Schaefer/Levi Musselwhite, AVO)

If you’ve taken a PenAir flight between Unalaska and Anchorage in the past year, you’ve been traveling over an erupting volcano.

Wednesday marks one year since Shishaldin Volcano woke up on the Alaska Peninsula in January 2014, and didn’t go back to sleep.

Dave Schneider is a geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. He says Shishaldin hasn’t appeared to do much over the course of this eruption. That’s because:

“Most of the activity is occurring deep down in the summit crater, which is quite deep — several hundred yards deep,” Schneider says.

That means even when there’s lava in the crater, it takes a lot of energy to force it out. Shishaldin hasn’t been seeing strong tremors, either, and any ash emissions have stayed on the flanks of the summit. That ash is often visible on regional flights between Anchorage and places like Unalaska.

Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians, and the most symmetrical, conical volcano in the world. It’s also one of the most active in Alaska. In fact, Wednesday marks another Shishaldin anniversary — of a brief eruption back in 1967. The AVO doesn’t know many details about that event.

And though their monitoring tools have improved a lot since then, Schneider says even the past year at Shishaldin has beenunpredictable:

“It had gone for a number of weeks without any evidence of high temperatures, and then on Thursday [Jan. 22], it ramped back up slightly again,” he says. “But there’s really no particular hazard at this point. You know, I wouldn’t go up and stand on the rim of it… Well, I’d kind of like to.”

But really, Schneider says they’ve only kept the volcano on alert because while it’s restless, it could begin to threaten air travel at any time. The volcano has been known to send ash plumes well into the stratosphere, though it hasn’t done so in many years.

That’s why the AVO’s not breaking out the cake and balloons for Shishaldin’s birthday just yet. Schneider says they’ll wait to celebrate until the eruption ends.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Maps Out Marine Traffic Lanes To The Arctic

Thu, 2015-01-29 09:54

41 foot sailing vessel Altan Girl is towed out of the sea ice by USCGC Healy after getting stuck about 40 miles northeast of Barrow in July 2014. (Photo by Ensign Carolyn Mahoney, U.S. Coast Guard)

Anticipating increased traffic through the Bering Strait as retreating sea ice opens up the Arctic Ocean to more vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard is accepting public comments on proposed vessel routes off northwestern Alaska.

“We get about 400 transits up through that part, a year. Generally, that’s about 200 vessels since some of those are repeat customers,” says Rear Adm. Daniel Abel, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 17th District.

Click to enlarge this chart of proposed traffic lanes through the Bering Sea. More detailed charts of particular segments can be found at the comment link at the bottom of this page.

Abel says traffic through the Bering Strait has essentially doubled over the last seven years. The Coast Guard’s Port Access Route Study is intended to reduce accidents and promote efficient traffic between the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

“So, this will help control how vessels get basically from the Aleutians all the way up, to then turn to the Northwest Passage and the northern sea route,” Abel says. “This is going to be a huge step forward on getting our arms around routing of the vessels in and out of the Arctic.”

The proposed traffic lanes would run from Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a slight jog around the west side of Nunivak Island and up through Bering Strait. Traffic from Asia would pass the west end of Saint Lawrence Island before entering the Bering Strait. The four-mile wide, two-way routes are designed to avoid active commercial fishing grounds or environmentally sensitive areas.

Abel says the routing would likely be voluntary for vessels.

“Because making it mandatory would probably be extensive with the International Maritime Organization,” Abel says.

The goal would be by making it voluntary, eventually insurance companies and agents would ask ‘Why didn’t you follow what the Coast Guard recommended?’ That would reinforce the voluntary nature of the access routes to and from the Arctic,” Abel says.

Ed Page, head of the Marine Exchange, a Juneau non-profit specializing in maritime information and vessel tracking, says it makes sense.

“Provide some order, some predictability to manage the risk by prescribing where vessels should and should not go,” Page says.

Page expects ships would occasionally deviate from the proposed lanes to avoid sea ice in the central Bering Sea.

“I think a lot of this is focused on locking the barn door before the horse gets out type of philosophy,” Page says. “Let’s put some safety measures in place before it builds too far and too extreme. Some controls, some procedures, some risk mitigating visions in place early on than after the fact.”

In just five years of statistics compiled by the Coast Guard, tanker vessels, tugs, and adventurers were among the vessel types that have dramatically increased in numbers through the Bering Strait.

Page says some of those vessels include oil tankers and bulk zinc ore carriers heading to Asia from ports above the Russian Far East.

Rear Admiral Daniel Abel, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 17th District. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Traffic density recently fluctuated with offshore oil exploration efforts, but it’s still very low. As an example, it’s still barely five percent of the marine traffic in portions of Southeast Alaska.

“Down here in Juneau, we have about 7,000 vessels trampsing right by Juneau every year between the cruise ships, and the ferries, and the tugboats, and cargo vessels that go to Greens Creek (mine) and what have you,” Page says.

Page doesn’t believe Arctic marine traffic will really increase that much within the next 20 years. More bulk carriers may try that route, but there’s still too much uncertainty about ocean floor charting and the dynamic pack ice which may make it a risky route for container vessels on time-sensitive schedules.

“You need to have reliability,” Page says. “You have to make sure it shows up on Tuesday. ‘Well, it’ll be there when we get there. It depends on the weather, it depends on the ice, it depends on…’ No, that’s not acceptable.”

Page also says it’s unlikely that responsible shippers would take on the high liability of using vessels that don’t meet the Polar Code. Adopted last November by the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for design, construction, equipment, operations, training, search and rescue, and environmental protection for vessels in Arctic and Antarctic waters. It goes into effect in 2017.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Daniel Abel says the proposed traffic route and Polar Code are only two elements of a broader effort to increase governance, safety, and security in the Arctic. He says the last leg of the three-legged stool includes the just-created Arctic Waterways Safety Committee.

“And that’s consistent with what we would do with any other port,” says Abel “So, let’s say if you were in Boston, there would be a Boston Harbor Safety Committee. It brings together all of the stakeholders and partners in the port – industry; communities; in this particular case, the villages; Alaska Natives; the subsistence communities – and we turn to them on ‘What would you like in your transportation system as far as routing, regulation?’”

Public comments are being taken on the proposed Port Access Route Study until June. Check out the link below to submit comments or find more information.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell To Restart Chukchi Drilling This Summer

Thu, 2015-01-29 09:06

Shell plans to restart its drilling work in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The company still needs federal permits and to resolve legal challenges. But CEO Ben Van Beurden told reporters in London today he’d be very disappointed if the company can’t proceed. The chief executive told the BBC Shell is as prepared as any company can be to mitigate the risks.

Shell put its plans for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas on hold after its disastrous 2012 season

Categories: Alaska News

State Makes Offer On Interior Utility

Wed, 2015-01-28 19:59

[28fng rdr gutierrez/APRN]

The State of Alaska plans to purchase Fairbanks Natural Gas, a utility that serves the Interior.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has signed a letter of intent to buy its parent company, Pentex Alaska Natural Gas, for $52.5 million.

In a news release sent Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker described the move as an effort to bring “energy relief to Interior Alaska.”

The purchase will require approval from AIDEA’s board and the Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Scrap Marijuana Bill With Controversial “Defense” Provision

Wed, 2015-01-28 17:53

Law-makers in Juneau have scrapped the first bill to try tackling the initial phase of full marijuana legalization in Alaska. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux co-chairs the joint Judiciary committee that met for the second time Wednesday, and opted not to move Senate Bill 30 or the House versions introduced last week.

“We’re not gonna do anything more,” LeDoux said at the start of the hearing, “until these bills come back from legislative drafting in a form that we feel reflects the will of the people.”

The most controversial part of Senate Bill 30 was its use of what’s called an affirmative defense as the mechanism for decriminalization. The provision offered a legal defense for anyone brought to court for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana after a change in the legal status next month, which critics testified was both confusing and cumbersome at a haring on Monday.

Most of Wednesday’s testimony came from Cynthia Franklin, head of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which is tasked with overseeing regulation as different components of a burgeoning marijuana industry are decriminalized. Franklin told the committee marijuana needs its own board for oversight. Rather than tacking on more duties to the ABC Board and trying to balance fair representation from both industry and public health advocates, she advises a separate body that’s still housed under the state’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

“We really don’t have marijuana regulators standing in a closet somewhere waiting to be just brought out and placed on this board,” Franklin explained.

“This is a new industry, it is a new substance to regulate in a regulatory manner versus a criminal enforcement manner,” she continued. “And I believe that the individuals who have the most experience in the kinds of problems that can come up with licensing individuals in a business setting to deal with a dangerous substance are the very people we have on our staff here.”

Franklin believes Alaska has a good opportunity to learn from lessons on legalization in Colorado, and proactively legislate regulations on the budding industry.

Members of the Judiciary committee are hoping to pass legislation that gives guidance to law enforcement and the public before February 24th.

Categories: Alaska News

Project Homeless Connect connects vulnerable communities with services

Wed, 2015-01-28 17:45

People wait in line for free haircuts at Project Homeless Connect at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

More than 1,000 Anchorage residents experience homelessness every year. Some live in temporary or emergency housing, others are on the streets. Though Anchorage has dozens of agencies to help people, reaching them all is difficult. In comes Project Homeless Connect. The yearly, volunteer-run, donation-funded event brings services providers together to connect people with information and some immediate help.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/28-Project-Homeless-Connect.mp3.wav

50-year old John peers through wire-rimmed glasses surrounded by a halo of thick curly graying hair and a bulky salt and pepper beard. He sits down in front of a volunteer hair stylist and puts in his request.

“I want this off of my face, can you do that?” he says, pointing to the six months of beard growth. “And I want a high and tight,” meaning he wanted most of his hair chopped off in a military style.

John ,who didn’t want to give his real name, is getting a free hair cut at the Project Homeless Connect event in Anchorage. He says a new, clean look will help him.

“So if I get rid of that,” he says, pointing to his mane, “maybe the girls will look at me more.”

John says it with a straight face then grins. His real reason?

“It’ll help me maybe find a job. And I have a problem with the winter because icicles get on my whiskers.”

John is currently homeless. He’s mostly been living in shelters for about four months, since his last construction job.

“It’s not very fun.” He pauses. “Too many people.”

John says he feels crowded in the shelters but sleeping in the cold isn’t comfortable either. Sitting on his lap is a check list of things to do at the event. After his hair cut he wants to learn about housing options. He says it will get him away from the alcohol on the streets.

“Because it’s not healthy. And I need to move on and I need to make it better for myself so I can be reliable so I can get this job I want.”

Project coordinator Trevor Storrs says the event is aimed at connecting people who are experiencing poverty or homelessness to necessary services.

“It takes about 50 miles to travel to get all the services that somebody needs, whereas here it takes about 50 steps.”

Different organizations are signing people up for public assistance, issuing state IDs, giving applications for housing options, offering health exams, and more. This is the 13th time the event has been held in Anchorage since it started in 2007.

Storrs says it’s also about raising awareness in the community about everyone who experiences homelessness. “We encourage all people when they are looking at those people on the corner, to remember that is not always the face. That’s just the visible. There’s a huge invisible face out there that are the families and the children, as well as the working poor” who also need permanent housing.

Back at the hair cutting station, the last of John’s locks tumble to the ground.

“What do you think?” he asks. “Does it look good?”

“You look like a different person!” I respond. Without the beard his face is a completely different shape, his nose and eyes seem much larger.

“I knew I would, that’s why I’m doing it. When I get home they’re gonna say ‘Intruder! Intruder!’”

He grins into the mirror and says he’s already encouraged.

“Someone told me I could get a job now. Said ‘Now you can get a job’ since I got the hair cut.”

He dusts off his shirt and heads off to learn about housing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 28, 2015

Wed, 2015-01-28 17:37

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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Lawmakers Scrap Bill Addressing Pot Legalization

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Law-makers in Juneau have scrapped a bill that attempted to address the first phase of full marijuana legalization in Alaska. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux co-chairs the joint Judiciary committee and at a hearing today said they won’t move the senate or house versions of the bill.

Anchorage Assembly Bans Marijuana From Public Use

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban public consumption of marijuana.

State To Appeal Education Funding Lawsuit Ruling

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The State of Alaska announced today that it will appeal a final ruling by Superior Court Judge William Carey in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s long-held argument that the state’s required local contribution for public education violates Alaska’s Constitution.

The state also will ask for a stay on Judge Carey’s ruling while the appeal is considered by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

With Greater Numbers, Democrats Hope For More Leverage Over Medicaid Expansion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

House Democrats plan to use their increase in numbers as leverage when pushing for Medicaid expansion.

Donlin Gold Closes Camp During Permitting

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Donlin Gold is shuttering its camp at the site of its gold deposit near Crooked Creek.

Sugar Creates Genetic Trouble For Coastal Alaska Natives

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The idea that traditional diets are best for coastal Alaska Native people is being further confirmed by the discovery of a gene deficiency that doesn’t allow their systems to process sugar.

Project Homeless Connect Brings Services, Information To Anchorage’s Homeless

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 1,000 Anchorage residents experience homelessness every year. Though Anchorage has dozens of agencies to help people, reaching them all is difficult. In comes Project Homeless Connect. The yearly, volunteer-run, donation-funded event brings services providers together to connect people with information and some immediate help.

Scattered Services Make Homelessness In Haines Hard To Grasp

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Appeal Education Funding Lawsuit Ruling

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:59

The State of Alaska announced Wednesday that it will appeal a final ruling by Superior Court Judge William Carey in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s long-held argument that the state’s required local contribution for public education violates Alaska’s Constitution.

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The state also will ask for a stay on Judge Carey’s ruling while the appeal is considered by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Kathryn Vogel is an Assistant Attorney General with the state Department of Law. She said, simply, that Judge Carey’s decision was wrong.

“The state believes that Alaska’s tradition of joint state and local school cooperation over public schools is constitutional,” she said.

The Alaska Supreme Court listens to a state attorney during the Supreme Court live event in Ketchikan last fall. Alaska’s high court soon will consider an appeal from the state in Ketchikan’s lawsuit challenging Alaska’s required local contribution for public schools.

In his decision, the judge ruled that municipalities should not be required to pay for public education because the required local contribution is essentially a tax earmarked for a special purpose. Carey said that is a violation of the Constitution.

Vogel said the state disagrees with Carey’s conclusion, because it’s not a state tax.

“Instead, it is locally raised money that goes directly to local schools,” she said. “The dedicated funds prohibition applies directly to state revenue, and that’s the biggest point of contention that the state has.”

Vogel adds that the prohibition on dedicated funds has a built-in exception for state-local cooperative programs.

“From the state’s perspective, public schools is a quintessential state-local cooperative program,” she said.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said he’s heard all that before.

“The state argued that unsuccessfully in the court,” he said. “We disagreed, and the Superior Court disagreed with the state’s position, as well.”

Bockhorst said the state’s decision to appeal Judge Carey’s ruling was not unexpected.

“We’re certainly not surprised that the state plans to appeal, given the magnitude of the issue: Roughly $235 million annually statewide that is imposed on 34 municipal governments, two-thirds of the school districts in Alaska,” he said.

But, Bockhorst said, he is confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court ruling.

“It is a charge levied by the state that is dedicated to a specific purpose, and that circumstance is prohibited by Alaska’s Constitution,” he said.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago, but borough officials have been talking about the issue for much longer. The issue has been litigated before without success, but those lawsuits focused on different arguments.

For example, the Mat-Su Borough many years ago sued the state, claiming that the required local contribution was unfair to municipal governments. While the current lawsuit didn’t bring those failed arguments back in front of the court, Bockhorst agrees that it is unfair, and adds that it’s just bad policy.

“It imposes, literally, over time, billions of dollars in burdens on 34 municipal governments in Alaska, and ignores one-third of Alaska school districts, without regard to their fiscal capacity,” he said.

Bockhorst said the policy also discourages new boroughs from forming, because people in unorganized parts of the state don’t want to be compelled to provide a specific amount for local schools.

Bockhorst adds that the lawsuit is not an attempt to get out of paying for education.

“We’re not opposed to local support for schools,” he said. “We want it to be done in a fashion that is fair and equitable, and imposes equal obligations on every Alaskan, not just those that live in municipal school districts.”

State attorneys plan to file their motion for a stay within a few days with Superior Court Judge William Carey. If he denies it, Vogel said they will file for a stay with the Alaska Supreme Court, which is where they’ll also file their appeal.

How long that appeal will take is unknown.

“There’s no fixed timeline for how long it will take the Supreme Court, but this is a case that is going to require robust briefing, so I anticipate it will be a few months to a year before we get a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court, if history is a guide,” Vogel said.

Bockhorst said the borough is ready to see the case through to the end, and has funds set aside for legal costs. Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly appropriated $400,000 for the lawsuit, and so far has spent only $150,000.

That’s a pretty good investment if the case ends up in the borough’s favor. Ketchikan’s required local contribution in 2014 was about $4.2 million. The borough did ask Judge Carey to make the state refund that money, but that part of the lawsuit was denied.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:58

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

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The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states.

Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Donlin Gold Closes Camp During Permitting

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:57

(Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Donlin Gold is shutting down its camp at the site of its gold deposit near Crooked Creek. Kurt Parkan is external affairs manager for Donlin Gold.

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“Because a significant amount of fieldwork necessary to bring the project to permitting has already been completed, the need for a camp to be open during that permitting phase doesn’t exist, so we’re temporarily closing the camp during the final phase of the permitting process, and will make a decision to open it once we get through permitting and additional fieldwork justifies the need for the camp to be open again,” said Parkan.

Parkan expects 10 jobs lost in the closure. Over 200 people worked on site at times of peak exploration and fieldwork. The camp has been open for most of the past 20 years, during which companies have explored the massive gold prospect. Teams will continue basic environmental monitoring, but without the convenience of an established camp. Mothballing the site will take about two months.

Donlin is about two and half years into the permitting process and expect another two years before a final permit and the company makes a decision on whether to move ahead.

“The company is focused very heavily on the permitting phase right now, working with cooperating agencies, government agencies to complete the permitting process and environmental impact statement,” said Parkan.

draft environmental impact statement is expected in late summer or early fall of this year. Donlin’s proposed open-pit mine would be among the largest gold mines in the world. The company is owned by Nova Gold and Barrick Gold, two Canadian companies.

Categories: Alaska News

Sugar Creates Genetic Trouble For Coastal Alaska Natives

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:56

The idea that traditional diets are best for coastal Alaska Native people is being further confirmed by the discovery of a gene deficiency that doesn’t allow their systems to process sugar. Dr Matthew Hirschfeld is the director of maternal/child health services at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The intolerant gene causes a condition know as as C-Sid.

Hirschfeld says it’s likely 1 to 5 percent of Alaska Natives have the gene mutation. He told APRN’s Lori Townsend the addition of sugar into so many processed foods is not good for anyone, but is especially bad for coastal Alaska Native people.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scattered Services Make Homelessness In Haines Hard To Grasp

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:54

Haines Salvation Army corps officer Dave Kyle stands in a room where he lets people sleep if they’re in need of temporary shelter.

It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.

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“We had one guy here when I first got here, he slept in the back there for six months until he could get back to Chilkat Lake,” Lt. Dave Kyle said.

Kyle is a corps officer at the Haines Salvation Army. He points back behind racks of second-hand clothing to a room where five or six people have slept over the past three years. Kyle says he’s on “sketchy ground” letting people stay here when they have nowhere else to go. This isn’t a licensed shelter.

“I do tend to push the envelope a little bit in regards to helping my community,” Kyle said.

Sierra Jimenez works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which serves seniors and people with disabilities. SAIL and the Salvation Army are two Haines organizations that seem to deal with homelessness the most. Local churches, Lynn Canal Counseling and the police department also help sometimes. They often provide one-way ferry tickets to Juneau, to the Glory Hole shelter.

“[That happens] several times a year,” Jimenez said.  “And I don’t know that it’s a solution but it’s the solution that we have here in Haines. And that generally is for somebody who is chronically homeless, truly has no place to go and no resources and shelter is the only option.”

Roger and Judy Kley were in that situation when they showed up in Haines more than a year ago. KHNS brought you their story in December.

“When my PFD check come in that one year, I’d already made the decision that we were coming to Haines one way or another,” Judy Kley said. “I was getting real frustrated on the stress I was under not having a place to live.”

The Kleys came to Haines from Anchorage. They slept in the Salvation Army building for a night or two and then they were sent to the Glory Hole in Juneau. It wasn’t until they got disability income that Jimenez was able to help them successfully apply for a government-subsidized apartment in Haines.

When people like the Kleys show up, Jimenez and Kyle say it would be nice to have a shelter for them. But they’re not sure if there are enough homeless people in Haines to make a shelter worth it.

“You know it’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer to that,” Jimenez said. “It would be so nice to have an emergency bed or two for families that come through while we try to put the pieces together. That would be the dream, the ideal situation.”

“Yes, ideally a shelter would be an excellent deal for it,” Kyle said. “But in the emergency sense, in the crisis sense, I don’t think we have enough [people like that.]”

Kyle says helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless is a bigger concern here than helping those that are already homeless.

“Homeless care is very low on my expenses radar. I just helped a family out with $1300 worth of rent assistance, another family at $65 for electric, another family at $75 for electric, I just sent the guy to Juneau for $37 and I haven’t helped anybody for homeless,” Kyle said.

But he agrees that all of those people are at risk of homelessness if they didn’t have a place like the Salvation Army to turn to for assistance.

Jimenez also says helping people who are maybe a paycheck or two away from homelessness is a more common problem in Haines.

“Sometimes somebody just needs help one month with rent or food and then they can be back on their feet. Other people need education and help budgeting,” Jimenez said. “There’s every different story.”

After KHNS’s December story on homelessness, Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa contacted the Salvation Army and SAIL to set up a meeting, which hasn’t happened yet.

“There’s plenty of room for discussion on these issues and to take a look at what’s the scope of the problem,” Sosa said. “Because I know that there are some homeless people, but I don’t know how many.”

If Sosa wants definitive numbers, he’s not going to get them. There are a few local organizations responding to homelessness. But there is no organization tracking it.

If people want to put a number on homelessness in Haines, it will require taking a leap and setting up a centralized service, even though the scale of the problem is uncertain.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Wed, 2015-01-28 15:55

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies. The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states. Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Seeks To Fill Assembly Seat

Wed, 2015-01-28 14:33

Five hats have been thrown in to the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ring to replace Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver, who won the state House District 9 election in November and is now in Juneau. The Borough Assembly is expected to choose Colver’s  Borough District 6  replacement at a meeting on February 5.

 Steve Menard, Robert Doyle, Barbara Doty, Gregg Hanson and Neal Lacey are under consideration. Interviews will be scheduled starting  Thursday.

The six remaining Borough Assemblymen could  vote on a replacement  as early as next week.  In the event of a tie, the Borough mayor will cast his vote.

The deadline for applications is  5:00 pm  Wednesday

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Organizing to Stave Off Army Cuts

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:11

The City of Anchorage brought together leaders from the community to organize against potential military cutbacks at two Army bases Alaska. The municipality hopes to convince federal officials that the military is not only good for Alaska, but that Alaska is uniquely vital for the Armed Forces.

Representatives from a wide array of Anchorage institutions–universities all the way to tourism groups–gathered in a conference room at city hall on Tuesday. It’s part of an effort to get out ahead of a draw-down that could take as many 5,300 Army servicemen and women out of the Anchorage area, and with them, thousands of family members that are embedded in the local economy.

Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office reached out to prominent community members to start coordinating a cohesive message in the weeks ahead.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to incorporate all the different sectors, and make sure we can put forward a best-case scenario that lets this committee know the value not only of the military to Anchorage, but what we offer in terms of being a strategic location for training,” Sullivan explained.

Cuts could come from both Fort Richardson, as well as Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks. But Anchorage officials are hoping to make the case that the two bases must be viewed as part of the same package: access to training grounds, quick deployment capabilities, and good employment opportunities for family members.

To hone that message, officials are contracting with Art Services North, an events-planning group.

“The city sees this as a major event, and they see it as sort of needing someone to choreograph all the pieces and parts to create a fluid presentation,” said Darl Schaaff with the company, adding that right now the biggest challenge is how little time is available to gather input from stakeholders.

Part of Art Services North’s presentation will be a tour of Anchorage to officials from the Army and Defense Department when they visit in February ahead of a public listening session. Two co-chairs were selected from the city’s tourism and economic development lobbies to make those arrangements.

The draw-down is part of a national reduction in the size of the armed forces, eliminating 120,000 positions from active duty. A maximum of 11,100 troops could be removed from Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

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