APRN Alaska News

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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: 5 min 32 sec ago

4 Snowmachiners Rescued By Alaska Air National Guard

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Turning The Tide Against Marine Debris

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Polaris Building’s Owner Optimistic About Renovation

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:42

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Forever Initiative Survives Challenge in Court

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:41

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 27, 2014

Thu, 2014-02-27 18:22

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Bill Restricting Medicaid Payments For Abortions Passes Committee Review

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

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

Magnuson-Stevens Act Up For Reauthorization

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

3 OK After Vessel Sinks Near Valdez

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

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

4 Snowmachiners Rescued By Alaska Air National Guard

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

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

Turning The Tide Against Marine Debris

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

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

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

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

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

Fairbanks Polaris Building’s Owner Optimistic About Renovation

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

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

Bristol Bay Forever Initiative Survives Challenge in Court

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

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

Categories: Alaska News

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

Thu, 2014-02-27 15:32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Up For National Environmental Health Award

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:41

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Man Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges in Date Rape Case

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:39

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced to Compensate Victims of Wrongful Imprisonment

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:35

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Buccaneer, CIRI Heading Back To Court

Thu, 2014-02-27 11:33

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Gets $21 Million In Federal Disaster Funds

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:48

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Smooth Trails Help Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Bases Make Short List For F-35

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Medical Marijuana Resolution Passed In Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Pollock Fleet Holds Out For Fish Roe

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Gun-Mar:

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Northwest Tribes Oppose Marijuana Legalization

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

First Nations Students Learning Mining Skills At UAF

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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Categories: Alaska News

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

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Glacier Bay’s Bears A Remnant Of The Ice Age

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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

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

Lewis singing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis singing.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Ambitions: ‘Doing Business In The Arctic’

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

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

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Categories: Alaska News

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