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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: 22 min 2 sec ago

Testimony Begins In Unalaska Murder Trial

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:28

Testimony began Wednesday in Unalaska in the trial of two men accused of beating a coworker to death outside a bunkhouse in 2012.

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Leonardo Bongolto, Jr., 36, and Denison Soria, 42, are charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of 55-year-old Jonathan Adams in Feb. 2012.

The three men were seafood processors at Bering Fisheries at the time, living in bunkhouses on Gilman Road.

A 15-person jury heard opening arguments at Unalaska’s courthouse Wednesday morning. State prosecutor James Fayette argued that Bongolto and Soria woke Adams up to start a fight over “petty bunkhouse things.” Fayette said it turned into a “beating” that left Adams dead.

Fayette’s main witness also began her testimony Wednesday. Twenty-five-year-old Morgann Machalek called police about the fight back in Feb. 2012.

Machalek described Bongolto as the “primary aggressor.” She said she saw Bongolto knock Adams out with a punch on the steps of his bunkhouse, then kick him again once he was down.

Machalek said Adams was facedown on the stairs with his neck at an odd angle as she called police. Adams was pronounced dead at the local clinic a short time later.

Machalek was on the verge of tears for most of her testimony on Wednesday. It’ll continue Thursday — Fayette plans to have her show how the fight happened with live volunteers in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that the two men didn’t mean to cause Adams’ death, as the charges allege. Soria’s attorney, Paul Maslakowski, says Adams instigated what was a common fistfight between three men who’d been drinking.

Bongolto’s attorney, James Ferguson, called Adams’ death an accident.

“Getting in a fight where someone died and that’s not what you wanted — that’s an unfortunate tragedy,” Ferguson said in his opening statement.

The jury also heard testimony from the police dispatcher who answered Machalek’s call. They heard audio of that call, and saw pictures of Adams’ injuries and the bunkhouse where the fight took place.

Interpreters were on hand to translate the proceedings for Bongolto and Soria. The two men didn’t speak, but appeared slightly emotional as testimony wound down.

The jury will also hear from the medical examiner as the trial continues this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Statistics Show Downward Trend In Alaska Drug Arrests

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:27

Graphs from the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center. Click to see the entire fact sheet.

Arrest totals in Alaska appear to be going down. A study by the Alaska Justice Center shows that trend holds true with drug arrests specifically.

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Between 2000 and 2012, the total number of arrests in Alaska declined nearly 15 percent.

In that time span, juvenile arrests decreased by more than half. Brad Myrstol is the director of the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center. He says drug-related juvenile arrests went down around 25 percent, but the types of drugs involved appears to be changing.

“The proportion of juvenile drug arrests for marijuana have increased notably in recent years,” Myrstol said. “Meanwhile, the proportion of juvenile drug arrests for narcotics have dropped off quite precipitously.”

Though drug offense arrests for adults have decreased as well, Myrstol says the statistics paint a different picture for adults.

“In general, the trend for adults is that adult drug offense arrests for marijuana are on the decline, and adult drug offense arrests for narcotics have been stable,” Myrstol said.

Regardless of whether the arrests involve an adult or a juvenile, one fact remains the same — the vast majority of those arrests are for possession. And that is something Myrstol says is important to understand.

“There’s, I think, an inherent assumption oftentimes that what we’re talking about is the sale, manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs,” Myrstol said.

But that’s just not the case. Over the past decade, about 26 percent of drug-related crimes for adults and around 15 percent of juvenile drug arrests involved the sale, manufacture and distribution of drugs.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Remains Part of ‘Battle for Seattle’ Between Delta, Alaska

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:26

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

Delta Air Lines ended their summer run between Juneau and Seattle on August 31. An airline official says the season went well, and Delta will be back next year.

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This summer was the first time in almost 20 years when Alaska Airlines did not have a monopoly in Juneau.

In the months leading up to Delta’s May 30 arrival, roundtrip airfare between Juneau and Seattle went down slightly from its typical $500 range.

As the date got closer, travel analyst Scott McMurren says the price dropped to $244.

“And Delta held the line on that price all the way through this summer. Alaska, for competitive service, came down and occasionally would touch that level on competing flights, but they were by no means steady at that price,” McMurren says.

In the summer, Alaska has five nonstop flights between Juneau and Seattle. Delta only has one. Even with the competition, McMurren says Alaska’s flights continued to do well, “which is why the fare floated up. Delta’s flights had plenty of room, which is why the fares stayed flat.”

Data from Juneau International Airport show about 3,700 people boarded a Delta flight in Juneau during August. That means, on average, there were less than 120 people on each Boeing 757 Delta flight, which can seat 180.

Delta’s Seattle vice president Mike Medeiros says he’s happy with Delta’s season in Juneau.

“We were very pleased with the loads, particularly in light of the fact that it’s a new and emerging market for Delta,” Medeiros says.

This summer, Delta added a seasonal flight between Fairbanks and Seattle. It’s also offering year-round service between Anchorage and Seattle. All of this is part of Delta’s larger plan toexpand in Seattle.

“The state of Alaska is an important piece to our success for this global gateway. And so we had plans and it actually worked very well to connect people from Juneau into Seattle and beyond,” Medeiros says.

This time last year, Delta had 33 daily departures out of Seattle. Now, there’s 86. By the end of the year, Medeiros says it’ll be up to 95.

“All we’re doing is creating a hub in Seattle. It happens to be where Alaska has its headquarters and that they’re a partner,” Medeiros says.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s summer was busy. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Juneau Airport show its flights out of Juneau were fuller than last year.

In Seattle, Alaska has about 270 daily departures. Marilyn Romano is Alaska’s regional vice president.

“Just in the last few weeks, we’ve added nonstop service out of Seattle to New Orleans, Detroit, Tampa. We’ve really grown a nice amount of traffic and business in and out of Salt Lake City,” Romano says.

McMurren says Alaska moving into Salt Lake City, Delta’s primary hub west of the Rockies, is Alaska’s way of fighting back in what he calls a “battle for Seattle.”

Who’s winning? McMurren says, the traveler is. He says Delta returning to Juneau next year is good news, since it’ll once again mean lower airfares.

But, if Delta and Alaska ever do make peace, McMurren says Juneau could go back to being a one airline city.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 11, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:18

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

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Alaska Delegation Critical Of President’s ISIS Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to defeat the terror group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS. He is calling for airstrikes, as well as for the U.S. to support the Iraqi military and Syrian fighters attacking ISIS on the ground.

Anchorage Courthouse Evacuated for Bomb Threat, Nothing Found

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Police Department responded to a bomb threat at the Nesbett Courthouse this afternoon. The courthouse was evacuated around 1 p.m. and the building was searched. They did not find anything.

Alaska National Guard Sexual Assault Victim Steps Forward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A survivor of sexual assault in the military stepped forward Thursday at the urging of an Anchorage women’s political action group. The survivor’s story provides insight into the atmosphere within the Alaska National Guard that has led to the recent Office of Complex Investigations censure of the Guard’s response to sexual assault cases and the firing of the head of the state’s National Guard, Major General Thomas Katkus.

Sheraton Workers Continue Rallying For Contracts 6 Years Into Negotiations

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Labor organizers say they’re ramping up the protest against the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Anchorage – workers have been in contentious contract negotiations with the Texas-based company since 2009.

Extra-Tropical System Makes Way Up Alaska’s Southwest Coast

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The storm system making its way up the southwestern coast of Alaska is bringing rain and high winds.

Marijuana Coalition To Court Conservative Voters Despite GOP Opposition To Measure

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

This spring, the Alaska Republican Party came out against an initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. Now, some conservatives are declaring their support for Proposition 2.

Testimony Begins In Unalaska Murder Trial

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Testimony began Wednesday in Unalaska in the trial of two men accused of beating a coworker to death outside a bunkhouse in 2012.

Statistics Show Downward Trend In Alaska Drug Arrests

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Arrest totals in Alaska appear to be going down. A study by the Alaska Justice Center shows that trend holds true with drug arrests specifically.

Juneau Remains Part of ‘Battle for Seattle’ Between Delta, Alaska

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Delta Air Lines ended their summer run between Juneau and Seattle on August 31. An airline official says the season went well, and Delta will be back next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Coalition To Court Conservative Voters Despite GOP Opposition To Measure

Wed, 2014-09-10 22:09

This spring, the Alaska Republican Party came out against an initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. Now, some conservatives are formally declaring their support for Proposition 2, without the backing of the party’s official organizations. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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The conservative coalition was introduced in the lobby of the initiative’s public relations firm, and reporters outnumbered the outreach team’s three members. There was Bruce Schulte, a district chair for the party; Dani Bickford, a former officer of the Anchorage Young Republicans who is now working on the marijuana campaign. And then there was talk radio host Eddie Burke, who characterized it as an issue that would resonate with the Tea Party.

“When you start breaking down those liberty and freedom issues, that’s when people understand it’s nothing to do with smoking or not smoking or whether you’re going to use it or not use it,” says Burke. “It has to do with government making decisions for you that they shouldn’t.”

Polls show the marijuana initiative appeals more to voters on the left side of the spectrum. A survey completed this spring by Dittman research found that 83 percent of “very liberal” voters support the marijuana initiative, while just 22 percent of “very conservative” respondents would vote for it.

But no ballot measure campaign ever wants to be branded as partisan. Take, for example, the recent oil tax referendum: Both sides insisted they appealed to people across the political spectrum, even if polling suggested that a person’s position on the issue was likely to correlate with their ideology. Republican and Democratic lawmakers vocally made cases for it, against it, every which way really, and – in one case – did advertising spots with their respective rivals across the aisle.

Now, we’re seeing the same thing happen with the marijuana initiative. Only, the pro-side is running into a little more trouble with that than the antis. Hardly any elected officials have taken public stances in support of the marijuana initiative – there’s Democratic congressional candidate Forrest Dunbar and Democratic state legislator David Guttenberg, and that’s about it. No Republicans running for office have explicitly said they’ll vote for the initiative. Congressman Don Young has come closest to offering support, describing it as an issue best left to the states and supporting legislation in that vein.

Conservative cannabis coalition member Bruce Schulte thinks that’s because there’s a stigma attached favoring marijuana legalization.

“I think it would be hard for any legislator to come out on behalf of an activity which is, in fact, illegal,” says Schulte.

The Alaska Republican Party has also taken a stand against the initiative to allow the sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21 and tax growers $50 per ounce. At their annual convention in May, 75 percent of delegates voted for a resolution opposing Proposition 2.

Schulte was one of the people who spoke against the resolution, arguing that legalizing marijuana encouraged smaller government.

“You know, there’s good people that went to that convention,” Schulte sighs. “They have their own reasons for opposing Prop 2 – I happen to disagree with them. I will work side by side with those same folks on other issues and other campaigns, but on this one, I disagree with them.”

Party chair Peter Goldberg says the party’s position on the marijuana measure is firm, but he understands there’s some diversity of opinion among Republicans.

“There’s some Republicans who feel it should be legalized, and that’s fine,” says Goldberg. “But as a party, and individually, I feel it should be more difficult to get marijuana.”

The initiative opposition group Big Marijuana Big Mistake has a number of high-profile Republicans backing it, like former Gov. Frank Murkowski who co-hosted a fundraiser on the group’s behalf.

Kristina Woolston, a spokesperson for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, believes her group has a stronger claim to having more conservative support.

“The Alaska League of Republican Women voted [on Tuesday] to support the No on 2 campaign, and they also made a financial contribution,” says Woolston. “The Republican Party has supported [us], and also Republican candidates have also lined up to support the No on 2 campaign.”

Woolston also points to support from Democrats, like former Gov. Bill Sheffield and Deborah Williams, who previously directed the Alaska Democratic Party.

As for the party itself, it’s avoided entering the marijuana debate. The Democrats didn’t consider a resolution on that proposition at their convention, even though they weighed in on other measures.

While the marijuana initiative hasn’t gotten much public support from the state’s elected leaders, the few public polls done on the question show a tight race with most giving the initiative the edge.

So, why might that be? Pollster Marc Hellenthal thinks the marijuana measure could be susceptible to something known as a “social desirability bias,” where people publicly take a position they think matches the social norms even though they might vote the other way. That could be especially true for officeholders.

“Public figures don’t want to get branded as a druggie,” says Hellenthal. “So, they’re somewhat reluctant to lend their name, even though they may be very supportive.”

Of course, the only way to find out if the public sentiment matches the private one is to wait for the election returns on Nov. 4.

Categories: Alaska News

Russia Builds Military Bases in Arctic

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:37

Russia has begun building military bases in its Arctic Far East.

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Independent English-language newspaper Moscow Times reported this week that ships have unloaded pre-fabricated buildings to create military installations on Russia’s Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt. Both are about 300 miles from Alaska’s Point Hope.

President Vladimir Putin this spring ordered the military to step up its presence in the region. He said last month he intends to provide security for shipping and pursue Russia’s strategic interests in the Arctic, within the limits of international law.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in Canada this week for an Arctic conference, says Russia’s move isn’t necessarily a precursor to future hostilities. But she says it does serve as more evidence the U.S. isn’t keeping up with the infrastructure investments it should be making in the region.

“I am concerned that we as a nation are setting ourselves up for another ‘Sputnik Moment,’” she said in a written statement issued by her Senate office. “But this time (we are) falling behind more than any other country, with even non-Arctic nations like China and India investing in icebreakers and acknowledging the value of the region.”

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Aims To Create Arctic Port on Bering Sea Coast

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:36

A U.S. House subcommittee today considered a bill aimed at creating a deepwater dock at Point Spencer, a narrow curlicue of land on the Bering Strait, just south of the Arctic Circle. Alaska Congressman Don Young says his bill would divide the 2,000 acre spit among the Coast Guard, the state and the Bering Strait Native Corp., creating a partnership to build a port.

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“I want to move this legislation. I think it’s badly needed for Alaska and the nation,” Young said. “And of course it will help Bering Straits out. There’s no doubt about that.”

Gail Schubert, CEO of the regional Native corporation, says the land transfer bill will protect cultural artifacts now vulnerable to looting.  She also says developing Point Spencer will give residents the hope of employment.

“We believe it could become a critically important economic engine in our region, as the Arctic opens to commerce,” Schubert said.

Kip Knudson, Gov. Sean Parnell’s representative in Washington, agrees the project is badly needed.

“There are no deep-water ports between Point Barrow and Unalaska,” he said. “That’s a stretch of coastline longer than from Tacoma to Long Beach. We need to redress that shortage.”

But Knudson says the state objects to some of the bill’s details, particularly how it divides the land. Knudson says, for example, that while the bill would give the state an airstrip, it doesn’t provide enough adjacent land to operate it as an airport.

“Our due diligence that we’ve invested in to date is telling us that a fragmented ownership of the land is going to hinder efficient development and potentially slow down funding sources,” he said.

Congressman Young says he’s open to changes and hopes to move the bill forward this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Tropical Storm Headed Toward Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:35

A tropical storm is making its way from Asia to Alaska. It’s expected to reach the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound later this week.

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The extra-tropical storm system was off the coast of Japan Tuesday evening. The National Weather Service expects it to be in the Bristol Bay area by Friday.

(Click on the image to find up-to-date weather reports)

The Western and Eastern Kenai Peninsula and Western and Eastern Prince William Sound area are under a special weather statement for Thursday through the weekend.

“They describe this as being a fast-moving, possibly wet, tropical storm blowing through here,” Scott Walden, the Director of the Office of Emergency Management for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said. “We expect for it to be fairly typical weather like we see right now until about Thursday, when it should intensify and over a 48-hour period, it should blow through, leaving whatever moisture is there.”

The National Weather Service expects the storm’s rainfall to be heaviest along the Eastern Peninsula and North Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday.

Walden says residents of the Seward area should keep an eye on local weather reports, and people living near the Kenai River should take precautions.

“If you live on the Kenai River, especially the upper river, it’s a good idea to have your loose items moved back away from the edge of the river,” Walden said. “Kenai Keys, for example, can have water right up to the road at times. We hate to see people lose boats or wood piles or dog houses and those kinds of things into the river. Just taking a few minutes to pull those things back an extra 10 to 20 feet will probably help a lot.”

Walden says anyone who will be around the Kenai River watershed or other typically wet places should just be aware and informed for the next few days.

“We’re going to watch mainly for that high water mainly through the Kenai River drainage,” Walden said. “Of course, this could affect any estuaries on the peninsula, so we’d like people to be cautious while they’re driving or walking around streams in the area, at least for the next several days until we see how this storm behaves.”

Walden says it would be a good idea for people with weather radios to keep them handy and make sure they have batteries.

Weather forecasts and updates will be posted regularly online.

Categories: Alaska News

ADEC Estimates 1,640 Gallons of Diesel Spilled by NOAA Ship

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:34

An oily sheen in Women’s Bay has been traced to the NOAA research ship Rainier docked at Nyman Peninsula on the Kodiak Coast Guard base.

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According to NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations spokesman David Hall in Silver Spring, Maryland, the spill volume was originally pegged at 400 gallons.

“We regret the incident and are working closely with the Coast Guard to minimize any environmental impacts and thank them for their assistance with the response,” Hall said. “We’re investigating the cause of the incident and are taking appropriate steps to ensure it does not happen again.”

NOAA Ship Rainier. (NOAA Photo)

However Jade Gamble of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in Soldotna says the spill was actually 1,640 gallons.

She said the spill was traced to a rupture in the bulkhead between a fuel tank and the grey water tank – which was not being used because the Rainier is connected to shore facilities. As the grey water tank filled with diesel an evacuation pump would occasionally kick on, discharging the fuel directly into Women’s Bay.

Gamble says tracing the problem took all day yesterday. Absorbent boom and a fuel skimmer are working to clean the spill, with a second skimmer being brought in to help. The spill was initially responded to by the Coast Guard, Gamble said, but responsibility will be turned over to NOAA, who is expected to hire a commercial clean up company to mop up the contamination.

The spill was first reported Monday to the Coast Guard, and again at noon Tuesday. Comments from locals on the Friends of Kodiak Facebook group reported the smell of diesel fuel coming from the direction of the base for several days.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA, Flint Hills Reach Settlement Over Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:33

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with Flint Hills Resources.

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The settlement, which includes an $80,000 dollar civil penalty – is over Flint Hills alleged mishandling of hazardous waste during groundwater cleanup actions at their North Pole petroleum refinery.

The EPA alleges that hazardous waste generated during the cleanup wasn’t labeled or stored properly, which caused two preventable dumpster fires.

Categories: Alaska News

Transportation Grant For Alaska Railroad’s Seward Dock

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:32

 The city of Seward will benefit from a two point five million dollar federal grant that was announced on Tuesday. The US Department of Transportation awarded the funds through it’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grant program.

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 Ron Long, assistant city manager for Seward, says the city is a co applicant with the Alaska Railroad for the funds. Long says the money will be used to complete a master plan for the railroad’s freight dock expansion in Seward.

“We feel very good about it. We feel that some of the statements that were made in favor of it were justified. It’s an important part of our economy and we are excited to see it move forward.”

Long says it took about three years to secure the grant. The railroad owns and operates the dock. Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad, says the grant enables the railroad to determine what needs to be done to move forward with the expansion.

“This is for the West dock, which primarily serves passenger ships and it’s going to require major rehab or replacement in the next ten years. And since it is nearing the end of its useful life, this is going to require some extensive planning activities that are included in this application.”


Sullivan says planning is the first step, and future construction will depend on future funding.

The railroad owns 300 acres in Seward, and the dock is located on that land. The railroad does not pay any revenue to the city, but the city benefits from job opportunities for local residents.




Categories: Alaska News

UAA Receives Grant For FASD Prevention Work

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:31

(CDC map)

As part of a national effort to curb risky drinking habits and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention awarded grants to six universities across the country – including the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – or FASD – spans a wide range of physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.

This isn’t the first grant the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services has received for FASD-related work. For the past several years, they have been training health professionals in FASD prevention and treatment.

The new $1.1 million grant will be distributed over four years and will go toward establishing a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Practice and Implementation Center.

UAA’s Dr. Diane King says the grant will allow the center to help develop new strategies for the identification and treatment of FASDs.

“We’ll be working with experts in Oregon and Washington as well as Alaska, and national professional organizations to really start to implement and help health care providers adopt more routine screening for alcohol misuse, counseling and intervention for women of child-bearing age,” King said.

King says UAA’s history in FASD training and research likely played a part in why the university received the grant. But, she also says Alaska has a lot of momentum surrounding the issue.

There’s a lot of concern about FASDs, it’s pervasive here,” King said. ”There’s a lot of women who are still drinking while they’re pregnant that somehow the educational messages are insufficient and so really working together with healthcare providers is a way of doing that. And there’s a lot of interest and support in Alaska for taking that approach.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services estimates about 163 children born in Alaska each year are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. Studies estimate the lifetime cost of FASD could be upwards $2 million per person.

King says the center’s training efforts have been slowly catching on, and healthcare providers play a vital role in the prevention and diagnosis of FASDs.

“I think the opportunity for them to make an impact is huge in this way, and research shows that it’s effective if a provider is routinely screening and providing an effective, brief advice or intervention that we do see reductions, meaningful reductions in drinking,” King said.

The University of California, San Diego, University of Missouri, University of Nevada, Baylor University and University of Wisconsin-Madison also received grant funds from the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Categories: Alaska News

Can The Tongass Support Sustainable Logging?

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:30

The Tongass National Forest could resume allowing logging in roadless areas under a court ruling. But it won’t happen immediately — or at all. (U.S. Forest Service Image)

A regional committee tasked with advising the National Forest Service on how to manage logging in the Tongass began three days of meetings in Juneau Wednesday.

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The committee’s work is part of a yearslong process to rewrite the federal rules for what can and cannot be done in the Tongass National Forest.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack laid out a goal of phasing out old growth logging in favor of young growth in 10 to 15 years. He said the transition supports ecologic, social and economic sustainability in the forest.

The Tongass Advisory Committee’s recommendations are due in May. They’ll inform a rewrite of the Forest Service’s land use plans for the Tongass that’s expected in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau School District Receives Praise, Criticism For How It Handled Hazing

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:29

Rep. Cathy Munoz and Education Commissioner Mike Hanley thank the school board and administration for taking hazing seriously. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Members of the public criticized how the Juneau School District handled a hazing incident in May that involved seven seniors paddling six incoming freshmen. During Tuesday’s school board meeting, they said the perceived punishment of the offenders wasn’t harsh enough.

Meanwhile, a state education official commended the district for trying to change the culture of hazing.

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Education Commissioner Mike Hanley has heard about hazing in Juneau schools for years. He thanked the district for tackling the problem.

“I think the first step that you’ve taken is really a great one, to say this isn’t acceptable. That’s the message. I don’t want to know who the children are that are involved. I don’t want to know what the punishments are. I don’t have an idea that vengeance, that we need an eye for an eye. That’s not it. We just need it to stop,” Hanley said.

He thinks the district’s actions have sent this message, but added the administration and board can’t carry it alone.

“Coaches are the next ones that have more influence on our children and our athletes than any of us do. And they have that ability to continue to carry this message and own the responsibility we have to change the culture,” Hanley said.

When the Juneau School District concluded its investigation into the paddling at the end of August, it held a press conference and identified the number of students who committed the violation and the number of victims, but did not release names or specific punishment due tostudents’ privacy rights. Superintendent Mark Miller noted that four of the seven paddlers were athletes.

A couple days later, the Juneau Empire reported the names of the athletes and their punishment. The Empire wrote that penalties included “a one-week suspension from school, a one-game suspension and 40 hours of community service.” Miller did not confirm or deny this.

During public comment at the school board meeting, parent Graham Storey said he was furious when he read about the punishment and said it was a horrible message to send to students.

“The perception is that our students can engage in bullying and hazing with minimal consequence. Athletes who bully should not be athletes in this district. They should not have the privilege to participate when they engage in these actions,” Storey said.

Lynn Van Kirk said she’s friends with a parent of one of the hazing victims.

“He’s afraid to do anything. He’s afraid to go out with his friends to the football games, any types of activities. He did not go to the dance at Juneau-Douglas, because he was scared,” Van Kirk said.

Jim Bradley is a parent of a victim and said the punishment of one-week school suspension and one-game suspension was not enough.

“I think the efforts were a good step forward but I think when the consequences were handed down, it was a step backwards,” Bradley said.

Student representative from Thunder Mountain High School Dunya Herman said the students have heard a similar version of the punishment and some think the senior hazers who are athletes should be suspended from sports for the whole season. Dunya doesn’t agree with that.

“Sports are good for students. Student athletes are better students, so I think that they need to stay in their sport, but the punishment should’ve been greater to make a statement, at least, to the community that hazing is not OK,” Dunya said.

Superintendent Miller said the district followed its rules and policies when coming up with the disciplinary action. He did reveal that the punishment included out-of-school suspension and community service.

“I think we kind of hit a middle ground. I’m sure there are people on both sides of this that believe that either we did too much or we didn’t do enough and I’ve heard from both of those populations. I understand that. I just feel that at this point, we did what we thought was right and we’re moving on,” Miller said.

In the next few weeks, Miller said the district will have a meeting with all the coaches about the hazing/bullying policy and the proper way to talk about it to the public and media. He noted a possibility of longer term training.

He says the district also plans to implement an anti-hazing/anti-bullying restorative justice program throughout the district.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Officials Confirm Alaska Mumps Case

Wed, 2014-09-10 17:28

Alaska health officials have confirmed the first case of mumps in the state since 1995.

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The disease was confirmed in a 50-year-old Alaska woman who apparently contracted mumps in Japan.

Fewer than 500 people in the nation contract mumps annually.

Mumps is a communicable virus but preventable by vaccine. Complications can cause meningitis, encephalitis and deafness.

The woman on July 11 told doctors she had headache, jaw pain and trismus, a symptom that can mean jaw muscle spasms or locking.

The woman while in Japan stayed in a home where a girl had been diagnosed with mumps.

The Alaska Section of Epidemiology says the woman’s symptoms began to subside about a week after she reported them.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Walrus Decline May Have Halved Population

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:36

Pacific walrus populations in Alaska’s Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea area halved between 1981 and 1999. New research indicates that the decline may have slowed down in the years before 2000.  According to Rebecca Taylor, a research statistician with the US Geological Survey, researchers relied on data about the demographic composition of the walrus population from 1976 to 2000 to make that determination.

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“While our study encompassed data that went from 1975 through 2006, those age composition data went from …. there was a period in the early 80s starting with 1981 and then there was another period in the late 90s, and so it is that ’81 to ’99 time period where we have the most informative data and therefore are most confident about the population trend. “

Taylor says further study is necessary to determine the most recent status of the walrus population. She says researchers used only data for female walrus.

“Because walruses are polygamous, so you don’t need that many males to get the job done. So it’s typical with a polygamous species to track females only, so we did that with this analysis.”

She says the information USGS has indicates that in the 1980s, the female walrus population was aging, making up about 85 percent of the adults, thus producing fewer juveniles.

“So that suggests that reproduction and calf survival were probably quite low at that point, so that is what we believe initiated the population decline. “

A decade later, she says, the walrus population began to get younger, so the decline lessened as the younger walrus population grew. Taylor says her study only looked at demographic and population growth rates to quantify trends, not to find a cause. But, she says, other research indicates hunting is likely to have had a bearing on the decline.

 ”It was thought that the walrus population probably was depressed by hunting in the 1950s, and that regulations put in place in the 1960s probably allowed that population to increase quite a bit. And so, by sometime between the mid 70s to the early 80s it’s thought that the walrus population was probably quite high compared to what the environment could support, and that probably initiated the decline. “

An increase in hunting during the 1980s served to exacerbate the decline, she says. She says changes in sea ice conditions could also affect Pacific walrus populations. It is difficult to estimate populations of walrus, because the animals spend a good bit of their time foraging underwater.

 ”There is concern about whether or not harvest levels are sustainable. And there is concern about loss of sea ice, because the walrus like to follow the marginal sea ice, eat clams and other invertebrates off the ocean floor, and then come up and rest on chunks of floating ice. Because they are ice -dependent, there is concern about how changes in sea ice might affect them.”

 Taylor’s research is being done to help the US Fish and Wildlife Service make a determination to list the Pacific walrus as threatened by 2017. Andrea Medeiros , a spokesperson for  USFWS,  says the research was prompted in response to a court order stemming from a lawsuit filed by the Center For Biological Diversity.

 Taylor says it is difficult to know what is going on with the walrus population now, if we don’t know what was going on in the past. The research is the first rigourous estimate of Pacific walrus survival rates, she says.

 ”It’s giving us important demographic information. It is providing some baseline scientific data.”

Taylor’s study is published on-line in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Categories: Alaska News

State Presents Election Translation Plan

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:28

Voters at the Lower Kuskokwim School District choosing primary election ballots on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014.

The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in.

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The state is offering the changes after a federal judge issued a decision in a voting rights lawsuit last week. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ordered the state to better help voters who speak Yup’ik and Gwich’in understand their ballots.

Elizabeth Bakalar is the lead attorney for the state on the case. She says that the state is focused on three areas:

“That voters need better information ahead of the election that language assistance is available, that outreach workers need to be better prepared to provide language assistance voters especially prior to election day and to better address certain dialectical differences. So those are the three areas which the interim remedies we’re proposing are meant to target and certainly any long term remedies would probably target those areas as well.”

Bakalar explains, the state is preparing different versions of ballot language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers to reflect different dialects. She says they’re looking for feedback from speakers.

“Send copies of the different the Central Yup’ik ballot to the tribal councils from the Bethel Census area to the Dillingham and Wade Hampton Census areas and prepare different versions of ballot measure language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers and get input form the plaintiffs on potential dialect differences on the dialect differences in the ballot measures.”

Oscar Alexie teaches Central Yup’ik at the UAF Kuskokwim campus in Bethel and has also worked on Yup’ik translations of ballot materials for the state.

He says that most bureaucratic language used to explain ballot measures and other choices on ballots, simply does not exist in Yup’ik. In addition there are several regional dialects of Yup’ik, which lack the specificity needed, making ballot translation next to impossible.

Alexie says the best situation would be to have translators from each community reading the ballot to Yup’ik speaking voters, because Yup’ik was only recently codified in the last generation or so, so most people will understand best, if they hear the translations, rather than read them.

“We translated the materials where it could be read to voters. And hopefully it would have people at the polling places that can read in an understandable voice, not make it sound like they’re reading but talking to someone in the Yup’ik language and follow along and understand it.”

state already provides that service and will be doing more to promote it’s availability under their plan. Alexie says he worries about The possible negative impacts of the lawsuit on language translation in the state. He makes his point by comparing the division of elections and their translators to a dog team. He says you can expect a lot from a dog, they’re hard workers and they like to pull but they can only do so much, especially in the short period of time leading up to the November election.

“Growing up I remember my brother in-law saying … nuf-tut, they break – a dog if you ran it beyond its limitations and not giving it some rest between they’ll be a point where the dog breaks and will never pull again.”

The state of Alaska and their translators will be moving quickly, they want to have the changes made in time for the November election. The plaintiffs, Alaska native speakers from Southwestern and interior Alaska, being represented attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund, have until Wednesday to respond. Then Judge Gleason will issue an order telling the state what they need to do.

Judge Gleason has not yet ruled on whether the state intentionally violated voter’s rights on the basis race or color.

Categories: Alaska News

Man In Custody After Hours-Long Standoff

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:28

A long standoff between police and an armed man in Fairbanks ended with the suspect being taken into custody alive this afternoon.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Secured Following Unrelated Incidents

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:27

A handful of Fairbanks schools have been on high security alert in the last two days due to two separate incidents.

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An armed standoff early Tuesday disrupted the morning commute for residents of west Fairbanks.  The incident also rerouted more than 20 school buses. Karen Gaborik is the School District Interim Superintendent.  She says at least 140 kids were late to morning classes.

“That’s a fair number of students coming late to school,” she says. “We also had staff who got stuck in traffic as well.”

Gaborik says other staff were assigned to cover classes for teachers who weren’t able to arrive on time. She also placed two elementary schools in close proximity to the stand-off in “secured building mode.”

“That means the exterior doors are locked and we won’t have any outside activity, so now recess. It’s a monitored access to the building,” says Gaborik.

It was the second time in as many days that Gaborik had to partially close down activity at schools in the district.  On Monday, a threatening message sent through twitter raised concerns among administrators and law enforcement.

“A community member let the principal at West Valley High school know there had been a vague threat on Twitter so he called the Alaska State Troopers,” she explains. “And because there was a threat, West Valley went into ‘Sit tight mode,’ which is a more secure situation so kids stay in classes.”

Ultimately, five schools were placed “sit tight mode.” Gaborik, who attended both elementary and high school in Fairbanks, acknowledges that situations like those over the last few days have become more common among public schools, but she says personnel practice procedures to handle them regularly.

“I think it gives us the opportunity to have a predictable response to a situation,” says Gaborik.

“We can use the phrase with principals ‘I need you to secure the building’ and principals know what that means and staff knows what that means and we’ve continued to work with parents and students around what those things mean.”

Classes and after school activities at schools affected by both incidents have since returned to a normal schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Schools At Forefront Of FASD Prevention Effort

Tue, 2014-09-09 17:26

Today is National FASD Awareness day. FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a type of developmental disability caused by being prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alaska and some of its schools are at the forefront of understanding and preventing it.

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Categories: Alaska News