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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: 51 min 18 sec ago

Research Sheds Light On Massive, Underwater, Deep Sea-Churning Waves

Wed, 2015-05-20 14:13

Anyone who has spent time on a beach can visualize rolling waves, breaking as they approach the shoreline. What most probably don’t realize, is the same thing happens out of sight, deep under the ocean surface – but on a massive scale.

Picture this: a giant wave, close to 1,000 feet tall, spanning more than 50 miles – that is the scale we’re talking about, and it’s happening thousands of feet underwater.

“If you’ve ever seen the office toys that have a layer of blue fluid and a layer of clear fluid, and you can rock them back and forth and see these very slow-moving undulations,” Harper Simmons, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said. “That is exactly the phenomena we’re talking about.”

He’s been studying these massive, undersea waves for over a decade.

Since 2007, Simmons has been taking part in a study in the South China Sea, with researchers from 25 institutions from five countries, taking a closer look at how these waves work.

Even though the movement of these waves appear similar to a waves on the surface, he says there are some differences.

“They move at approximately three meters per second, whereas a surface wave might move at 10 or 20 times that rate,” Simmons said. “So they’re massive waves; they contain huge amounts of energy, but they evolve in slow motion relative to what we would see at the surface.”

Simulation of internal waves of the South China Sea by Dr. Harper Simmons of the University of Alaska Fairbanks using Arctic Region Supercomputer Center (ARSC) High Performance Computing resources. Visualization by the University of Washington Center for Environmental Visualization (CEV).

But why are these waves so important?

Big waves create big turbulence, and Simmons says that’s what makes them vital.

“And anywhere you can have strong turbulence, you can bring up fresh nutrients from depth,” he said. “And, so these waves have profound effects on ecosystems.”

By redistributing the deep-sea nutrients closer to the surface, the waves help replenish the shallower parts of the ocean where much of the biological activity takes place.

Undersea waves require ocean stratification in order to form – meaning layers of water, defined by differences in salinity and temperature. If stratification exists, Simmons says the other primary ingredient is usually tidal action moving over submarine ridges, islands, and other types of underwater topography, which means these waves are forming all over the world – including Alaska.

“A place like Prince William Sound, a fjord, is highly stratified and there’s very significant tides,” Simmons said. “So we expect that the larger fjords, such as Prince William Sound, would be absolutely filled with these things.”

Not much research has been done on Alaska’s sub-surface waves, but Simmons says researchers do know they form in the Arctic Ocean – albeit in a weaker form.

“One of the main energy sources for these are from storms in the Arctic,” Simmons said. “And the ice kind of an insulating barrier to prevent that kind of energy from being put into the ocean.”

Simmons says researchers are interested to see if the Arctic dynamic changes as the area continues seeing reduced sea ice, seasonally.

Categories: Alaska News

Neighbors Aim to Take Halfway House Concerns to Court in Juneau

Wed, 2015-05-20 13:09

A Juneau neighborhood association is taking its fight against a transitional home for just-released female inmates to court, after exhausting all of its municipal appeal options.

Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Haven House can continue operating on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley for now.

The Juneau Assembly denied the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association’s appeal Monday, upholding the planning commission’s decision to allow permitting for Haven House.

“My clients intend to appeal that decision to the Superior Court,” says attorney Dan Bruce, who represents the neighborhood association.

He wants the state court to overturn the city’s decision. Bruce and his clients continue to argue that Haven House is a halfway house, which under city code, isn’t allowed in typical residential districts, like the area around Malissa Drive.

“Haven House is the only non-single family use in that whole neighborhood,” Bruce says.

Bruce says the home will lower property values and have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. He hopes the legal fight will shut the house down.

Haven House Director Kara Nelson says she isn’t surprised. In the beginning of the Tall Timbers’ protest, she says she took it personally. Nelson herself has been in prison and struggled with addiction. She’s been sober since 2011. Now, she sees the fight as an opportunity.

“It really brings a good challenge for those of us that have been in prison to really show what we know, and that is what we’re being perceived as is not true when we’re living in long-term recovery,” Nelson says.

Haven House is a faith-based non-profit. It provides a structured living situation where residents have to come up with an individual action plan and get the support to follow it through. They must attend some sort of women’s support, recovery or Bible group. Haven House can accept up to nine women transitioning out of prison who can live there for up to two years.

Nelson says the Tall Timbers’ perception of what Haven House will do to the neighborhood is an example of the stigma Haven House residents face on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to be ashamed,” Nelson says. “We’re not dismissing the crimes that have been committed, but what we’re saying is addiction is a disease and so we’re focusing on the solution. The solution is long-term recovery and to do that you surround yourself with other people who have done it before you.”

Nelson says it’s been a long journey to get Haven House going and she says an appeal at the Superior Court level is just another step.

Categories: Alaska News

Maps Merge Data on Birds and Ships to Mitigate Oil Spills

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:32

A local scientist and entrepreneur is leadinga mapping project to find out where potential oil spills could have the worst effects on seabirds.

Martin Renner owns Turnagain Consulting based in Homer and has a background in biology. A little more than two years ago, Fish and Wildlife Service got a grant and contracted Renner.

“The motivation was fairly specific, for oil spills affecting birds in the Aleutian Islands.”

Seabird Density Mapping Tool – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI

His job was to collect and collate data on bird population density and shipping traffic in the Aleutians and find out where they overlap the most.

“And you could interpret it both for the risk of a large catastrophic oil spill or for the risk of chronic oil pollution that is just the byproduct of any kind of industrial shipping activity.”

Basically, if there are a lot of ships traveling through a single area, that raises the likelihood of a spill there. That’s particularly dangerous if, say, there’s a large summer nesting population of seabirds in the same spot.

“The main choke point is in Unimak Pass near Dutch Harbor. We already knew that there are high densities of seabirds both in summer and in winter and every vessel that travels through the Bering Sea between east to west really needs to go through this one pass.”

That was something he expected to find. Something he didn’t expect was a buildup of vessels and birds just south of Sand Point near the shelf break, for example.

“Well, the data all existed before, but there was no analysis to really put it together. There was no model to show you what kind of seabird densities to expect in different places.”

Renner says he did some of the data collection, but most of it came from observations going back decades. The bird data is based on at-ship surveys with observers on research and container vessels. They counted birds 10 minutes at a time and used GPS to mark their locations.

For the ship data, Renner says they were interested in large ocean-going ships like container vessels that carry a lot of fuel and could cause a large spill. Many of those ships have automated equipment that radios in their position with a weather report, for example.

He developed a mapping tool that put those two virtual maps on top of each other. The new map will inform oil spill mitigation efforts.

“There are now plans to put more response gear into the Aleutians, like into Dutch Harbor, like offshore tugboats. By having more data on where those critical areas are, it will allow us to make more informed decisions on strategically placing those resources.”

His map not only found new choke points, it showed that some old ideas on good places to put equipment and response gear weren’t that useful. For example, there had been plans to possibly station a tug in Adak.

“It’s fairly clear that Adak would not be an ideal spot. It’s far away from concentrations of shipping traffic and it’s also not really at the heart of the main seabird densities. You’d have to travel several days from Adak to get to a likely position, whereas at Sand Point, you’d be within an hour’s striking distance.”

Renner says this project is just one piece of a larger ongoing effort to utilize current technology to process information from the past and hopefully, better protect vulnerable species in an environment that’s getting busier and more industrialized every day.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel settles out of court with Wassillie Gregory

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:18

Wassillie Gregory and the City of Bethel have settled out of court related to an incident in which the man was roughly arrested by a former Bethel police officer in the AC parking lot.

Gregory’s Attorney Sean Brown filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the city and former officer Andrew Reid, seeking damages. He argued that Reid violated Gregory’s civil rights and committed assault and battery in what he described as an “attack” last July.

The complaint says Gregory presented no threat to the officer and that the city is liable for Reid’s conduct. It claims the city knew of other complaints against Reid and did not properly investigate.

Brown says the terms of the settlement are confidential but that the case is dismissed as part of the settlement.

A judge earlier this month dismissed Gregory’s conviction for harassment afterthe video surfaced in early April.

Gregory pleaded guilty last year to the harassment charge without the assistance of an attorney. He originally faced charges for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The latter charges were dismissed with original guilty plea.

From a distance the video shows the arrest in which the intoxicated Gregory is slammed to the ground several times. Brown’s complaint on behalf of Gregory says the officer pepper sprayed Gregory in the face and that he suffered a fractured shoulder and rib, requiring medical treatment in Anchorage.

Reid was hired by the city in 2012 and fired in March of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Cantwell Bill Pushes For Icebreakers

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:17

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Lisa Murkowski have introduced a bill that would allow the Coast Guard to build as many as six heavy icebreakers.

Murkowski calls it a military necessity and a down payment on an Arctic future. The Coast Guard has only two working icebreakers now.

The head of the Coast Guard says the need for icebreakers critical. Still, he and other Coast Guard officials say they need off-shore patrol cutters even more. Each heavy icebreaker is estimated to cost about a billion dollars.

The Cantwell-Murkowski bill says Congress would have to include funds in future spending bills to pay for the ships.

Categories: Alaska News

Charges dropped against former Boy Scouts’ store manager

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:10

Charges have been dropped against the former store manager for Alaska’s Boy Scouts, who was accused of stealing more than $27,000 from the organization.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports a judge dismissed the charges against 46-year-old Michael Saunders earlier this month, because his right to a speedy trial had not been fulfilled. But, the state says the charges are not going away.

Saunders had been accused of refunding hundreds of nonexistent purchases to personal credit cards over a four-year period while he worked as manager of the Boy Scouts’ store in Anchorage.

Saunders’ defense attorney, Regan Williams, says the state wanted jail time kept on the table. Saunders and Williams have argued for a significant amount of community service instead.

Williams says Saunders has been making monthly $300 restitution payments.

Categories: Alaska News

Noorvik Man Faces Kidnapping, Attempted Sexual Assault Charges in April Attack

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:05

An aerial view of Noorvik in August 2011. Photo: Thester11 via Wikimedia Creative Commons.

A Noorvik man faces charges of burglary, kidnapping, and attempted sexual assault after being charged with breaking into a neighbor’s home, attacking a woman walking by, and dragging her inside the house.

It all happened on the morning of April 4 in Noorvik, a community of fewer than 700 people about 43 miles east of Kotzebue.

That’s when court documents allege 28-year-old Johnny Nazuruk broke into a home in the Kobuk River community, waited for the woman to walk by, and attacked her—before dragging her inside the broken-into house against her will.

A sworn statement from the woman Nazuruk allegedly attacked, as well as investigation from Noorvik village public safety officer John McCrary, say once Nazuruk pulled the woman inside, he threw her down and attacked her, punching and kicking her torso and head. Court documents say Nazuruk then tried to rip off the woman’s clothing. She continued to struggle as he turned to take off her boots. That’s when the woman says Nazuruk “raised up slightly” and she was able to “knee [him] in the groin” and run out of the house.

She fell on the steps leaving the home, just as court documents show Nazuruk caught her leg and tried to pull her back inside. She screamed for help, alerting a local man walking by on his way to work. As the man approached the struggle, investigators say Nazuruk ran back into the house and locked the door. The man then walked the woman home.

Days later, the woman told her story to VPSO McCrary, who interviewed witnesses and sought to arrest Nuzurak—but by then he was already in Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, arrested in April  on separate charges of resisting arrest.

In all Nazuruk faces five felony charges for the alleged April attack, including burglary, assault, and attempted sexual assault. He also faces one felony charge for kidnapping and one for attempted kidnapping. Nazuruk’s criminal record includes multiple assault convictions, as well as a felony burglary conviction in 2012.

He formally heard the charges in the Nome court Sunday, April 17, and had a first appearance for the Kotzebue court the following day. He remains in custody at AMCC.

Categories: Alaska News

15-year-old arrested in assault of Anchorage bicyclist

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:04

Anchorage police have arrested a teenager in an assault that left a bicyclist with a skull fracture.

Police say in a statement a 15-year-old boy was arrested Tuesday with assault charges referred against him.

The youth is accused of walking with two other boys on the Chester Creek Trail Monday morning near Goose Lake. As a bicyclist approached, police say the youth swung a five-foot long tree branch, hitting the man in the face.

The 43-year-old cyclist also suffered a broken nose and a fractured right orbital bone and will eventually require surgery.

From the man’s description of the assailant, including clothing, detectives and resource officers at East High School were able to make identifications. The other two boys have not been charged.

Categories: Alaska News

Critics question Sealaska finances

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:03

Figures from Sealaska annual reports show no real profits during the past five years. Pooled natural-resource earnings from other regional Native corporations, known as 7(i), balanced all but 2013’s budgets. (Graphic by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

Could Sealaska make more money, pay higher dividends and make better use of its land? Yes, say some shareholders critical of the Southeast regional Native corporation’s management.

Sealaska’s recently released 2014 financial report shows significant improvement.

The corporation, with about 22,000 shareholders, came back from a $50 million-plus loss the previous year. And it streamlined operations, laying off 150 of its 400 employees. Managers say it’s a significant improvement.

But Carlton Smith, a former board of directors member, says it’s not as good as it seems.

“From a shareholder perspective, I think calling 2014 a turnaround year is a bit of a stretch,” he says.

Smith is a commercial real estate business-owner who ran for the board last year as part of an opposition slate.

He and others point to the fact that Sealaska’s investments and businesses have lost money for each of the past five years.

Financial reports show a profit for all but 2013. But that’s only when other Native corporations’ natural resource earning – which are shared – get added in.

“The central issue here for at least a decade has been the need to replace timber income,” he says.

Sealaska used to make most of its money from logging. But it cut the best trees on much of its property. It’s getting going this year on new timberland, transferred from the Tongass National Forest by Congressional action.

Smith says no one should expect to reach past profit levels.

“We knew volume was going away. We knew that the markets were changing substantially. So the real issue here is, in a more compressed time frame, trying to replace timber income, which as a single strategy, it’s just not going to happen,” he says.

Sealaska managers know that, so they’re looking for new investments. They’re focusing on natural foods, especially seafood, as well as data analytics.

Smith has his doubts.

“A long-standing truism for a successful business is to do what you know. And if those two areas of new investment are contemplated, in my opinion, we need to have expertise in our existing management team to make sure that we’re going to grow it and grow it right,” he says.

He says he doesn’t think Sealaska has that expertise.

“Sealaska took a big hit last year. They took another hit this year. And nothing in this report demonstrates any changes,” says Brad Fluetsch, an investment advisor who runs a shareholders’ Facebook page critical of management. He’s also one offive independent candidates challenging the same number of incumbents for seats on Sealaska’s board of directors.

He says the corporation has fallen far behind a common gauge of financial success.

“What really concerns me is the dramatic drop in investment earnings. The S&P 500 did almost 14 percent last year and Sealaska did barely 4 [percent],” he says.

Fluetsch says, despite cutting 150 jobs, Sealaska still spends too much on its top personnel.

“They paid almost a million dollars or a little over a million dollars in severance bonuses or termination fees. It just demonstrates this board of directors does not value shareholder money,” he says.

“I see that they’ve cut a lot of staff. Other than that, I don’t see any change,” says Mick Beasley, an artist and former board candidate who’s pushed for term limits and other corporate reforms.

Beasley’s all for resource development. But he says Sealaska could do more than log its lands.

“They could have some housing projects on Sealaska land. I look for boat ramps. I like the idea about agriculture, berry farms,” he says.

The corporation is helping develop berry-picking operations in two villages. But managers say it won’t be a significant enterprise.

“As usual, I think the elephant in the room is this discretionary voting,” he says.

Beasley is among those pushing for an end to that practice. It allows shareholders to turn their ballot decisions over to the board.

That favors incumbents and makes it hard for critics – such as Beasley, Fluetsch and Smith – to win elections.

Sealaska points out that it’s a voluntary practice, and one chosen by at least a quarter of shareholders every year.

Categories: Alaska News

Seattle protests influence John Kerry trade speech venue

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:01

Seattle officials told Secretary of State John Kerry he’d be better off avoiding the Emerald City to deliver a major trade speech because of ongoing protests over Arctic drilling that have drawn hundreds of activists on land and sea.

Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw says State Department staffers had been looking at Seattle locations for Kerry to speak, including a downtown hotel. But the Port advised the State Department to look elsewhere because of the Arctic drilling demonstrations.

Kerry was to speak Tuesday morning at a Boeing Co. plant in Renton, about 12 miles south of Seattle.

The speech as planned for more than a week, but the State Department didn’t announce the venue until Monday. That’s the same day hundreds of activists marched to a Port of Seattle facility where a massive Royal Dutch Shell drill rig will be loaded.

Categories: Alaska News

State calls for appeals against Vallenar Bay timber sale

Wed, 2015-05-20 09:59

Appeals for Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry decision to sell timber from the Vallenar Bay unit of the Southeast State Forest on Gravina Island are due by May 27.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports that the state decided May 4 that the sale was in the best interest of Alaska. The amount of available timber is approximately 12 million board feet.

The project area is about five miles west of the Ketchikan International Airport.

According to the Division of Forestry the project will establish access to the Vallenar Bay area from the existing road system on Gravina Island by constructing a forest road from the Lewis Reef area to the existing logging road on the southeast side of Vallenar Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski: OCS Revenue-Sharing is ‘Simple Fairness’

Tue, 2015-05-19 17:47

Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants Alaska to get a share of the federal revenues from oil and gas development off Alaska’s shores. Alaska’s congressional delegation has tried before, but this time Murkowski hopes to harness the support of other coastal senators. The idea proved controversial at an Energy Committee hearing this morning.

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Murkowski’s Alaska revenue-sharing bill has two siblings. One proposes revenue sharing for Atlantic states. The other would send more revenue to Louisiana and its neighbors. Murkowski promoted them all at the Energy hearing.

“Each area I think we recognize is different with specific needs and interests, but it’s out of simple fairness that we should provide revenue sharing to all of them,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Alaska bill would divert 22.5 percent of revenue from Alaska’s outer continental shelf. Most of that– 15 percent—would be split between the state of Alaska and communities near the developments. The bill earmarks smaller amounts for Alaska workforce development and federal science research on the North Slope. After the first decade, the in-state share would grow and the percentage to the federal treasury would shrink to 50 percent.

Alaska now gets 27 percent of federal revenues from leases and production from the off-shore area known as 8(g). That’s the band from three miles to six miles out. It gets nothing from the Outer Continental Shelf, the area beyond six miles. Murkowski’s bill requires annual lease sales in the 8(g) zone of Cook Inlet and the Beaufort Sea.  It calls for  three OCS leases every five years in each of those areas, plus the Chukchi Sea.

The top Democrat on the Committee, Maria Cantwell of Washington, says the idea of new OCS revenue-sharing remains unpopular with senators from interior states and those who believe the federal government can’t afford it.

“These are not new concepts, my colleague from Louisiana I’m sure knows,” Cantwell said. “But they are a concept that have brought this committee to a standstill, multiple occasions, given a mix of concerns.

Revenue-sharing was among 26 bills on Murkowski’s hearing agenda, all of them candidates for the comprehensive energy package she’s working on. Cantwell and other Democrats say they want energy policy to focus more on technology, efficiency and carbon reduction.

One of the hearing witnesses, Franz Matzner, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says combating climate change will require leaving some oil in the ground, and Matzner says off-shore oil, in particular, is best left alone.

“Whether you’re focused on the Arctic or the Atlantic there’s a risk of severe oil spills and we’ve seen what happens when we have those oil spills. The impacts are economically severe, ecologically severe, and they’re persistent,” he said.

Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, repeated an “irony” he mentioned at a prior Energy hearing: That the loss of Arctic ice gives rise to more oil development in the Arctic, which will cause more climate change and more ice loss.

This time, Murkowski was ready for it.

“Many in the North believe that the irony is the people of the north would be denied jobs, economic opportunities … while people 4,000 miles away lock up them and put them in an effective snow globe for life,” she said.

The senator says she wants to boost all kinds of energy production: Hydro, Nuclear, Petroleum, Renewables.

“We have an abundance of supply when it comes to our energy assets, and that’s something worth celebrating, because not every country has this,” she said.

Murkowski says she’s also trying to lift the oil export ban, so the U.S. can use that abundance to help its allies.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Erin’s Law’ Hangs On For a Bumpy Ride

Tue, 2015-05-19 17:46

It took until Day 22 of the 30-day special session for a sexual abuse prevention bill to get a hearing. And when it appeared before the Senate Education committee Tuesday, it was in a radically different form than the original.

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Of the three items on the special session call, legislation known as “the Alaska Safe Children’s Act” or “Erin’s Law,” should have been the most straightforward.

It’s not a multibillion-dollar question, like the budget bill, or a national-level political football like Medicaid expansion. The idea is to establish a sexual abuse prevention program in schools. It passed the Senate in the previous Legislature, and it passed the House this year with bipartisan support. Four separate versions of the bill had been introduced this year alone.

And yet, when a new version was unveiled by the Senate Education committee, the legislation became much more complicated — to supporters’ chagrin.

“We’ve taken a well manicured bill, and we’ve basically turned it into a junkyard.”

Cindy Moore is the mother of Breanna Moore, who was murdered by her boyfriend last summer and whose death became a catalyst for the dating violence portion of the bill. Cindy and her husband Butch appeared before the committee to plead with them to move the original version.

The document the Senate Education committee had substituted had ballooned the legislation from three pages to twelve, rolling in other bills on standardized testing and parental control. The new version also included a controversial bill that would prevent school districts from contracting with groups like Planned Parenthood, who provide abortions.

Butch Moore said the changes were inappropriate.

“To stamp this House Bill 44 with 17 cosponsors coming out of the House with items included in here of abortion and charter schools and boarding schools and all these other items … This House Bill 44 is designed to do two things. It’s designed to protect our children from being molested and raped and sexual and physically beaten and murdered like my daughter. That’s what this bill is.”

Perhaps most significantly, the new version cut to the heart of the original bill by making the establishment of these prevention programs optional. Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican and the bill’s sponsor, says the changes do not match her original vision for the bill.

“It does basically make the bill a suggestion. It doesn’t have any force of law behind it.”

Millett says she has not had a chance to review many of the other significant changes, but it is common for legislators to try to attach their priorities to a moving bill.

“You see this a lot, I think, at the end of session when legislators have their bills that haven’t made it fully through the process. They look for a vehicle to attach similar issues onto — that being education for this bill — to ‘Christmas tree’ as they call it a bill to get their bills passed and signed into law by the governor.”

While Millett is not exactly a fan of the changes, she says she will still support it because she does not want to lose momentum on the bill. She also thinks she can eventually strengthen the language instructing schools to teach sexual abuse prevention.

“Can we change that down the line? Yes. Do I want to see the Alaska Safe Children’s Act in statute and then work on making that change from ‘may’ to ‘shall’ next session and the session to go past? Yes.”

Much of the Senate Education hearing on the bill focused not on the original bill but on the new add-ins, which were supported by committee chair and Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy was not available for a follow-up interview to explain the changes.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Allows Legislature to Convene in Anchorage This Week

Tue, 2015-05-19 17:45

Gov. Bill Walker will allow the Legislature to leave Juneau and convene the special session in Anchorage this week.

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His spokesperson, Grace Jang, said in an email that the No. 1 priority is that lawmakers pass a fully-funded budget.

Walker last month called the special session for Juneau. However, legislative leaders yesterday announced plans to begin holding floor sessions in Anchorage Thursday, citing work on the Capitol as a reason for the move.

A memo from the Legislature’s top attorney says he believes a court would find that lawmakers could not legally convene the current special session outside of Juneau without Walker’s agreement.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tue, 2015-05-19 17:44

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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Murkowski: OCS Revenue-Sharing is ‘Simple Fairness’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants Alaska to get a share of the federal revenues from oil and gas development off Alaska’s shores. Alaska’s congressional delegation has tried before, but this time Murkowski hopes to harness the support of other coastal senators. The bill proved controversial at an Energy Committee hearing this morning.

‘Erin’s Law’ Hangs On For a Bumpy Ride

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It took until Day 22 of the 30-day special session for a sexual abuse prevention bill to get a hearing.

Walker Allows Legislature to Convene in Anchorage This Week

Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker will allow the Legislature to leave Juneau and convene the special session in Anchorage this week.

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Announces Community-Driven Transition Process

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz is developing a plan to transition into his new role. He says it will be created by a group of community leaders in his transition team and use input from public discussions and town hall-style meetings.

Hot, Dry Weather Fuels an Early Start to Fire Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wildland fighters are busy responding to new starts as hot dry breezy weather continues in the interior. Most of the human caused fires are being knocked down quickly, but a handful are requiring larger responses.

Rare Thunderstorms Move Through Southeast Alaska

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Rare thunderstorms in Southeast Alaska led the National Weather Service to issue a special marine warning Monday evening.

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns This Winter

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

Odds are you heard at least one person make a crack about moving the Iditarod to Boston this winter. It’s the second year Alaska had a mild winter while people in the Northeast got hammered. There’s a new weather pattern with a funny name that’s contributing to some of the mess.

Bandit the Runaway Wave Buoy Back in Service

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A popular, yet troublesome, ocean monitoring buoy went back in service this spring in southern Kenai peninsula waters.

Grocery Shopping to Cross the Stikine Icefield

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Explorers Børge Ousland and Vincent Colliard are in the midst of skiing the Stikine Icefield in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The journey is part of a decade-long project to traverse the world’s 20 largest ice fields. So far, they’ve crossed masses in Patagonia, Chile and Svalbard, Norway.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns This Winter

Tue, 2015-05-19 17:41

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, shown in red is sort of like a roadblock in the Jet Stream. The term was coined by “The California Weather Blog” – weatherwest.com. Photo: NOAA

Odds are you heard at least one person make a crack about moving the Iditarod to Boston this winter. It’s the second year Alaska had a mild winter while people in the Northeast got hammered. There’s a new weather pattern with a funny name that’s contributing to some of the mess.

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Last week the National Weather Service unofficially declared this winter as Anchorage’s least snowy on record. Four-thousand miles away, parts of New England also put this winter down in the record books — but for a record amount of snowfall.

Snowy in New England. Not so much in Alaska. To top it off — it’s been like this for two years in a row.

Enter: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. That’s right: “The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”

That’s what some meteorologists are calling a new weather anomaly that’s contributing to Alaska’s mild winters.

The Ridge is more or less a clog in the Jet Stream. Meteorologist Dave Snider of National Weather Service:

“The Jet Stream is the fast-moving river of air high above the planet that drives all the weather around the entire globe.”

It behaves sort of like a river.

“That super-highway was ridges and troughs — high spots and low spots — and in the low spots is where we find the low pressure, and in the high spots is where we find that more stable pattern is. And that stable pattern has set up across the West Coast of the United States (for) a long time during the winter. And that kept us fairly warm,” Snider explains.

Think of the Jet Stream like the Glenn Highway. There’s an accident. Traffic is blocked. Maybe one lane is sneaking by… but things are pretty much at a standstill. Snider Says that’s sort of the atmospheric equivalent of what the Ridge does to the Jet Stream.

“And sometimes when these patterns don’t move; these ridges and troughs kind of stay in about the same spot…. we get the same surface weather for quite some time.”

That’s the “resilient” part of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Incoming weather systems, like storms, either fizzle out when they get to the ridge or the ricochet off it like plinko chips.

“But as long as that ridge is sitting across the West Coast and British Columbia and the Yukon it more or less puts up a roadblock to any incoming weather.”

So what about our friends in New England?

“On a global pattern, if you’ve got warm weather somewhere you’re going to have to have the opposite, or the cooler side of that weather feature somewhere.”

NOAA climatologist Rick Thoman says the two regions are linked. “You can pretty much take that to the bank,” he jokes.

“In the winter, if it’s significantly warmer than normal in Alaska, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be cold in the Eastern Lower 48.”

While, scientists don’t completely understand the nuts and bolts of how the atmosphere governs surface weather, there is emerging consensus that warmer ocean temperatures, due to climate change, are contributing to changes in atmospheric powerhouses like the Jet Stream.

Down on the ground, that means there’s likely more weird weather in the forecast.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage mayor-elect announces community-driven transition process

Tue, 2015-05-19 16:11

Berkowitz stands before a portion of his transition team while announcing his plan during a press conference. Hillman/KSKA

Anchorage Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz is developing a plan to transition into his new role. He says it will be created by a group of community leaders in his transition team and use input from public discussions and town hall-style meetings.

“I’ve helped assemble this tremendous group of Anchorage residents with the idea that if we put together the right ideas at the right time we can have a profound impact on what happens with our city moving ahead,” he told a group of reporters during a press conference.

“And I want to make sure the ideas we have are inclusive, I want them to be innovative, and I want them to be good investments for our city.”

Berkowitz says the plan will include a timeline with short- and long-term goals. Within his transition team are five subgroups that focus on the economy and jobs, homelessness, public safety, administration, and Live. Work. Play. Berkowitz chose three leaders for his transition team: former Republican state legislator Andrew Halcro, Joelle Hall with Alaska AFL-CIO and CIRI vice president of land and energy development Ethan Schutt. They will host four different town hall-style meetings in different areas of Anchorage over the next six weeks.

“Being mayor can be a solitary job, but this is a community. And in order for us to move the community forward the mayor’s goals need to represent and reflect the community’s goals and the community’s values,” Berkowitz said.

“It’s going to be critically important for the city of Anchorage to have a transition document that reflects the goals of the city at large.”

Governor Bill Walker went through a similar process, but Berkowitz’s spokesperson said the mayor-elect did not model his transition after the governor’s.

The transition team will monitor the progress of Berkowitz’s administration after he take office to ensure that they are meeting the plan’s goals, he said. He did not announce any members of his administration. He takes office July 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Noorvik Man Faces Kidnapping, Attempted Sexual Assault Charges for April Attack

Tue, 2015-05-19 15:37

A Noorvik man faces charges of burglary, kidnapping, and attempted sexual assault after allegedly breaking into a neighbors home, attacking a woman who was walking by, and dragging her inside the house.

It all happened on the morning of April 4 in Noorvik—a community of fewer than 700 people about 43 miles east of Kotzebue.

That’s when court documents allege 28-year-old Johnny Nazuruk broke into a home in the Kobuk River community. Court records show he waited there for the woman to walk by, and then attacked her—before dragging her inside the broken-into house against her will.

A sworn statement from the woman Nazuruk allegedly attacked, as well as investigation from Noorvik village public safety officer John McCrary, say once Nazuruk pulled the woman inside, he threw her down and attacked her—punching and kicking her torso and head. Court documents say Nazuruk then tried to rip off the woman’s clothes. She continued to struggle—until he turned to take off her boots. That’s when the woman says Nazuruk “raised up slightly”—and she was able to “knee [him] in the groin” and run out of the house.

She fell on the steps leaving the home—and court documents say Nazuruk caught her leg and tried to pull her back inside. She screamed for help—alerting a local man walking by on his way to work. As the man approached, investigators say Nazuruk ran back into the house and locked the door. The man then walked the woman home.

Days later, she told her story to VPSO McCrary, who interviewed witnesses and sought to arrest Nuzurak—but by then he was already in custody in Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, arrested for a separate incident on charges of resisting arrest.

In all Nazuruk faces five felony charges for the alleged April attack, including burglary, assault, and attempted sexual assault. He also faces one felony charge for kidnapping and one for attempted kidnapping. Nazuruk’s criminal record includes multiple convictions for assault, as well as a felony burglary conviction in 2012.

He formally heard the charges against him in the Nome court Sunday, and had a first appearance for the Kotzebue court Monday. He remains in custody at AMCC.

Categories: Alaska News

Hot, Dry Weather Fuels an Early Start to Fire Season

Tue, 2015-05-19 15:32

Wildfire fighters are busy responding to new starts as hot dry breezy weather continues in the interior. Most of the human caused fires are being knocked down quickly, but a few are requiring larger responses.

The Bolgen Creek fire has burned over 500 acres along the Steese Highway, between Circle and Central, where Alaska Fire service spokesman Sam Harrel says its moving through an area that burned in 2009.

Harrel says that making it tough for the nearly 200 firefighters working to cut line, as they try to keep flames away from private property, including Alaska Native allotments and corporation lands. Another focus has been along the Steese Highway, which remains open. The cause of the fire is unknown, but suspected to be human. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says weather conditions are making it easy for people to accidentally start fires.

While most of this spring’s wildfires have been human caused, a few coal seam fires are burning in the Healy area, but as of Tuesday were not posing any serious threat. No lightning is in the forecast, but hot dry weather is expected to continue into the Memorial Day weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Man in Anchorage drug ring gets 3 life sentences

Tue, 2015-05-19 12:28

A man involved in a violent drug ring that operated in Anchorage has received three life sentences for his crimes.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that prosecutors say 40-year-old Stuart Seugasala, aka “Tone,” received his sentence after being convicted on drug trafficking conspiracy and kidnapping charges in January.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline also gave Seugasala a consecutive seven-year sentence for firearms offenses and concurrent 10-year sentences for violating health records laws.

According to court records, Seugasala ordered members of his drug ring to invade drug houses and loot competitors’ stashes.

Prosecutors say Seugasala was among a group that kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted two men for unpaid drug debts. They were arrested and charged following an 18-month investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

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