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 35 sec ago

Measure Calls For Tongass Timber Transfer

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:38

Legislation urging the state to take over some Tongass National Forest lands is bringing questions and opposition. Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman’s resolution calls for the governor to seek transfer of Tongass timberlands.

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Aide Christie Jamieson spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

She said the state could still select more than 5 million acres of federal land under the Alaska Statehood Act. But she said it can’t be logged.

“The state should be entitled to select some of its remaining land from the Tongass National Forest without being limited to recreation and community expansion,” she said.

The measure encourages Gov. Sean Parnell to pursue the land transfer. As an alternative, it suggests the state negotiate to directly purchase timberlands.

Judiciary committee members questioned how it would work. Chairman John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, was among them.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look far and wide and see if any state has been successful in negotiating land transfers from these types of lands,” he said.

The resolution supports a larger push for increased harvests recommended by the governor’s Timber Task Force. That includes a proposal from the pro-development Southeast Conference that would free up more Tongass forests for logging.

The committee heard from fishermen and environmentalists opposed to the resolution.

One was Joseph Sebastian of Kupreanof, near Petersburg.

“It’s a feel-good piece of nonsense that is likely to go nowhere. But I really think all our time would be better served finding more real problems to deal with,” he said.

Stedman’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 is expected to be heard in the Judiciary Committee again within the next week or two.

The Sitka senator was asked to appear in person and answer a list of questions from committee members.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Trooper Arrested For Sexual Abuse Of Minor

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:37

A former Alaska State Trooper has been arrested for sexual abuse of a minor. Troopers say Warren Tanner of North Pole was picked up Friday following a report received the previous day that the 75-year-old had been abusing a 14 year old girl, over several years. Tanner was taken into custody with the assistance of U.S. Marshals and jailed in Fairbanks. Tanner commanded the Fairbanks Trooper detachment for 2 years, before retiring in 1999. He served as a provost Marshall on Ft. Wainwright in the 1970’s before becoming a Trooper.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Daily News Launches Project Examining Effects Of Alcohol On Alaskans

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:36

The Anchorage Daily News is undertaking a year-long examination of the affects of alcohol on Alaskan lives. Kyle Hopkins is reporting the series with photojournalist Marc Lester. On Sunday, the reporters introduced four mothers who have kids with fetal alcohol disorders. Hopkins says they wanted to tell the stories of the birth mothers and their kids.

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Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced To Protect ‘Public Interest Litigants’

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:34

Three Democrats in the Alaska Senate introduced legislation Wednesday that seeks to protect the rights of those who sue the state about issues in the public interest. The proposed Pebble Mine is at the heart of the proposed legislation.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks UAV Testing Center Ramps Up

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:33

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is ramping up its unmanned aerial vehicle testing center. The university was one of 6 entities around the country selected by the Federal Aviation Administration in December to undertake the task of integrating UAV’s into U.S. airspace.

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Categories: Alaska News

French Introduces Measure To Strike Gay Marriage Ban

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:18

(Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

In 1998, Alaska became the first state to put a ban on same-sex marriage into its constitution. Now, the minority leader in the State Senate wants to get rid of that ban.

Anchorage Democrat Hollis French is introducing a measure to strike the amendment. Federal courts have recently invalidated similar amendments in Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia. French says Alaska should be pro-active on the issue in light of those decisions.

“We can wait if we all want to wait for the day — and I think the day is coming soon — when the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are inconsistent with freedom, with justice, with liberty, and with equality,” said French, who is also running for lieutenant governor. “Better yet, I believe it should be erased by our own actions – by passing this resolution and submitting it to the voters.”

French’s measure faces an uphill battle. Any changes to the state constitution require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature, and then a majority vote of Alaska citizens. On top of that, key members of Senate’s Republican leadership have said they don’t feel there’s enough support for it.

Same-sex marriage isn’t the only gay rights issue up for consideration by the Legislature. The Senate’s Health and Social Services Committee heard a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for the first time on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 24, 2014

Mon, 2014-02-24 18:11

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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New Oil Tax Opponents Offer Alternatives

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage & Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the deadline for filing new legislation arriving Monday, opponents of the new oil tax system have offered their own alternatives.

Alaska Army National Guard Sexual Misconduct Investigation Results In Administrative Charges

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

A months-long investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Alaska Army National Guard soldiers in Anchorage has resulted in administrative charges. The investigators confirmed to the “Anchorage Daily News” that five National Guard recruiting personnel face charges ranging from sexual assault, to sexual harassment, to sexual misconduct, sometimes involving recruits.

Hollis French Pushing To Nix Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

In 1998, Alaska became the first state to put a ban on same-sex marriage into its constitution. Now, the minority leader in the State Senate wants to get rid of that ban.

Adult Learning Center Offers Educational Opportunities

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

As the traditional strains of Pomp and Circumstance rang out of a boom box at Anchorage’s Wilda Marston Theater recently, thirty black-robed high school graduates paraded down the aisle.  February is not the usual month for such a ceremony, but what makes this graduation really different – the grads are not teenagers, and they hail from as far away as the Congo.

Measure Calls For Tongass Timber Transfer

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Legislation urging the state to take over some Tongass National Forest lands is bringing questions and opposition. Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman’s resolution calls for the governor to seek transfer of Tongass timberlands.

Former Trooper Arrested For Sexual Abuse Of Minor

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A former Alaska State Trooper has been arrested for sexual abuse of a minor.  Troopers say Warren Tanner of North Pole was picked up Friday following a report received the previous day that the 75-year-old had been abusing a 14 year old girl, over several years. Tanner was taken into custody with the assistance of U.S. Marshalls and jailed in Fairbanks.  Tanner commanded the Fairbanks Trooper detachment for 2 years, before retiring in 1999.  He served as a provost Marshall on Ft. Wainwright in the 1970’s before becoming a Trooper.

Anchorage Daily News Launches Project Examining Effects Of Alcohol On Alaskans

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Anchorage Daily News is undertaking a year-long examination of the affects of alcohol on Alaskan lives. Kyle Hopkins is reporting the series with photojournalist Marc Lester. On Sunday, the reporters introduced four mothers who have kids with fetal alcohol disorders. Hopkins says they wanted to tell the stories of the birth mothers and their kids.

Legislation Introduced To Protect ‘Public Interest Litigants’

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Three Democrats in the Alaska Senate introduced legislation Wednesday that seeks to protect the rights of those who sue the state about issues in the public interest.    The proposed Pebble Mine is at the heart of the proposed legislation.

Fairbanks UAV Testing Center Ramps Up

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is ramping up its unmanned aerial vehicle testing center. The university was one of 6 entities around the country selected by the Federal Aviation Administration in December to undertake the task of integrating UAV’s into U.S. airspace.

Categories: Alaska News

Sam Kito III Named As New Juneau Representative

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:53

Governor Sean Parnell on Friday morning named Sam Kito III as the new District 32 representative to the Legislature for downtown Juneau and Douglas.

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Sam Kito III

Kito is a civil engineer and also has been a legislative lobbyist. He was born in Anchorage, lived in Fairbanks, and has worked on transportation projects throughout the state. He’s been in Juneau for 18 years.

Tongass Democrats earlier had nominated Kito, legislative aide Jesse Keihl, and legislature aide Catherine Reardon for the vacant seat.

The new representative replaces former representative Beth Kerttula who resigned her seat in January to accept a fellowship at Stanford University. The governor had thirty days to make an appointment.

The nomination must be confirmed by vote of Democrats in the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Focuses On Potential NPR-A Development

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:52

An analysis of what would be the first commercial development in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is the subject of a report issued by the Bureau of Land Management.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘Arctic Ambassador’ Position Draws Mixed Reaction From Alaska Delegation

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:51

Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that he’s creating a new position called Special Representative for the Arctic Region. It’s been referred to as an “Arctic Ambassador” in some reports, but it’s not exactly that, and the reaction of Alaska’s two U.S. senators has been mixed.

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Townsend: Liz, both senators have been pressing for an Arctic ambassador to assert the U.S. interests in the region. Shouldn’t this be unbridled good news to the senators?

Ruskin: Well, it was the way Sen. Begich announced it last week on Valentine’s Day. He talked to Kerry on the phone, then issued a press release that used the word “ambassador” a dozen times.

Townsend:  But Sen. Murkowski didn’t see it that way?

Ruskin: Not so much.  A few hours later, when her press release came out, she pointed out the Secretary of State never used the word “ambassador” in a letter he wrote to both senators. Murkowski questions whether the position would be on par. And she used some harsh language, calling the Obama Administration’s Arctic policy “lackluster” and “a national disgrace.”

Townsend: So is this just the Washington dance, where the senator of one party is obligated to criticize the president when he’s of the opposite party?

Ruskin: Could be some of that. It’s also a turf battle between the two senate offices.

Townsend: How do you mean?

Ruskin: It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that Murkowski — or her staffers — were ticked the Secretary of State called Begich and allowed him to break the news. That was kind of a gift. In her press release, Murkowski’s staff wrote that she “is considered the leading expert” on Arctic issues in Congress. They backed up that with pictures of her posing with the chair of the Arctic Council this month and sitting right next to Secretary Kerry at an Arctic confab in Sweden last year. And her staff included a video of her talking Arctic on the Senate floor back in 2011, and she’s gesturing to a map of the Arctic, no less. Altogether, the not-so-subtle message is “back off, the Arctic’s hers.”

Townsend: Back to the terminology, Special Representative or Ambassador. Does it matter?

Ruskin: It does to Sen. Murkowski. She issued a press release yesterday suggesting this Arctic rep thing is just window dressing because the person won’t have the same standing as the real Arctic ambassadors from other countries.  She says Secretary Kerry should meet with her and explain why he refuses to upgrade to ambassador. Begich, on the other hand, said today this is a step toward creating an Arctic ambassador, which requires Senate confirmation.

Townsend: So is he saying he was wrong to use the word “ambassador” in his press release last week?

Ruskin: No. He insists he’ll call the appointee “ambassador” because he or she will be acting in that role.

Categories: Alaska News

Municipal League Supports Pension Infusion Plan

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:50

Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement. The lobbying group Alaska Municipal League is backing Governor Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.

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Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement.

The Alaska Municipal League is backing Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.  AML lobbies the state and federal governments on behalf of cities and boroughs.

Alaska communities and the state share the costs of the Public Employees’ Retirement System. Municipalities pay 22 percent of their payroll into PERS each year. Some also pay 12.5 percent into the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The state pays the rest of what’s needed to cover pensions in a particular year. That amount is determined by actuaries and set annually by the Alaska Retirement Management Board.

“Certainly it’s a good enough chunk that municipalities cannot afford for that to go up,” said Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Kathie Wasserman.

If nothing is done to address the PERS shortfall, Wasserman fears the local contribution could increase to 40 percent of payroll. She says the governor’s plan to transfer $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to the retirement system would maintain the rate at 22 percent until the funds are solvent, whenever that might be.

“We really can’t define how many years, because it’s based on interest rates, it’s based on the market, it’s based on the baby boomers, when people die. There’s a lot of variability in that,” Wasserman said. “But, 22 percent, right now we can plan for.”

Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson says local communities need predictability.

“If we keep it at those percentages, we’re now going to be able to do business and keep our infrastructure in place, keep police and fire operating, schools open,”  Branson said.

The Parnell administration estimates its proposal would reduce the state’s annual payment to PERS and TRS. Without the cash infusion, the governor’s office says the state would soon pay more than $1 billion a year toward the pension shortfall.

Deputy Administration Commissioner Mike Barnhill told municipal league members that doing nothing is not appealing.

“If the governor’s approach doesn’t pass, the status quo will persist,” Barnhill said. “We will continue to make actuarially required contributions, however they are calculated.”

The governor’s plan is part of his proposed operating budget.

Many states and communities in the Lower 48 have faced even bigger pension problems, leading to bankruptcies and cuts to retirement payments.

Categories: Alaska News

Mekoryuk Residents Seek More Musk Oxen For Local

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:49

Residents of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island are seeking more involvement, and more musk oxen harvest. This is happening as the 20-year-old agreement that guides management is set to undergo changes.

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The harvest of musk oxen is currently split between a registration hunt for cows and a costly permit lottery for bulls that’s largely utilized by out of town sport hunters, led by local guides. Managers have issued just 5 cows for the local registration hunt for the past three years and have given out 30 or more bull permits that mostly go to outsiders.

Mekoryuk’s Dale Smith spoke at a recent meeting in Bethel with state and federal managers.

“The way it stands now, they’re favoring a commercial enterprise over a subsistence way of living. It was evident when they voted on that in early January. Of all the thing we discussed, the main thing is subsistence priority. That’s our stance right now,” said Smith.

82 people signed a petition in Mekoryuk asking for an allocation of more musk ox for residents. They’re seeking 30 more musk oxen which would be taken from the outside permit hunt.

In an effort to take a more active role in management, member of Mekoryuk’s tribal council have formed a federally recognized Tribal Conservation District through the USDA. This program allows groups to help manage natural resources and establish conservation priorities. They can seek funding and build partnerships with other agencies.

They unsuccessfully asked the Alaska Board of Game for an emergency allocation this January. Missing at the meeting in Bethel were the guides and transporters that earn their living working with out-of-town hunters.

There are no predators on Nunivak island, where musk oxen were first introduced in 1936, but it is not necessarily straightforward to manage them. A 1992 agreement sets a goal of maintain a population between 500 to 550 musk oxen, that’s musk ox alive after the hunt, but before calves are born. The island has been below that level since 2009.

There were more cows harvested prior to 2010-2011, but the last few years has shown poor survival of calves. Whereas there used to be around 100 calves per year, now they’re getting more like 60. The bull to cow ratio is also out of balance, getting as high as 138 bulls per 100 cows. Patrick Jones is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“When you have that many bulls they’re probably injuring a few cows. We’d like to have that ratio around 80 bulls per 100 cows. So we have a surplus of bulls, even though the population is below our objective, it’s to our benefit to lower that bull cow ratio. So we’ve been allowing extra bull harvest. We have it, it’s available, and it’s to the benefit of our population at this point,” said Jones.

The allocation, however, of which hunts get the bulls and cows is up to the Board of Game.

A huge factor is the health of the food supply. The Yukon Delta Nation Wildlfe Refuge does not have current data on the health of the range. The island’s 1,853 reindeer eat on the same territory.

Managers at the meeting agreed to revise the 1992 document that sets the foundation for musk ox management on Nunivak Island. There will be a meeting in March on the island to discuss revisions and meet with stakeholders.

The Board of Game and Federal Subsistence Board are at the end of their two year cycles for taking up proposals, but the group wants to pursue designation of the musk ox as a subsistence priority species.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Rural Recycling

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:48

The city of Nome just bought a new recycling shed online. It’s another step towards diverting more waste from the landfill, and either re-purposing it or shipping it out of Alaska. Rural recycling presents some unique challenges for environmental management. And the city is finding some unique solutions.

Downlaod Audio

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Tazlina

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:47

This week we’re headed to Tazlina, a small community off the Glennallen Highway near Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. Sheila Hay owns The Aurora Borealis Bed and Breakfast in Tazlina.

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Categories: Alaska News

ASD Board Taps Saving to Pass Budget

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:46

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget on Thursday night.

It cuts $23 million and 200 positions. More than a dozen people testified about the cuts. Then the board made small changes that will make a big difference to the community.

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Superintendent Ed Graff started out the meeting by suggesting that the board do something student and parent groups had been pushing for.

A large audience attended Thursday evening’s Anchorage School Board meeting Thursday night where the Board Passed a carefully crafted budget for the 2014-15 school year.

“I would like to request consideration from the board that you proposed an amendment to the budget that would postpone the 7-period schedule change in our comprehensive high schools, “ Graff  said.

He asked them to stick with a six period schedule. In addition, Graff recommended adding 16 high school teaching positions back into the budget. But the money for both changes would have to come from district savings.

ASD is in it’s fourth consecutive year of budget cuts due to funding from the legislature that does not keep up with inflation. The legislature is considering Governor Sean Parnell’s recommendation that the base student allocation be increased by 200 dollars over three years about one percent per year. If passed, it will take some pressure off the district. But not enough say officials and many teachers and parents who testified at the meeting.

Several people praised the superintendent for his recommendation postpone the 7-period schedule.

“In my 18 years as a teacher I have never seen such unified and profound disapproval among the education community and students and I applaud your decision to reject this idea,” Laura Kimmel said.

Austin Baily, a student at West High School agreed, saying he was concerned compressed class periods could impact learning.

“Less face-to-face time and less time to do actual learning inside the classroom,” Baily said. ”So I’d I would just like to call on your members to agree with what Mr. Graff said and at least postpone it for another year.”

Others testified about the importance of sparing English Language Learner Counselors, including self-described second generation Latino immigrant Jose Santiago who said he was concerned cutting ELL counselors could hurt graduation rates.

“Keep in mind that the ELL community for the most part occupy the lower levels of the economic ladders,” Santiago said. ”Their the ones that have the most to lose. I was looking at your destination 2020, very lofy goals and you should be commended. But you have student body that is behind the 8 ball to begin with.”

After hearing testimony, the board made amendments adding the 16 high school teaching positions plus 3 high school counseling positions back into the budget. But they had to dig into their savings to do it, suspending a longtime policy that insured the board keep a minimum of 8 percent of funds in savings.

None of the School board members seemed happy about having to tap into reserve funds. Board member Natasha Von Imhoff said taking the money with no commitment from the legislature to increase funds made her nervous.

“In the event that we don’t get significant money and we go below our fund balance, what’s gonna happen next year,” she said.

Other members concurred but said adding back teachers and counselors was critical to serving vulnerable populations. The 16 teaching positions spared will be for classes helping students who are at risk of not graduating. The 3 counseling positions saved will likely be English Language Learner counselors.

School Board officials say the funding they’re getting from the legislature is not enough to keep up with costs. And they want a long-term solution in the form of an inflation-proof formula for funding Schools. School Board Chair, Tam Agosti-Gisler.

“I’m hoping that we can get beyond this funding crisis and find solutions in this state to do what we are constitutionally mandated to do and that is to fund education so that this board can dedicate its energies to supporting this administration to make the innovations that are required, that are needed in our global economy,” Agosti-Gisler said.

The board still plans to cut 200 positions. 143 of those are teaching positions. 20 are instructional support positions which includes counselors. The rest are mostly administrative positions.

The Anchorage School District 2014-2015 budget is $743.449 million, slightly less than last year’s. The budget now goes to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 21, 2014

Fri, 2014-02-21 17:30

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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Sam Kito III Named As New Juneau Representative

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell appointed civil engineer and legislative lobbyist Sam Kito III to fill the House District 32 seat on Friday, vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Report Focuses On Potential NPR-A Development

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An analysis of what would be the first commercial development in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is the subject of a report issued by the Bureau of Land Management.

ASD Board Taps Reserves to Pass Budget

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget last night that cuts $23 million and 200 positions, nearly 150 of those are teaching positions in middle and grade schools. More than a dozen people testified. Then the board made small changes at the high school level that will make a big difference to the community.

‘Arctic Ambassador’ Position Draws Mixed Reaction From Alaska Delegation

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC & Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that he’s creating a new position called Special Representative for the Arctic Region. It’s been referred to as an “Arctic Ambassador” in some reports, but it’s not exactly that, and the reaction of Alaska’s two U.S. senators has been mixed.

Municipal League Supports Pension Infusion Plan

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement. The lobbying group Alaska Municipal League is backing Governor Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.

Mekoryuk Residents Seek More Musk Oxen For Local

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Residents of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island are seeking more involvement, and more musk oxen harvest.  This is happening as the 20-year-old agreement that guides management is set to undergo changes.

AK: Rural Recycling

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The city of Nome just bought a new recycling shed online. It’s another step towards diverting more waste from the landfill, and either re-purposing it or shipping it out of Alaska. Rural recycling presents some unique challenges for environmental management. And the city is finding some unique solutions.

300 Villages: Tazlina

This week we’re headed to Tazlina, a small community off the Glennallen Highway near Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. Sheila Hay owns The Aurora Borealis Bed and Breakfast in Tazlina.

Categories: Alaska News

New Understanding of Canine Capabilities

Fri, 2014-02-21 13:00

The top sled dog teams in the Iditarod have become so competitive that the slightest edge can make a critical difference. And that means that mushers want to know everything they can about what their dogs can do.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Mike Davis, veterinary scientist, Oklahoma State University
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

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Categories: Alaska News

ASD Board Taps Reserves to Pass Budget

Fri, 2014-02-21 01:24

Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff listens to Jose Santiago testify about English Language Learner Counselor Cuts

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget that cuts $23 million and 200 positions on Thursday night.

More than a dozen people testified. Then the board made small changes that will make a big difference to the community.

High School’s will maintain a 6-period school day instead of going to 7 periods, something student and parent groups had been fighting for. The board also made amendments that added 16 teaching and 3 counseling positions back into the budget that had previously been on chopping block. But they had to dig into their savings to do it, suspending a longtime policy that insured the board keep a minimum of 8 percent of funds in savings.

None of the School board members seemed happy about having to tap into reserve funds, especially the chair, Tam Agosti-Gisler.

“I’m hoping that we can get beyond this funding crisis and find solutions in this state to do what we are constitutionally mandated to do and that is to fund education so that this board can dedicate its energies to supporting this administration to make the innovations that are required, that are needed in our global economy,” Agosti-Gisler said.

The 16 teaching positions spared will be for classes helping students who are at risk of not graduating. The 3 counseling positions saved will likely be English Language Learner counselors. The board still plans to cut 200 positions, which includes 17 teachers and 5 counselors. More than a dozen people testified.

The Anchorage School District 2014-2015 budget is $743.449 million, slightly less than last year’s. The budget now goes to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Say No To Energy Break

Thu, 2014-02-20 18:35

State lawmakers will not be getting a “spring break” this year.

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Traditionally, the Legislature puts everything on hold for one week in March to attend a meeting of the Energy Council in Washington, DC. It’s been going on for so long that many lawmakers and staff don’t even know when it started.

But now, the streak ends. House Speaker Mike Chenault announced on Thursday that the break would not happen this year.

“It’s my intent that the House continues to work,” Chenault told reporters.

Chenault says there will be floor sessions and committee hearings during the first week of March. His counterpart in the Senate, Charlie Huggins, has also resolved to work through Energy Council.

“Normally, as you know, we have more people in DC than we have in Juneau during that time frame, and that won’t be the case this year.”

In 2013, a third of the Legislature attended Energy Council – 10 from the House, and 10 from the Senate. This year, just six representatives from the House — Mia Costello, Eric Feige, Pete Higgins, Doug Isaacson, Ben Nageak, and Dan Saddler — will be attending. Sens. Bert Stedman and Johnny Ellis will be representing the Senate, with Sen. Lesil McGuire traveling to DC at the same time on separate business.

Huggins says with subjects like education and the development of a natural gas pipeline under consideration, many lawmakers opted to stay in Juneau this year. On top of that, leadership is hoping to gavel out in less than 90 days. The session is currently scheduled to end on Easter Sunday, and Huggins would like to close out before the holiday.

“We want to stay here, we want to work hard, and our reward may be to get out a day or so early,” says Huggins.

Huggins says money is not a factor in this travel decision. Expense reports from previous years show the cost usually exceeds $2,000 per legislator.

The Energy Council is an association of energy-producing states in the Americas that meets quarterly. The spring conference in Washington, DC, is scheduled to run from March 6 to 9.

Categories: Alaska News

Democrats Offer Their Own Education Package

Thu, 2014-02-20 18:34

Alaska Minority Democrats today offered their own education package that includes an increase in base student allocation and allows charter schools to be located within neighborhood schools when space is available.

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Incorporated in the set of bills will be an increase of the base student allocation to $404 per student, a one-time grant of $500 for charter schools to assist with startup costs, and a requirement for traffic control at and around school zones.

Democratic lawmakers hope the allocation increase will hold off teacher layoffs for next year.

The bills will be introduced Friday, more than a third of the way into the session. Sen. Berta Gardner, a Democrat from Anchorage, says of the timing: good things take a long time to happen.

Categories: Alaska News

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