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: 35 min 47 sec ago

Alaska Communities to See More PILT

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:20

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries. It’s called “Payment-in-lieu of taxes” and this year’s total is $2 million higher than last year. For some cities and boroughs, PILT is an important part of the budget. Last year, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough received $3.2 million in PILT while the Kenai Peninsula Borough got $2.6 million.  At the other end of the scale, Yakutat’s share was a little over $100,000.

Link: www.doi.gov/pilt/county-payments.cfm.

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Categories: Alaska News

Obama Administration Shines Spotlight on Oceans

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:19

President Obama announced today he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development.  The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department. Australian scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg  focused on ocean acidification, which he says undermines the entire marine food chain – from bowhead whales to plankton and shellfish.

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“As the water is acidifying around them, they’re having trouble forming skeletons, reproducing, growing, communicating and navigating around marine habitats,” he said.

He says the oceans are acidifying rapidly due to increased carbon emissions. Hoegh-Guldberg says reversing the trend would take 10,000 years or more.

“So this is a really long period of time to pass on a broken ocean to future generations. We’re not talking about grandkids. We’re talking about three hundred generations of humans,” he said.

Another speaker said the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic will be among the first to face damage, because they’re colder and therefore take up more carbon dioxide.

The conference was aimed more at drawing attention to marine issues rather than advancing science. One speaker this morning was Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Obama Administration also announced today an intention to crack down on black-market fishing.

Republican members of Congress are criticizing Obama’s planned expansion of the Pacific sanctuary. Alaska Congressman Don Young says he should have first consulted user groups in the region and worked with Congress.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak Fishermen Target A Niche Consumer Market

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:18

Small boat fishermen out of Kodiak have found a premium market for their catch, based on the idea of buying local. The jig fishery uses gear as light as ten pounds, and is open to anyone who buys a permit. A number of restaurants are willing to pay more for fish caught that way.

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Categories: Alaska News

Steel Creek Fire Draws Speedy Response

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:17

A new Fairbanks area wildfire drew a major response last night. Alaska Division of Forestry information officer Sam Harrel reports that ground and air resources were tapped to attack the Steel Creek Fire, near mile 4 of Chena Hot Springs Road.

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“We sent several crews out there and also had the quite the air show going — both were working out there, as were the tankers,” Harrel said. “Both were working out there as the evening came on.”

Harrel says the fire was burning between the Little Chena River and Chena Hot Springs Road, east of Nordale Road, in a critical management area.  It’s estimated to have burned about 45 acres. Harrel credits the heavy response with reining in the blaze.

“We’re fortunate that we’re not real busy yet in this fire season and we had a lot of crews available to get right on this, and the aircraft too,” Harrel said.

Harrel says firefighters are mopping up the fire area today. He attributes the Steel Creek Fire to lightning from thunderstorms that rolled through the area yesterday afternoon. He says no other fire starts are known at this point, but could materialize later today.

The weather forecast is not looking conducive to wildfire in the Fairbanks area. The Middle Tanana Valley can expect periods of rain tonight and Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

State, IBU Reach Tentative Agreement On New Contract

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:16

The M/V Chenega undergoes repairs in drydock at the Ketchikan Shipyard earlier this year. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The largest labor union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers has a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the state.

The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the Alaska Department of Administration reached the agreement last week after more than six months at the bargaining table.

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The IBU represents about 650 Alaska Marine Highway System employees.

While the proposed contract does not include a pay increase in the first year, workers would get a 1 percent raise in year two and a 2 percent increase in year three. Some employees would get additional increases to make their wages more competitive with other jobs in the maritime industry.

IBU Regional Director Ricky Deising says the union’s negotiating team believes it’s the best possible deal and is urging members to ratify it.

We fought for almost seven months to get fair treatment for our members and we believe that’s what came out of this negotiation,” Deising says.

The state backed off a controversial proposal to change how the cost of living differential is calculated for ferry workers who live in Alaska. Those employees currently get an in-state salary adjustment based on Seattle wages. The state wanted to change the base city to Anchorage for all new employees hired after the start of the contract.

During this past legislative session, the IBU and other maritime unions came out strongly against a bill that mirrored the state’s position. The legislation, Senate Bill 182, did not pass.

“We weren’t willing to back off and allow future work to be paid less,” Deising says.

The two sides agreed to freeze the cost of living differential for the duration of the contract, meaning employees won’t get any additional geographic adjustment as part of the negotiated wage increases.

Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer says the state is trying to keep the cost of running the marine highway system in check. The state operating subsidy averages more than $100 million a year, according to recent financial reports for the agency.

“So when you have one sector of state government costing potentially a billion dollars in less than a decade, then there has to be a look for savings,” Thayer says. “And anytime that you’re negotiating wages and benefits that’s one of them.”

Last month, IBU members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if negotiations failed. Thayer says the vote wasn’t much of a factor in reaching the tentative agreement. Deising says it was a show of solidarity, but the union never threatened to strike and had hoped to avoid one.

“The bottom line I believe is the state understood they needed to come to an agreement to take care of their employees,” Deising says.

The state is still negotiating with the other two unions representing ferry workers: the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and the International Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots. Thayer says the state won’t budge much from the deal struck with the IBU.

IBU has set the stage, and we’re not going to differ much for those two unions,” Thayer says.

The current contracts for all three unions expire June 30. Now that IBU has a tentative agreement, Deising says its members will continue working under the current contract. He expects a ratification vote to take place in the next two months.

The Alaska Legislature must approve the financial terms of the contract.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Ricky Deising’s comments about the strike authorization vote. A previous version stated Deising did not think the strike authorization was much of a factor in reaching the tentative agreement. In fact, he said it was a show of solidarity.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 17, 2014

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:15

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.

Listen now:

Alaska Communities To Be Compensated $28.5M for Tax-Exempt Lands

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries.

Obama to Expand Pacific Marine Sanctuary

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

President Obama announced he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development.  The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department.

Kodiak Fishermen Find a Niche Consumer Market

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Small boat fishermen out of Kodiak have found a premium market for their catch, based on the idea of buying local. The jig fishery uses gear as light as ten pounds, and is open to anyone who buys a permit. A number of restaurants are willing to pay more for fish caught that way.

Steel Creek Fire Near Fairbanks Draws Air Response

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new Fairbanks area wildfire drew a major response last night. A forestry official reports that ground and air resources were tapped to attack the Steel Creek Fire, near mile four of Chena Hot Springs Road.

Ferry Workers Reach Tentative Labor Agreement

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The largest labor union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers has a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the state. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the Alaska Department of Administration reached the agreement last week after more than six months at the bargaining table.

GCI Doles Out Cheeseburgers To Celebrate Launch of 3G Service

Ben Matheson, KYUK –Bethel

GCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers Friday. Residents in the community have been frustrated by slow connections speeds through GCI.

Right-Wing Lt. Gov. Candidate Vies for Ballot Slot

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks woman is part of a team trying to get a new party on the Alaska ballot. Maria Rensel is running as an Alaska Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor.

Plans for a Skatepark Get Rolling in Kwethluk

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Village youth in the Kuskokwim village of Kwethluk will soon have a chance to do something few of them have done before: skateboard.  Construction of a new skatepark there will begin next month.  The park is the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta.

Loo Dedication Draws Small Crowd in Ketchikan

Maria Dudzak, KRBD – Ketchikan

A ribbon cutting ceremony for a new public facility was held last week in downtown Ketchikan.  The christening of the Stedman-Thomas Neighborhood Loo attracted about 40 people on a sunny and windy morning.

 

Categories: Alaska News

GCI Celebrates 3G Data Service in Bethel with 6,000 Cheeseburgers

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:15

Bethel residents line up to receive McDonald’s cheesburgers from GCI. (KYUK photo)

GCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. The Friday lunchtime crowd stretched out and around the parking lot of the Long House Hotel.

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Standing over 100 people in line for burgers, GCI’s Vice President for Wireless Services, Dan Boyette, says crews are continuing to tweak the network, but it appears to be functioning as intended.

“All of those things that people really had trouble doing before like browsing the internet or sending pictures..that sort of thing will work fine now with the 3G speed, while it’s tough with the 2G or EDGE speed,” Boyette said. ”It’s a huge improvement and it’s something we want to keep doing throughout Western Alaska.”

GCI has invested millions of dollars over the last several years, including work to build the TERRA-Southwest fiber optic and microwave tower connection. Boyette says tests show phones getting 6 to 7 megabit per second downloads speeds. He says people who don’t have smartphones should see better performance because the old networks is seeing less demand from smartphones.

Paul Landes is Senior Vice President for Consumer Services and spent the afternoon talking with customers.

“The feedback we’re getting is all really good feedback, people are very happy…clearly being able to do things they weren’t able to do in the past, so it’s an exciting launch, everyone seems pretty happy,” Landes said.

As Bethel’s Henrietta Knight waited in line for her cheeseburger, she says she’s not satisfied with her service.

“Every time I go to use my 3G service in the evening…I cannot get on, when I call, they say, oh we’re having problems there,” Knight said.

Knight says she asks for a credit on her account, but adds GCI won’t give her that.

Bethel residents’ years-long struggle with data service has gone to a new level this year and reached the courts. This spring, at the same time GCI’s 3G launched, attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of several customers against GCI . They said GCI did not live up to what was promised in cell phone contracts.

Representing the plaintiffs, Attorney David Henderson said Monday that GCI filed a motion for dismissal, to which the plaintiffs responded. They’re now waiting to hear back from GCI’s attorneys.

As that process slowly works its way in court, 10 other communities near Bethel will get 3G service. By November, the service should be up and running in Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, Akiachak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmauthluk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, and Oscarville.

Categories: Alaska News

Right-Wing Lt. Gov. Candidate Vies for A Ballot Slot

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:14

A Fairbanks woman is part of a team trying to get a new party on the Alaska ballot. Maria Rensel is running as an Alaska Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor. Resnel says the campaign is all about breaking up the lock Republicans and Democrats have on Alaska politics.

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Rensel is trying get on the ballot along with gubernatorial candidate J.R. Meyers of Haines. They both have to gather the signatures of 3,017 registered voters — that’s 1 percent of Alaska voters.  If successful, and they garner at least 3 percent of the vote in the November general election, the Alaska Constitution Party would join the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Alaskan Independence as official political parties, which can field candidates without having to gather signatures. Rensel, who hosts a Facebook page dedicated to freeing convicted Fairbanks Militia leader Schaefer Cox, says the Alaska Constitution Party is affiliated with the National Constitution Party, and predicated on the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

Rensel’s running mate, J.R. Meyers says the campaign is about getting the Alaska Constitution  party on the ballot, noting it shares ideology, like the right to life, with the Republican Party.

Meyers cites continued government growth under Republican administrations that’s led to deficit spending.  He says Alaska can no longer afford to subsidize all areas of the economy. He also advocates for changing the Alaska Constitution to bring it more in line with the U.S. Constitution and return mineral rights to land owners. 

The Alaska Constitution Party is hosting an informational meeting Tuesday night in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Plans for a Skatepark Get Rolling in Kwethluk

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:13

Village youth in the Kuskokim village of Kwethluk will soon have a chance to do something few of them have done before: skateboard.  Construction of a new skatepark there will begin next month.  The park is the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta.

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The plans for the “Skate Dot” can be seen here, this will be the the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta. Photo Courtesy of Brin Berube.

That wasn’t an Alaska Airlines jet flying over, that’s the sound of an expertly executed skateboard stop at the Bethel Skatepark.  It’s a sound not yet familiar in the village, but that’s about to change in the community of Kwethluk, about 20 miles upriver from Bethel. Construction materials are now being gathered at a Seattle, Wash. barge company. The funding comes from a grant provided by Indian Health Services for Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Kwethluk, in cooperation with YKHC, hired a company suited for such construction called Native Skateparks. The company owner, Greg Mize, shares his experiences with formerly concerned parent before and after the grand opening ceremonies.

“Adults who said, ‘oh they’ll break their heads’ or ‘oh we need to do this instead,’ and they’ll drive by and see thirty, forty, fifty kids there. And I’d be standing there and grown men who came up to me and were kind of angry, come up to me later and say ‘you know what, buddy, I apologize, this is the greatest thing that happened to our kids,’ ” says Mize.

The project partners give the community youth an avenue to actively combat obesity, give kids something to strive for and help kids avoid negative activities. YKHC Office of Environmental Health pitched the idea to many villages as part of their Diabetes Prevention Program.  Buth they say only Kwethluk was interested. According to YKHC, another reason Kwethluk is a good choice was its close proximity to other villages, like Akiak and Akiachak.

The skatepark, or “skate dot,” a term used to describe smaller skateparks; will be 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. The rectangular “skate dot” will sport quarterpipes on both ends crossed by a row of ramps and rails cutting through the center.

With all these fun features Kwethluk City Clerk Ana Galila says  there’s a staff member at YKHC Environmental Health with extensive skating expeirnce who’s promised another surprise for the youth there. “Brian Berube is gonna give lessons and they’re gonna handout skateboards and safety helmets,” says Galila.

Mize says construction supplies for the Kwethluk skate dot should land there on or around July 7. Then, after a couple of weeks, construction should begin… “Then twenty days later you should have a skatepark. We’re just going there to work, because we don’t goof around,” says Mize.

A privilege he hopes kids in Kwethluk will enjoy, as long as they wear safety gear, one of many new safety ordinances already implemented by village officials.

Categories: Alaska News

New Loo Offers Relief In Busy Tourist Season

Tue, 2014-06-17 17:12

A ribbon cutting ceremony for a new public facility was held Thursday morning in downtown Ketchikan. The christening of the Stedman –Thomas Neighborhood Loo attracted about 40 people on a sunny and windy morning.

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With public restrooms few and far between in downtown Ketchikan, the much-needed facility was opened light-heartedly with plungers, poo cookies, and toilet-paper-for-napkins on hand. Borough Transit Director Kyan Reeve says the state-of-the-art design is used in Portland, Oregon and cost less than $100,000.

Kyan Reeve introduces mayors Dave Kiffer and Lew Williams III. (KRBD photo)

“This bathroom is really quite high tech. As you can see the louvers on it allow for self-policing by the community. When you see more than one set of legs in there you know that you probably need to call the authorities. There is a motion-detection lighting system that, at nighttime, lights up the signs on the outside. But when somebody goes inside the facility it turns off the outside lighting and turns on interior lighting. You can see the light coming up and out of the louvers to help to identify that it is in use. The lighting is a special anti-vein lighting, kind of a bluish color, the same color as your veins, making it hard to use illicit drugs in there.”

Reeve says the facility is very sparse with only a toilet and a hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer is mounted outside the bathroom. He says this makes it easy to clean and eliminates the “hotel effect.” Reeve says a sink and mirror can attract people to stay.

Reeve, Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer, and City Mayor Lew Williams III were among the speakers, along with Major Loni Upshaw of the Salvation Army. Mayor Kiffer was the first to speak.

Mayor Kiffer, holding a golden plunger, cut the ribbon, officially opening the loo, and christened it with a ceremonial first flush.

The first person to use the Stedman-Thomas Neighborhood Loo was Ketchikan resident Raffy Tavidagian.

Public art was also revealed during the ceremony. Metalsmith Rich Stage created four plant hangers that are mounted at the top of two lamp posts on the bus shelter near the loo. Reproductions of watercolors by Elizabeth Rose grace the signs on the outside of the bathroom itself.

Reeve says the facility will be open 24 hours a day during the summer.

As a bus pulled up, Ketchikan resident Marvin Davis led a song he wrote sung to the tune of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s New Standardized Tests

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:45

Alaska will pay $25 million in the next five years for a new standardized test. The new test is being created by the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas and will be administered to the state’s 77,000 third through 10th graders.

In 2012, the state of Alaska received a waiver, excusing it from the federal No Child Left Behind law.  Director of Assessment, Accountability and Information Management for the Alaska Department of Education Erik McCormick says the state has been looking for a new standardized testing system.

“Our previous tests, which just finished up in the spring of 2014 was our SBA’s and those were based on the old standards known as the Grade Level Expectations,” McCormick said. ”So back in 2012, our state board of education adopted new standards and 2015 will be the first time we are assessing with the new standards.”

The push, McCormick says, for tests to eventually be given on computers entirely instead of paper, is a money saving measure.

“By moving to a computerized test we can get results back quicker and we don’t have to ship everything. The first two years we will have the computerized test but we will also have the paper and pencil test for the schools that aren’t yet equipped.  But after that two years we will be moving to a computer adaptive test,” he said. “What that means is as the tester goes along the items are adjusted based on how they did on the previous question.  So there will be blocks of test questions and depending on how they are doing, they’ll be moved into new blocks of testing items.”

The state of Alaska put out a request for an organization to create a new standardized test.  The director for the Center Education Testing and Evaluation Marianne Perie says the Achievement Assessment Institute wanted to expand their standardized test program to Alaska because the population was similar to their own and the size was perfect.

“There are some parts of all standards that are similar; little kids need to learn to count to 100 and older kids need to deal with fractions and decimals,” she said. “So let’s find some areas of comparability and then let’s find some places that are unique to your state and that’s what we’re doing for Kansas and Alaska.”

Perie says the new Alaska test will be broken down to a math portion and an English language arts portion, meaning reading, writing and listening.  She says the institute is also developing benchmark tests for the 2016/2017 school year that will help teachers prepare students for the spring tests.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests the nation’s students in fourth and eighth grade.  Alaska’s fourth graders test in the lowest percentile in reading in the nation, but by eighth grade the reading level is average.  McCormick says the new standardized test is an effort to improve those numbers.

Categories: Alaska News

Racial Outburst Disrupts End Of Celebration Parade

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:39

Juneau police are asking for help identifying a man in connection with a racist incident during Saturday morning’s Celebration parade through downtown.

Police say a white male confronted an Alaska Native veteran, who was part of a group of flag bearers that led the parade on Willoughby Avenue near Centennial Hall.

The unidentified man reportedly yelled racial slurs, tried to spit on the American flag, then grabbed it and tried to run off. Bystanders wrestled the flag away from the man before he fled toward Whittier Street, shoving people as he ran.

Juneau Police Lt. Kris Sell says a half-dozen people were involved in the incident that lasted only a few seconds.

“It was shocking for the people involved for somebody to just have this socially unacceptable outburst that became physical,” Sell said.  “I think most of us go through life not really expecting to see that. People don’t normally act that way within the view of the general public.”

No one was hurt during the incident.

Officers in a vehicle and on bicycles – including Lt. Sell — searched the area for the man.

Many people were taking pictures of the parade. Now police are asking the public if they have photos or video of the incident. Crime Line is offering a cash reward for  images or information that leads to the man’s identification.

The man was reported to be wearing a light toned multi-colored knit cap under the hood of a dark, possibly blue, jacket.

People with information should go to the Crime Line website, or call Juneau Police at 586-0600.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Mine Developers Defend Near-Border Projects

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:38

We’ve heard a lot about mines planned for northwest British Columbia, just across Alaska’s border.

Southeast tribal, fishing and environmental groups have blasted those plans. Critics say they’ll pollute rivers that cross the border, damaging or destroying salmon and other fish runs.

The KSM Prospect is inland from Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy SEACC)

But we haven’t heard a lot from mine advocates. Now, we have.

Much of the recent focus has been on what’s called the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSMProject, being developed by Seabridge Gold.

The site, which also includes copper, is roughly 80 miles east of Wrangell.

Critics say it could damage the Unuk River, which flows into the ocean northeast of Ketchikan.

Seabridge says that’s not the case. Brent Murphy is the corporation’s vice president of environmental affairs

“The concern with minimizing downstream environmental impacts has been the guiding principal behind the whole design of the mining project,” Murphy says.

Critics say the KSM could be about the same size as the proposed Pebble Prospect, a controversial mine proposed for Southwest Alaska.

They worry about plans for huge, dammed tailing lakes that could leak or break, sending acidic water into nearby streams and rivers.

Murphy says they’ll be built in a valley that drains into Canadian, not Alaskan, waters.

“The dams will be of a design which has been utilized worldwide. And these dams are extremely stable over the long term,” he says.

And what is the estimated life of those dams?

“They have to last for the 52 years of operations. And then we will reclaim that and they will last into perpetuity.”

Seabridge Gold has been working on the project since 2008. Murphy says even if everything goes its way, operations won’t begin until the 2020.

“You don’t build a mine overnight,” says Karina Brino, president of the Mining Association of British Columbia.

“There are a series of authorizations and permits from different levels of government that are required. And other than the Red Chris Mine, in the northwest, all the other projects are in exploration stages,” she says.

The Red Chris Mine is in the upper watershed of the Stikine River, which ends near Petersburg and Wrangell. It’s owned by Imperial Metals.

Another project of concern is the long-closed Tulsequah Chief Mine, which Chieftain Metals Corp is trying to reopen. It’s on a tributary of the Taku River, which ends near Juneau.

Critics, including the group Rivers Without Borders, are concerned about silt, acid discharge and dangerous metals.

The Mining Association’s Brino says the same is true for her industry.

“Our objective is to minimize impact. Our objective is to be stewards of the environment as much as anybody else would want us to be,” she says.

So, does the industry care about concerns from this side of the border?

“Absolutely,” Brino says. “My expectation would be that there is participation, hopefully meaningful participation, from your side of the border in the review of these projects.”

Seabridge Gold official Murphy says his company has consulted with Alaska officials once or twice a year since the project began. They’ve also been brought to the KSM mine site.

He says the project needs about 150 permits from the provincial and federal governments.

“We will have to do a lot of work in order to gather the information that will be needed to satisfy the … questions from our regulatory authorities,” Murphy says.

Seabridge just began a season of exploratory drilling at the site. That will help better define where the minerals are, and how much may be there.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s New Standardized Tests

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:35

Alaska will pay $25 million in the next five years for a new standardized test. The new test is being created by the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas and will be administered to the state’s 77,000 third through 10th graders.

In 2012, the state of Alaska received a waiver, excusing it from the federal No Child Left Behind law.  Director of Assessment, Accountability and Information Management for the Alaska Department of Education Erik McCormick says the state has been looking for a new standardized testing system.

“Our previous tests, which just finished up in the spring of 2014 was our SBA’s and those were based on the old standards known as the Grade Level Expectations,” McCormick said. ”So back in 2012, our state board of education adopted new standards and 2015 will be the first time we are assessing with the new standards.”

The push, McCormick says, for tests to eventually be given on computers entirely instead of paper, is a money saving measure.

“By moving to a computerized test we can get results back quicker and we don’t have to ship everything. The first two years we will have the computerized test but we will also have the paper and pencil test for the schools that aren’t yet equipped.  But after that two years we will be moving to a computer adaptive test,” he said. “What that means is as the tester goes along the items are adjusted based on how they did on the previous question.  So there will be blocks of test questions and depending on how they are doing, they’ll be moved into new blocks of testing items.”

The state of Alaska put out a request for an organization to create a new standardized test.  The director for the Center Education Testing and Evaluation Marianne Perie says the Achievement Assessment Institute wanted to expand their standardized test program to Alaska because the population was similar to their own and the size was perfect.

“There are some parts of all standards that are similar; little kids need to learn to count to 100 and older kids need to deal with fractions and decimals,” she said. “So let’s find some areas of comparability and then let’s find some places that are unique to your state and that’s what we’re doing for Kansas and Alaska.”

Perie says the new Alaska test will be broken down to a math portion and an English language arts portion, meaning reading, writing and listening.  She says the institute is also developing benchmark tests for the 2016/2017 school year that will help teachers prepare students for the spring tests.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests the nation’s students in fourth and eighth grade.  Alaska’s fourth graders test in the lowest percentile in reading in the nation, but by eighth grade the reading level is average.  McCormick says the new standardized test is an effort to improve those numbers.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Dept. Fish & Game Announces Subsistence Salmon Opening

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:25

If you live by the Norton Sound, get ready for salmon.

On Monday, the Department of Fish and Game announced subsistence and commercial openings that will begin this Wednesday, June 18th, for three subdistricts in the Norton Sound.

Subsistence openings in Norton Sound begin Wednesday, and fit in a strategy emphasizing chums and pinks. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

“We are going to allow some subsistence fishing this week in Norton Bay, Shaktoolik, and Unalakleet subdistricts. So in Southern Norton Sound we’re going open it back up to gillnet fishing. And so it’ll be 48 hours in Norton Bay, and a 30 hour opening in Shaktoolik and Unalakleet to allow subsistence salmon fishing,” Jim Menard, an area biologist for Fish and Game, said.

The openings fit into an overall management strategy focused on harvesting chums and pinks. Fish and Game’s policies are determined in large part, though, by one particular salmon species they want users to avoid.

“The net restrictions down in Shaktoolik and Unalakleet are 6” mesh or less,” Menard explained. “And that’s [because] we’re still trying to protect the big kings.”

In Norton Bay the mesh-size is 4.5″. Menard says that’s because the outlook for pinks this year is so strong Fish and Game is allowing a 36-hour Commercial harvest from noon on Thursday, June 19th until Midnight of Friday evening, June 20th.

“As we are expecting a good pink salmon run this year we’re going to get an early indication of how things look in Norton Bay,” Menard explained.

And as for when the salmon will make it to Nome, Menard says the news has already begun trickling in.

“I have heard one confirmed catch of a chum salmon, and I’ve been able to squash two rumors that I’ve heard elsewhere about fish,” he laughed.

“As we get later in June we’re gonna start to see things happen down at the mouth of the Nome River.”

You can find more details on this week’s openings here.

Categories: Alaska News

New Radio Stations Reaching Out to Natives, ‘Under-Represented’ Audiences

Tue, 2014-06-17 11:22

Athabascan Fiddlers Association General Manager Ann Fears in the KRFF studio on College Road in Fairbanks.
)Photo by Tim Ellis/KUAC)

A new Fairbanks radio station is broadcasting programs aimed at the Native community in the Interior. Another group hopes to launch its station early next year to provide radio programming for other groups that they say are not being served. The ventures are part of a nationwide trend of community-based radio.

KRFF reminds its listeners at the top of every hour that Native people in the Interior have a new voice. The station ID includes an Athabascan greeting: “Do’int’a! You’re listening to 89.1 KRFF Fairbanks.”

The station was launched last November by the Athabascan Fiddlers Association. Ann Fears is the association’s general manager. And she’s the driving force behind KRFF. Fears says the station provides information and entertainment about native people. But she says KRFF hopes to offer something of interest to everyone.

“It’s a culturally focused radio station, but it should be for the purpose of serving the whole Interior – all the people, all the listeners,” Fears said.

KRFF’s signal reaches as far as Nenana, to the west, and Delta Junction, to the east. It’ll go worldwide when the station sets up web streaming, which Fears says should happen soon.

KRFF mostly airs Native Voice 1 programming from Anchorage-based Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. And Fears says KRFF is developing more local programming like the morning show that debuted in February. Including, they hope, a regular call-in feature with news and information about rural Alaskans.

“They have a lot of stories to tell,” she said. “They would be telling their story, and we would all be learning from the Alaska Native people, and people of the Interior.”

Fears says KRFF also hopes to expand its entertainment offerings, like its live-music broadcasts by local performers – including, of course, Athabascan Fiddlers.

The Fiddlers Association supports KRFF largely through gaming revenues. The station got its Federal Communications Commission license from another local group that wasn’t able to secure a source of funding – Fairbanks Open Radio.

Flyn Ludigton is a member of the group. She says Fairbanks Open Radio members were disappointed that their initial venture fell short. But she says the outcome benefited the group’s mission of expanding local radio programming. And she says her organization and the Fiddlers Association share many of the same goals.

“Our missions definitely overlapped,” Ludington said. “Our ideas for programming overlapped.”

Fairbanks Open Radio has now regrouped, and in January it secured a new FCC license to operate a low power FM station, KWRK. The station’s signal will reach a 4-mile radius that’ll cover most of Fairbanks – and beyond, when its signal goes online.

Ludington says KWRK’s model is based on a growing national movement that’s arisen in recent years in response to the trend of multimedia corporations buying up radio stations and using mostly syndicated programming, which is cheaper than local programming.

“We’ll be able to produce some experimental, very locally based, locally produced programming,” she said. “Including the under-represented population, the people who may not be able to participate in radio.”

Ludington says that includes military and family members, youths, gays, and prison inmates and ex-cons.  She anticipates KWRK going on air early next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs SB99 To Allow POW Mine Loans

Tue, 2014-06-17 09:41

Gov. Sean Parnell was in Ketchikan on Monday to sign into law Senate Bill 99, which allows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to issue bonds for two Southeast Alaska mining projects, plus a loan for Sitka’s Blue Lake Hydroelectric Project.

While the legislation received support from area elected bodies and business interests, a regional environmental organization questions the wisdom of investing state money in “risky” ventures.

Gov. Sean Parnell signs SB99 into law during a special Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch on Monday. (KRBD photo)

With a flourish of a pen, Parnell put his stamp of approval on up to $150 million in bonds to help finance the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare-earth mine, plus the Niblack gold, copper, zinc and silver mine – both located on Prince of Wales Island.

“Today I have the privilege of signing SB99, which is about creating new opportunity throughout the state, but primarily in this region,” Parnell said

Senator Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican and the bill’s sponsor, also attended the signing. Parnell asked her to talk about its impacts. She said the bill is a creative way to help finance projects that will benefit Alaska.

McGuire said the rare-earth prospect is particularly exciting.

“Ninety-five percent of those rare earth minerals have been produced and exported from China,” she said. “We want to be, in Alaska, the ones that take their place. We want that for national security reasons; we want it because we want the jobs.”

Ken Collison is the CEO of Ucore, the Canadian-based developer that’s exploring the Bokan project. He also spoke during the Chamber event, and said the support provided by state and local governments is good for his company when it comes to attracting other investors. Collison said it’s also good for the state; it shows that Alaska is open for business.

“This is a tough time in the mining business. It’s a natural resource business, so prices go up, prices go down. Right now, prices are down. And to be able to show that we have the kind of support that we have in the State of Alaska is huge,” he said. “We’re going to have a really active program on the site this summer – we’re going to spend a couple of million dollars on some drilling programs and some other work. Without this support, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to raise the funds to do this kind of work.”

Not everyone is happy with the prospect of using state money to finance the mining projects, though. Guy Archibald of the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said it’s risky to invest the public’s money in these two Prince of Wales mines.

“If these mines are unable to make it economically, and they declare bankruptcy, then the state of Alaska is just going to be in line with all the rest of the creditors, and they may only get paid back pennies on the dollar,” he said.

Archibald said that the loan process also sets up a conflict of interest, because the state is an investor as well as the regulatory body for permits.

“How is Alaska supposed to enforce their permits when that enforcement may affect the mining companies’ ability to pay back the loan?” he said. “Congressman (Don) Young wants to build a road to the mines, and now Governor Parnell wants to lend them money to build the mines.  What will they want next, a parade?”

The road he mentioned is a proposal by Alaska’s congressional delegation that would allow a road to both mines through federally designated roadless sections of the Tongass National Forest.

Archibald also is concerned about the potential environmental effects of both mines. He said waste rock and tailings from the Niblack mine could require perpetual water treatment, and that the Bokan mine has radioactive material.

Both projects are still in the exploratory phase.

Categories: Alaska News

Potential PSP Case Reported From Clam Beach Clams

Tue, 2014-06-17 09:28

A man reported possible symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning after consuming clams gathered near Clam Gulch on the Kenai Peninsula Saturday - one of the few beaches the state monitors.

The man recovered but reported the symptoms. He said he may have consumed Butter Clams as well as Razor Clams.

The Department of Environmental Conservation’s Clam Gulch monitoring results are not back from the lab yet.

Categories: Alaska News

One Year After Galena Flood, Rebuilding Effort Underway

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:10

A relief effort coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building nearly a dozen homes in Galena this summer. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

With warm weather here, construction projects are starting up across the state. In Galena, the sight of houses going up is particularly welcome. The 470-person village is still recovering from a catastrophic flood last year, when the break-up of an ice jam caused the Yukon River to overflow. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports on the rebuilding effort.

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It’s a humid morning in Galena, and about a dozen workers are framing a house. They’ve been working at it for about four days, and already the place is taking shape. It’s a big two-story building, with a wide footprint and space for at least four bedrooms. The goal is to finish the exterior work within a week.

Decked in a red shirt and a camouflage cowboy hat, Doug Konetchy is sawing away at wooden boards.

“Right now we are building rafters for this particular house,” says Konetchy. “It’s not particularly complicated. We just make a lot of cuts.”

Konetchy is one of the hundreds of FEMA volunteers who will work on the construction effort in Galena this summer. He’s from North Carolina, and he’s part of a Christian relief effort called Samaritan’s Purse.

Konetchy is working with a fellow tar heel named Hugh Honeycutt. Neither of them have been in Alaska before, let alone worked in the state. For one, you can’t drive to Home Depot if you need extra materials. And then there’s the rain.

“Down in the Lower 48, if it rains, you take the day off,” says Konetchy. “But here, if you take the day off, then you only have four days when you can build.”

“Or three, or two,” says Honeycutt.

So, they’ve gotten used to being damp.

“Put on a raincoat and keep going,” says Honeycutt.

The building process itself is also different. The house they’re building is striking not just for its massive size. It also happens to sit on tall steel pilings, elevated at least five feet off the ground.

“Where I live, we build them up off the ground, but not on stilts like this,” says Konetchy.

The 11 houses that FEMA volunteers are working on are raised like this. The flood came in hard and fast last year, swamping areas of town that should have been safe. So now, houses must be built above the high water mark to qualify for disaster relief.

“Everything’s up in the air,” says Konetchy. “I mean you have to lift everything up there. Every single piece, every single nail goes up.”

Steve Settle is a Galena resident who qualified for one of these elevated FEMA houses. Construction of his new place is underway as well, and its frame also rests on 25-foot pilings buried deep in the ground.

“So, this ends up being four feet something higher than the house I had before,” says Settle.

Settle says the new place will be a lot different from his old one. On top of being built to survive a flood, it will also meet new cold climate housing standards, with thicker walls and other features to make it airtight.

“It’s going to be way smaller. They say way warmer,” says Settle. It’s always nice to be way warmer anyway, you know?”

Settle has lived in Galena for 33 years, and he says the flooding of the Yukon River last April was like nothing he had ever seen.

“It was just like a bathtub,” says Settle. “Pull the plug and it just went out.”

Even though his property is fairly inland, Settle’s home was basically destroyed.

“Back of the House sloughed off,” says Settle. “The only thing that was holding that house from floating off was the power line.”

Settle says he lost a lot in the flood. But he’s looking forward to moving into his new place this fall. Right now, he’s trying to figure out where his windows will go.

“It’s probably going to be four or five, you know, so it’s going to be well lit,” says Settle. “White walls, so it will probably really glow in there.”

And, he says, it should hopefully stay dry.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismic Storm Continues in Noatak with Fifth 5.7 Quake

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:03

A fifth 5.7 magnitude quake rocks Brooks Range near Noatak. (Image: Alaska Earthquake Center)

The seismic storm in the far-western arm of the Brooks Range that began nearly two months ago continued early Monday morning.

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Another magnitude 5.7 quake in the Noatak earthquake swarm struck around 4:01 a.m. Monday. The Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks said residents reported about a minute of strong shaking.

The quake was located about 13 miles northeast of Noatak, at a depth of 15 miles.

A magnitude 4.2 shock preceded this morning’s larger quake by just one minute. The earthquake center said in online posting that it’s expecting numerous aftershocks with magnitudes up to four in the coming days.

The early-morning quake is the fifth such powerful shake since the earthquake swarm began April 18, with with two 5.7 magnitude earthquakes. Three more 5.7 temblors struck in early May and early June. In all, the larger quakes have been followed by more than 300 smaller aftershocks.

In May seismologists with the Earthquake Center installed field equipment in Noatak and Kotzebue to better monitor the activity.

Michael West, a seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake, said in early June that despite the new equipment, seismologists still don’t know what’s causing the powerful quake series. West said such earthquake swarms are usually seen near volcanoes, but with no volcanic activity in the region, there’s still no firm scientific consensus for what faults are causing earthquakes and other tectonic activity in that region of western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

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