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: 44 min 18 sec ago

Oil Industry Puts $10M Into Oil Vote

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:39

The referendum was the most expensive issue race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised. APRN’s capitol reporter Alexandra Gutierrez has been following the campaign.

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Categories: Alaska News

Report: Alaskans Aren’t All That Healthy

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:38

According to the recently released “Healthy Alaskans 2020,” an assessment and strategic plan issued every decade, Alaskans aren’t all that healthy. A 15-page overview of Alaskans’ health status as of  2012 shows Alaskans are not doing as well as people in the U.S. overall in every category.

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Categories: Alaska News

A Susitna Valley Farm Sells Its Produce Close to Home

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:37

Most food Alaskans consume comes from Outside.  There are quite a few producers who grow and sell locally, however.  Last week, KTNA’s Phillip Manning visited one farm that has been operating in the Upper Susitna Valley for the past 30 years.

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In Alaska, the vast majority of the food we eat isn’t grown here.  Patrick Likely of the Alaska Food Policy Council says the proportion of food grown in-state is very small.

“Five percent of food that’s consumed in Alaska is actually coming from Alaska.”

The Birch Creek Ranch has been in the Kingsbury family for three decades. Photo by Phillip Manning/KTNA.

While most of the food does come from Outside, there are still a fair few local growers.  In the Upper Valley, one such producer is Birch Creek Ranch.  Birch Creek has been run by the Kingsbury family for the last three decades.  Alan Kingsbury says that the family first acquired the land as an agricultural parcel from the state in 1981.  Early on, the only products coming out of the property were a result of the clearing that the state requires on ag parcels.

“We sold firewood, saw-logs, lumber, and that sort of thing while we were getting the fields cleared and ready for production.”

As more land was cleared, Alan and Leilani Kingsbury began to grow crops.  Their first sales began in the mid ’80s.

“We were growing some things and trying a lot of things, everything from sheep and goats to barley, wheat, sorghum, rye, foraged turnips, and potatoes.  We grew seed potatoes for awhile.”

As time went on, the Kingsburys moved toward greenhouse production of flowers and away from things like potatoes and animals. They also have a large berry patch, where people can pay by the pound to come and pick currants and serviceberries.

Alan Kingsbury says that one issue facing farmers today as compared to the 1980s is a decreased level of state support.

“The state was much more gung-ho [about] agriculture back in earlier days, in our timeframe, when Jay Hammond was governor.”

Leilani Kingsbury agrees, and says one of the biggest issues that has faced Alaskan farmers for decades is the need for infrastructure, such as:

“Plants, places to store, cool, chill, clean, process, and equipment and supplies, and people to service and repair them are still all lacking, very much.”

Now, much of the growing at Birch Creek Ranch is done by Alan and Leilani’s son, Brian.  Now, the farm grows about four acres of vegetables, including a number of

Birch Creek Ranch broccoli. Photo by Phillip Manning/KTNA.

high-tunnel greenhouses.  One way Brian sells his vegetables to locals is through a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program.  That lets individuals buy a “share” of the farm, which entitles them to a portion of the crops at harvest time.  Brian also sells to local restaurants, but he says the majority of his revenue comes from old-fashioned farm stands.

“About a third of my business has been with the CSA. About half of it, now, is retail markets, and the rest of it is restaurants.

The restaurant contracts are growing, however.  This year, Brian says that he has begun selling to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, easily the biggest lodging facility in the area.  In addition, he’s started selling at farm stands outside of the Valley.

“I saw that I needed to take things to Anchorage, and I started with a farm stand at the Alaska Native Medical Center Campus…It’s a big move for me.”

Brian says the Anchorage trips take an entire day in addition to the extra picking, but that it does allow him to break into a new market.

One local venue that makes extensive use of Brian Kingsbury’s produce is the Flying Squirrel Bakery and Cafe`.  His wife, Anita Golton, is the majority owner and manager of the cafe`.  She says that the businesses complement each other well.

“We just kind of do it all together…and it’s always made a lot of sense to take farm products from there. And, to be able to have other places to use those products seems like a valuable thing.”

Anita Golton says the Flying Squirrel has been recognized by the Alaska Department of Agriculture’s Restaurant Rewards program, which reimburses part of the cost of buying local ingredients in order to offset what are usually higher prices.  Despite using over 600 pounds of rhubarb and various other ingredients from Birch Creek Ranch as well as other Alaska growers, Anita says the supply simply isn’t enough to keep up with production most of the time.  As a result, a small portion of her total product is made with primarily Alaskan ingredients.

“I feel like we try to do as much as we can to integrate it in everything, and it’s probably a lot more in the middle toward the end of the summer, but it’s probably not more than one percent.  The main reason for that is that there are so many ingredients that just aren’t available.”

The entire family agrees that visitors and locals alike enjoy the fact that they can have locally grown produce available during the growing season.  Brian says he’s currently looking to consolidate on crops and markets that have proven successful in order to make Birch Creek Ranch a success for another generation.

- See more at: http://ktna.org/2014/08/19/upper-valley-agriculture-birch-creek-ranch/#sthash.dVGQDbQ6.dpuf

Categories: Alaska News

Yup’ik Voters Give Ballot Translation Mixed Reviews

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:36

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

Alaska Native voters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western Alaska gave the Yup’ik language primary ballot translations mixed reviews. All eight of the Yup’ik voters that KYUK talked with said they needed help understanding what they were voting on. 

Listen now:

Elder Jacob Nelson is originally from the coastal village of Kwigilingok. He moved to Bethel in the 1970′s and he speaks mostly Yup’ik, and very little English. He says leading up to Alaska’s primary election, he heard some information on the radio in his language about an oil tax referendum.

“I only ever heard about the ballot initiative on radio, not from anyone else.”

Alaska’s primary ballot asked voters to weigh in on whether to repeal oil tax changes made by the state legislature last year, among other things.

The Primary was held on the heels of a trial, where Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund argued the state of Alaska was not doing enough to help Yup’ik voters understand the issues in their language. The state division of elections argues they’re doing enough. Critics say the translations are full of jargon and legalese that’s difficult if not impossible for mainly Yup’ik speaking voters to make sense of.

Like many elders in the area, Nelson says he couldn’t understand the Yup’ik ballot because it’s written in a modern style he’s not used to. He had someone working at the polls explain the issues to him, in spoken Yup’ik, and marked an English ballot. He said he’s glad there is some effort, but there could be more.

“This will be good for the people if people could understand what they are voting for and if we understand it the way we speak.”

It’s estimated there are around 10-thousand Yup’ik speaking voters in Alaska. The language is the second most spoken language in the state behind English, also the second most spoken Native American language in the country behind Navajo. A decision on the lawsuit against the state of Alaska regarding language translations is expected soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Indian Village totem poles come down In Juneau

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:35

The two totem poles that stood for 36 years in Juneau’s old Indian Village have been hauled off.

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A work crew with a 12-ton boom truck pulled the delicate poles and hauled them to a warehouse Tuesday. They had deteriorated badly over the years, but were taken away more or less intact.

A 12-ton boom truck delicately lifts a weakened Eagle totem pole off its perch at the Gajaa Hit building. Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO.

Ricardo Worl is the president and CEO of The Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, which owns the Gajaa Hít building where the totem poles stood.

“There’s a lot of discussion as to what would be the best and most appropriate solution and what we’re going to do with them,” Worl said. “We even talked about letting them lie in state, here in the village.”

Fear of vandalism and concerns that pedestrians wouldn’t properly respect them have cooled that idea, Worl said.

“So for now, we’re going to bring them to the housing authority warehouse, let them dry out inside the warehouse, and then we’ll decide what we’re gonna do with it from there,” he said.

Brian Wallace was a teenager when he watched the late Edward Kunz Sr. carve the poles. Tuesday, Wallace happened to be passing by and stopped to watch.

“It’s mixed emotions, you know? Seeing something like this, and I don’t know how well it can be restored, or if it’s going back to the spirit of the forest,” Wallace said.

Worl said parts may be salvaged for indoor display.

Meanwhile, a pair of Haida carving brothers that Sealaska Heritage Institute commissioned have completed the new totem poles and nearly finished the new screen that will replace the warehoused ones.

Worl said the target date for raising the new poles is Sept. 29.

Categories: Alaska News

Peninsula Women Swim Across Kachemak Bay

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:34

Current swim coach for the Kachemak Swim Club, Dana Jaworksi, says she’s considered swimming the bay since she first moved to Alaska nearly 10 years ago. Then last winter her dream took a strong turn toward becoming reality when she and her friend Jan decided to go for it.

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“I walked up to Jan one day and said, ‘Hey I got something I want to ask you about.’ And she said, ‘Me too. You want to swim across the Kachemak Bay?’ And I said, ‘That’s what I was going to ask.’ And it was meant to be,” says Jaworski.

Jan Rumble is also a coach with the club. She and Dana were joined by a teacher from Anchor Point, Lila Lee Little, and they started training for the big day on the first of June.

“Really, the distance as far as open water swims go is not that far. Diana Nyad swam 72 hours straight from Cuba to Florida. This is nothing like that,” says Jaworski.

Dana says their swim was about four and a half miles. Each of the women have done that before, so the only things that worried them about getting into the water were possible run-ins with jellyfish, fishing boats, and of course, the cold.

“Just a mile and a half off the end of the Spit, the current brought the glacial water right to us and it was extremely cold and it just got colder. So the last mile was just excruciating,” says Jaworski.

The swimmers had friends following them on boats to avoid falling into the path of another vessel and they didn’t see a single jellyfish. They did see some seals, fish, and a humpback whale.

All in all, Jan says the swim was a huge success.

“The weather was perfect and our support crew just did great and other than the cold, it was a beautiful swim and a beautiful day,” says Jaworski.

The trio first planned to start the swim on Saturday morning but because of poor weather decided to wait until Sunday.

They have bumped the number of people to swim the bay up to at least 10. Claudia Rose of San Diego made the last swim back in August of 2013.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Wins, Snubs Election Central Celebration; Treadwell Concedes

Wed, 2014-08-20 10:51

Dan Sullivan took 40 percent of the vote, handily beating Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell to win the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate. Sullivan, though, wouldn’t talk to reporters and didn’t come to Election Central at the Egan Convention Center, as winning candidates usually do. Veteran newsman Steve MacDonald of KTUU Channel 2 said he thought this might be an election night first.

“I can’t think, off hand, I cannot think of anyone who has refused to claim victory,” MacDonald says.

U.S Senate Republican primary candidate Mead Treadwell concedes the race late Tuesday night. He came in third with about a quarter of the vote. Former Alaska attorney general Dan Sullivan won the GOP nomination. Photo by KSKA/Ellen Lockyer.

Sullivan held his lead all night, and once most of the vote was counted, his campaign staffers were seen pressing an Associated Press reporter to declare the winner. She said that wasn’t her job. After midnight, with the Egan Center shutting down, journalists gathered on the sidewalk outside a restaurant where Sullivan was having a private party. TV cameramen filmed through the closed windows. MacDonald says it was like the star of election night was a no-show, despite a lot of coaxing.

“The one thing that politicians crave to do is make that victory speech and we’ve tried, everybody here has tried every single possible way, to get them to talk, and they won’t do it.”

Just before 2 a.m., after Miller conceded, the Sullivan campaign finally issued a press release acknowledging their win.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposition 1 Opponents Declare Victory

Wed, 2014-08-20 06:00

A referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature oil tax law is trailing by nearly 7,000 votes, and its opponents are now declaring victory.

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When the first returns came in, the referendum was up by exactly five votes. The Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway team marched into Anchorage’s Election Central cheering enthusiastically and believing momentum was on their side.

With 98.6 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, the “no” votes on Ballot Measure 1 are ahead of the “yes” votes by nearly 7,000 votes.

But as the night wore on, the numbers began to turn against the ballot measure. By the time all precincts had reported Wednesday afternoon, the nays were beating the yeas with 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent.

At a press conference, Gov. Sean Parnell says he sees the results as decisive.

“I don’t consider a five-percent win in the end as close. We’ve got a lot of elections [where] that’s deemed a landslide.”

Parnell says the results should spur industry to invest more in oil and gas production in the state, a major argument used by the referendum’s opposition. Meanwhile, supporters of the referendum charged that by capping the tax rate at 35 percent, the new regime gives too much of a break on oil production. They wanted to go back to a system where the tax rate on production went up along with the price per barrel.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the referendum sponsors still had not conceded. The Division of Elections still needs to count about 15,000 ballots, with potentially more coming in.

T.J. Presley is the campaign manager for Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway, and he doesn’t think the race is a landslide for the no crowd — he’s getting satisfaction from the race being such a tight one. He believes that if the referendum had been on the general election ballot along with a set of initiatives on marijuana, Pebble mine, and the minimum wage, it might have been more successful. Instead, it was on the primary ballot, which tends to draw more conservative voters, and it shared space with a high profile Republican Senate contest.

“It was a perfect storm, and in spite of all that, we still got 48 to 52,” says Presley.

The referendum was the most expensive race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised.

This story was updated at 4:55pm on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Wins GOP Senate Bid

Wed, 2014-08-20 05:45

Former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

He will run against incumbent Democrat Mark Begich who easily won renomination Tuesday.

Sullivan took 40 percent of the vote, 8 points ahead of Fairbanks Attorney Joe Miller.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who finished third with about 25 percent of the vote, came to election central with a parade of somber supporters around 11:30 p.m. He spoke standing with his arms around his three children, his daughter, Natalie, the only one in tears.

” Tonight I don’t feel like Alaska’s abandoned me because I know I haven’t abandoned Alaska,” Treadwell said.

In an extreme case of message discipline, Dan Sullivan never spoke to reporters on election night and didn’t do the customary victory march into Election Central in downtown Anchorage.

Despite holding on to a comfortable lead all night, Sullivan’s campaign manager, Ben Sparks, said they were waiting for Miller to concede, or for a media declaration.

“Out of respect for Joe, We’ll be holding on any statement until the race is called by a credible news organization,” Sparks said.

Sullivan held a private party with supporters at a restaurant across the street from the Egan Convention Center, so TV crews filmed Sullivan through the plate-glass windows as he stood on a table to make what appeared to be a victory speech.

After the media left and Miller’s campaign issued a statement congratulating Sullivan, Sullivan finally conceded victory in a
press release just before 2 a.m.

Current vote counts are being pulled from the Alaska Division of Elections webpage.

In other statewide races:

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    Forrest Dunbar won the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent Republican Don Young in the US House race. Dunbar handily defeated Jim McDermott and Frank Vondersaar, winning almost 63 percent of the vote. Young topped John Cox, David Dohner and David Seaward. He won more than 74 percent of the vote.

  • In the race for governor, incumbent Republican Sean Parnell easily won renomination beating three other candidates, Gerald Heikes, Russ Millette, and Brad Snowden. Parnell won more than 75 percent of the vote.
  • Parnell will face Democrat Byron Mallott who also coasted to victory Tuesday beating Phil Stoddard. Mallott won with almost 67 percent of the vote. Parnell and Mallott will face Bill Walker, who is running as an independent, in November.
  • Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan won the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. He beat Kelly Wolf with 70 percent of the vote. State Senator Hollis French defeated Robert Williams to take the Democratic nomination. French won almost 62 percent of the vote. Walker’s running mate is Craig Fleener.



Categories: Alaska News

Feige Losing, Stoltze Wins Mat-Su Legislative Races

Wed, 2014-08-20 04:30

Unofficial results of Tuesday’s primary election are in, and it looks like there may be one upset in the Valley.

Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver could upset incumbent Eric Feige for the Republican nomination for the House District 9 race. With only one precinct still to be counted in the district after midnight this morning, Colver had a little over 36 percent of the vote in the three-way race.

“I guess we are in a wait and see position here,” Colver said. “We don’t know what precincts out yet. And we have a lot of absentees. I’m glad we’re up, but it’s a long way from being over.”

George Rauscher was close, with 34 percent of the vote, but incumbent Feige lagged behind both challengers with 29.5 percent.  Absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

It came as no surprise that former state representative Bill Stoltze has won the Republican nod for the Senate District F candidacy in November. Stoltze took the lead early in the evening, and finished the night with almost 71 percent of the vote, while challenger DeLena Johnson gained only a little more than 29 percent after all the precincts were in. Stoltze said at Election Central in Anchorage that he’s looking forward to the general election.

 ”A lot of it is not new, because I have been representing the whole Valley, trying to look beyond boundaries. And I’ve routinely done a good job representing Palmer even thought it wasn’t in the district. And other areas, so I think that those kinds of things paid off, that I didn’t pay attention to the boundaries, arbitrary poliltical lines. We tried to take care of the Valley as a whole. You do one thing for one part of the Valley and it benefits the whole Valley.”

Stoltze will face Democrat Pat Chesbro in November for the new Senate F seat, which links Anchorage suburbs of Chugiak and Peters Creek, with the greater Palmer area in the Matanuska Valley.

The Republican race between two first-time candidates for the House District 12 candidacy went to Cathy Tilton. Tilton, a former legislative staffer, finished the night with more than 64 percent of the vote.

“I think the key to the support in all the precincts was just really the boots on the ground, going door to door and talking to the people, listening,” Tilton said. “Not even just talking to them but listening to them, and that’s probably more important than talking to them.”

Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Ron Arvin took 35.6 percent of the vote.

In other contested legislative races on Tuesday:

House District 1.
Republicans. Gregory Bringhurst defeated Jomo Stewart..

House District 2.
Democrats. Larry Murakami defeated Uriah Nalikak.

House District 3.
Republicans. Tammie Wilson was ahead of Doug Isaacson.

House District 6.
Republicans. David Talerico defeated Thomas Dunning.

House District 16.
Republicans. Don Hadley defeated Kevin Kastner.

House District 21.
Republicans. Anand Dubey defeated Matt Fagnani.

House District 22.
Republicans. Liz Vazquez was ahead of Sherri Jackson.

House District 32.
Republicans. Louise Stutes defeated Carol Austerman and Rich Walker.

House District 36.
Republicans. Chere Klein was ahead of Patti Mackey and Agnes Moran.

House District 40.
Democrats. Benjamin Nageak was ahead of Dean Westlake.




Categories: Alaska News

Dubey, Hadley, Vazquez Win GOP House Bids

Wed, 2014-08-20 03:30

Tuesday’s Republican primary pushed three Anchorage candidates a little closer to Juneau.

Anand Dubey had a clear lead over challenger Mark Fagnani for the Republican candidacy for House District 21.

Dubey led the race early on, finishing with more than 60 percent of the vote. But the candidate was cautious in his comments Tuesday night.

“I feel exactly the way I felt,” Dubey said. “I ‘m just going to wait and see. So I’m just grateful to have this opportunity to run and to give people a choice. That’s the sense of our system here in America, that gives us liberty. So that’s what brings me joy. So it doesn’t matter if I win or lose.”

Dubey is self-employed as an IT consultant and says his understanding of emerging technologies will help him pare down the budget and consolidate government services.

Don Hadley bested challenger Kevin Kastner for the Republican nomination in House District 16. Hadley, who focused his campaign on educational issues, took 55 percent of the vote to Kastner’s almost 45 percent.

Liz Vazquez won the Republican nod for House District 22 with more than 52 percent of the vote. Challenger Sherri Jackson finished with 47 percent.

In other contested legislative races on Tuesday:

Senate District F.
Republicans. Bill Stoltze defeated DeLena Johnson.

House District 1.
Republicans. Gregory Bringhurst defeated Jomo Stewart..

House District 2.
Democrats. Larry Murakami defeated Uriah Nalikak.

House District 3.
Republicans. Tammie Wilson was ahead of Doug Isaacson.

House District 6.
Republicans. David Talerico defeated Thomas Dunning.

House District 9.
Republicans. Jim Colver defeated Eric Feige and George Rauscher.

House District 12.
Republicans. Cathy Tilton defeated Ron Arvin.

House District 32.
Republicans. Louise Stutes defeated Carol Austerman and Rich Walker.

House District 36.
Republicans. Chere Klein was ahead of Patti Mackey and Agnes Moran.

House District 40.
Democrats. Benjamin Nageak was ahead of Dean Westlake.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott, Parnell Easily Win Nominations

Wed, 2014-08-20 02:30

Incumbent Republican Sean Parnell easily won renomination for governor beating three other candidates, Gerald Heikes, Russ Millette, and Brad Snowden. Parnell won more than 75 percent of the vote.

Parnell will face Democrat Byron Mallott who also coasted to victory Tuesday beating Phil Stoddard. Mallott won with almost 67 percent of the vote.

Parnell and Mallott will face Bill Walker, who is running as an independent, in November.

Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan won the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. He beat Kelly Wolf with 70 percent of the vote. State Senator Hollis French defeated Robert Williams to take the Democratic nomination. French won almost 62 percent of the vote.

Walker’s running mate is Craig Fleener.


Categories: Alaska News

Steady Voter Turnout Reported In Primary

Tue, 2014-08-19 17:38

Elections workers are reporting a steady turnout for today’s primary. Nearly 10,000 voters cast their ballots early, compared to 5,000 voters in the 2010 primary. Drawing people to the polls are two major races – a referendum that would repeal a tax break on oil production and a three-way contest for the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination. Polls are open until 8p.m., and returns will be coming in shortly after.

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Categories: Alaska News

Modeling Indicates Fairbanks LNG Project is a Go

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:40

The state is a step closer to proving its North Slope to Fairbanks natural gas trucking project can work. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority lead Interior Energy Project is aimed at providing gas at about half the cost of heating oil, and officials say they’re honing in on the target.

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Categories: Alaska News

Federal Requirements Burden Small Medical Practices In Alaska

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:39

Dr. Oliver Korshin in his office in east Anchorage. Photo by Annie Feidt.

EHR,  ICD-10 and PQRS may sound like alphabet soup to you. But most doctors around the country know exactly what those acronyms stand for. They are programs championed by the federal government to improve quality and bring medicine into the electronic age. But in Alaska, where small medical practices are the norm, the new requirements can be a heavy burden.

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Dr. Oliver Korshin doesn’t want to use electronic records in his office. Starting next year, the federal government will penalize him for that choice- withholding 1 percent of his Medicare payments.  So in February, the 71 year old ophthalmologist mailed in a form, requesting an exemption. He had to indicate which exemption category fit his situation:

“The only one that possibly applied to me was disaster. So I picked disaster and I described my disaster as old age and I submitted as my supporting document a copy of my passport.”

Korshin practices three days a week in the same small office in east Anchorage he’s had for three decades. Many of his patients have aged into their Medicare years right along with him, like the 86 year old woman visiting on a recent afternoon for a regular check up.

Korshin has just one employee, a part time nurse. And his lease runs out in four years, when he will be 75 and expects to retire.  He says for his tiny practice, electronic medical records just don’t make sense. It would cost too much to make the switch and maintain a new system.

“No possible business model would endorse that kind of implementation in a practice situated like mine, it’s crazy.”

Dr. Koshin talks with a patient at his office. Many of his patients have aged into Medicare along with him. Photo by Annie Feidt.

Korshin will lose another 1.5% of his Medicare payments next year for failing to enroll in PQRS, a federal program that requires doctors to report quality data.  And then there is ICD-10, a new coding system- also set to take effect the fall of 2015. Korshin says small practices can’t keep up with all of the federal requirements:

“This flurry of things one has to comply with means that unless you work for a large organization like a hospital that can devote staff and time to dealing with these issues, there’s no economy of scale, I can’t share these expenses with anybody.”

Korshin may seem like an outlier, being so close to retirement with such a small practice. But according to the Alaska State Medical Association, he is not alone. The association’s Mike Haugen says half of the doctors in Alaska are over the age of 50 and very few are employed by large organizations:

“Most practices in Alaska are small practices. They’re 1, 2 and 3 doctor practices. The number of really large practices- and that’s relative in Alaska- you can probably count them on one hand.”

Haugen says he hears a lot of complaints from doctors who are feeling overwhelmed by the federal requirements for practicing medicine. And he worries the burden is forcing many- especially older doctors, to consider retiring early:

“There won’t be some flashing neon sign we ever see that says x number of doctors have left. It’s a very quiet process and that for me is the scary part, because you take a look at the medical association membership a year or two from now, and it may be smaller and access to care in this state is a real issue.”

But Rebecca Madison thinks a lot of doctors would decide to stay in practice if they had help with the transition to electronic health records. That’s Madison’s job as executive director of Alaska eHealth Network. She wants to make it as easy as possible for providers to make the switch to electronic records. And she encounters a lot of resistance.

“We hear everything from it will never work for them, it’s too costly for them- especially for some of the older providers in this state who are coming to the end of the time in their practice. It’s a huge investment.”

Madison tries to sell doctors on the benefits. She reminds them electronic records can make their offices more efficient and give them better data on the care they’re providing. And it will make it easier when it comes time to sell their practices. Madison also sees the issue from the patients’ perspective:

“My whole goal and the reason I got into this… process is to give the data to the patient. They deserve to have it- it’s their data- they should be able to access it.”

But Madison says she understands electronic records won’t work for every doctor and she thinks that’s okay. Remember Oliver Korshin and his letter asking the federal government for an exemption from the electronic records requirement due to old age? He got a response- through Senator Murkowski- in May.

It was denied.

Korshin says he will continue practicing anyway- the old fashioned way.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 








Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Arrest, Charge Teen With Arson For Delta-Area Fires

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:37

The 16-year-old that Troopers arrested and charged Monday with setting a fire at a Delta Junction house on Sunday also is charged with torching the Clearwater Lodge, shown here on the morning of May 15th.
Credit KUAC file photo

Alaska State Troopers have arrested a 16-year-old male and charged him with arson for setting a house in Delta Junction on fire last weekend and for the May 15th fire that destroyed the Clearwater Lodge.

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Troopers investigating the May 15th fire that destroyed the Clearwater Lodge got a big break in the case Monday when they were questioning the juvenile about another fire on Sunday that heavily damaged a Delta-area home.

Troopers says they found evidence that showed the house had been broken-into and that items were stolen before it was set on fire.

According to a Trooper report issued this morning, investigators were able to identify the suspect and the vehicle he allegedly was using. The report says the 16-year-old admitted to the theft and arson.

During the investigation, Troopers also learned the juvenile was responsible for the Clearwater Lodge fire. The report is unclear as to how, but the implication is that he admitted to that crime as well.

The juvenile’s identity hasn’t been released. Troopers don’t identify juveniles involved in criminal cases.

Monday’s arrest was good news to Kevin Ewing, who along with his wife, Patsy, own the Lodge. Ewing says he hopes that others who he suspects also were involved also will be rounded up.

“We’re very happy that this group (is) off the street and not doing this kind of stuff anymore,” he said.

Ewing estimates the arsonists that destroyed his lodge will cost him about a million dollars. He says his insurance policy didn’t cover the half-million-dollar appraised value of the structure. And the Ewings plan to build a new lodge on the site of the old one on the banks of the Clearwater River east of Delta.

The juvenile charged with arson was taken to Fairbanks Youth Facility Monday on multiple charges of arson, theft, and other offenses in connection with the two fires.

Investigators can’t yet say whether others were involved in one or both fires. An investigation in both cases continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Cleans Up Cold War-Era Radio Site In Southeast

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:36

Duncan Canal (KFSK file photo)

A large soil clean-up project at a former Cold War mountaintop radio site near Petersburg is underway this summer. A contractor for the U.S. Air Force is removing soil contaminated by fuel and building debris left at the site after it’s decommissioning almost three decades ago.

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The site was a manned Air Force communications station, one of 18 built in Alaska during the 1950s. It was part of a Cold War-era early warning system called White Alice used to relay radio communications from Clear Air Force base in Alaska to Colorado Springs fifty years ago. It’s on Kupreanof Island, just south of Ohmer Slough on Duncan Canal, about eight miles west of Petersburg. The Duncan Canal station began relaying radio signals in 1960. It was deactivated in 1976 and the buildings were removed in 1986.

The Air Force already removed over 100 dumped fuel barrels from that area in 2000. Other fuel drums, demolished buildings, trash and chemical contaminants remain. A contractor working for the Air Force documented PCBs, fuel, chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and groundwater.
Lori Roy is project manager with the US. Air Force and said the contaminated soil was more than expected. “We went out and characterized what we thought was pretty good. But of course we usually see that it’s more than anticipated. So we want to ensure that we are cleaning up and getting everything so we are doing all kinds of excavation and confirmation sampling to make sure that we come away clean and we’ve done our good job out there.”

The main contractor on the job is a company called Bhate. They’re working on land that’s part of the Tongass National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The mountaintop site is currently used by AT&T Alascom for a commercial communication facility. It’s a relatively remote area just off the Tonka road system and there are a few recreational cabins nearby.

Roy said the contractor is not using the Tonka log transfer facility to transport the contaminated soil because of an ongoing logging operation in the area. Instead the contractor is landing a barge closer to the site in Duncan Canal. “We brought all our stuff in though Tonka and now we’re using the alternate area to take the super sacks of soil out. So if people are boating along the shoreline they’ll see tons of supersacks over there in the Duncan Canal area and we are coming in and out of that side of the island.”

Those super sacks are large polypropylene bags for the contaminated dirt. Roy estimated they’ll be filling around one thousand super sacks with 785 cubic yards of soil. It will be shipped to a landfill in Arlington, Oregon.

The cleanup involves three separate areas, a dump site, a fuel storage area and a site with debris from demolition of the buildings. Roy said after the excavation the sites will be refilled with clean soil. “It will not have the current vegetation on it but there will be no gaping holes.All the excavations will be filled and tilled. So it will all be smooth.”

Roy said the contractor had not anticipated the daily record rainfall that’s hit the area several days this summer and that’s created some problems for excavating the soil. She did not have a dollar amount for the project – the final costs won’t be known until the work is complete. However an environemental decision document on the work estimated the overall price tag could be three and a half million dollars, once the three sites are cleaned up, filled with new soil and tested.

The cleanup is about halfway done and Roy hoped the project would be finished by the end of September. Soil sampling at the site will continue for a few years after.

Categories: Alaska News

King Salmon Trolling Ends On Slow Note

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:35

Poor weather extended a planned three-day king opener into five days. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

After an unprecedented two extensions, the summer king salmon season for trollers in Southeast is over.

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The Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed the fishery at 11:59 PM Monday, August 18 — two days later than planned.

Pattie Skannes is troll management biologist for the region.

“Yeah. We don’t usually work on Saturday and Sunday. But this was one of those openings that required a little bit of attention every day. We set it for three days thinking, This is going to be easy. But it turned out to be anything but easy.”

The target for the three-day opener was 36,000 kings. But on day one, it looked like trollers were bringing in about 12 fish per day. During the first opener of the season — the first week of July — trollers were landing about 50 kings per day. An August storm blew in and kept many of the region’s 700 trollers off the ocean. So the department extended the opening 24 hours to Sunday night. And then another 24 hours until Monday night.

As the weather improved, Skannes says, so did the fishing.

“There were some boats that came in with 0-10 kings, and some that came in with a few hundred. So it’s a wide range, but the average is still fairly low — 19-20 per boat per day. So I think that we’re going to come out just about right.”

Skannes relies on fishermen to keep her informed of their success during the fishery. During a three-day opener, the Department can’t collect fish tickets from processors quickly enough to make timely decisions about how things are going. So a number of boat call in their catch rates directly to Skannes, and she estimates the total harvest based largely on this voluntary survey.

It’s a strategy to avoid undershooting the harvest, and having a third opener later in the summer.

“There have been years in the past where there was a third opener to kind of mop up what’s left. We don’t let you do that anymore. It’s very unpopular. So I expect this will be our last opening for the year.”

In the first summer opener in July, trollers landed almost 200,000 kings. They were paid an average of $3.14 per pound. Since then, the catch rate for coho salmon has skyrocketed, with trollers sometimes bringing in hundreds of coho with their kings. The average price for coho has been around $1.49 per pound.

Although this wraps up the summer season for kings, trollers will still be on the ocean fishing for coho and chum salmon for the next few weeks. And come October, trollers will once again be able to target kings when the winter fishery gets underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Observations of Kachemak Cranes Paints Detailed Picture

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:34

Volunteers with the Kachemak Crane Watch have kept an eye out for Sand Hill Crane adults and colts all summer. The season isn’t over yet, but the information collected so far has given the group a decent picture of the cranes’ progress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bluegrass Camp For Kids Goes Busking

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:33

Kids hit the streets of Petersburg recently to showcase their music skills and raise money for Bluegrass Camp. It’s a program that runs throughout the United States, taught by a group of traveling folk musicians.

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It’s an hour before the kids will pack up their instruments and perform in an outdoor venue: the sidewalks of downtown Petersburg. They’re going busking later.

“Busking is kinda like when you get in a group and practice things and go sing for people,” says eight-year-old, Allie Thomassen. She’s brushing up on her guitar playing skills. The instrument is about half the size of her tiny body, but that doesn’t stop her from strumming to “Oh, Susanna.”

The camp brings in established bluegrass musicians from around the country, like Tyson James Alteri. “I’ve been living in Nashville. For the past three summers, I’ve been playing around Alaska in Tyson James and the Hot Strings.” Alteri went to the University of Alaska in Anchorage in the 90s. Since then, he’s been working the country music circuit between Los Angeles and Nashville. “But the nature and the beauty of Alaska draws you back.” Teaching gives him the opportunity to travel. He’s even taught bluegrass in Hawaii, but he says there’s something special about mentoring the kids in Southeast. “This camp in particular has some unique kids involved. They pick up things really fast. It seems like music is going to stick to these kids.”

The class is busking later for the thrill of performing in public, but they’re also doing it for something else. Eight-year-old Breiland Willis just isn’t entirely sure what that is.
“I think it’s where you go around playing music around town singing?” Alteri reminds him that they’ll also be making money for the camp.

From the earnings, the camp will purchase more instruments, strings, and picks. “We like to provide the instruments so people have a chance to play new instruments they’ve never had the chance to play before,” says Angela Oudean. She performs with the band Todd Grebe and Cold Country, and teaches at the camp. She says for beginning musicians, instruments like the banjo can be hard to come by. “It’s going to be their first time playing that instrument. They’re not going to have one at home.”

The kids busk on the sidewalk, between a local boutique and hardware store. The spot is a prime location for the hustling musicians. After performing, Oudean counts a stack of dollar bills dropped in a fiddle case. “$32 bucks. That’s half an instrument right there.”

In total, the kids earned about $200 busking. It’s money they’ll put back into next year’s Bluegrass Camp.

Categories: Alaska News
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