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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: 16 min 34 sec ago

Fish Board Restricts Commercial Fleet in Cook Inlet

Mon, 2014-02-10 18:51

After spending Sunday listening to stakeholders’ committee comments on Northern District proposals, the state’s Board of Fisheries Monday morning got down to deliberations on central Cook Inlet management changes. The Board unanimously approved a proposal to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

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 The Board unanimously approved substitute language for a proposal [135] initially sponsored by commercial drifters intending to modify the plan to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

 But the language the Board approved was put forward by the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. Commission member Larry Engle says the board’s approval of the substitute expands harvest opportunities for the drift fishery during the early part of the fishing season, while it expands fishing areas for the drift fleet until July fifteenth. After that date, until the end of the month, the drift fleet harvest will be restricted to allow more fish passage into the Northern District.

“So it was kind of a balancing act, and the whole issue surrounded around conservation. Every board member talked about this, and they couldn’t predict exactly how this was ultimately going to turn out, but things have gotten so bad in terms of fish passage through the Northern District, escapements, the closures and its impacts on tens of thousands of Alaskans, that they knew they had to try something different. And they did. “

 Engle says the changes to Central District drift management is one of the most critical issues at the meeting. He says the drift fleet will be able to catch more fish up front at the start of the season, while later season restrictions on commercial harvesters will allow more fish for Northern Cook Inlet. Mac Minard, a consultant for the Mat Su Fish and Wildlife Commission says sports harvests should benefit.

“It will deliver tens of thousands, if a hundred thousand coho North into the streams and waters of the Northern District. There will be an immediate and measurable effect in those fisheries for local anglers this fall. “ 

The move affects all salmon headed for the Northern District. Engle says Board members put concerns about conservation of the stocks over allegiance to harvest groups.  Board actions can be reconsidered within 24 hours.




Categories: Alaska News

Museum Exhibit Opens Highlighting Marine Debris Problem

Mon, 2014-02-10 18:46

Marine Debris used to be mostly nets, buoys and fishing gear but now it includes plastic bottles, bottle caps, and styrophone. It’s everywhere, there’s nowhere to put it and more is coming every day. Johanna Eurich reports on a new museum exhibit highlighting the problem.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tourists Rescued Near Chatanika

Mon, 2014-02-10 18:33

Alaska State Troopers rescued a group of tourists late Friday night after they got stuck in their vehicle trying to get to a lodge about 20 miles north of Fairbanks near Chatanika on an outing to view the aurora borealis.

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Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Considers Starting In Fairbanks

Mon, 2014-02-10 18:26

The Iditarod Trail Committee is considering moving the restart of the race from Willow to Fairbanks. Saturday’s statement says that the ceremonial start will take place on March 1st in Anchorage as planned, and that the current plan is to have the restart, where the competitive part of the race truly begins, in Willow the next day. But there are concerns about trail conditions between Rainy Pass and Nikolai. If the trail isn’t acceptable by the beginning of next week, the restart will be moved to Fairbanks on March 3rd.

Moving the start of the race would mean logistical challenges for race officials and mushers. In addition, many Mat-Su Valley businesses bring in significant income during the Iditarod.

Now, race officials, mushers, fans, and business owners will be watching the weather forecast, hoping for good news. A final decision is expected sometime next Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Allen Moore Wins 2014 Yukon Quest

Mon, 2014-02-10 18:23

Allen Moore was choked up at the finish line. It’s a bittersweet win for the Two Rivers musher. Credit Mark Gillet / Yukon Quest

Allen Moore has won the Yukon Quest International Sled dog Race for the second consecutive year.  Moore’s team is known for its petite stature, perky ears and wagging tails and they didn’t disappoint.  They jumped in harness and yelped after arriving at Takhini Hot Springs 30 miles outside of Whitehorse.

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But Moore’s win is bittersweet.  What was expected to be a foot race to the finish, turned into a solo run after Eureka Musher Brent Sass sustained a minor head injury Sunday morning, roughly 80 miles from the finish line.  The accident was clearly difficult for Moore as he crossed the finish line.

“It would have been interesting, especially for the media if Brent hadn’t have gotten injured, because we would have been neck in neck all the way here.” The Two-Rivers musher choked up as he talked about the race. “We’d have probably both slid around the corner right there.  So, anyway, he said probably next year.”

This is Moore’s fourth top-ten finish in as many years. He also had to catch his breath when asked about his lead dog, Quito. “Quito’s been in every one of our races and she’s always been in the lead. She’s just the best dog a person could have.  The last four year’s she’s run back-to-back Quests and Iditarods in lead and I wish we had a lot more like her.”

Quito led the team in single lead for much of the race.  When she wasn’t running alone, she was running next to a tri-colored leader named Scruggs.  Moore says he plans to be back for the race, and he expects Quito and Scruggs are likely to run the Quest again next year. “Well, I would hope so. Until she tells us she doesn’t want to do it anymore, and she’s hasn’t said that yet and she’s just six or seven, one of the two.”

There are still 12 teams on the trail.  They will continue to make their way toward the finish line throughout the week.  The finish line was relocated 30 miles from downtown Whitehorse due to weak ice on the Yukon River and poor trail conditions. The change and the elimination of American Summit outside of Eagle shortened the total distance by roughly 50 miles.

Categories: Alaska News

Drumming and Healing at Beans Café

Mon, 2014-02-10 14:37

At midday, huge crowds of homeless men and women filter inside Beans Cafe in downtown Anchorage for meals and socializing. It can be noisy and chaotic. For many, it’s their only respite from the cold and dust outside on the city streets. But once a week, volunteers recently began serving up more than a hot meal. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.

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Dressed in a traditional fringed and beaded moose hide jacket, when Samuel Johns steps into the industrial-sized building filled with cafeteria tables, heads

Some of the homeless people ask about his jacket, others about his drum with the word Ahtna scrolled across the front and two red feathers on either side. Even more gather round when he brings out his stick and starts pounding out the beat.

His cousin Andrew wears a black hoodie and dances and sings at his side. During a recent one-day point in time survey, The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation found the majority of chronically homeless people in Anchorage – Around 70 percent of the 700 or so homeless people surveyed – self-identified as Alaska Native. Johns noticed too. He says he got the idea to start drumming at Beans while volunteering there a few weeks ago. At the end of the song, the audience let out sounds of approval.

28-year-old Johns grew up in Copper Center, or as he calls it Kluti Kaah. He is Ahtna and Gwich’en Athabascan. By his own account, Johns could have been among the men and women with substance abuse issues at beans. He spent his youth drinking to numb out emotions, he says, he did not know how to deal with. Traditional songs, drumming, dancing helped him find connection again get sober when he was 21. He says he was apprehensive about how he’d be received but something cool happened when he started drumming and singing at Beans.

“I just started singing. And it amazed me the respect that I got and the quietness that happened.”

Quietness followed by request after request for traditional Native songs from every corner of Alaska. Ed Pratt, who says he’s Tlingit from Huna and Juneau asked Johns to play a song to honor a friend who recently died.

“I love the drumming. I love the drumming! Because it takes me away from myself.”

Vernita Ballot who is Inupaq from Selawik, likes the drumming too.

“Driving me crazy. In a good, beautiful way. (Daysha: Does it remind you of home?) It remind me a lot of the way long ago people, Inupaq people, they used to drum too and dance. They taught me how. I know a little bit about it. But you know just to hear them drummin’ – it’s beautiful. I love it. Made me feel young again (laughs).”

“Our Native dancing and drumming, long ago, was kind of our form of going to church.”

That’s Ed Tiulana, a cultural programs coordinator at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

“Before western civilization came to Alaska and religion came to Alaska this was our way of making prayer to honor animals, our ancestors and the land and to share stories with everybody.”

Tiulana’s learned traditional drumming from his grandparents who come from King Island while he was growing up in Anchorage. He says they taught him that drums are used to replicate the sound of your mother’s heartbeat – that they help you relax, release energy and feel connection. With Alaska Native culture still in a transition from traditional to modern times, Tiulana says, the drum is a connection to healthy traditions and finding a way forward.

“Physical abuse, mental abuse, alcohol, drug abuse. You know, These things we tend to get lost in. And then we are disconnected from our culture. But when we hear our drumming and our singing, that fills an empty spot in our heart.”

A spot Johns says he’s excited to help fill with his drum.

“Our drum is like Medicine. Our drum is a tool for healing. And that’s what I was telling them while we were down there. You don’t just buy this thing at a store. You don’t get this at the hospital. It’s something that’s been passed down from generation to generation for a reason.”

Johns only knows songs from his region. He hopes Alaska Native people from other regions will join him to drum, sing and dance with the people at Beans Cafe soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Winds Whipping Up Dust, Gravel in the Mat-Su

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:07

Schools stayed open in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Friday, despite high winds raking the area late Thursday night and were expected to continue through Friday afternoon.

A low pressure center moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska, in combination with a high pressure area over the Interior, caused the winds. Palmer, Wasilla, Chickaloon and Sutton were affected by the winds, which reached 60 mph with gusts of up to 80 mph.

Casey Cook, the Mat- Su Borough’s emergency services director, said the wind was blowing up gravel from the roadways, and was kicking up a lot of dust. Schools were open, but other facilities were not

Cook said intermittent power outages were caused by the wind damage and that there was at least one injury blamed on the wind event.

Matanuska Electric Association reported that about 3,500 people were affected by power outages Thursday night and Friday morning, according to company spokeswoman Julie Estey.

Crews worked between Willow and Talkeetna to take down lines that needed repair. Additional crews had been called to help restore power to 500 MEA customers still without electricity noon on Friday.

An air quality advisory was in effect throughout the Mat-Su Borough,  because of the dry air and the lack of snowfall in the area. The wind was kicking up dust and silt, and children, the elderly and persons with existing lung or heart disease were encouraged to stay indoors for the duration of the windy period.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Warns Ketchikan of Lawsuit Repercussions

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:06

In a visit to Ketchikan Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell said there could be “unintended consequences” to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state. Photo by KRBD.

Governor Sean Parnell is warning that Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding might make him and lawmakers reluctant to fund Ketchikan projects.

In a visit to the community Thursday, Parnell discussed the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit, which argues that municipalities in Alaska should not have to pay a local contribution for public education. If the suit is successful, it could hold the state accountable for hundreds of millions more in education spending and Parnell predicted potential repercussions.

Parnell confirmed some people’s worries here in Ketchikan. He said the lawsuit filed in January could jade his and other lawmakers perspective toward Ketchikan funding.

“When Ketchikan asks for money but yet the state might be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance or a reticence to step forward for other projects.,” Parnell said.

Parnell said he understands the frustration behind the lawsuit. But he thinks a local contribution for education is a good thing.

“I actually think a local contribution is important, I think it helps keep people connected to the school district and helps really make people interested and invested in the school district and the system that is here for our kids.”

- Emily Files – KRBD, Ketchikan


Categories: Alaska News

Parnell’s Ketchikan Comments Draw Response

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:05

Governor Sean Parnell’s candid comments regarding Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding drew some response. Sen. Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, listened to the interview and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.

Stedman added he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He said a House bill submitted by North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t believe North Pole will be discriminated against, either.

Ketchikan Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.

Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools, it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.

Moran said that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks School District Planning for Funding Shortfall

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:04

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Fairbanks district is planning for a major funding shortfall. The district is anticipating cuts even if requested state and local funding increases come through.

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Categories: Alaska News

Partnership To Combat Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:03

A new public health campaign to eradicate fetal alcohol syndrome is in the works.

For nearly a year, a group made up of lawmakers, mental health advocates, and Native leaders have been working on a strategy to bring down the number of babies born with the disorder. The syndrome can cause birth defects, nervous system damage, and psychological problems.

The public-private partnership is called “Empowering Hope,” and on Friday, Sen. Pete Kelly called on his fellow lawmakers to support the initiative.

“As we’ve seen with seatbelts, smoking, drunk driving – so many things – that the hearts and minds of Americans and Alaskans can be changed if we focus, and if we identify a problem and we agree as a people that this problem needs to be dealt with.”

One of the key ideas the group has for preventing the syndrome is identifying “natural responders” in the community who can assist pregnant woman who might be likely to consume alcohol. The group also wants to help women identify their pregnancies as early as possible, as a way of stopping drinking early.

About two out of everyone hundred children born in Alaska are believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome, according the state Division of Public Health. Kelly says that many of the state’s social ills like suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse are associated with that high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome. In his speech on the Senate floor, Kelly said that each case of the syndrome costs the state millions of dollars in care and treatment. The Fairbanks Republican says the number is even higher when you factor incarceration costs for people with the syndrome who then go on to commit crimes.

“If we took a woman who we knew was going to give birth to a fetal alcohol syndrome child, and we flew them first class to Aruba and gave them a seaside five-star hotel, gave them 24-hour care and lavished them with luxuries, then flew them back and gave them a car as a prize — if we did that, we would be so far ahead in this state financially,” says Kelly.

Kelly filed two resolutions in support of the initiative, but has not asked for state funding for the project as of this time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Hydroelectric Project Focus of Energy Hearing

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:02

The Alaska House Energy Committee heard testimony this week from the Alaska Energy Authority. While the meeting was not initially intended to focus on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, a multitude of questions from legislators, as well as the presence of members of the Susitna River Coalition, prompted a shift that saw about half the meeting center around the proposed dam.

The first half of Wednesday’s Alaska House Energy Committee meeting was largely a combination of updates on AEA’s various projects as well as an information session for representatives trying to learn more about how the organization operates.

About half way through, however, questions and discussion shifted heavily toward one project in particular, the proposed multi-billion dollar hydroelectric project which would be built on the Susitna River.

In response to a question from Rep. Shelley Hughes (R-Wasilla), AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said that the land-access issues that led Gov. Sean Parnell to cut more than 90 percent of the project’s budget may be resolved soon.

“We are targeted to receive permit approval or land access approval this month, sometime,” Fisher-Goad said. “The issue is open to be able to revisit the budget issue with respect to where we’re at to be able to complete the studies.”

Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana, was asked by Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) about the safety of the ongoing field work, specifically concerning the death of bulldozer operator Donald Kiehl last May. Dyok said he believes that the layers of separation between AEA and Donald Kiehl’s company mean that the accident is not a reflection on what he described as a safe and successful field season.

“To me, it was like a supplier to a Hilton providing information,” Dyok said. “These days, what we’ve tried to do–I mean, anything where someone gets hurt is unacceptable–so we actually, after that, implemented safety procedures for even our consultants, our subcontractors, making sure they had safety plans all the way down.”

Both Fisher-Goad and Dyok expressed belief that the Susitna-Watana Project and gas-line projects are not in competition for energy, but are actually compatible, with the proposed dam providing energy, freeing natural gas to be used as a heating resource.

In a time when the governor is very clear about the state needing to “tighten its belt,” however, there are only so many dollars to spread around. At a press conference later in the day, the governor was noncommittal regarding whether he would recommend funding be restored to the Susitna-Watana Project if AEA is able to secure land access agreements this month.

“Once we’re to that point, I can make a determination of what is necessary to ask the legislature for’” he said. “Until that time, I don’t have a basis to go ask legislators for more money.”

Whether or not the governor recommends funding the $110 million that AEA says is needed to complete the dam’s pre-licensing process, there is indication that tight purse strings could stop legislators from signing off on the increase.

Senators Pete Kelley (R-Fairbanks) and Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla) have both said that there may simply not be room to start adding zeroes to the project’s budget for this year.

Currently, the budget constraints have led AEA to delay the overall timeline for the dam by one year. If the current schedule holds, they plan to apply for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission near the end of 2016.

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Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Port Project Delayed Indeterminably

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:01

The release of the Arctic Deep Draft Port feasibility study has been put on hold, indeterminably. The Alaska U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had said the study would be issued for public review the first week of March.

However, in a recent Joint Transportation Committee meeting, Lorraine Cordova, Project Technical Lead, said the entire port project is being pushed back a “few months.”

The delay stems from port options multiplying rather than diminishing. The corps began with eight possible port configurations. That number has jumped to 23 possible configurations. The increase derives, Cordova said, from D.C. corps headquarters asking for more information and iterations on the sites rather than narrowing options.

These sites include Nome, Port Spencer, and Cape Riley. The port would be built as a combination plan at two or even three of these locations. However, the most likely result, Cordova said, will include Nome and Point Spencer.

“It looks like there is going to be a combination plan of Nome and Point Spencer that will probably bubble up to the top,” Cordova said.

Cordova said, the corps will select the port design with the greatest national net benefit. Nome and Point Spencer’s infrastructure, naturally deep water, and proximity to mining deposits elevate them as best options. In lieu of a feasibility report, the Alaska corps will release a “tentatively selected plan” for the port in early March.


Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest: Race Stories Abound

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:00

Despite the effort of trailbreakers, Mother Nature has thrown plenty at mushers during the race. Almost every team has arrived with a story about a mishap on the trail.

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Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano Emits Ash Cloud; Scientists Keeping Watch

Fri, 2014-02-07 15:01

An AVO webcam shows Shishaldin Volcano steaming on Jan. 28,
2014. Photo by Janet Schaefer, AVO/USGS

Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory are going to be keeping a close eye on Shishaldin Volcano over the weekend.

The volcano emitted a small ash cloud that was identified early Friday morning. AVO geologist Chris Waythomas said the cloud drifted south of the volcano and dissipated.

“However, Shishaldin is a very frequently active volcano, and this could mean that we’re heading into an eruptive period,” Waythomas said. “But it may not necessarily, but it wouldn’t surprise us if the volcano started getting more — more active.”

Shishaldin was upgraded to a yellow alert level last week after abnormal behavior began. Waythomas said this ash cloud seems to have come from a combination of magma close to the surface, and increased steaming and temperatures in the crater.

Waythomas said some of the seismic monitoring stations that track Shishaldin are still out of order. He said they are relying on two functioning stations to look for earthquakes inside the volcano and other changes that could foretell an eruption.

“It can be explosive, and it could put ash clouds up to flight levels,” he said. “That would not be unusual for this volcano to do that.”

Shishaldin’s eruption in 1999 sent ash plumes as high as 45,000 feet above sealevel. It last erupted in 2004, and the last time it showed unrest like this current period was in 2009.

Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians. It’s also the world’s most symmetrical glacier-covered, conical volcano.

Waythomas said the two other yellow-alert volcanoes in the Aleutians –Cleveland and Veniaminoff — are mostly quiet right now.

Categories: Alaska News

Y-K Delta Regional Committee to Develop Strategic Plan

Fri, 2014-02-07 10:45

The Y-K Delta Regional Committee has selected a small steering committee and charged them with drafting strategic plan for the YK-Delta. The 16-person panel is tasked with coming up with a strategic plan by the end of the year.

Robert Beans will be a co-chair of that steering committee.

“We need to develop a region-wide strategic plan that’s very comprehensive in that it takes up subsistence, economics, governance issues, and bring this to the region, work with an emphasis on bringing up the young people, our young generation,” Beans said. “Because they’re going to be taking over.”

Beans said the scope of the plan is still up in the air –there are no hard goals, timelines, or benchmarks at this point. On the committee, there are seats for each of Calista’s 11 administrative units, plus three non-profits and Calista leadership.

Elias Kelly is a member of the Pilot Station Traditional Council and the steering committee.

“Now the next step is what’s next, and that’s where this steering committee that they’ve created will be able to address that, what’s the next steps. They can hopefully come back and give us some sort of guidance, what to address,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the meeting has allowed for the sharing of common challenges, ideas, and ways to creatively solve problems.

“For me coming to an open meeting this this, it’s like I’m information-rich for what I can bring back to my community. For what can we use to help our community develop economically and especially how we can address our social issues,” Kelly said.

The meeting wrapped up Thursday afternoon after a hard look at ANCSA and tribal governance issues. After two days and an evening, the long-awaited committee finished its first order of business to make the steering group. Robert Beans says the meeting set a solid foundation for the group’s work going forward.

“In all the years the years I’ve been involved efforts with the politics within the region, I’ve never seen an effort like this before,” Beans said. “Never.”

The first ever-regional committee meeting featured over 130 attendees from all around the Y-K Delta.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Connecting

Fri, 2014-02-07 10:00

Rural Alaska communities are not known for having good internet connections, cell phone reception or, really, many good ways of connecting to people and programs outside their area. But rural public libraries do now have those types of connections, thanks to a program through the Alaska State Library that connects libraries all over the state – and country – for a variety of programs and purposes.

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William Shakespeare probably didn’t have this mind when he imagined his plays being performed.

On a cold and dreary evening in Southeast Alaska, library patrons gather to read Shakespeare’s Hamlet. *The catch? They aren’t in the same room:*

“The news is brought that Hamlet has returned to Denmark….

If it sounds like Craig Librarian Amy Marshal is on a Skype-like connection, that’s because she is. Marshall was physically in Craig, but joined online by people at the Haines and Kenai libraries using the Online With Libraries program, called OWL for short.

Owl connects more than 100 public libraries in Alaska and is used for a variety of programs. People from Nome to St. Paul and Ketchikan can join a clean energy presentation being hosted in Fairbanks. A seminar at the Smithsonian can be simultaneous beamed to any library that wants to join.

The recent Shakespeare series was a little different. This event epitomized the program by taking full advantage of the interactivity OWL offers, allowing library patrons across the state to be online and interactive together. Haines library aide Jedediah Blum-Evitts helped coordinate the Haines group for the Reader’s Theater.

“It’s super interactive. Usually we’ve been doing some sort of presentation where so-and-so teaches everybody else, but this is like, ‘OK we’re going start and everybody’s going to be talking and we’re going to go back and forth,” Blum-Evitts said. “It’s just super fun, it’s like playing games with each other and reach out community to community.”

Using OWL for a reader’s theater event is sort of like Skype-ing with participants in Craig and Kenai, except without that occasional annoying delay or garbled speech you can get with a less than ideal internet connection in many parts of rural Alaska. That’s because the OWL program uses its own internet connection, as Haines library director Patty Brown explains.

“Basically, what people are looking at is a very large TV screen,” Brown said. “But that is connected by one line to the internet so we have uninterrupted speed so we can connect to libraries anywhere actually.”

During the reading of Hamlet, and the next week, A Winter’s Tale, the participants from Craig and Kenai were projected on the 60 inch screen in Haines. Blum-Evitts put the script on another nearby screen and moved the camera around so the other libraries could see all the Haines participants. And the dramatic – or comedic – interpretation of Shakespeare’s prose came across clear.

While the reader’s theater is one of the more interactive uses of OWL, Brown says the Haines Library has taken part in several programs, like an Anchorage Symphony orchestra program. And other libraries have joined to take part in annual Culture Days at the Haines Library. Once, Brown said, the Homer Library wanted to host a talk with Haines author Heather Lende. Instead of trying to get Lende to travel by ferry and plane all the way to Homer – usually a two or three day trip– she drove five minutes from her Haines home, sat in front of the OWL camera and screen and had an interactive chat with patrons in Homer.

Funding for the OWL program comes from the U.S. State Department, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Library. The dedicated internet connection is provided through a statewide network just for the libraries, which makes it more affordable.

Brown says the program has limitless possibilities for what it can offer patrons and residents now.

“We are able to offer things that we absolutely did not have the resources before,” Brown said. “To me it’s just exciting and the more people realize we have the equipment, I just hope it gets used more and more.”

As for the reader’s theater, OWL provided a connection for small town Shakespeare lovers that helped ward off the winter blues.

Categories: Alaska News

Postal Service Agrees to Rate Rollback for Rural Alaska

Thu, 2014-02-06 19:14

The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to rollback its parcel post rate hike for shipments to rural Alaska, according to Senator Mark Begich. In a Senate committee hearing today he added an amendment to a postal reform bill to undo the increase imposed last week for in-state mail to communities not linked by road. But he said he secured a separate commitment from the postmaster general to lower rates immediately, or as soon as the post office can change its machines.

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At the hearing on Thursday, Begich said the increase had unintended consequences for Alaska.

Rural Alaskans rely on parcel post to receive all kinds of goods and merchandise. Begich said Alaskans have been complaining to him that new rates had them paying as much as 50 percent more for delivery.

For large freight deliveries, rural Alaskans benefit from Bypass Mail, an Alaska-only subsidy that costs the Postal Service more than $70 million a year. Nothing in the Postal Reform bill that cleared the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday would change that program.

Still, Begich is claiming credit for saving it. Begich told reporters he has been able to persuade budget hawks like Republican Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and John McCain of Arizona, who two years ago tried to kill it.

A spokesman for Senator John McCain said the Arizona senator still doesn’t support Bypass Mail. Begich warned the program may face stiff opposition in the House.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 6, 2014

Thu, 2014-02-06 19:11

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

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Postal Service Agrees to Rate Rollback for Rural Alaska
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to rollback its parcel post rate hike for shipments to rural Alaska, according to Senator Mark Begich. In a Senate committee hearing today he added an amendment to a postal reform bill to undo the increase imposed last week for in-state mail to communities not linked by road. But he said he secured a separate commitment from the postmaster general to lower rates immediately, or as soon as the post office can change its machines.

Parnell: Don’t Blame State for Refinery Shutdown

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Sean Parnell said the state is not to blame for Flint hills decision to close its North Pole refinery. Costs related to the cleanup of sulfolane groundwater contamination, from historic spills of the industrial solvent at the refinery, are indentified by Flint Hills as a factor that went into the decision to stop production. The state recently set a strict sulfolane contamination threshold for ground water cleanup. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Parnell downplayed the significance of state regulation in the refinery’s shutdown.

Democrats Want PFD Guarantee Put In Constitution

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A group of Democratic lawmakers is pushing an amendment that enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend in the state Constitution. Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage is carrying the legislation for his caucus, and he presented it to the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday. He said that because the state is looking at budget deficits for the foreseeable future, it’s important to lock in the dividend as a right.

Goodwill Job Center Opens, Thrift Store Planned

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The Associated Press

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Categories: Alaska News

Democrats Want PFD Guarantee Put In Constitution

Thu, 2014-02-06 19:10

A group of Democratic lawmakers is pushing an amendment to enshrine the Permanent Fund dividend in the Alaska Constitution.

Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage is carrying the legislation for his caucus, and he presented it to the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday. He says because the state is looking at budget deficits for the foreseeable future, it’s important to lock in the dividend as a right.

“As fiscal pressures start mounting in the state, there are some – and it’s happened in the past – who the first place they’re going to go is to the Permanent Fund dividend,” says Gara.

Gara also frames it as an issue of income equality.

“We’ve had the least differential growth between rich and poor in the state of any other state in the country because of the Permanent Fund dividend,” says Gara.

While all but one member of the House’s Democratic minority has signed off on the amendment, members of the Republican majority are a little cool on it.

Rep. Alan Austerman of Kodiak says that while he’s willing to entertain the amendment, he believes it could end up putting the Legislature in a difficult financial position.

“The Permanent Fund and the dividend program itself were to look at future needs of the State of Alaska. Not necessarily the future needs of each individual, but the future of the state,” says Austerman.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says if the Legislature were prohibited from tapping the Permanent Fund, they would just have to find other ways to collect revenue should the state run out of savings.

“When we talk about that type of long-term planning, it means one thing: taxes,” says Chenault.

He says the most likely forms would be an income tax or state sales tax.

As of this year, state savings were valued at $17 billion. The State’s Legislative Finance Division projects that reserves may last until fiscal year 2024 if state agencies are kept at zero growth.

The Alaska Permanent Fund is worth nearly $50 billion.

The amendment needs the approval from two-thirds of the Legislature to advance, and minority Democrats make up just one quarter of the body. If it passes, it would then go on the ballot for voters to decide.

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Categories: Alaska News

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