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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: 54 min 11 sec ago

Sen. Sullivan Weighs In On Potential State of the Union Topics

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:07

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress is Tuesday night, but the White House has been offering previews of his main proposals for weeks. Alaska’s new Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, said before it he was expecting to hear an overly rosy depiction of unemployment.

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“The vast majority of that decrease in unemployment has been Americans dropping out of the work force,” Sullivan said. “The labor rate participation is at the lowest rate in 30 years, so to me that’s not progress.”

Obama is also proposing tax reform. He wants a tax credit for middle class families. The president also wants to increase the tax on capital gains, which are now taxed at a lower rate than regular income, for wealthy Americans. Sullivan says it’s not good policy.

“You know, when you raise the Capital gains tax, you’re inhibiting investment, and I don’t think that’s what the country needs right now,” he said.

Democrats who support the proposal say it would affect very few taxpayers, since the vast majority have no capital gains and fewer still have incomes higher than $465,000 a year, the threshold for triggering the increase.

Sullivan is also skeptical of Obama’s proposal for free tuition at community colleges.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Named Chairman Of Interior Subcommittee Of Appropriations Panel

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:06

Sen. Lisa Murkowski already chairs a full committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but Tuesday she was also named chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Appropriations panel.

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That subcommittee essentially sets the budget for the Interior Department, as well as the Forest Service and the Indian Health Service. Murkowski says it means she’ll lead the panel that writes the laws related to resource agencies, review their work and hold their purse strings.

“This is a level of oversight, a level of control and a level of authority that’s somewhat unprecedented,” Murkowski said.

The Interior Department includes agencies that are hugely important in Alaska, from the Park Service and the BLM to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and BOEM, which manages off-shore energy resources.

Vanderbilt Political Science Professor Bruce Oppenheimer has researched Senate process and its impact on energy policy. He says the subcommittee assignment on Appropriations adds a great deal to Murkowski’s power as chairman of Energy and Natural Resources.

“That’s double barrels..I mean yeah. That’s probably almost as important,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer says the budget control gives Murkowski leverage over administration appointees who run the subdivisions of Interior.

“That puts the chair in a very useful position because there’s every reason that people in the Interior Department want to stay on the good side of the chair of that subcommittee,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski, in a written statement listed several priorities she intends to pursue on the Appropriations subcommittee. They include contract support funding for Indian health, cleaning abandoned wells and removing EPA authority for certain air quality permits.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Would Set Up Compensation Program For Wrongfully Convicted

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:05

Fairbanks Democratic State Representative Scott Kawasaki has prefiled a bill that would set up a system for compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

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Wrongful conviction is a hot topic in Fairbanks as a decision is pending on key evidence in a long contested murder case.The Fairbanks Four case involves 4 local men convicted of the 1997 beating death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. The four maintain they didn’t do it, and the Alaska Innocence Project is working the case, seeking the release of incriminating statements made by a Fairbanks man convicted of an unrelated murder, to his attorney about the Hartman killing.

State Representative Scott Kawasaki says his bill, which would provide up to 2 million dollars to an exonerated individual, is not just about the Fairbanks Four.

“The Fairbanks Four is a very sensational issue in Fairbank, but the facts are out there that there were a record number of exonerations last year in the United States,” Kawasaki said. ”And, of course, there’s no way to turn back the time, but in a small way, I think compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted, this is a way to help heal.”

Kawaskai says the legislation is modeled after similar compensation programs in other states.

“We worked closely with the Alaska Innocence Project and with innocence groups across the U.S. that have introduced legislation like this,” Kawasaki said. ”I think currently half the states have some sort of compensation statutes in place.”

Kawasaki submitted a similar wrongful conviction compensation bill late last session that did not move, but says the reception was generally favorable, and he’s working with the judiciary committee to address issues, including provision that would prevent a wrongfully convicted individual who accepts compensation, from suing the state.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Lack Of Snow Could Again Send Iditarod Start To Fairbanks

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:02

Southcentral Alaska’s lack of snow and uncertain weather is again pushing organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to ponder moving the start of the race from Willow to Fairbanks.

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A ceremonial start for the 1,000-mile race is scheduled for March 7 in Anchorage.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports in 2003, the Iditarod Trail Committee started the race in Fairbanks north of the Alaska Range because of poor snow.

Race marshal Mark Nordman says one big storm could improve trail conditions but starting the race in Fairbanks is an option.

Categories: Alaska News

Eaglecrest Suspends Lift Operations Due To Lack Of Snow

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:01

Besides man-made snow on Porcupine it’s been a pretty dismal year at Eaglecrest Ski Area so far. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area is halting lift operations until it receives enough snow to open at least part of the upper mountain.

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General Manager Matt Lillard announced the decision in blog post on the ski area’s website.

Director of Sales and Marketing Jeffra Clough says it was not an easy decision, but so far this winter Mother Nature has not delivered enough snow to Juneau. But she says the season isn’t over yet.

“For the past several years she’s been great and given us a lot of snow, and this year, unfortunately, she’s just slow to giving us that snow,” Clough says. “But we feel certain that there’s still a lot of winter to go.”

Clough says Eaglecrest will look at ways to add skiing opportunities should the snow arrive this year.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s just unfortunate that it’s the first time in recent years that it’s happened,” Clough says. “So we’re looking at, you know, being open on Friday nights, possibly extending our hours in the spring time, closing 5 o’ clock or 6 o’ clock in the evening on weekends or holidays.”

The city-owned ski area has a long-established no refunds policy for season pass holders. Fortunately, Clough says, they’ve rarely had to use it.

For now, the mountain will be staffed by a skeleton crew. The ticket office and equipment repair shop will be open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For the latest conditions on the mountain go to skijuneau.com.

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla Fire Contained

Tue, 2015-01-20 13:58

A massive fire in Wasilla has destroyed a two story commercial building. There are no injuries reported due to the blaze, but the building, which housed a business and a family, is a complete loss, according to Matanuska Susitna Borough safety officials.

The fire was called in about 5 am Tuesday morning. The four family members living in the building escaped unharmed.

Dennis Brodigan, the Borough’s emergency services director, says the second floor was engulfed when firefighters arrived.

“Being a very very large building, and with the types of items that were in the building it was a difficult fire to fight. Two adults and two children made it out and were uninjured. But the fire load was in the building an and it was a very diffucult building to extinguish. We got the call just before 5 am and we didn’t get it under control until about 12:15 this afternoon.”

He says Borough – wide firefighting resources were called in due to the danger of the fire spreading into tinder dry trees. Fire units from as far away as Willow responded.

Brodigan says the cause of the blaze is not known.

“Part of the mopping up and the continuation is for the fire code officials to do a complete investigation and they will determine the area of origen and perhaps even how it was ignited.”

The building on Wasilla Fishhook Road housed an electrical supply business – Crescent Electrical Supply Company. The fire affected a power line to the building, causing Matanuska Electric Association to shut down power to the area for a time to help firefighters supress the stubborn blaze. At first, the firefighting crews were unable to douse the roof of the building. The fire caused huge clouds of smoke to be visible over Wasilla.

Wasilla Fishhook Road was shut down temporarily, and school busses on their way to Iditarod ElementarySchool this [tuesday] morning were diverted to Wasilla Middle School, as the fire caused Iditarod to shut down for the day. Mat Su School District spokeswoman Catherine Esary says Iditarod school was not threatened by the fire.

The commercial building also housed a thrift shop and the offices of Hope For Heroes, a veteran’s non-profit.

Brodigan says a “wealth of synthetic products ” on site helped fuel the fire. So far, there is no estimate of the cost of the blaze.Two hundred MEA customers were without power during the blaze. The displaced family is being assisted by the Red Cross.

Categories: Alaska News

Four Rescued As F/V Eyak Sinks Near Sitka

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:52

Sitka search and rescue volunteer Jake Denherder took this photo of the sinking F/V Eyak from the Alaska State Trooper vessel Courage, early on January 19, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Jake Denherder.)

Four people were rescued from the F/V Eyak early Monday morning after the boat went aground near Calligan Island, just north of the Goddard hot springs.

The Coast Guard received a call from a crew member on board the Eyak just before 5:45 a.m., stating that the boat was taking on water. The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter from Air Station Sitka and requested assistance from the Sitka Police and Fire Departments and the Alaska State Troopers.

By the time Sitka Police Det. Ryan Silva arrived on the scene at about 7 a.m. in the city’s Emergency Response Vessel, the Eyak was already partially underwater: the 80-foot boat was listing so hard that “the deck was at the water’s edge,” Silva said. All four people on board were wearing survival suits, and they had a life raft inflated and in the water.

The four were safely brought on board the ERV, Silva said, along with their dog. Within about forty-five minutes of the rescue, the Eyak rolled off the rocks and started to sink.

The State Troopers identified the four people on board as 48-year-old David Castle of Sitka, the Eyak’s owner and captain; and 29-year-old Anna Zallau, 23-year-old Charles Wlaslewski, and 49-year-old Debra Rose, all of Port Alexander. All four were uninjured and did not require medical attention, according to the Trooper report.

The Coast Guard reported that the Eyak had about 500 gallons of fuel on board when it sank, and is being monitored.

The Eyak has for years served as the regular mail boat for Baranof Island’s small communities, including Port Alexander, transporting U.S. mail, groceries and supplies.

By Monday afternoon, friends had started a fundraising campaign on the site GoFundMe to help Eyak captain David Castle get back on his feet. As of midnight, it had raised more than $5,000.

Categories: Alaska News

APU Student Killed In Climbing Accident On Mt. Yukla

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:42

A young man fell to his death on Sunday while climbing Mount Yukla, above Eagle River. 

Dasan Marshall, 24, of Portland, Oregon was a student at Alaska Pacific University. College spokeswoman Eeva Latosuo says his climb was not part of school.

“He was on a personal climbing trip with his climbing partner,” Latosuo said. ”He was attempting the north face of Mt. Yukla when he slipped and fell 1,000 feet.”

Lagosuo says Marshall had been living in Alaska since 2012. His climbing resume included ascents of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Baker. In Alaska, Dasan had completed the West Buttress of Denali and multiple routes around Kahiltna Base Camp and Pike Glacier, as well as many other technical peaks and routes in the Western Chugach.

Marshall had been attending his last semester at APU to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Studies and working on his senior project that involved starting an alpine club for the student community at APU.

Categories: Alaska News

Zaukar Sentenced to 61 years for 2012 Rape, Kidnapping

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:38

Colten Zaukar (center) visits with his brother and father after his sentencing Friday. (KYUK photo)

On Friday, a judge sentenced 24-year-old Colten Zaukar, of Sleetmute to spend what could be rest of his life behind bars for a violent 2012 rape. Bethel Superior Court Judge Charles Ray sentenced Zaukar to 61 years, with another 10 years suspended.

“There is good reason to isolate Mr. Zaukar for a substantial period of time, both for the safety of the community, the safety of the particular victim in this case and hopefully some deterrence to himself and others in his community and particularly to me the condemnation of the conduct involved,” Ray said.

Zaukar will be required to serve at least 55 of those years.

(Google map image – Sleetmute)

In June, a Bethel jury found Zaukar guilty on 10 counts in the case. Zaukar was found guilty on several sexual assault charges, kidnapping and assault. The jury found him not guilty of attempted murder and one sexual assault charge.

Court documents say that at about 2:00 a.m. on September 26, 2012, Zaukar broke down a door with an ax. He came back disguised in a blanket and attacked a woman. Authorities say he pushed her on a dark trail and raped her near the river. A family member later helped Zaukar hide for two-and-a-half days from troopers.

The victim of Zaukar’s attack spoke over the telephone at his sentencing saying she did not want him out of jail while she was still alive. The prosecuting attorney called Zaukar a sociopath with little hope for rehabilitation. The defense attorney argued his client has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. He noted outside court that there are questions about the jury makeup in the case and an appeal is possible.

Sleetmute is around 150 miles miles northeast of Bethel and has approximately 100 residents.

A 2012 Alaska State Troopers report says the rate of sex crimes in Western Alaska is the highest in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest Officials Consider Alternate Route

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:25

Open water on both the Yukon and Tahkini Rivers in Canada has Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Officials considering alternative routing for this year’s race, which starts in Whitehorse, Yukon and finishes 1000 miles later in Fairbanks.

With three weeks before dog teams leave the Canadian city, rumors are circulating about where the start line might be placed. The race organization is keeping quiet until a more comprehensive trail report becomes available next week. According to a press release Monday, trail crews are out working on both sides of the Canada-United States border.

There are currently 26 teams signed up for the 32nd annual race, which starts Feb. 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham Aims To Reimpose Raw Fish Tax

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:17

Driftnet vessels in the Dillingham Harbor waiting on another push of sockeye.
(Photo by Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham)

Dillingham will try again on the fish tax. The City Council voted last week to send an annexation petition forward to the Alaska Local Boundary Commission to annex the Nushagak River Commercial Fishing District. The annexation was adopted by a local vote in 2012 but overturned by a court ruling.

The city hopes to reimpose a 2.5 percent raw fish tax on the district, which is the only commercial fishing district in Bristol Bay that does not currently collect a tax for local use.

Critics say Dillingham needs to find a way to share the tax with other Nushagak drainage communities, or focus on forming a borough.

The city’s annexation petition will now be sent to the LBC for review. The city hopes it ends up in Juneau for a legislative review in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta ‘Subsidizes’ Landfill – and Wonders Where’s the Missing 400 Tons of Trash?

Tue, 2015-01-20 09:13

Delta’s landfill got nearly a third less trash – and revenue – in 2014 than city officials were expecting. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

City of Delta Junction officials are worried about the rising cost of operating the city’s landfill. And they’re  wondering what happened to the 400 tons of trash they were expecting to be dumped there.

How do you lose 400 tons of trash? That’s a question Delta Mayor Pete Hallgren is trying to answer after finding out the city got one-third less tonnage of solid waste dumped into the city landfill last year than expected.

“The amount of garbage that’s come in has dropped – fairly dramatically,” he said. “Which means we’re taking in less revenue now than we were four years ago.”

Hallgren says landfill use has been slowly declining over the past four years. But he says the dropoff of tipping fees last year is putting pressure on the city budget.

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to at least recognize the fact that the landfill is just not paying its way right now,” he said.

The City Council intended the landfill to be self-supporting after it was built in 2005. But Hallgren says the city has been “subsidizing” the operation over the past few years with money coming out of a $300,000 state grant. But he says that can’t continue, because the remaining money is needed to expand the facility.

“It’s looking like we are out over a $100,000 out of that grant,” he said. “And we’re going to have to use the grant to build a new cell. We don’t need it quite yet, but you’ve got to build them before you need them. So, the grant is not going to be available.”

Delta Sanitation management and owners declined to talk about the company’s problems, despite several phone calls and a visit to their office earlier this month. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Last month the city council hiked landfill tipping fees by 28 percent, from $125 to $160 per ton. It was almost enough to close the revenue gap. Hallgren says closing the landfill is not an option.

Meanwhile, the question remains: where’s the missing 400 tons of trash?

The mayor, and others, says some is getting dumped at Fairbanks North Star Borough transfer sites in Salcha.

“Let’s face it – Delta people go to Fairbanks. And there’s transfer stations on the way to Fairbanks from Delta.”

Data from the borough’s hauling contractor shows trash dumped at Salcha and other borough  transfer sites increased last year, but there’s no way to determine how much of that came from people from outside the borough.

City officials also are concerned at least some of the missing trash has been burned or buried in unregulated dumps, though there’s been no report of that around Delta.

But one area resident did report tons of trash being stored on the property of the local trash-hauling company.

“You could very definitely smell rotting garbage,” said Stacy Petersen, who lives down the road from Delta Sanitation in a mainly residential area.

Petersen says she’d been complaining to the company for storing trash in big rolloff-type dumpsters on its property for weeks. One day last fall she and her husband, Jamie, came across an overwhelming stench wafting from the property while they were out walking their dogs.

“The smell was so bad we could only go halfway and then we turned around and came back,” she said.“That’s when I told Jamie I said ‘That’s it. I’ve had enough.’”

Petersen took her complaints to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, which launched an investigation. Delta Sanitation officials told the agency they’d run into financial problems and had to store trash on their property until they could catch up on payments to the city so they could start using the landfill again. The city had started turning away Delta Sanitation trash trucks early last year after the company racked up thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

In October, the agency ordered Delta Sanitation to fix its finances and pay the city.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered Delta Sanitation to remove the trash and take it to the landfill.

Company officials declined to talk to KUAC. But last month they did haul seven tons to the landfill.

City officials admit they still can’t account for what happened to the other 393 tons of trash.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Outlines Priorities For Legislative Session

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:15

The Alaska Legislature gavels in Tuesday afternoon for the 29th session. Lawmakers – along with all Alaskans will get a better sense of Governor Bill Walker’s agenda for the next 90 days in two speeches this week – the State of the State and the State of the budget.

Walker took some time today to talk about his priorities. He says he has a few guiding principles as he crafts a budget this year.

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Categories: Alaska News

How Will The Keystone XL Pipeline Affect The Future Of Alaska’s Crude?

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:14

The fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline is likely to heat up in Congress this week. Senate Bill 1 would permit the pipeline to cross the Canadian border into Montana, moving Alberta tar sands oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as the new chairman of the Energy Committee, is leading the Republican charge. But, some Alaskans say she’s pulling for the wrong project.

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Mike Wenstrup, chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party, says Murkowski should be working to advance Alaska’s energy projects, not Canada’s. In an op-ed published in the Alaska dispatch News this weekend, he alleges she’s following orders from pro-Keystone lobbyists. For Wenstrup, it’s a direct line between the dots.

“The low oil prices the sands development in Alberta isn’t viable without Keystone,” Wenstrup said. “Alberta sands, tar sands, compete with Alaska oil fields for capital. Promoting Keystone will help our competitors in Canada, at the expense of our fields.”

Murkowski, on the Senate floor last week, said she’s been hearing from constituents who wonder if Keystone would be bad for Alaska.

“I’ve been asked, they say ‘Well we understand Keystone is in the national interest. We get that. But, is it really in Alaska’s best interest?’ And folks back home are a little worried right now,” she said.

Murkowski says Keystone helps Alaska. For one thing, she says, the pipeline is expected to pick up some Bakken shale oil, from Montana and North Dakota, as it heads down to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  Without the pipeline, Murkowski says, some of that oil moves by rail to West Coast refineries, which is where Alaska’s oil goes.

“This ANS crude, Alaska North Slope crude, as we call it, now finds itself in competition with the shale plays out in the Bakken,” Murkowski said.

Keystone will redirect that oil south, leaving more refinery space for Alaska crude, Murkowski says.

We put the question to two oil economists. Both said Keystone would do no harm to Alaska oil prices or investment in Alaska fields. Kenneth Medlock is the senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

“In reality, the amount of oil you’re talking about moving out of the KeystoneXL pipeline down to the Gulf Coast is not enough to really do significant harm to the economic viability of ANS,” Medlock said.

Medlock says the Keystone output and Alaska oil differ in weight and composition, and in an efficient system wouldn’t likely go to the same refineries. Medlock says the oil from Keystone will displace oil at the Gulf Coast refineries, but it will be heavy barrels from Venezuela and Mexico that are displaced, not those from the North Slope. He says the same of investment dollars. If Keystone makes Alberta projects more attractive, it’s at the expense of Venezuela and Mexico, he says.

“When you take a step back and look at it from a broader, global perspective and understand the efficient flow of crude oil and understand the differences in grades of crude oil, I think it actually makes a lot of sense for Alaska to support Keystone, believe it or not,” Medlock said.

As Medlock sees it, when everybody’s oil moves efficiently to the most appropriate refinery, everybody benefits.

Ed Hirs, who teaches energy economics at University of Houston, also says Keystone XL isn’t a threat to Alaska’s development, citing similar reasons. Heavy Canadian crude is already flowing down pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries, Hirs says, and just last week that capacity shot up when a new line opened.

“Keystone’s just one more avenue for doing that,” Hirs said. “This is not going to depress the price.”

The existing low prices do inhibit investment, but Hirs says the harm is much greater in North Dakota and Alberta than in Alaska, where production is relatively cheap.

“We’re seeing hundreds of rigs being laid down in the shale plays right now across the United States,” Hirs said. “And this will only portend well for Alaskan development because of the size of the conventional reservoirs in Alaska that could be accessed.”

Senator Murkowski says Alaskans should also want to see Keystone built as a test.

“It’s a test of whether or not we as a nation can still review, can license, can permit and build a large-scale energy infrastructure project,” Murkowski said.

If we can’t build this one, she says, what hope do we have for Alaska’s next big project.

Categories: Alaska News

Environmental Groups Support EPA’s Proposal on Chemical Dispersant Use

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:13

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last week to review the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill response. An environmental group based in Homer was part of the first push to change the existing dispersant rules.

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In some ways, this review began as a result of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“British Petroleum sprayed almost two million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico and we recognize we really don’t understand the toxicity of this product; we don’t know what’s in it,” says Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inletkeeper, a member organization of the Earthjustice coalition. “So, we got together with other groups across the nation and we petitioned EPA to finally release this rule.”

Deepwater Horizon Spill – (Photo via nature.com)

Mathy Stanislaus is the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

“I am responsible for, among other things, overseeing the emergency planning and response program for EPA,” Stanislaus said.

He says there is already a rule in place. But the BP spill caused a wave of community concern and feedback that EPA is now addressing. The proposed changes would take a more in-depth look at dispersants and their short and long-term impacts in different environments.

“Looking at different kinds of conditions – How do these agents react to cold conditions versus warmer conditions? How should we look at different kinds of species? So, it’s a far broader set of considerations than are currently in the rule and what we incorporated during Deepwater Horizon,” says Stanislaus.

The revisions would also take a more aggressive approach to monitoring dispersants. Stanislaus says there would be parameters in place to decide whether or not to use them. Then, he says the rule would push for minimizing use to decrease impacts to the shoreline and wildlife.

“So we monitor those impacts and if it were to exceed the level that we have established, then we would stop using dispersants,” says Stanislaus. “So, we bring those kind of monitoring requirements as part of the basic structure of the rule.”

The revisions include more research on the toxicity of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents. There would also be new criteria for listing products as appropriate for oil spill response based on effectiveness and toxicity. EPA states that dispersant manufactures will use a peer reviewed laboratory method for testing the products.

“To make sure that it is a rigorous scientific analysis of the agents for EPA to be able to evaluate and list it, pursuant to this rule,” says Stanislaus.

But the wildlife and environment aren’t the only concerns addressed in the proposal. There would be additional human health and safety information requirements, which Shavelson says, is very important.

“There were an untold number of illnesses in the gulf from the BP oil spill and the use of dispersants and we don’t have a good handle on that,” says Shavelson. “So, we really want to understand what that means if we’re going to use dispersants in and around Alaskan communities.”

He says he’d like to see some of the studies move outside the lab to get the most accurate and diverse set of data possible. Especially in extremely biodiverse cold water environments like Alaskan waters, he says it’s hard to be sure exactly what will happen.

“I think we need to talk to our scientists and get a better understanding on where you could have a controlled experiment where you’re not going to have undue impacts but you’re going to understand how dispersants behave,” says Shavelson.

EPA is accepting public comments on the proposal 90 days following publication in the federal register.

Categories: Alaska News

Lonnie Dupre Returns Safely From Historic Denali Climb

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:12

Climber Lonnie Dupre has returned to Talkeetna after becoming the first soloist to ever summit Denali in the month of January.

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Lonnie Dupre’s historic climb began on December 18th, and he summited Denali on January 11th just after 2:00 pm. This was Dupre’s fourth attempt at the unprecedented feat of being the first person to climb the mountain solo in January. Veteran climber Willi Prittie says January is a tough month for climbing in Alaska, when the longest periods of daylight stretch just past six hours.

(Photo credit: John Walter Whittier)

“You’ve got to be really on top of your self-care, your logistical stuff, and take advantage of every little bit of daylight that you have, and it isn’t any too much in something like January,” Prittie said.

Like most climbs on North America’s tallest peak, the weather factored into Lonnie Dupre’s expedition. He says one big difference between this year and his prior attempts was the amount of snow.

“The hardest thing, hands down, on this trip for me was the deep snow,” Dupre said. ”We had very deep snow right out of base camp and all the way up to the top of the mountain, almost. And dragging a, in the begging, a 194 pound sled through that deep snow–it doesn’t slide. It just plows.”

Dupre was helped through the snow by his homemade skis, which are eight feet long and four inches wide. He says the snow was due to warm weather and low-pressure in the Alaska Range. Lonnie Dupre says that warmth can actually be a problem.

“I would much, much, much prefer thirty-or-forty-below zero day in and day out, because you’re drier, you can operate better, and usually when it’s that cold you don’t have the winds with that,” Dupre said.

One time that the winds did play a major role in the climb was when Lonnie Dupre was between 10,000 and 11,000 feet of elevation. He says the wind picked up and started blowing lots of snow. He stashed much of his gear and went ahead to establish his camp. Then the weather really moved in and caught Dupre with meager supplies.

Lonnie building his snow shelter at 14.2K with Denali’s summit ridge in the background. Photo courtesy of Lonnie Dupre.

“Just a day and a half’s worth of food and twenty-two ounces of fuel, which is about three days worth of fuel,” he said. “I had to stretch the food and the fuel for five and a half days, so I was a scrawny, cranky, kind of scared individual.”

Lonnie Dupre says he was scared because he knew there was no way for help to arrive if conditions didn’t improve. He says one or two more days might have seen him succumb to lack of food or warmth. Eventually, Mother Nature relented, and Dupre was on his way again.

As he reached the higher section of Denali, Lonnie Dupre says the forecast called for a window of two days with weather good enough to perhaps try to reach the summit. In the dark hours of the morning on January 11th, he made his run. Right around 2:00 p.m., Dupre saw what he had spent four years trying to reach, the official marker for the highest point in North America.

“I saw that, and I just broke down a little bit, because it’s been four years of hard work,” Dupre said. “And I spent ten minutes, no longer, on the top. I gave a good look around, twice. Then, I started high-tailing out of there.”

The wind was picking up yet again, but Lonnie Dupre was able to get back to his camp and his gear before it got too rough. Then, it was a race against weather moving in from the south. Dupre made it to base camp at 7,200 feet on December 14th, but high winds prevented his pick-up by airplane. The next day, though, Talkeetna Air Taxi pilot Paul Roderick says the weather, which was not forecast to be favorable, opened up.

“I thought we might have a little window to work with…but not this good,” Roderick said. ”It was actually generally improving. It was still windy, but actually [at base camp] it was calm and twenty degrees. It was just perfect conditions. It couldn’t have been better.”

Lonnie Dupre, after cold, snow, storms, and wind, had achieved his goal and returned safely to the lowlands. He was greeted by sponsors, friends, and members of Talkeetna’s climbing community.

With a successful trip behind him, Lonnie Dupre says he will likely come back to Talkeetna, but probably for slightly less strenuous activities than climbing to the top of the continent by himself during the coldest, darkest period of the year. For now, he’s just happy to be back.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 19, 2015

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:10

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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Gov. Walker Outlines Priorities For Legislative Session

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Legislature gavels in tomorrow afternoon for the 29th session. Lawmakers – along with all Alaskans will get a better sense of Governor Bill Walker’s agenda for the next 90 days in two speeches this week – the State of the State and the State of the budget.

Walker took some time today to talk about his priorities. He says he has a few guiding principles as he crafts a budget this year.

With Focus On Budget, Social Issues May Be Left Behind

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers have a lot to accomplish this session. There’s the multi-billion dollar deficit the state faces. There’s also work to be done on Alaska’s marijuana laws, after voters decided to legalize and regulate the drug in November. The full agenda means other controversial subjects- like abortion- may take a backseat.

How Will The Keystone XL Pipeline Affect The Future Of Alaska’s Crude?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline is likely to heat up in Congress this week. Senate Bill 1 would permit the pipeline to cross the Canadian border into Montana, moving Alberta tar sands oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as the new chairman of the Energy Committee, is leading the Republican charge. But, some Alaskans say she’s pulling for the wrong project.

Environmental Groups Support EPA’s Proposal on Chemical Dispersant Use

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last week to review the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill response. An environmental group based in Homer was part of the first push to change the existing dispersant rules.

Lonnie Dupre Returns Safely From Historic Denali Climb

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Climber Lonnie Dupre has returned to Talkeetna after becoming the first soloist to ever summit Denali in the month of January.

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser Wins Kuskokwim 300

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser is king of the Kuskowkim.  Kaiser and his team crossed the finish line of the Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel at 5:31 Sunday morning with a team of nine dogs in the 36th running of the race. Kaiser is the first local musher in 29 years to win the Kusko 300.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser Wins Kuskokwim 300

Mon, 2015-01-19 15:57

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser is the 2015 Kuskokwim 300 champion. Kaiser and his team crossed the finish line in Bethel at 5:31 Sunday morning with a team of nine dogs in the 36th running of the race.

Kaiser is the first local musher in 29 years to win the race.

Rohn Buser had a seven-minute edge on Kaiser as they left the final four-hour layover at Tuluksak Sunday morning after midnight. Kaiser passed Buser on the way to Bethel.

Pete Kaiser at the 2015 Kuskokwim 300 finish with his lead dogs, Palmer and Rosie. – Photo by Chris Pike

A crowd chanted for Kaiser at the finish line, where he met many friends and fans. “It’s kind of crazy, it’s like a dream come true. I don’t really know what to say” said Kaiser.

Fan’s led a chant for Kaiser as he came into the finish, saying, “It’s all about that Pete!” as he raced into Bethel. When he arrived a fan handed him a bottle of champagne which the normally reserved musher shook and showered himself and the crowd.

Kaiser began mushing as a kid in Bethel. He grew up watching the Kuskokwim 300. Among those cheering Kaiser at the finish were his parents, who also live in Bethel. He hugged his girlfriend Bethany, who met him with their two-year-old boy Ari.

The race was shorter this year by about 30 miles and the trail limited to the Kuskokwim River from Bethel to Aniak and back. Racers made required stops at checkpoints to rest and care for dogs. The shorter distance plus ice made the race the fastest ever and made for a pre-dawn finish.

Defending champion Rohn Buser led nearly the entire race until Kaiser passed him after the Tuluksak checkpoint with about 45 miles left.  Kaiser had been steadily gaining on Buser for the later two thirds of the race.

The Kaiser family, (left to right) Janet Kaiser, Bethany Hoffman, Pete Kaiser holding Ari, Ron Kaiser. – Photo by Chris Pike

Any hope Buser might have held to regain the lead was lost when he took a wrong turn into Church Slough about 12 miles from the finish as the race neared Bethel. It’s unclear exactly what the consequences will be for diverting from the main race trail. Race manager Zach Fansler told KYUK that the race committee will be meeting later Sunday to sift through facts and make a ruling.

At the finish Kaiser told reporters he knew about the navigational error because someone texted him. He said the wrong turn was easy to make. Buser ended up taking a local truck trail that veered off to the left of the main channel of the river. Buser’s final time into the checkpoint was 5:44 a.m.

“I missed the one you can’t miss,” said Buser.

The younger Buser led the race up until the Kwethluk checkpoint. His father Martin Buser, according to GPS, made the same wrong turn.

The last local musher to win the K300 title was Bethel’s Myron Angstman in 1986.

“It’s pretty cool, it’s a community event,” said Kaiser. “It’s taken a long time for that to come around and it’s cool it finally happened.”

Buser shot out to an early lead with a fast team through the first half day of racing, while Kaiser and his team sat back and raced in the middle of the pack. His leaders, Palmer and Rosie, picked up the pace as the course continued upriver. He had the fastest run times going into Aniak and back to Kalskag. He and Jeff King systematically chipped away at Buser’s lead until Kaiser passed Buser in the early morning hours of Sunday outside of Tuluksak.

Pete Kaiser was met by a crowd of fans at the K300 finish line in Bethel at 5:31 a.m. Sunday morning. Photo by Chris Pike

“This team is so locked into a speed right now. Whether they’re fresh or tired, they get locked into that consistent speed,” said Kaiser.

Jeff King arrived at 5:58 a.m. in third place. Tony Browning was fourth into Bethel at 6:31 a.m., and Ken Anderson fifth at 6:35 a.m.

Kaiser called the K300 trail “totally doable”. The Yukon Kuskokwim Delta had received little snow and been plagued with temperatures that bounced up above freezing then back down again all season. The hometown favorite trained in Nenana due to lack of snow and warm temperatures in the YK Delta. Village crews used a bulldozer and other heavy equipment to clear the race trail through a giant ice jumble that formed during a November breakup just below Kalskag. Racers battled rain and icy conditions on the way up to Aniak. Snow fell just as the race got going, with about an inch and a half blanketing the icy trail, improving conditions on the way back to Bethel.

Kaiser’s time was the fastest ever, but before the race, organizer Myron Angstman said this year’s time will be an asterisked time due to a shorter trail. This year’s trail did not include the Whitefish Lake loop.

Kaiser was victorious in his seventh Kuskokwim 300. He’s a three-time Best in the West winner, including 2014. He is the first musher to win all three Kuskokwim 300 weekend races; the Kuskokwim 300, the Bogus Creek 150, and the Akiak Dash. His team this year includes several three-year-olds with a year of racing under their belts.

This year’s Kuskowim 300 race was the richest ever, totaling $123,300. Kaiser earns $25,000 for his first place performance.

Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

With Focus On Budget, Social Issues May Be Left Behind

Sun, 2015-01-18 19:02

When the Legislature gavels in on Tuesday, there are a few things it must deal with. There’s the multi-billion dollar deficit the state faces. There’s also work to be done on Alaska’s marijuana laws, after voters decided to legalize and regulate the drug in November. This full agenda means other controversial subjects may take a backseat. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that lawmakers expect bills on social issues, like abortion, to get less attention than last cycle.

When Republicans took control of both chambers of the Legislature two years ago, social conservatives viewed it as a win. Legislation restricting Medicaid payments for abortion, a long-standing priority for them, finally got hearings and was even signed into law before being enjoined by the courts.

But even though the composition of the Legislature is mostly the same, advocates for anti-abortion measures — like waiting periods and clinic regulations — aren’t expecting to get as much traction, due to the attention on the state’s budget.

Jim Minnery is the president of Alaska Family Action.

“It’s just one more session with just one more reason to put our issues on the backburner,” says Minnery. “We’re sort of the ugly stepchild in the room when it comes to issues down in Juneau. I mean even our allies sometimes have a hard time charging the hill.”

Beyond a climate where lawmakers are more focused on fiscal issues, leadership of some of the committees that traditionally address abortion bills has changed in a way that is less friendly to such legislation.

One of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans, Lesil McGuire, has taken over the Judiciary committee. She takes the reins from Sen. John Coghill, a socially conservative Republican from North Pole, who sponsored the Medicaid abortion bill and shepherded it through the Senate.

With the Health committees, both the House chair — Homer Republican Paul Seaton — and the Senate Chair — Sitka Republican Bert Stedman — have voted against legislation restricting abortion access.

Over the past 20 years, all but one bill concerning abortion has been sent to Judiciary, to Health and Social Services, or both. The one exception was legislation to create a “Choose Life” license plate.

Senate President Kevin Meyer says that trend will likely continue if an abortion bill is introduced this session.

“That seems like the appropriate places,” says Meyer.

Minnery sees that as an obstacle to abortion legislation moving forward.

“Certainly I can’t say we were pleased with Seaton and Stedman being given those chairs, because they’ve shown a repeated resistance to advancing our legislation,” says Minnery.

Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest is also looking at the committee chairs, but from the opposite policy perspective.

“We’re tracking who these committee chairs are,” says Jennifer Allen, a policy director with the group. “We haven’t seen them in action yet, so we don’t know what that’s going to look like. But again, we will simply keep talking to them about why they should be setting aside any anti-abortion bills and addressing the real issues that affect Alaska women’s health.”

House Health Chair Paul Seaton says would like to hold hearings on all bills assigned to his committee, no matter the subject matter. But he says that the Legislature’s biggest fight over abortion — how the term “medically necessary” should be defined for the purposes of Medicaid reimbursement — has already played out.

“On that issue particularly, there’s already been a bill on that. There’s already been regulations which are being challenged in court,” says Seaton. “So I think that’s already probably progressed as far as that’s going to be.”

But the way Medicaid treats abortion could get attention from the Legislature in another way, because of the nebulous status of that law. Last year, a judge issued an injunction against the law, which allows Medicaid reimbursements only in cases where a woman’s life or “physical health” is seriously at risk, after Planned Parenthood challenged its constitutionality.

Medicaid expansion is a top priority of Gov. Bill Walker, who campaigned heavily on the issue. The socially conservative lobby, led by Jim Minnery, is opposing the proposal on the grounds that it could expand abortion coverage.

So far, none of the early bills that have been filed address abortion, though there is legislation supported by social conservatives that would change the makeup of the state’s judicial council. Sen. John Coghill is working on bills to regulate abortion, but says that dealing with the state’s fiscal problems will come first.

Senate President Kevin Meyer agrees.

“Well, they won’t be a priority but that’s not to say that they won’t get through the process, get on the floor, and still get passed this year,” says Meyer.

If an abortion restriction bill makes it through the Legislature, it may put Walker in a difficult situation. Walker personally opposes abortion, and sought support from Alaska Family Action earlier in his political career when he was registered as a Republican. When he abandoned his party affiliation and merged his ticket with Democrat Byron Mallott, Walker said he would not advance an anti-abortion agenda and, at one point, stated he would veto anti-abortion bills before later rescinding that statement.

Minnery says Alaska Family Action hopes to “rekindle its relationship” with Walker.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough Mulls Marijuana Regulation

Fri, 2015-01-16 16:41

 There’s no shortage of ideas as to how to deal with legal pot in the Valley.  

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly is considering drafting an ordinance establishing  marijuana regulations. To that end, the mayors of the three cities within the Borough and the Mat Su Borough mayor collectively called for public input on the proposed legislation. With many of the legal aspects of the state’s new marijuana law still to be defined, Palmer mayor DeLena Johnson cautioned:

“This is something we have to take control of before it gets away from us at a higher level”

The four mayors and Borough attorney listened for about two and a half hours, and may have been surprised at what they heard. Unlike the passionate pre-election arguments for or against legalization, those who spoke Thursday were focused on taking full advantage of marijuana -related business opportunities. Wasilla’s Sarah Williams:

“First thing that I’d like to address is that the committee or state allow for the co-existence of the cultivation, production and dispensary facilites under one roof. The reason for this is the control from seed to sale, for consumer protection.”.  Williams made a pitch for  product contaminant testing .

David Holt praised the Valley’s potential pot crop:

“We have an opportunity to make this safer, because it already exists. We have a thriving marijuana industry right now. The Valley is actually world – renowned for its marijuana.”]

Houston Lodge owner Ellie Locks wants limited entry:

“We need to make residency of Alaska and the different cities and boroughs very important before we release any permits.”]

But Justin Rowland took a laissez faire attitude:

“Why would we put a lottery on something and allow only so many permits, and only allow so many people to do it, when the whole point is to bring in as much tax revenue as possible, correct? So, please do not limit this. Please do not allow only so many permits. Let the consumers make the market and set the price.” 

  Questions were raised about insurance requirements and fair taxation for fledgling businesses, and many at the forum were adamant about keeping out – of- staters away from a potentially lucrative industry. Many exploring the possibility of pot- related businesses wanted an exclusive Alaska resident-only clause for future growers and dispensaries.  Businesswoman Holly Lee:

“Say, in Colorado, there was a lot of California cannabis brought in, and I want to see Alaskans be able to provide the hemp and the cannabis for our own state and our own industry.”

Conrad Daly with the Alaska Cannabis Growers Association wanted a distinction for rules governing “commercial” and “hobby” growers.  Bruce Shulte, with Coalition For Responsible Cannabis Legislation focused on hemp

“With regard to hemp, I think this part of the state is set up to capitalize on that commercial market. It is a different product, and my understanding is that a bill that will be brought forth in front of the legislature will address hemp as a separate activity, and I’m hoping it will pass, because I think that would be a great opportunity for some of the farmers in the Valley.”

 

This week, Senator Johnny Ellis (D Anchorage ) pre – filed a bill that would make hemp an agricultural product in Alaska.

The Borough Assembly takes up the proposed legislation along with a resolution creating a marijuana advisory committee at its meeting next week.

Categories: Alaska News

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