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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: 24 min 59 sec ago

Former Haines Exchange Student Now Living In War Zone

Tue, 2014-08-05 17:33

From his bedroom window, Haytham Mohanna took this photo of Israeli flares about a week ago. (Photo by Haytham Mohanna)

Just days after exchange student Haytham Mohanna made the long journey from Southeast Alaska to his home in the Gaza Strip, the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated into war.

Haytham lived and studied in Haines through a U.S. Department of State program that brings students from Muslim countries to America.

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Two months ago, 17-year-old Haytham Mohanna was kayaking in Sunshine Cove and hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves in Juneau.

Now, Haytham is home in Gaza City spending his summer break in a war zone.

“Every minute we are expecting a bomb. When we hear a near bomb, we are saying that our house is going to be the next one,” Haytham says.

His family has an emergency bag packed with their identification and other important documents. If they get a call that their house will be bombed, they’re ready to evacuate.

Haytham Mohanna attended Haines High School during last school year. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“My family is lucky ‘til now that nobody died and they didn’t see anyone dying,” Haytham says.

At the moment, he is living with 14 people – his parents, grandmother, three siblings and his aunt’s family.

“Her house kind of is near the tanks and the bombs, so she’s scared and ran away from there and she came to our house,” Haytham says.

His parents and siblings sleep on the floor, while his aunt’s family shares the six beds in the house. It’s crowded, but up to 50 people have stayed in the house during other wars. This is Haytham’s third.

Haytham says they haven’t had electricity for more than a week. His family has their own gas-run generator, which they turn on to charge flashlights, laptops and phones. They also use it to pump water to the house.

Without a refrigerator, Haytham’s father takes the risk of going to the market a few times a week.

“In the U.S. we had fulltime electricity, we have water all the time, we have freedom to go anywhere. But here, I can be scared to go out to get the trash out of the house and I’ll be scared if I’m going to go to our neighbors’ to drink some tea or something. It’s really hard to get out, even from the house,” Haytham says.

The last time Haytham went outside was more than 10 days ago during a ceasefire. It lasted six hours.

“I went to hang out with my friends. We tried to go and get a haircut but the places were very crowded so we didn’t have a haircut,” he says.

Everyone was in the streets.

“People were happy, you know, just going out from their houses. Not really happy, just relief, you know,” he says.

Haytham says days pass inside the house doing nothing and he loses track of the date. He only sleeps between 5 and 10 a.m. when bombs are less frequent. He says there are more bombs at night.

Inside, Haytham says his family still occasionally laughs.

“But it’s not the laugh that comes from the heart. We just laugh to let my 6-year-old brother to laugh and feel that he’s safe and we’re not in danger,” he says.

Haytham has mixed feelings toward the U.S. due to its relationship with Israel. The U.S. provides Israel with $3 billion in foreign military financing annually, according to the Department of State.

Haytham misses living in Haines, but he says, “I can’t really wish to be there right now. My country now needs me. If everyone wishes to be outside, nobody is going to be in Gaza. There should be people staying in Gaza so they can protect it and after the war, they can build it.”

Haytham is supposed to start his senior year of high school at the end of the month. But, he says, schools have delayed opening. Even if the war ends soon, it’ll still take time to repair.

Related content:
Differences between U.S. & Gaza Strip? Weather and freedom
Origami peace peacock finds a home in the state capitol
Forum@360: Middle East to Southeast
Haytham Mohanna on Photography

Categories: Alaska News

Russian Adventure, Games and a Walrus Skin Boat Become Lifelong Memories for Alaska Native Family

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:23

Andy Piscoya (right) faced Russian musher, Michael Telpin (left) during the innaugural Beringia Arctic Games. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

An Alaska Native family recently traveled to Russia’s Far East to take part in a gathering of indigenous people from seven nations throughout the circumpolar north. The three participated in Native games, music and the celebration of traditional culture in a tiny coastal village along the Bering Sea.

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On a recent summer Saturday, Alaska Native Elder Kooper Piscoya joined a wild, cheering crowd to watch teams of men and women row giant, handmade walrus skin boats across the flat water of a protected bay off the Bering Sea coast. He says he once got to ride in a boat just like one of these when he was a kid, growing up in Nome.

“A guy named Dominic would bring the tours down to the Snake River and take them on boats rides in the skin boat all the time,” he remembers. “That was pretty neat to see.  A lot of tourists would come down and hop in the skin boat and go for a skin boat ride.”

Piscoya was in the tiny village of Novoye Chaplino in Russia’s Chukotka Region to see his children, 22-year-old Megan and 19-year-old Andy compete in the skin boat races as well as other events at the inaugural Beringia Arctic Games.  He says skin boat races haven’t happened near Nome since his grandfather’s time.

“Watching these two Megan and Andy skin boat race it was like a great feeling to see them do something like my grandpa did.” He smiles, boradly. “It was awesome. I was so happy!”

This was the second time Megan and Andy have visited Chukotka.  In 2011, they went to a small town called Lavrentiya, more than 100 miles north of Novoye Chaplino. That’s where they met their Russian relatives.

“When we went there, it was two days after we came and Lavrentiya and Megan was going upstairs and they stopped her,” explains Andy. “They had a translator and said ‘we’re relatives,’ and all of that. We have a cousin. He’s probably 20 years old.”

“We went over to his place and had dinner a couple of times,” Megan remembers. “and his mom, our Auntie, made us dinner and had us just lounge around the house and it was rally nice and she really loved it even though we couldn’t speak to each other,” she says.

Very little English is spoken in Chukotka, but that doesn’t seem to phase either of the Piscoya kids. Andy says this year, he reconnected with some of the friends he first made three years ago.

“I recognized our old captain of our row boat,” he smiles. “I looked towards him and he looked at me and he got a bog smile on his face and walked over and shook his hand and I hung out with him and drank some tea.”

Andy had a successful run in a wrestling match during this year’s games. He came to within two points of beating a well-known Russian musher from the region. His sister Megan was also successful in competition. She finished second overall in the one arm reach, a game of agility and precision.

“I actually haven’t done that event since high school,” she laughs. “I was really surprised I was able to do it too.” Dad, Kooper cuts in.  “I was so happy to watch her compete and Andy in his wrestling.  I was overjoyed.”

Kooper Piscoya wasn’t able to take part in the games for health reasons, but he says he used to play them all the time. “I did it a long time ago in high school. I did the seal hop, kneel jumps, one foot high kick, stick pull…,” he said, listing off his favorites.

It’s not often that families like the Piscoyas’ are able to travel to places as remote as Chukotka.  A visa can cost up to roughly $400 dollars. Visitors – even Russian citizens – need a formal invitation from the government and that’s on top of the cost to charter a flight from Nome to Chukotka’s capital, Anadyr. Kooper Piscoya almost didn’t make the trip this summer, but daughter Megan says she was relentless.

“I asked him so many times.  ’How come you don’t want go? How come you don’t want to go?’ He was in the kitchen and I was in the living room and I texted him after I had asked him in person and he was like ‘No, I don’t need to go. ‘What’s in Russia?’ I guess he finally found out what’s in Russia,” she said, smiling.

This year’s Beringia Arctic Games were so popular among the visitors and locals who took part, that they are likely to happen again next year. Organizers have announced that the Governor of the Chukotka Region has agreed to allow the games to take place in the village of Lorino in 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Voting Season Begins For Alaska Primary Election

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:22

The August 19th primary is 15 days away, but voting opens Monday for early absentee, special needs and electronic transmission voting State Elections director Gail Fenumiai says the state has set up polling places across Alaska for registered voters.

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Categories: Alaska News

GOP Candidates for U.S. Senate Debate Abortion, Social Issues

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:22

Republican Senate candidates debate social issues

The three Republicans vying to run against U.S. Sen. Mark Begich met today in an Eagle River church to debate social issues in a forum sponsored by Alaska Family Action. All three took anti-abortion, conservative positions but, judging by the applause, this was Joe Miller’s crowd.

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Miller doesn’t believe in exceptions to an abortion ban, even when a woman becomes pregnant as a result  rape or incest.

“This is the barometer of ‘We the people,’” he said. “Are we going to protect the most defenseless, or are we going to give platitudes?”

The audience at Community Covenant Church cheered and applauded.

Mead Treadwell says the issue is personal with him.

“My mom got pregnant in college. Abortion was available then, but I stand in front of you today because mom and dad chose life, and I thank god every day that she did,” Treadwell said.

Treadwell says abortion should only be allowed if both the mother and baby would otherwise die. Dan Sullivan says he would allow a rape and incest exception.

“That does not mean I’m supportive of abortions in those situations, but because they’re such horrendous situations and support for the victim in those kind of situations of rape and incest is also very important, from my perspective that’s something that the family should be making the decision on,” Sullivan said.

Miller had the other two on the defensive for blocking an anti-abortion initiative in state government. Lt. Gov. Treadwell and Sullivan, a former state attorney general, say the measure they ruled against conflicted with existing law.

“Was that a hard decision to make? Yeah,” Sullivan said. “Did I feel I had fidelity to the law? What I was supposed to do as attorney general? Yes. Sometimes these are difficult choices.”

Treadwell challenged Miller to draft a better initiative than the one he had to turn down.

“If it passes muster, that initiative could move forward, but Joe, you just can’t criticize people for following the law,” Treadwell said.”We followed the law!”

Miller had a ready response: “You know, we’ve heard that argument before, ‘I was just following orders.’”

The candidates all says they are against amnesty for illegal immigrants, against allowing gay marriage and against legislation that would roll back the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Miller is running far behind the other two in the polls, and in campaign contributions. In his closing statement, though, he suggested those present give to the family of Rick Shields, a Palmer conservative activist who died a few days ago. Miller, who says he’s the only non-millionaire in the race, managed to turn the plea into a subtle dig at his rivals.

“Of course, Dan doesn’t need your money, and Mead’s spending his own, and you know that my campaign functions on sweat equity. But please don’t give to our campaigns today. If you came here with a checkbook to write out to one of these candidates give it to the Shields,” Miller said.

During Treadwell’s closing statement, Miller supporters passed out a two-year-old press release from the ACLU highlighting that Treadwell allowed transgender Alaskans to change the gender category on their drivers’ licenses.

This was a pre-Primary debate, so Democrat Mark Begich wasn’t represented. His campaign issued a written statement afterward characterizing the forum as contest “over who would be most effective at denying women access to birth control or cutting funding for women’s reproductive health services.”

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Looking for Missing Missouri Man on Willow Creek

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:20

The Alaska State Troopers are looking for a missing fisherman in the Willow Creek area.

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Jerry Warner. (Photo courtesy Matanuska-Susitna Borough)

According to the troopers, 71 year old Jerry Warner of Missouri left the Willow Creek Resort at about 11:00 am on Sunday to go fishing by himself.  He planned to be away for a few hours. When he did not return by 7:30 pm, the troopers were contacted and a search began. On Sunday night, teams on foot as well as a Mat-Su Borough boat searched the creek until midnight, but found no sign of Jerry Warner.

On Monday morning the search resumed with the addition of an Alaska State Trooper helicopter and four search and rescue dog teams. As of late Monday morning, no sign of Warner has been discovered.

According to the troopers, Warner was carrying only a fishing pole, and has no survival gear with him.

Categories: Alaska News

21 Mushers Add Their Names To 2015 Yukon Quest Roster

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:19

The headquarters of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in both Alaska and Canada were buzzing Saturday with talk of snow and mushing.

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Two-time champion Allen Moore plans to return.

“We’re gonna do the same that we’ve done every year,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll have a good chance at the end. There’s lots of people that will have a good chance to win, but everything has to line up, as you know.”

But Moore can’t run the exact same race he has the last four years. This year, mushers and dogs will see a mandatory 36 hour layover at the race’s midway point in Dawson City reduced by 12 hours. Two hours have been added to another mandatory stop at the checkpoint in Eagle, and teams will take two additional six hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last third of the race. Moore says the new rules shake up his tried-and-true race strategy.

“I’ll probably have to add rest at other places, probably,” he says. “We did set a record pace a couple years ago when we were coming this direction.”

But in 2013, race official diverted the trail around American Summit near Eagle. Evenso, Moore says a pace that fast will require rest somewhere, regardless of whether its mandatory or not.

So far, 21 mushers have add their names to the roster.

Categories: Alaska News

New Boat Lift Expected To Boost Wrangell’s Growing Marine Industry

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:18

Wrangell’s new boat lift is the second biggest in Alaska and is expected to boost the former logging town’s growing marine industry. Last week, the 300-ton lift tested its upper limit.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Eagle and Raven Totem Poles to Rise This Month

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:17

Haida carver T.J. Young carves fine details into an Eagle totem pole in progress. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Haida carving brothers Joe and T.J. Young are back in Juneau to finish a pair of Eagle and Raven totem poles.

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About this time last year, the Hydaburg men and their apprentices were using axes and chainsaws to shape the red cedar logs. Friday, they were working with small hand tools.

“As you work your way, as you start roughing it out, you’ll start getting — the tools’ll get smaller and smaller and smaller,” says T.J. Young. “And you’ll do a lot more sharpening throughout the process.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute commissioned the new poles to replace the deteriorating, 36-year-old ones in front of the Gajaa Hít building off Willoughby Avenue.

Young says they’re working 12-hour days, but are on schedule. The new totem poles are supposed to be raised at the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Wounded Warriors Go Fishing With Bethel Guide Company

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:16

National Guard members, Along with PBA’a Karl Powers deliver pizzas to the Wounded Warriors during their trip. (Photo courtesy of Papa Bear Adventures.)

Papa Bear Adventures in the Kuskokwim hub community of Bethel recently took six veterans on a rafting trip. The guiding company brought them down the Kanektok River near Quinhagak, a village about seventy miles southwest of Bethel, as part of the Wounded Warriors program. The group found relief from injuries on one of the premier fishing rivers in the world.

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Steve Powers runs Papa Bear Adventures. He says this trip is his company’s way of supporting service men and women.

“We try to do a trip with the Wounded Warriors each year, and take some wounded soldiers out to float down one of the rivers, to get the chance to go fishing to enjoy Alaska. My brother originally thought about it and we talked about it and we just felt like this was the right thing to do,” say’s Powers.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a national program with the sole purpose of honoring and empowering veterans of the United States Armed Forces who are hurt or injured in battle. Papa Bear guiding company has been taking Wounded Warriors on trips for five years.

One of those being honored is Alaskan Mike Buzinski. He served in the Air Force as a crew member on board a Boeing E-3. During his service he was stationed in Iraq. He says he was disabled after being diagnosed with tinnitus, a condition that causes constant ringing in the ears. He says though this is an annoying condition, he is more fortunate than others.

“My disability is very minor compared to some of the other guys that were in the army and the marines that went to Afghanistan, and had injuries from shrapnel and different disabilities created by the conditions on the ground,” say’s Buzinski.

Buzinski lives in Anchorage, but had never been to the Bethel area. He and a few other veterans anxiously wait at Papa Bears lodge on weather hold, because of fog. He’s eager to fish Pegati Lake at the headwaters of the Kanektok.

“I’ve never been out there, a couple of us have made it out there already and the rest of us are sitting here waiting for the fog to break so we can get out there and join em.”

Eventually the fog lifts. Buzinski and 5 other veterans are enjoy some lake fishing and then a seven day float trip down the Kanektok. When they return to Bethel they’re treated to a welcome back gathering and dinner at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars building.

There, they exchange many humorous stories such as some members falling off the raft. But perhaps the most interesting story of the trip involved a once in a lifetime delivery as recounted by veterans Patrick Upchurch and Thomas O’Brien.

“Karl from Papa Bear Lodge, and the National Guard came out and visited us on I think day 3, and brought us some pizza from Bethel, awesome pizza, so that was a pretty welcome surprise I mean,” says Upchurch. “Floating down the river and an Army Black Hawk comes soaring by, everyone’s looking around all confused, and then it lands and there’s Karl waiting for us to float right up to him,” says O’Brien.

Papa Bear’s Steve Powers hopes to continue giving warriors a chance to experience some of the best of what Alaska has to offer.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 4, 2014

Mon, 2014-08-04 17:10

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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Alaska Native Family Takes Part In Circumpolar North Gathering

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

An Alaska Native family recently travelled to Russia’s Far East to take part in a gathering of indigenous people from seven nations throughout the circumpolar north.  The three participated in Native games, music and the celebration of traditional culture in a tiny coastal village along the Bering Sea.

Voting Season Begins For Alaska Primary Election

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The August 19th primary is 15 days away, but voting opens Monday for early absentee, special needs and electronic transmission voting State Elections director Gail Fenumiai says the state has set up polling places across Alaska for registered voters.

Republican Senate Candidates Debate Social Issues

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The three Republicans vying to run against U.S. Sen. Mark Begich met Monday in an Eagle River church to debate social issues in a forum sponsored by the Alaska Family Council. All three took anti-abortion, conservative positions, but this was Joe Miller’s crowd.

Anti-Marijuana Group Asks Muni To Pull Pro-Initiative Advertising

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The group Big Marijuana Big Mistake is taking issue with pro-marijuana initiative bus ads, and they’re asking the Municipality of Anchorage to intervene.

Troopers Looking for Missing Missouri Man on Willow Creek

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The Alaska State Troopers are looking for a missing fisherman in the Willow Creek area.  According to the troopers, 71-year-old Jerry Warner of Missouri walked upstream from the Willow Creek Resort at about 11:00 a.m. on Sunday for a solo fishing trip.  He planned to be away for a few hours.  When he did not return by 7:30 pm, the troopers were contacted and a search began.

21 Mushers Add Their Names To 2015 Yukon Quest Roster

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The headquarters of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in both Alaska and Canada were buzzing Saturday with talk of snow and mushing.

New Boat Lift Expected To Boost Wrangell’s Growing Marine Industry

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

Wrangell’s new boat lift is the second biggest in Alaska and is expected to boost the former logging town’s growing marine industry.  Last week, the 300-ton lift tested its upper limit.

New Eagle and Raven Totem Poles to Rise This Month

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Haida carving brothers Joe and T.J. Young are back in Juneau to finish a pair of Eagle and Raven totem poles.

Wounded Warriors Go Fishing With Bethel Guide Company

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Papa Bear Adventures in the Kuskokwim hub community of Bethel recently took six veterans on a rafting trip. The guiding company brought them down the Kanektok River near Quinhagak, a village about seventy miles southwest of Bethel, as part of the Wounded Warriors program. The group found relief from injuries on one of the premier fishing rivers in the world.

Categories: Alaska News

Anti-Marijuana Group Asks Muni To Pull Pro-Initiative Advertising

Fri, 2014-08-01 19:54

(Photo provided by Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol)

The group Big Marijuana Big Mistake is taking issue with pro-marijuana initiative bus ads, and they’re asking the Municipality of Anchorage to intervene.

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On Monday, the first pro-marijuana ads of the campaign season started rolling around on city buses. They show a pint glass of beer, a tumbler of hard liquor, and then a cannabis leaf with the word “safer” written over it.

Then, on Wednesday, a bright red sticker was added, reading “Our opponents AGREE!” Those stickers were inspired by a comment Big Marijuana Big Mistake spokesperson Tom Tougas made at a recent debate in Soldotna.

TOUGAS: When you think of this initiative, and you say, ‘marijuana is safer than alcohol,’ and I don’t disagree with that …

That audio was released on Friday by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a group that’s sponsoring a ballot initiative to do exactly that. They saw it as a major concession to one of their key arguments, and thought it would fit well into their bus campaign.

Big Marijuana Big Mistake doesn’t agree. The marijuana opponents sent a letter to the People Mover Administration on later that afternoon asking that the red stickers be removed, calling them a “gross misrepresentation” of the anti-marijuana position.

Deborah Williams, the deputy treasurer of Big Marijuana Big Mistake, says that Tougas’ comments were taken out of context, and that he’s subsequently refuted them. (In a press release issued by the campaign on Thursday, Tougas stated “I believe that marijuana is a dangerous drug and am disappointed at this effort to misrepresent what I said.”) Williams adds that to suggest her group believes marijuana is safer than alcohol is “simply untrue.”

“They did not check with the coordinating committee of Big Marijuana Big Mistake,” says Williams. “If they had, they would know that the opposition does not agree with that, period, end of story. The signs need to come down because they represent a clear misstatement of fact.”

Big Marijuana Big Mistake did not check with their rivals about voluntarily removing their stickers before going to the municipality. But even if they had, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol thinks it’s on more than solid ground with the stickers. Taylor Bickford is a spokesperson for the initiative, and he says it’s inappropriate for Big Marijuana Big Mistake to “engage in an effort to censor” their campaign.

(Photo provided by Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol)

“We wouldn’t be in this position if they hadn’t made the statements they made in a public setting,” says Bickford. “That’s ultimately what all this is based on. They actually accused us of lying and fabricating the statement. And that’s why we decided to release the audio, so that the public understands that this is a statement that was made by one of their spokespeople. It was not a lie. It was not fabricated. It happened.”

As the letter was sent Friday afternoon, the People Mover Administration did not respond to Big Marijuana Big Mistake before the close of the business day. The marijuana initiative will appear on the ballot November 4.

Categories: Alaska News

Sarah Palin Channel Kicks Off With Pro-Oil Tax Referendum Message

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:30

Less than a week after launching her own online subscription channel, former Gov. Sarah Palin is using the platform to call for the repeal of her successor’s oil tax law.

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“Oil is our product,” Palin tells the camera. “We have every right – and a responsibility – to value it appropriately, to demand a clear and equitable share of our oil’s value.”

The video is 18 minute long, and it’s one of the few free pieces of content on the Sarah Palin Channel. As Palin sits near Lake Lucille, she reiterates that she will vote yes on the oil tax referendum appearing on the August 19 primary ballot. Proposition 1 would scrap the tax ceiling that Gov. Sean Parnell put on oil production. It would also cause the state to go back to Palin’s system — known as “Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share,” or ACES — where the tax rate goes up along with the price of a barrel.

Palin suggests that new law came about because the North Slope producers heavily influenced Parnell and the current Legislature. She also accused the oil companies of “crying poverty” and trying to “buffalo” voters with “multi-million-dollar propaganda campaigns.”

“Any longtime Alaskan sourdough knows that’s their [modus operandi] – it’s to be expected that they’d scare Alaskans into thinking that all our jobs are at risk if they don’t get every single thing they want,” Palin says.

The “No on 1″ campaign is not impressed. Spokesperson Willis Lyford says he only made it through the first few minutes of the video. He likens it to an “infomercial” on Palin’s legacy.

“She’s made noises about this in the past. ACES was her policy,” says Lyford. “So, it’s no surprise that she defends it.”

Palin only recently started talking about Parnell’s oil tax policy this summer. She remained silent on the issue when the Legislature passed the law last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Dan Sullivan Gets Negative On Mead Treadwell

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:28

In the campaign for the U.S. Senate, the Republican primary has taken a turn for the negative. Dan Sullivan has sent mailers to voters in Anchorage and Fairbanks bashing rival Republican Mead Treadwell.

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The flyers say Treadwell is a hypocrite because he criticizes the Obama stimulus bill but previously owned a million-dollar stake in a Baltimore-based company that won stimulus contracts.

Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says Treadwell attacked first.

“The final straw for us occurred last month at the debate in Homer, when Mead used the same false attacks that Mark Begich and his liberal allies have been spouting on the airwaves,” Anderson said in a written statement.

At that debate, Treadwell said Sen. Mark Begich could win re-election if Sullivan wins the primary, because Begich had “successfully tagged” Sullivan as a “carpet-bagger.” Treadwell also told the Homer audience Alaskans are concerned about Sullivan’s lack of experience and his support for HB77, an unpopular bill to speed natural resource permitting.

“Quite frankly, once Treadwell started using the Democrats’ playbook, Dan had no choice but to respond,” Anderson said.

The mailers Sullivan sent say Treadwell benefitted from stimulus money through his stake in a Baltimore company called Ellicott Dredges. The company received nearly $6 million in stimulus funds. Treadwell was a board member of the company until 2009, when he resigned and sold most of his stock. CEO Peter Bowe says the allegation against Treadwell is off-base because most of the stimulus money — $4 million — was for a dredge the government bought, and Ellicott didn’t get that award until mid-2010, after Treadwell resigned from the board. The company also got nearly $2 million in stimulus funds as a grant to upgrade machinery in 2009, while Treadwell was on the board, Bowe says. He says that was a management decision and Treadwell had objected to the federal spending.

Treadwell, in his candidate disclosure statement, say he still owns shares in Ellicott worth over $100,000 (up to $250,000) and receives dividends of  at least $15,000. He remains on an advisory board for the company, for which he was paid more than $3,000. Bowe, the CEO, was Treadwell’s roommate at Yale and has contributed to his campaign.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Inmate Overdose at Juneau Prison

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:27

The Lemon Creek Correctional Center. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Corrections)

Two male inmates at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center overdosed on drugs last week. Both men survived and are still in custody.

Now, the Department of Corrections and the Alaska State Troopers are investigating what happened.

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A prison officer discovered the inmates, who authorities aren’t naming, on July 24 at 3 p.m.

“The inmates were initially discovered by a corrections officer that was monitoring security cameras. The officers do routine checks on inmates every 30 to 40 minutes, but this officer was monitoring the security cameras, noticed that there was something that wasn’t quite right and went to go check on the situation,” says Sherri Daigle, deputy director of the Department of Corrections.

Daigle says she couldn’t specify exactly what the officer saw, nor could she say if the security cameras had caught events leading up to the overdose. She says that’s part of the investigation.

The two inmates were transported by ambulance to Bartlett Regional Hospital 30 minutes after they were found. One inmate was treated and returned to Lemon Creek Correctional Center that same day.

The other was medevaced to Anchorage Regional Hospital for further treatment two days later. On July 29, he was brought to the Anchorage Correctional Complex.

The two inmates had been found in separate cells of the 24-bed segregation unit. Daigle does not know how long they had been there before they overdosed.

DOC reported the incident to the Alaska State Troopers four days after it happened. Daigle says DOC doesn’t ordinarily involve the troopers when an inmate is transported to the hospital.

“The institution would have done their own investigation and then if it was deemed necessary to call the Troopers, they would do so after the fact,” Daigle says.

For this situation, troopers were called in because contraband was found. Daigle says contraband is an issue that prisons across the nation deal with on a daily basis, and Juneau’s prison is no different.

On the other hand, inmates overdosing is not common. Daigle says the last time it happened at Lemon Creek Correctional Center was in 2007.

The troopers responded to the overdose report on July 29. At the same time, they also responded to a different report of a male inmate that introduced drugs into the prison.

“As far as what kind of drugs, that needs to be tested to determine. And same with the controlled substance that the two overdosed on the 24th,” says trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

Ipsen says the two incidents are not related and no charges have been made in either case.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Creamery Executive Convicted in Fraud Case

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:26

A former executive of the now-defunct Alaska Creamery has been found guilty by a federal jury of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Karin Olson was convicted Wednesday on two felony counts involving federally backed state loans to Valley Dairy, Inc. in Palmer.

Prosecutors say Olson submitted false statements to the USDA’s Rural Development Program.

Prosecutors say Olson also failed to alert the government that she knew her business partner, Kyle Beus, was diverting federal grant money from the dairy to a failing restaurant.

Beus pleaded guilty last year to charges associated with misusing federal grants.

Olson remains free on bail until her Oct. 24 sentencing. She faces more than 30 years in prison.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Man Missing in Costa Rica

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:25

A search is underway for an Alaska man missing in the jungles of Costa Rica. Cody Dial, 27 years old, the son of outdoorsman and Alaska Pacific University professor Roman Dial, hasn’t been seen for two weeks. According to Lynn Paulson, a spokesperson for APU, Cody Dial went missing while on a kayaking trip in Costa Rica’s Corcovado [core co VAY do] National Park.

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“I know the Red Cross is involved and the authorities in Costa Rica, I believe the police, I’m not sure if that is the full extent of the search but I know that it’s got both the Red Cross and the folks in Costa Rica searching, and of course, Roman has joined the search as well.”

 

APU’s Environmental Science Professor Roman Dial is in Costa Rica now to help search for his son.  Cody Dial was reportedly doing research in the remote jungle of the Park, located along the southwestern coast of Costa Rica. The younger Dial had enrolled in APU’s environmental masters program in January of this year.

“But he was on hiatus from the program. So, this was just an adventure he had undertaken on his own, it wasn’t directly related to his studies here, that I know of.”

His father, Roman Dial, has spent considerable time conducting research and leading student groupsin the Costa Rican jungle over the years.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Human Remains Found Believed to be Missing Brevig Mission Man

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:24

Search and rescue efforts for a young man in Brevig Mission have ended.

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“Last night Troopers in Nome were notified that a body–the human remains–were found about three miles west of Brevig Mission—it’s an area called Point Jackson. And the remains are believed to be Clarence Olanna,” said Elizabeth Ipsen, a public information officer with the Alaska State Troopers.

Olanna was reported missing by the VPSO office in Brevig Mission on July 15th. Clothes similar to the ones he was last seen wearing were discovered shortly afterwards by the shore.

Following Olanna’s disappearance search and rescue crews from Brevig Mission were assisted by volunteers from several different communities, coming from as far as Shishmaref to help out. Those volunteers continued working after State Troopers suspended their search on July 21st.

“A trooper is going to fly today to pick up his body, and bring it back to Nome where it’s going to be flown to the State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy,” Ipsen said.

Though the investigation is open, the Troopers report there are no “obvious signs of foul play.”

Categories: Alaska News

Pollock Fleet Sees Spike in Squid Bycatch

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:23

While salmon is still the main species that pollock fishermen are trying to avoid taking as bycatch this summer, there’s another creature that’s been causing problems in the Bering Sea.

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Along with their pollock, fishermen have pulled up about 1,100 metric tons of slimy, pink squid this summer. That’s more than four times their catch limit, according to Krista Milani. She’s a biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Courtesy of National Marine Mammal Laboratory

“The squid TAC or quota is supposed to last us for the whole year,” Milani says. “So it’s quite a bit to be taken already.”

Milani says there’s still some wiggle room before fishery managers get worried. A few hundred tons of squid are sitting in reserve, and they can be taken as bycatch.

It’s been a while since the fleet had to dig into those reserves, though. Back in 2006, pollock fishermen accidentally caught half their annual limit of squid in a single week. There were concernsthat the pollock harvest might get shut down.

So fishermen signed an agreement to stay out of the zone with the heaviest concentrations of squid — or face fines.

Now that squid are back in force, John Gruver has been dusting off the old agreement. He’s with United Catcher Boats. Gruver says he’s trying to craft a formal squid response plan for his vessels.

“We want something that’s on hand and available from one year to the next, that has a trigger mechanism that the fleet is comfortable with — without having to take a really deep introspective on the current squid conditions each year,” Gruver says.

Even that “introspective” exam is tough to pull off, according to Karl Haflinger. He tracks squid and other fisheries bycatch for a company called Sea State. And he says scientists don’t know a lot about squid.

“We don’t have any reliable assessment for how much squid there really is,” Haflinger says. “But whenever researchers look at the diets of animals all over the Bering Sea, they find squid in a huge variety of stomachs. They can backcalculate and make some guesstimates of how much squid there must be, and it’s a very large number.”

Until the pollock fleet starts fishing, Haflinger says they’re never really sure how many squid they’ll find.

One specific corner of the Bering Sea looked to be the source of the problem this month.

It’s a prime fishing location — close to Unalaska, and usually full of good-sized pollock. But squid were hanging around the same depth where most vessels were trying to put their trawl nets.

In the end, the squid won the turf war. Gruver says the United Catcher Boats moved north for the most part a few weeks ago. Since then, squid bycatch numbers have dropped dramatically.

But Gruver says that’s not the end of it: “When you start to have multiple species you’re trying to avoid, it gets to be more difficult.”

Those other species are salmon. Later in the fall, Chinook will start moving onto the fishing grounds. But for now, Gruver says chum salmon are the ones to look out for.

“There’s this squeeze of avoiding chums and staying away from squid,” Gruver says. “You know, reduced grounds.”

As of this week, about 2,100 square miles of the Bering Sea are shut down to pollock fishing to avoid chum salmon.

It’s part of a rolling hotspot closure program, run by Sea State — the monitoring group. They shut down areas where there’s a lot of salmon being taken as bycatch, before the problem gets worse.

Karl Haflinger, with Sea State, says it’s a little early for chum salmon to be triggering such big closures.

“If we get trips or individual hauls with hundreds of chums in them this early, then we are nervous because this honestly isn’t the time when you expect most of the chums,” Haflinger says. “We’re definitely worried about what we’re going to see in August.”

They’re not the only ones. As subsistence fishermen face major restrictions in the western part of the state this summer, there’s a lot of pressure on the Bering Sea pollock fleet to fish cleanly — and keep all their bycatch to a minimum.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer Chef to Represent Alaska at Alaska at National Seafood Cook-Off

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:22

(Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

A chef from Homer will be representing Alaska at the 2014 Great American Seafood Cook-Off Saturday. 19 chefs from around the country are heading to New Orleans to compete.

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(Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

La Baleine Café is a small, unassuming building near the end of the Homer Spit. It’s painted stormy sea-blue with a whale surrounded by bubbles. But inside, the culinary talent is obvious.

Mandy Dixon is the owner and chef of La Baleine. She and her employee and competition partner, Lucas Schneider, are in the kitchen, chopping, frying, stirring. They’re practicing cooking the dish they’ll prepare at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.

It’s homemade ramen noodles and broth with smoked salmon, salmon bacon, seaweed, sautéed vegetables, pan-seared sockeye salmon, fireweed honey, chili-marinated spot shrimp, alder-smoked sablefish, a king crab beignet and an herb salad on the side.

The seafood elements of this dish stand out. Vibrant pink fish, dark smokey fish, a curl of shrimp- all on delicately piled noodles immersed in a steaming broth. The presentation and supporting ingredients are deliberate.

“It’s a seafood cook-off. That’s what they’re focusing on,” says Schneider. “They don’t really care about the vegetables or the smaller things. So, what we’re really trying to focus on is build up to the seafood because it’s the biggest part. So, we’re trying to pick things that will complement it without overshadowing it.”

They’re both surprisingly cool and collected despite the fact they’ll soon be preparing this detailed menu in front of cameras, an audience, and celebrity judges.

(Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Dixon says she never even expected to have her own restaurant. Let alone be hand-picked for a national competition by Governor Sean Parnell. She says she’s come a long way since she first opened the doors to La Baleine years ago.

“We just kind of turned on the open sign and waited for people to come in,” says Dixon. “It took a couple hours and then our first guest worked for Channel 2 news. They were doing a story on the bird festival. And he walked in and just casually ordered something and we were like…okay.”

It’s no surprise he’s come back every summer since. The café has an interesting menu. At first glance, the dishes seem fairly ordinary. A deli sandwich, a breakfast skillet, a bowl of oats.
But the oats come with fireweed honey, the sandwich features rhubarb chutney and fromage blanc, and the breakfast skillet is spiced with coriander, cardamom and caramelized onions. Nearly every item on the menu has the word local.

“We’re passionate about sourcing local food,” says Dixon. “I feel like everyone should know where their food is coming from. It’s so easy for us in Homer with the seafood being dropped at our back door from the fishermen and so many local farms. We have very fresh and mostly organic cuisine here.”

(Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

She tries to keep it simple and let the food speak for itself.

“We really take care of the ingredients, respect the seafood and really take care of it well and not add a lot of additional things to it,” says Dixon. “We don’t need to.”

That’s the approach she’s taking in the cook-off. She says she wants to bring attention to the natural beauty of Alaskan seafood. And she hopes to educate people about sustainable fisheries while she’s at it.

“And I’m just really proud to represent Alaska,” says Dixon. “I’m from Alaska. I’m looking forward to teaching people about Alaska and Alaska seafood. I’m also looking forward to Bourbon Street and checking out New Orleans. I’ve never been down there. And trying crawfish.”

As the final touch, she and Schneider plan to garnish the dish with unforgettable Alaskan flair: popping shrimp roe, fresh fireweed blossoms and appropriately, forget-me-not.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Moving On

Fri, 2014-08-01 17:21

(Photo by Jeannette Lee)

The director of the largest refugee assistance program in Alaska is leaving after more than a decade, just as the program is being threatened by a federal budget crisis in Washington.

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(Photo courtesy Karen Ferguson)

Karen Ferguson has spent the final weeks of her job sending out urgent e-mails. She’s worried about what federal cuts will mean for the refugee assistance program in Alaska—a program she’s worked very hard to build.

“Obviously that could be devastating,” she said. “We will be faced with the challenge of whether we accept human beings who are fleeing from their countries or whether we say this is a bad idea and we can’t accept them.”

For nearly 11 years, Ferguson has served as the program director and state refugee coordinator for Catholic Social Services in Alaska. Ferguson was key to getting the refugee program at Catholic Social Services started in 2003. Since then, she’s helped refugees from the former Soviet Union to Bhutan to Somalia find new lives in Alaska.

She happens to be leaving as the federal government struggles to find funding for tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing from drug-related gang violence by crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

The border crisis could lead to cuts of about $450,000 to refugee services in Alaska. Ferguson says the cuts, which start to take effect Aug. 15, would cripple medical, educational, and elderly support, as well as employment services for all new arrivals.

“In my view, you can’t take one crisis and solve it by taking away funds from another program, creating then two crises,” Ferguson said.

(Photo by Jeannette Lee)

The cuts would mean a huge setback for a program Ferguson helped grow from a small group assisting Hmong refugees to a staff of 20, plus volunteers. Over time, she’s helped develop several programs, including a youth soccer team and a vegetable garden in Mountain View.

Bhaskar Kafle has been coming to the refugee garden every summer for four years. He wears a gray suit-jacket and slacks that are surprisingly clean given that he’s tilling potatoes.

Kafle takes a break to talk about his old farm in Bhutan. Those were the days before the Bhutanese government ejected him and more than 100,000 other ethnic Nepalis in the 1990s as part of its “one-nation-one-people” policy. Kafle says the garden here in Anchorage reminds him of the land he lost.

The Bhutanese, along with refugees from the former Soviet Union and Somalia are among the larger refugee populations in Alaska. Catholic Social Services meets new arrivals at the airport, finds apartments for them and provides basic furniture and household goods, like spatulas and knives.

“We’ve, you know, transformed into this program that can take 120 people a year from all over the globe so it’s been really quite an incredible transformation,” Ferguson said.

She is especially proud of the cultural orientation program, which won an award as a model for refugee programs in other states. Some of the refugees have lived in camps their whole lives and arrive never having used electricity. The program teaches them how to live independently in the U.S.: how to enroll kids in school, how to call 911, use the bus and get a job – and of course, what to do when encountering a moose.

“I watched people be really lost and I also watched the community wrap themselves around people, just as volunteers, with no program, and help them to end up being actually quite successful,” Ferguson said. “When we started the refugee program, it was a relief to see that people didn’t have to be lost.”

Ferguson, who already has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, will be heading to a master’s program in Israel to study peace and conflict management at the University of Haifa.

She says she wants to go from taking care of refugees to preventing the very conflicts that force people to become refugees in the first place.

Categories: Alaska News
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