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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: 28 min 13 sec ago

U.S. Senate Republican Candidates Debate Addresses Resource Development, Government Overreach

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:01

All three candidates vying for the Republican nomination in August’s senatorial primary election squared off over a variety of issues in Anchorage on Thursday.

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U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan, and Mead Treadwell faced a crowd of well over 200 people in the East High School Auditorium.

Treadwell took shots at the amount of money coming into Sullivan’s campaign from outside of Alaska… Sullivan countered by questioning Treadwell’s fund raising activities….which Treadwell responded to with a sense of levity.

Sullivan: “Can you give us a number of how many of those fund raisers you had in 2013 and were you traveling on the state’s dime when you went to these numerous, numerous fund raisers in the Lower 48?”

Treadwell: “Thanks, Dan. I’m glad you’re so concerned about outside money…(crowd laughter)”

Sullivan, who has raised far more money than his opponents to date, countered – again bringing Treadwell’s fund raising methods into question.

“We have been out-raising any of my opponents, and if you take away the self-financing that you’re doing with regard to your candidacy, looking in the mirror and asking yourself for a loan, we’re almost out-raising both of you together with Alaskans, grassroots Alaskans,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said Alaskans need a doer in Washington DC, not a talker – and Miller questioned which of those groups Sullivan would fall into

“What we don’t need is somebody that claims to be fighter, but behind him is being funded by Karl Rove, who is behind the very things that are  destroying this country,” Miller said.

As the candidates addressed a variety of other issues ranging from the IRS and foreign policy, to abortion and gay rights, natural resource development and federal overreach remained a common thread throughout the conversation.

When asked what the number one impediment to natural resource development is, Miller says it’s compromise and “environmentalism run amok.”

“EPA regulations cost more than 5 percent of our annual gross domestic product…the equivalent of the cost of defense and homeland security combined,” Miller said, quoting a Washington Times Op-Ed by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. “Since EPA regulations have expanded, unemployment in America has increased by 33 percent. This abuse of power by the implementation of regulations infringes upon our basic Constitutional rights.”

Miller followed up by saying bold actions, such as scaling back or abolishing the EPA would be necessary.

Treadwell says the biggest issue in resource development is access.

“We have physical access, we need ports, we need roads, we need railroads, we need pipelines, and those are things that will make our natural resources go to market,” he said.

Treadwell also says legal, labor, and intellectual access is imperative to natural resource development, as is access to markets to sell Alaska’s natural resources.

Sullivan says federal overreach isn’t just the primary obstacle to natural resource development in the state, but to a plethora of other industries as well.

“I used to think it was just in the resource sector…it is everywhere: tourism, financial industry, fishing, small businesses, big businesses,” Sullivan said. “There is hardly an Alaskan that I have met on the campaign trail that does not have some story about federal overreach.”

The debate was organized by the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club in conjunction with radio stations KOAN and KVNT.

Categories: Alaska News

Frostbite Among Chief Dangers For Denali Climbers

Fri, 2014-06-27 17:00

It’s been a tough year for climbers attempting to summit Denali. Only 1 in 3 have made the summit. The weather also means higher risk for injuries, especially frostbite.

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Categories: Alaska News

Y-K Delta Residents Struggle To Put Up Fish

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:59

Arvin Dull, of Bethel, with his drying salmon at his fish camp in Oscarville Slough. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Fish camp is an annual tradition going back thousands of years for Yup’ik people living along the Kuskokwim River. But fishing restrictions this year, have hit many families hard.

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Iyana Dull prepares to visit fish camps downriver from Bethel.

“We’re heading down river to the village of Napaskiak. And they rely heavily on the salmon and hopefully they’re getting their needs met. And that’s what we’re gonna go find out,” said Iyana Dull.

The 28-year-old Alaska Native is a fisheries technician for Bethel’s tribe, ONC. He asks people about their subsistence needs and run timings are for kings, chums and sockeye salmon.

The information Dull gathers is reported to the Kuskokwim Salmon Working Group, which is helping federal and state biologists manage the fishery. This year, they say surveys are hard to get because people are angry about restrictions. Many won’t talk with them. Just outside Napaskiak, at a simple camp with alder drying racks, elder Sophie Jenkins agrees to take a survey. She says restrictions are traumatizing.

“I looked up genocide and it says like this – people make policies and where people have no say with the law, with the policies and rules and regulations. (Daysha: And how does that make you feel?) I’m very familiar with oppression and you know trauma and that’s how I feel right now,” said Jenkins.

After 2013 showed the weakest King salmon run on record managers of the Kuskokwim River fishery are not allowing directed king salmon fishing. That means the 8-inch mesh nets, that were introduced by the commercial fishery in the 50s and 60’s, and have become commonplace in YK Delta households, have been banned completely.

Instead fishers have been limited to short, 4-inch mesh set nets. They’re much less productive and many fishermen don’t own them. Some say purchasing the net is too expensive.

Now, it’s late in the fishing season and managers have been allowing short openings with 6-inch gear for chum and sockeye salmon.

Jenkins, ordered the six-inch net, but she says she could not find one in Alaska. They were sold out, so she ordered one from a company in Tennessee.

“And I’m still waiting. It’s been a week and I know there was fishing yesterday and I was so depressed. I don’t have anything hanging,” said Jenkins.

Residents along the Kuskokwim say the restrictions have created haves and have-nots. In nearby Oscarville Slough, Arvin Dull, the uncle of the fisheries technician is having better luck. His fish rack and smoke house are full of glistening red salmon. A former bank manager from Bethel, Dull had the cash to buy the net required this year.

And a lot of people don’t have jobs and were unable to buy the nets. Some people can’t even afford a sixty-foot white fish net. (Daysha: How much does that cost?) About $300 dollars, said Arvin Dull.

His nephew says he sees why people are upset, but he also worries about extinction.

“They’d like to open the big king, king net gear so they can target more kings and get more kings on the rack. You know, they’re so used to seeing the fish return that they think no matter how hard they fish that they’ll always come back but that’s not true,” said Iyana Dull.

At the time this story was filed, Elder Sophie Jenkins was still waiting for her net to arrive. If it comes in time she says she hopes to get some fish on her rack. She says getting chum and reds is good, but they miss their kings.

Categories: Alaska News

Smokejumpers Deploy to Southwest Alaska

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:58

Fire Danger is up in Southwest Alaska. Mike Roos, a Fire Management Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry says fuels, especially tundra grasses, are drying out.

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“They’re very susceptible to starts from either lightening strikes or escaped burns, such as dumps and we’ve had two escaped dump fires in the past two days, one in Mountain Village and one at Tooksook Bay,” Roos said.

Smokejumper crews were deployed to both fires.

Clear, sunny weather and high winds are forecast through the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Dance

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:57

(Photo courtesy Rant & Raven)

Although the ancient form of dance called English Morris was born so long ago its origins are murky, it remains alive and well, even in frozen Alaska. Rant and Raven, Anchorage’s Morris dance group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a tour on the Alaska Marine Highway.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Eagle

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:56

This week we’re heading to Eagle, a small community on the Yukon River. Jason Hamilton lives in Eagle, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 27, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:51

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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No Fukushima Radiation Found in Alaska Seafood

The Associated Press

Alaska health officials say Alaska seafood has no radiation contamination from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by a tsunami in 2011.

Officials from the Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation and Health and Social Services announced results of U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests today.

The FDA monitors radiation in both domestic and imported food. Alaska officials called for specific Alaska samples, including fish that migrate from western Pacific waters off Japan.

The federal agency tested samples from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to southeast Alaska.

Cross-Regional Dialogue On Ambler Road As Parties Converge In Kotzebue

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

How will small Native communities in rural Alaska balance traditional life with the pressures of modernization? That was the question community leaders focused on during the second day of discussions on the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.

U.S. House Passes Bill To Open NPR-A

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

For the second time in six months, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at greater oil industry access to the National

Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The bill would force the federal government to scrap its current management plan for NPR-A and start over. It would also require additional lease sales there and off-shore.

It’s supported by Alaska Congressman Don Young and passed the House on Thursday as part of a larger GOP energy bill, largely along party lines. In November, the House passed a similar NPR-A provision in a different GOP energy bill. Senate leaders have shown no interest in moving it.

U.S. Senate Republican Candidates Debate Addresses Resource Development, Government Overreach

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

All three candidates vying for the Republican nomination in August’s senatorial primary election squared off over a variety of issues in Anchorage on Thursday.

Frostbite Among Chief Dangers For Denali Climbers

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

It’s been a tough year for climbers attempting to summit Denali.  Only 1 in 3 have made the summit.  The weather also means higher risk for injuries, especially frostbite.

Y-K Delta Residents Struggle To Put Up Fish

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Fish camp is an annual tradition going back thousands of years for Yup’ik people living along the Kuskokwim River. But fishing restrictions this year, have hit many families hard.

Smokejumpers Deploy in Southwest Alaska

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Fire Danger is up in Southwest Alaska. Mike Roos, a Fire Management Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry says fuels, especially tundra grasses, are drying out.

“They’re very susceptible to starts from either lightening strikes or escaped burns, such as dumps and we’ve had two escaped dump fires in the past two days, one in Mountain Village and one at Tooksook Bay,” Roos said.

Smokejumper crews were deployed to both fires.

Clear, sunny weather and high winds are forecast through the weekend.

AK: Dance

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Although the ancient form of dance called English Morris was born so long ago its origins are murky, it remains alive and well, even in frozen Alaska.  Rant and Raven, Anchorage’s Morris dance group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a tour on the Alaska Marine Highway.

300 Villages: Eagle

This week we’re heading to Eagle, a small community on the Yukon River. Jason Hamilton lives in Eagle, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Wetlands Plan Update Causes Concern

Fri, 2014-06-27 14:47

Some community members are concerned about proposed changes to the Anchorage Municipal Wetlands Management Plan. They say it weakens protections for vital areas. The plan’s update has been in the works for nearly four years. It’s the first revision since 1996.

Anchorage’s Wetlands Management Plan was first developed in 1982, during the city’s development boom. Senior Planner Thebe  Tobish says back then, it could take up to two years to get a permit from the Corps of Engineers to develop any thing in wetlands areas.

“It was unworkable for Anchorage at that time of our boom. So we created this wetlands plan that provided a hierarchy of designations of wetlands from low value to high value in an effort to facilitate permit development, but also in an effort to facilitate protection of the more important areas for the community.”

And it’s the protection element that has some community members worried. Community councils from Airport Heights, Rogers Park and the University Area sent resolutions to the Anchorage Assembly earlier this week objecting to some of the wording changes in the draft of the updated plan. Now the draft plan reads in some parts that the wetlands will be protected to “the maximum extent possible” instead of just protected, as it said in the 1996 version. Paul Stang and others say the new language endangers key class A wetlands, like Goose and Mosquito Lakes.

“And what are we doing?” Stang asked the Assembly during this week’s meeting. “We’re watering down for convenience. ‘Oh for this project here, we need this little bit of acreage.’ And so on. Don’t do it. It’s going down the wrong road.”

Airport Heights resident Carolyn Ramsey says losing more wetlands will hurt everyone. “The wetlands are Mother Nature’s sponge. And if you take that away, it’s going to flow into the creeks faster, which is going to cause more flooding. Which ultimately costs every single person in Anchorage money because our tax dollars have to go to clean up the mess and to mitigate future funding when Mother Nature did it for free.”

But senior planner Tobish says the language changes in the management plan don’t really affect the level of protection of some wetlands. He says the wording was requested by the Corps of Engineers to reflect the reality of the permitting process.

“On the face value, people think an ‘A’ wetlands should never be disturbed. That it should be preserved. And while that’s the thrust of the designation, the reality is that certain projects in ‘A’ wetlands will get permitted by the Corps,” he explains. “Especially if they’re proven to have a significant public purpose and a public need.”

Tobish says that’s what happened when Elmore was punched through from Tudor to Abbott. It crossed dozens of acres of class A wetlands, but the Corps still approved it because of the community’s need.

Tobish says the primary changes to the wetlands management plan were upgrades to the maps; they designated new wetlands and stream areas and removed places that had been filled in.

The plan will be discussed during a work session before the Assembly decides if they will approve the changes during their July 8 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Primary Election: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Mead Treadwell

Fri, 2014-06-27 12:00

It will soon be decision time for Alaska voters on which Republican should face incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Begich in November. Will it be Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan, or Mead Treadwell? Each candidate will have an hour-long live opportunity to answer phone calls from public radio listeners statewide. Mead Treadwell will go first, on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Mead Treadwell, U.S. Senate candidate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Earthquakes

Fri, 2014-06-27 07:00

Even by Alaska standards, there has been a lot of seismic activity recently. Alaska is located in the Ring of Fire, so it’s not unusual for there to be frequent earthquakes and volcanoes kicking up occasionally, but starting in April, there has been some unusual seismic activity in the Brooks Range. An area near Noatak has, since April, seen a spike in earthquakes after a 30-year quiet period.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Michael West, State seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center
  • John Power, scientist in charge of the Alaska Volcano Observatory

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday June 27 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 28  at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday June 28 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Flooding Closes Portion of Denali Park Road

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:28

The National Park Service has closed the Denali Park Road past Eielson Visitors Center at Mile 66 due to flooding and significant rockfall.

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The Park Service says torrential rain fell in the park overnight and the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located at the end of the road, has been evacuated due to flooding. National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says all guests are accounted for and are currently at another lodge on higher ground. She says those guests, along with other visitors and employees trapped in the park’s interior cannot be transported by bus or airplane due to high water on the road and the airstrip.

The park is making contingency plans to evacuate guests by helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Includes $6 Million For New Icebreaker

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:27

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate has $6 million for a new Coast Guard icebreaker. That would make three years in a row of small appropriations for the ship, projected to cost nearly a billion dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission to get Congress and the Administration to make Arctic issues a bigger priority.

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Categories: Alaska News

How will Sealaska Solve its Money Problems?

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:26

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are uncertain.

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Sealaska recently told its about 22,000 shareholders about its financial problems.

The corporation’s annual report showed operational losses of about $57 million last year. Revenues from investments and other sources brought that down around $35 million, but it’s still a lot of money.

Outgoing CEO Chris McNeil Jr. says Sealaska is doing fine. It has a three-point plan to bounce back.

“One, of course, is achieving our land entitlement before Congress. The second is making one or more highly profitable acquisitions in 2015. And then also, it would have to significantly increase its federal contracting with higher margins.”

The first is controversial federal legislation turning 70,000 to 80,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberland over to the corporation.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

It’s stalled in Congress. But if it’s passed, it will allow Sealaska to reinvigorate its shrunken logging subsidiary, once the corporation’s economic powerhouse.

Rick Harris is executive vice president of the corporation.

“We will be effectively running out of timber by the end of this year or sometime early in 2015,” Harris says.

Some of the targeted timberlands have high-value, old-growth forest. Others have, or will have, second- or young- growth trees big enough to fell and sell.

Harris says Sealaska is developing markets for those smaller trees, which already make up a fifth of timber sales.

“We’re working with the customer, we’re working with them to identify the supply we have, both for mature timber and second growth. And then helping build a plan, with our customers, so we will be able to supply their needs and that they have the mills that are capable of handling the type of wood that we can deliver,” Harris says.

Carlton Smith is one of four business-oriented shareholders running for the board as a slate.

“The board has struggled with replacing timber income. And we’ve had 20 years to plan for this,” Smith says.

He says Sealaska would do better getting involved in Alaska’s oil and gas industry and helping shareholders find employment there.

One way, he says, is to join other Native corporations campaigning against repealing the state’s oil and gas tax structure.

“We need to make a commitment to the future of Sealaska’s involvement in Alaska commerce. And that takes place in Anchorage,” Smith says.

Smith wants the corporation to open an office in the state’s largest city.

Karen Taug, another member of the shareholders slate, says it’s time to close or at least move Sealaska’s office in Bellevue, Wash. That’s the home of several subsidiaries, as well as the CEO’s main office.

“They could very well pay rent somewhere else at a much cheaper rate, rather than in a high-rent area of Bellevue. Q: Does it seem to you that that was created so Chris McNeil could live and work down south? A: Yes,” Taug says.

Corporate officials won’t give many details of the second part of their recovery plan, to buy one or several new, profitable business. That’s because it’s still being developed.

But McNeil says they’re considering areas that could employ shareholders in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve taken another look and will continue to look in the fisheries sectors,” McNeil says.

Other areas include organic foods and expanded mariculture.

Sealaska’s already backing small, tribally-owned oyster farms. VP Harris says it creates businesses that take a realistic approach to village employment.

“Jobs that are the kind of thing people that want to do. And it’s consistent with the way they live their lives, instead of us coming and saying you have to change the way you live in order to have a job. We’re saying, let’s create jobs that meet your needs,” Harris says.

Shellfish farming is part of Sealaska’s Haa Aani division, which focuses on job development within Southeast.

But Smith and some other critics say that’s not where to look if you’re trying to boost corporate profits.

“I don’t know how a company that’s not making money by itself can be generating economic development elsewhere. And even though it theoretically does touch the lives of our shareholders, it certainly would not be the No. 1 priority at the moment,” Smith says.

Corporate officials say Sealaska needs to try to get more leverage out of government contracting.

But contracting is part of the corporation’s problems. About $26 million was lost when that subsidiary badly underestimated two federal construction projects in Hawaii.

The independent slate’s Ross Soboleff also wants to lower costs by reducing pay and bonuses for board members and top managers.

“My personal opinion about the board compensation now is it’s high. And when the top levels of your company tighten their belts and cut their own expenses, it sets a very important precedent and the tone of the company,” Soboleff says.

Soboleff, Taug and Smith are three of 13 candidates running for Sealaska’s board. Their slate also has a fourth member, Margaret Nelson.

Three board incumbents are seeking re-election: Sidney Edenshaw, Ed Thomas and Rosita Worl.

Other candidates running independently are Myrna Gardner, Mick Beasley, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe.

CEO McNeil will officially retire at the annual meeting. Treasurer and chief investment officer Anthony Mallott will take his place.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Highlights ‘Severe Shortcomings’ In State’s Housing Stock

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:25

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nenana Bridge Will Provide Access To Agricultural Land

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:24

A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.

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The bridge from the city of Nenena will stretch across the river in two concrete spans totaling over 450 feet, providing a road link to tens of thousands of acres of prime growing land.

City of Nenana Mayor Jason Mayrand traces the access project back to the 1980’s, when Alaska was looking to make it big in farming. “Originally it was intended to correspond with the project in Delta and down by Eielson with the farm developments, but it never really came to fruition here,” he said.

Failure of the Delta Agriculture Project chilled state interest in farming at Nenana, but Mayrand says local support has remained, and changes in the food industry have elevated the area’s potential. “There’s a lot of interest in disease free and organic products,” he said. “And this area being disease free, obviously, since it’s never had any agricultural products on it, bodes well for organic growth.”

The Nenana agriculture project got back on track with Alaska voters approval of $6.5 million for the bridge, as part of a 2012 statewide bond package. Mayrand says work has already been done on the far side of the river in anticipation of the bridge opening up access.

“Right now we’ve got about 12 or 14 miles of road constructed West. We’ve been working on it over the last several years. I think the road goes all the way into the agricultural development property. We’re working with the state of Alaska to get it up for auction so it can be sold,” Mayrand said.

There are 130,000 acres of state classified agriculture lands across the river from Nenana. Alaska Department of Natural Resources the Division of Agriculture Specialist, Daniel Proulx points to soil survey work that shows the land to be some of the best in Alaska for farming.

“The land would be good for whatever we can grow in Alaska. It has, by most accounts, better soil than the Delta area, has a longer growing season. So grasses, vegetables, root crops; pretty much anything you can grow in interior Alaska will do well out there,” he said.

Proulx says there’s always been interest in the land, and with the bridge in the works, and the state anticipating selling parcels, inquiries have heightened.

“Matter of fact, I had a call yesterday, somebody wanting to know ‘what size tracts are you going to sell’. We’re going to have a variety. We’re going to have some of the smaller 40-acres near the right of ways, near the roads, and behind it have bigger, up to 3,000 acre tracts for cattle producers for feed lots and for hay and barley operations.”

Proulx says decisions on land sales will follow appraisals and public input. The area across the river also has other resource development potential. It includes parcels owned by the University of Alaska, the Tanana Valley State Forest, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and Doyon, where the Regional Native Corporation is exploring for oil and gas. The plan calls for contractor HC to have the bridge ready for use by late winter 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Eaglet Rescued in the Aleutians, Recuperating in Anchorage

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:23

A lost baby eagle from Unalaska is making a new start in Anchorage, where it’s slated to get a second chance at life in the wild.

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Listen now:

Bald eagles are everywhere in Unalaska – but it’s not often you see a fuzzy little eaglet sitting on the side of the road. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday, when a police officer found an eaglet on Captains Bay Road. It’s in an industrial part of town, and the eaglet was in the way of passing cars.

Public Safety Director Jamie Sunderland says they couldn’t find any nests nearby.

“Rather than leave it to its own demise, the officer took it in a little kennel and made a number of phone calls trying to reach different federal and state agencies who sometimes deal with eagles,” Sunderland says.

It’s usually against the law to interfere with an eagle at all. But a Good Samaritan clause lets people help an injured bird, as long as they can get it to a licensed care center quickly.

Unalaska police got in touch with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage. Bird TLC treats hundreds of birds, many of them eagles, from around the state each year.

The eaglet flew out that same evening — on a PenAir flight, for free. Since then, the bird has been recuperating at Bird TLC. Heather Merewood is executive director there.

“Your eaglet is doing very well. He’s eating very well. He’s — well, he or she, we can’t quite tell yet — we kind of made a little nest for him out of half of a kennel and some blankets and some branches and leaves and things like that.”

Merewood says they usually treat eaglets that have been injured in a fall from a nest. But she says Unalaska’s eaglet seems to be healthy. It’s only a few weeks old, and still needs help with its food.

“He’s of the age where he’d be completely reliant on his parents to defend himself, and he’s just learning the world, and he doesn’t know to be afraid of humans yet.”

But they’re trying to keep the eaglet from getting too used to life in captivity. In fact, Merewood says they’re hoping to get the baby adopted by a family of wild eagles.

“If we can find a nest that just has one other baby in it that’s around three weeks as well, then there’s a good chance.”

It’s something Bird TLC has done successfully in the past. Once they find a suitable, accessible nest in the Anchorage area, all they have to do is put the eaglet inside with the other baby.

“The great thing is birds can’t count,” Merewood laughs. “So they will adopt and will take care of him.”

If they can’t find a home for the eaglet in the wild, Merewood says they’ll raise it at their center. The bird will be a fully-fledged juvenile in about a month, and will start flying soon after that. If the eaglet sticks around, Merewood says they’ll probably name it. For now, they’re calling it by its intake number — or sometimes “Baby” for short.

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Categories: Alaska News

Behind the Scenes of Alaska’s Film Industry

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:22

Carolyn Robinson, owner of the Anchorage production company Sprocketheads, has worked in some form on most major production in Alaska (Photo by Joaquin Palomino)

A group of about two dozen people read an excerpt from the 2012 blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty at Anchorage’s BP Energy Center. It’s not a meet-up for war movie enthusiasts, but part of a professional training for film technicians and stagehands taught by University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Maya Salganek.

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“Just looking at the scene, does anything come to mind that would be a safety concern?” Salganek asks the small crowd.

“Bombs,” one of the attendees says.

“Right, you have a big boom going off,” Salganek responds.

The training is just one of many signs that Alaska’s film industry is growing. Feature-length movies, documentaries, and TV shows have flocked to the 49th state in recent years, supporting a multi-million dollar industry.

A big reason productions come to Alaska is to capture its breathtaking scenery. “We have the glaciers, the wildlife, the mountains, the coastline,” says Kelly Mazzei, executive director of the Alaska Film Office, a division of the Department of Resources tasked with attracting productions to the last frontier. “We pretty much have everything anyone would want in a movie except maybe cactus in a desert.”

Filmmakers aren’t venturing to Alaska strictly for its natural splendor. In 2008 the state rolled out a tax program to attract movie and TV productions. To encourage filming, the state reimburses certain production costs with tax-credits. So, for example, if Paramount hires an Alaska based lighting crew for $100 dollars, the state could give the company $50 back in tax credits.

In the last fiscal year, $13 million in credits were issued; many going to reality TV shows, an industry with a seemingly insatiable appetite for all things Alaska. Over the past three years, Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch received about $2 million to film in Alaska.  While that’s a lot of money to give to a TV show, supporters of the incentive program argue that it pays dividends.

“When I think of reality shows, I think of all the people and all of the services that they’re hiring around Alaska, the businesses in the dead of winter that wouldn’t have any economic stimulus [otherwise],” says Carolyn Robinson, owner of the Anchorage based film production company Sprocketheads.  “That’s why I’m a fan of reality shows.”

Not everyone, though, agrees the tax breaks are a good investment. Critics of the program, including a handful of state legislators, say the $300 million earmarked specifically to attract film and television productions would be better spent on education, infrastructure, and job training. “Everybody likes to be close to the spotlight,” said David Boyle, executive director of the government watchdog group Alaska Policy Forum. “But when you take away the glamour and look at the numbers, things don’t add up.”

For example, last year out of state workers made close to four times more money working in Alaska’s film industry than in state residents. The tax credit system was recently tweaked to encourage filmmakers to hire Alaska residents, but there’s a catch. The state doesn’t have a big enough workforce to fill all of the production jobs. Which is why the University of Alaska is training people to work in the industry.

For some it’s a blessing. Cedar Cussins, an Anchorage based lighting technician, has wanted to work in the film industry her entire life, but never thought the goal was attainable. “When I grew up the idea of being able to stay in Alaska and make movies was a pipe dream,” she says. Now, though, she can pursue her passion and stay in her home state.

Some politicians are trying to repeal or scale back the tax incentive program, but they’ve had little luck. The program is up for review in 2016. In the meantime, you can expect the amount of Alaska based films and reality TV shows to continue to grow.

Categories: Alaska News

Online Program Hopes To Revive Eyak Language

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:21

The Eyak Language is being revived through an online learning program that was launched this week. The program is the first of its kind for the language since the death of the last Native-born Eyak speaker five years ago.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 26, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:14

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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Flooding Closes Portion of Denali Park Road

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The National Park Service has closed the Denali Park Road past Eielson Visitors Center at Mile 66 due to flooding and significant rockfall.

The Park Service says torrential rain fell in the park overnight and the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located at the end of the road, has been evacuated due to flooding. National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says all guests are accounted for and are currently at another lodge on higher ground. She says those guests, along with other visitors and employees trapped in the park’s interior cannot be transported by bus or airplane due to high water on the road and the airstrip.

The park is making contingency plans to evacuate guests by helicopter.

Senate Bill Includes $6 Million For New Icebreaker

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate has $6 million for a new Coast Guard icebreaker. That would make three years in a row of small appropriations for the ship, projected to cost nearly a billion dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission to get Congress and the Administration to make Arctic issues a bigger priority.

How will Sealaska Solve its Money Problems?

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are uncertain.

Housing Tops Juneau’s Economic Concerns

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

Nenana Bridge Will Provide Access To Agricultural Land

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.

Eaglet Rescued in the Aleutians, Recuperating in Anchorage

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A lost baby eagle from Unalaska is making a new start in Anchorage. The eaglet will get a second chance at life in the wild.

Behind the Scenes of Alaska’s Film Industry

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

Over the past few years Hollywood has taken a keen interest in Alaska.  Big budget films are being shot here, and it seems like new Alaskan reality TV programs pop up every week.  The bustling industry isn’t growing on its own. The state spends a lot of money courting out of state productions. While it’s a boon for the economy, some think the resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Online Program Hopes To Revive Eyak Language

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Eyak Language is being revived through an online learning program that was launched this week. The program is the first of its kind for the language since the death of the last Native-born Eyak speaker five years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

City of Bethel Investigation Reveals Improper Contracts and Perks

Wed, 2014-06-25 16:50

The Bethel City Council has released a redacted version of its investigation into city contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues.

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The investigation led to the firing of Bethel’s city manager in May and reveals improperly awarded contracts, special agreements, and violations of the city’s previous nepotism rule. It chronicles mismanagement by former city manager, Lee Foley. Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka says the case was clean cut.

Redacted page in the investigation report.

“We just have to have a city manager who follows the Bethel Municipal Code,” Klejka said.

The Council hired attorney Michael Gatti in February to conduct the investigation for $40,000. The result was a 46-page report and the council fired Foley in May. KYUK and six other news organizations made a public records request for the document that same month. The report was released Monday.

The investigation outlines problems with contracts, including special agreements with the former finance director, Bobby Sutton who was being flown up from Kentucky to do budget work.

Foley apparently made an agreement with Sutton, without seeking competitive bids, kept an account for his personal expenses, and provided him with numerous other perks. KYUK was not able to reach Sutton on Tuesday.

The investigation also describes several improper agreements with a local business, Faulkner Walsh Constructors. The demolition of the old police station was not opened to competitive bidding, but instead done by Faulkner Walsh to pay off debts owed to the city.

“There was code that told him exactly how to do it so there would be documentation, so taxpayers would get their best purchases with the money we’re using for the city,” Klejka said. “That was consistently not followed. Special deals were given to whoever was most convenient for him to pass it out to. In fact it’s not even always clear why he chose what he did choose, because the documentation just isn’t there.”

Attorneys also found informal agreements with Faulkner Walsh to level the teen center for $19,000, which ended up costing double that and another for vehicle removal.

In addition, attorneys say Foley backdated a lease for the company at the airport sandpit where he had been trespassing several months at the rate of $450 a month. Owner Harry Faulkner declined to speak with KYUK.

Besides Foley’s mismanagement of agreements and contracts, investigators faulted the city for some problems, such as a bad billing system and incomplete record keeping for leases.

In an analysis of nepotism, the report highlights former City Manager Lee Foley’s son Bo, who works in the I.T. department. He is apparently the only union employee for whom the city pays full masters degree tuition. He also flew first class on city travel due to his height of about 6 feet 8 inches. The report found several situations that could be in violation of the previous nepotism ordinance, but many details are blacked out. It clears Council Member Heather Pike for her long-term relationship with a city employee.

In a memo listing 29 past and present related employees included in the investigation, Lee Foley made an argument that hiring family members was quite common at the city. None had a waiver from the manager.

KYUK could not reach Foley by phone Tuesday.

It also reveals inconsistency in credit card usage by city employees for personal business.

“We believe the majority of the credit card purchases were probably reimbursed, the big things would be…basically if they don’t pay it back immediately, within the same month, you’re giving them an interest free loan,” Klejka said.

The report includes four pages of bullet pointed recommendations, including several redacted lines. Klejka says a person to deal with all of the many personnel concerns is at the top of the city’s list.

“Probably something we didn’t expect. We found out that we really needed to tighten up our human resources department,” Klejka said. ”Several years ago we eliminated that position, that’s clearly been a mistake, that’s left a lot of holes in the city, a lot things that needed to be shored up a lot. So that’s what we really discovered.”

The city is currently recruiting for that position. The council recently made its nepotism rules more explicit and tightened up its policies for credit card usage, tuition reimbursement, leave cash out, and city leases. Several sections of the report are blacked out, including what appears to be the portion about allegation of harassment. The investigation has been sent to the District Attorney’s office for review.

The full report is available here.

Categories: Alaska News
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