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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: 39 min 27 sec ago

300 Villages: Girdwood

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:43

This week, we’re heading to Girdwood, which was originally founded as a camp for placer gold miners. Kirsti Ryan describes her hometown.

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“It’s a great town, it’s really small, but it’s a cute little town that you can grow up in. I grew up in Girdwood for 8 years. It’s really nice because it’s in the forest, and there’s a bunch of animal life and wild life that you can see like moose and bears and stuff that are literally right in your community.

(Photo from the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce)

There’s also a bunch of little shops that you can go see. Especially for tourists, like um jade shops and gold shops little trinkets and everything like that that the community has made.

There is only one school in Girdwood, holding about, I want to say like 300 or 400 kids in all. And it consists of kindergarten through 8th grade. There’s no middle school and there’s no high school. .

It’s also really nice because it’s right next to a world renowned resort, and it’s really convenient to be next to it. It gets really convenient to be able to go skiing and snowboarding. And a lot of tourists come there, so you’re able to see new people and make new friends.

Then there’s the Forest Fair, Which is a great little thing that Girdwood puts together at the beginning of July for about 3 days, to bring tourists to come to Girdwood and experience what it’s like.”

Categories: Alaska News

Tanana River Bridge Nearly Done, But State Officials Can’t Predict Fate of Next Phase

Fri, 2014-06-13 14:30

The contractor working on the Alaska Railroad’s Tanana River bridge at Salcha has nearly completed work on the structure, shown here in an earlier stage of construction. It’s the first phase of a larger project to extend the railroad to the Delta Junction area.
(Credit Alaska Railroad)

Alaska’s longest bridge is pretty much done. The 3,300-foot structure now spans the Tanana riverbed just west of Salcha, providing the military with year-round ground access to its training ranges on the far side. But, state officials don’t yet know where they’ll get funding to begin work on the next phase of the Northern Rail Extension project.

Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan says there are still a few tasks remaining before the Railroad, which headed up the project, will hand the bridge over to the Army in early August.

“Our contractors and folks out there are in the process of doing cleanup,” Sullivan said. “And we’re getting ready to turn the bridge over and make it so the military can have access over there to their training area.”

Project Director Mark Peterburs says the contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West, has some final work to do on the bridge before it can dismantle the construction camp it built on the east bank of the Tanana for the project.

Floodlights on a crane illuminate the far end of the bridge-construction site in Salcha as aurora dance overhead.
(Credit Alaska Railroad)

“We’ve still got quite a bit of infrastructure that has to be dismantled and removed, and you can’t really do that until everything else is done,” he said.

Peterburs says those final tasks include reinforcing the structure on which railroad tracks would be laid during the second phase of the overall project, known as theNorthern Rail Extension. About 13 miles of track also would be built in phase 2 that would run from a point near Moose Creek to the bridge.

Phases three and four would extend the track southward from the west side of the Tanana River to training ranges around Fort Greely.

But Sullivan says those follow-on projects are up in the air now, because money is tight for both the state and federal government.

“The timeframe as this point is completely dependent upon funding,” he said. “With the budget situations as they are for the military and the state. It’s tougher and tougher for projects to find the support that they need to get done.”

The federal government contributed $105 million toward the $190 million-dollar bridge. But Army officials said in November they couldn’t even come up with funding to build trails and roads on the west side of the new bridge.

Sullivan says the railroad estimates phase 2 will cost somewhere between $60 million and $100 million dollars to build.

Tammie Wilson, who represents the North Pole area in the Legislature, said Friday she couldn’t say when the state might come up with money for phase 2.

Doug Isaacson, a former North Pole mayor who now also represents the area in the Legislature, says the uncertainty over funding and the Alaska Railroad’s own budget problems make this the ideal time to rethink the whole idea of the Northern Rail Extension.

“What we have to do right now is we have to look at revenue streams,” he said. “Since we started construction, a lot has happened with the railroad. A lot has happened with our state economy.”

Isaacson says it makes more sense to extend the Railbelt to the north, to help develop oil and mineral resources along the Dalton Highway. He says that would enable the financially strapped railroad to recover some of the revenues it lost when Flint Hills shut down its North Pole refinery.

“I’m very much in favor of going south, but let’s do it as it becomes economic to pay for that,” he said. “And it may very well be economic, but maybe not as economic as going north. First, connect that, then the railroad has more revenues to be able to make the connection south.”

Isaacson says he’ll be talking with the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee Thursday morning about his idea to put the Northern Rail Extension project back on track – with tracks that head north.

Categories: Alaska News

Local Fishing & Local Markets

Fri, 2014-06-13 12:00

(Photo courtesy Alaska Marine Conservation Council)

If food security can also be job security for fishermen, you could call it a win-win situation. Sustainability labeling is catching on in the U.S. after making a difference for years in European seafood sales. And now even in Alaska, some large customers are making deals with fishermen who promise to fish sustainably.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition Friday June 13, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-13 07:23

A federal judge tells the state it must do a better job of translating the election ballot into Native languages. The proposed King Cove road is subject of a lawsuit. The drilling firm Buccaneer goes bankrupt. Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller suggests troopers pulled him over because of his political views. Hard Rock Cafe comes to Anchorage. Democratic lawmakers challenge SB 21. Families sue driver charged with two DUI murders.

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Sean Doogan, Alaska  Dispatch/ADN.
  • Steve MacDonald Channel 2 News

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday June 13 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 14 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday June 14 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

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Willows have grown up in bands around Twelvemile lake as the water level has receded over the last 30 years, cooling the soil and encouraging new permafrost ‘aggradation.’
(Credit Martin Briggs / US Geological Survey)

Twelvemile Lake, southwest of Fort Yukon is disappearing.  Over the last three decades, scientists say the lake has lost 15 feet of water.

“Across the arctic, there’s a lot of lakes that we know are getting smaller,” says Jeffrey McKenzie, a professor at McGill University in Montreal. He and fellow researchers thought that water was draining from the lake bottom. “So, if you were top image all the permafrost the Yukon flats, it almost looks like Swiss cheese and there’s a bunch of holes in the permafrost where the lakes are.”

Those ‘holes’ are called taliks. In the summer of 2011 and 2012, McKenzie joined scientists from the US Geological Survey to find out why Twelvemile Lake was shrinking.

“The initial part of the study was to think about somehow water from Twelvemile Lake was going downward through this talik, or this hole in the permafrost and somehow joining the regional groundwater system and then somewhere else, likely the Yukon River,” he said.

The team conducted surveys, probed the ground and used computer models.  What they found was that despite a decrease in the water level, it wasn’t necessarily draining from the lake.

“You have this new shoreline that’s continually emerging,” says McKenzie. “Where this new shoreline is emerging, you’re getting new plants, new grasses, new ecology forming in these areas, and the particular part that’s really interesting, is that where willow shrubs started to grow in this new land, below the willow shrubs, permafrost started to form.”

McKenzie says there are a number of factors that contribute to this permafrost ‘aggradation.’

“The willow shrubs are shading the land surface, so during the summer, there’s less incoming solar radiation warming up the ground in these places. Additionally, the willows extract a lot of water from the ground so there’s less surface recharge and less snowmelt going into the ground. There’s also some thermodynamic effects as the willows actually extract the water from the ground, it helps cool the ground potentially.”

In general, permafrost can last for hundreds, even thousands of years, but McKenzie says the new stuff forming at Twelvemile Lake, and potentially elsewhere across the arctic is unlikely to last beyond the end of the century.

“An unfortunate element would be that with ongoing climate change the temperature will continue to rise, especially in central Alaska,” McKenzie explains.  “They think over the next 100 or 90 years, the temperature is estimated to rise by at least three degrees Celsius and with this rise in temperature, it basically will wipe out any new permafrost that will form.”

McKenzie says in some locations on the Yukon Flats, bands of young willows could indicate the formation of new permafrost.  Researchers plan to expand their study beyond Twelvemile Lake.  Funding for the study comes from the US Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the USGS.

Categories: Alaska News

Subsistence Users Criticize Miners And Regulators At Nome Meeting

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Subsistence users in Nome are criticizing gold miners and regulators for failing to take into account the negative impacts mining is having on other resources in the area. Officials from different agencies took public comment on the issue at a community meeting yesterday.

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Yesterday, at Old St. Joe’s, officials from different agencies held a public meeting for community members and miners. Some government representatives used the opportunity for clarification on details.

“We just ask you to stay 300 feet from the nets,” explained Jim Menard with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to the crowd of more than a hundred.

Other speakers, like Coast Guard Lieutenant Brierley Ostrander, sternly broke down which regulatory policies are voluntary, and which are required.

“Pollution reporting is mandatory. If you spill oil in the water,” Ostrander said from behind the podium, “you’re required to call the Coast Guard National Response Center. Not optional, mandatory.”

But the tone set by officials, including those from Nome was generally one of mutual cooperation.

“Nome and mining kind of go hand in hand,” said City Manager Josie Bahnke. “So, hope that you would just enjoy your time here, be safe, help keep our town clean.”

But the mood shifted during public comments. The vast majority of speakers were subsistence users expressing frustration with gold miners, but especially with state and federal officials, and the Department of Natural Resources in particular.

“The negative impact that you’ve had on the local people—I mean it’s just that, negative,” said Brandon Ahmasuk, Kawerak’s subsistence director. “I am questioning DNR’s permitting process for off-shore mining: local residents are fed up with the treatment that they are being dealt. At times it even seems like non-local miners who are just here for the money and then leave are given preferential treatment, and the residents are stuck with the aftermath.”

Many of the comments came from members of Teller and Brevig Mission who drove more than 70 miles to Nome for the meeting. They offered testimony against a permit under review that would allow a barge-sized vessel to dredge in Grantley Harbor, just east of Port Clarence.

Carolyn Okwillik spoke for the city and tribe in Teller, and said the community only learned of the permit application two days before, though approval could bring up an operation as early as this season.

“Mining and dredging will only hurt our local communities. We strongly discourage the thought of mining and dredging in the Port Clarence, Grantley Harbor, and Tuksuk channel,” Okwillik said to the crowd.

But not everyone agreed with the condemnation, or with the idea that traditional values should take priority over mining. One speaker, a young man who didn’t give his name, spoke excitedly about what Nome’s gold sector brings to the community.

“I mean right now most of the miners are also living off the land. Ok? And if you want to help the further generations, how can we help them? They gotta understand the time right now. How can you stop mining? How can you say people gotta stop mining? No! No, this is not acceptable.”

The meeting was led by Scott Pexton, the chief of mining for DNR, who wrapped up public comments to give attendees time to speak one-on-one with officials. He clarified that while DNR and the Department of Environmental Conservation are reviewing a permit for the waters near Brevig Mission and Teller, it has complied with statutes on filing public notice. DNR uses an online portal for submitting public comments, which are looked at as permit applications are reviewed.

You can find DNR’s resource and permitting guide for off-shore dredging here.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.  The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

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“It’s pretty clear to us that the Department of Environmental Conservation is bowing to pretty intense political pressure,” Jaime Duhamel, the Coalition’s program director, said. “They have not approved this permit two times before, not much had changed in this third round, and so their approval of it is more of an indication of political pressure to approve one way or another to make development happen whether it makes sense or not.”

Duhamel charges that DEC used air quality data from 1990s Eagle River, not Palmer, in making the decision.

DEC’s air quality permit writer Aaron Simpson says the permit takes into account the proposed mine’s pollution emission rate. Simpson says the permit meets state and federal criteria, so DEC has the obligation to issue the air quality permit.

“”The department developed this minor permit under the authority of our state regs, which contain provisions designed to protect public health,” Simpson said. ”The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are health based standards and they are set at levels designed to protect public health.”

The air quality permit does not allow Usibelli to move forward on mining at Wishbone Hill. The actual mining permit is in dispute at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

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The Saanya Kwaan, Cape Fox dancers, were chosen to lead the processional of 50 dance groups in the Grand Entrance.

Harvey Shields is the leader of the Chief welcome dance.

“We are the Saanya Kwaan people and we originate about 50 miles south of Saxman,” he says.

Like other groups here, the Saanya Kwaan range in age from about 5 years old to elders.

“At two and three years old, they put regalia on them and then they start walking around and as they get older they find their place of where they need to be,” Shields says.

The Johnson O’Malley dance group from Wrangell is further down the street.

“I was still sewing on the ferry,” Sandra Churchill says, laughing. She made two button robes this year for Celebration.

“I know we know it’s every two years, and we still put it off ’til the last minute, but it’s worth it,” she says.

Celebration started in 1982 and Churchill has been to all 16 events. Her dance group has been practicing for months for this year’s festivities.

“It’s important for the young children,” she says, “to see the elders and how much they love it and instill that so they will carry it on for us.”

The sidewalks were clogged with people snapping pictures and taking videos. Patricia McGraw and her husband Gary looked like they were on a safari. They had traveled from Pensacola, Florida to Juneau specifically for Celebration.

McGraw grew up in Juneau. She chokes up as she recalls that time.

“When I was young the Native traditions were totally disrespected. And you know kids knew. I was told not to play with the Native kids. But kids know what’s right, what’s wrong, and I’ve always felt quite strongly that they needed their traditions and we needed to honor their traditions,” she says.

And as a non-Native, Celebration is a homecoming McGraw embraced.

At age 75, Ken Grant says his dancing days are over. But he’s danced at many Celebrations with the Mount Fairweather group from Hoonah.

Grant works for the National Park Service and lives in Bartlett Cove, where he has a spectacular view of the Fairweather range on clear days.

His formal Tlingit name even comes from Mount Fairweather.

“It means being proud, and having pride in the mountain and all that it stands for; the songs, the regalia and the stories that come from it,” he says.

Much like Celebration, he says.

“Most of all I think it builds in pride, it builds in passion, which I think is really important. For anything to function properly you need to have that pride and passion,” he says. “And I think that Celebration is a good source for pride and passion.”

Celebration continues through Saturday with dance performances, Native Art, Native language sessions, lectures, a parade and the Grand Exit.

Categories: Alaska News

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

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Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

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Ritchie Musick at her first cabin in Fairbanks in 1966. (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

Ritchie Musick is standing outside the rustic trailer in Ester Village where she raised three kids without running water. Out the backdoor is a giant playground of aspen, trails, and other mysteries.

“You teach your kids here to be aware of three things: bears, amanitas, and mine shafts,” Musick said.

In 1964 Ritchie drove her Volkswagen Beetle up the Alcan from Los Angeles – over 1,000 miles of dusty gravel road riddled with frost heave. She and her girlfriend drove all over Alaska, seeing otters in Prince William Sound and buildings broken in half by the earthquake in Anchorage that year.

“And then on the way home I took a curve too fast and flipped the car,” Musick said. “Bounced three times off the highway and ended up upside down, but we were not hurt.”

They left the car hanging on a tow truck in the Yukon and caught a ride with a paratrooper to Denver. Back in California, she kept dreaming about Alaska. When she was offered a teaching job in 1968, she packed up her Mustang convertible for another big road trip.

“There was a big bullfrog, there was a big boa constrictor, there were two dopher snakes, one king snake, and an iguana,” Musick said.

The reptiles were in boxes in the backseat. Her friend was in the front.

“Somewhere along the way, the king snake escaped and went slithering across her ankle as we’re driving up the highway. She was not one happy camper,” Musick said. “He disappeared and we never found him until we unpacked the car in Fairbanks and he was under the backseat.”

Ritchie Musick in Ester with her first daughter Michelle (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

She rented a dry cabin for $100 a month, pumping water out of a garbage bin to shower and wash dishes. She tried to get a job with her zoology degree.

“There were only two women with Fish and Game and I could not get hired,” Musick said. “When they sent the women into the field it made front page.”

She ended up teaching high school science for 22 years. When she started in 1968, there were about 10 guys for every girl in Fairbanks. One night in 1970 she went to a party in North Pole.

“Mike and I just kind of fell in love that night, even though I was there with somebody else,” she said.

They started dating in the fall, just before Mike left for Mexico. Love letters flew back and forth that winter.

“He came back in April and we set the date to get married six or seven days later,” Musick said.

Ritchie had wanted to see gorillas since high school. For their honeymoon they flew to Germany and bought a Volkswagen camper bus. After 6 months touring around Europe, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and spent a year driving across Africa. When they got back to Fairbanks, the pipeline was in full swing. Mike got a job surveying between Salcha and the Yukon.

“All of a sudden you were reading about people being murdered here and there,” Musick said. “We’re at a stop sign one time, I’m driving and he’s in the car, some gal’s leaning in the window propositioning him.”

Ritchie started mushing with a hand-crafted children’s dog sled and a black lab, and gradually acquired sled dogs. One day she was running her team on a trail south of Ester.

“I had just started out and it got kind of narrow and I kind of freaked out, put my foot on the brake when I shouldn’t have. And when you cut a corner with a tree, it flipped me over,” Musick said. “And so I’m being dragged behind the sled thinking, ‘Oh no I’ve got 30 miles to go.’ And I saw the tree. Somehow I was stupidly trying to push my sled against the tree but it got me right in the face.”

Her face was shattered and she needed reconstructive surgery. She touches below her right eye.

“I still have a plate and 16 screws under this eye,” she said. “For awhile I had metal here but they took it out because the screws kept popping out of my nose.”

Ritchie and Mike still live in the log house they built in 1986. They have three kids and four grandkids here. Fairbanks has grown in the 50 years since Ritchie’s roadtrip. But it’s still the Last Frontier for a girl from Modesto.

Categories: Alaska News

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage can now boast two comedy improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

When you go to a rehearsal of improv group Urban Yeti, you find out really quickly that their name isn’t the only weird thing about them.

But just who is this group? And why are they called Urban Yeti? Those answers will have to wait until later.

First things first – I ask co-founder John Hanus, the most important question – can I meet the Yeti?

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You could meet the yeti if you were in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, John Hanus and the urban yeti are usually not in the same place at the same time.”

Ok, so it’s disappointing that I can’t get a yeti appointment and a little odd that Hanus talks about himself in the third person, but it’s clear, Hanus, who is a BP engineer by day, is really into his improv group. I ask him why.

“John Hanus’s answer is, I love the aspect of tinkering around with a small business in my spare time and I love the aspect of directing and trying to get the best out of people and shared on a common goal and going in the same direction,” he said. “So I love leaving work and saying, you know, let’s think about marketing and advertising for urban yeti today, let’s think about contracts and to be honest I know I’m a total nerd, let’s think about taxes! That’s cool! I’m getting to know about small business tax structure.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Hanus and his wife Mallory got into improv in college in Washington State, moved back to Anchorage, worked with Scared Scriptless and then decided to start their own improv group. Mallory says of all the performance art to choose from, improv is the most freeing and forgiving.

“Because I can make a fool of myself and just dust it off and move on to the next thing,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in theater type things and got involved in improv in college and it’s been the only thing that’s stuck because it’s so addicting.”

John Parsi is another member of the group. Parsi came to Alaska to work as a law clerk for the Supreme Court. He says he loves the playfulness of improv and the physical comedy.

“You’ll do something as easy as someone pantomime struggling to open a jar and the audience will connect with that and think it’s hilarious because everybody experiences that,” Parsi said. “To see a group of people be able to be playful with those things, I think is fun for an audience, and is an interplay between all of the players on stage, all of the actors on stage and the people in the audience.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You have an opportunity to do that in improv because every single night, it’s a creation, organically produced by four or five people on a stage and 90 people in an audience and that’s an incredible feeling.”

But rehearsal is important as director John Hanus reminds his crew.

Hanus asks me for a word to get things started for Parsi. Clearly I’m not cut out for the spontaneity of improv. All I can come up with is…radio…

Erik Dahl, MaryJo Mrochinski and Aneliese Palmer round out the group. Palmer says trust and cohesion is paramount.

“And if you can create something together, that is what makes a wonderful show,” Palmer said. “If you’re on different pages, its just kind of, individuals walking around, saying crap….and if you are together, then it becomes a scene it becomes theater it becomes funny, it becomes fun.”

Urban Yeti picks themes for their performances. Last season it was Frigid Affair, this year? Debauchery! Urban Yeti performances are the first Saturday of the month at the Alaska Experience Theater.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 12, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:12

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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Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.   The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

Subsistence Users Criticize Miners And Regulators At Nome Meeting

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Subsistence users in Nome are criticizing gold miners and regulators for failing to take into account the negative impacts mining is having on other resources in the area. Officials from different agencies took public comment on the issue at a community meeting yesterday.

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups.  Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

Categories: Alaska News

Large crowd greets Celebration paddlers

Thu, 2014-06-12 15:50

(Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Dozens of paddlers from Yakutat to Metlakatla and places in between landed their canoes on a Juneau beach on their way to the Southeast Native cultural festival Celebration 2014.

More than 500 people waded into the water or watched from the shore as the paddlers ended their journey Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of others lined a nearby causeway or cheered from parks and bridges along the route.

We spoke with some of the paddlers and recorded some of the songs and filed this audio post card.

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Celebration continues through Saturday night. You can watch many of the events on 360North TV or online at 360north.org.

Categories: Alaska News

State Hires Ferry Security Officer With Questionable Past

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:19

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position, but the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

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Jason Joel was hired in May as the security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is the incident commander for the state ferry system in the case of a major security event. He has supervision over vessel and facility security officers. He works with the Coast Guard, Custom and Immigration and national, state and local law enforcement agencies.

In the last 26 years, Joel worked as a police officer in several departments in Florida and Alaska. He held many of those jobs less than a year. In at least three cases he agreed to resign in exchange for the departments keeping any details of his work and conduct confidential from the public and future employers.

Joel started at the Haines Police Department in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant after three years. A few months later he was demoted. Police Chief at the time, Gary Lowe, wouldn’t give a reason for the demotion.

Joel’s personnel file with the Haines Borough is confidential. The borough will only confirm it struck a deal with Joel in exchange for his resignation.

Several Haines residents confirmed to KHNS News they witnessed or experienced instances of Joel verbally harassing women, although none wanted their name used in this report. A former police dispatcher documented several instances of harassment from Joel while on the job. She said she reported the incident to the chief.

Several months after Joel left Haines, the Alaska Police Standards Council confirmed it was investigating him. In 2012 the council said it was moving ahead with a process to revoke his police certification. At that point, Joel voluntarily surrendered his certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state.

It’s not clear if the state asked about Joel’s certification during a background check.

“For the most part we really can’t get into the hiring process – that stuff is kept confidential,” Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said. “Really what we can comment on is that he met qualifications for the position and that he’s accepted it and started working for the marine highway system.”

Woodrow says police certification isn’t a qualification for the job.

“He doesn’t need an APSC certification to perform the duties of a security officer for the marine highway system,” he said.

Woodrow also says the state can’t reveal how many applicants it had for the security officer job.

Aside from his work history, public records also show Joel filed for bankruptcy twice in 15 years. The first bankruptcy was in Florida in 1999 and few details are available.  But his 2012 bankruptcy case details nearly $80,000 in debt, not including a mortgage. Joel owes one Haines business, Lutak Lumber, more than $8,000. Owner Chip Lende says he doesn’t extend that line of credit to just anyone, but Joel held a prominent position in the community.

“When an individual when I think has been bestowed public trust because of the position they’ve been hired for we don’t expect them to abuse that when they come into the store looking for credit because we thinking they’re an honorable, trustworthy person because they’ve been hired under that pretense,” Lende said. “So when that trust is abused I think it’s a double slap in the face not just to the vendor but to the community because we’ve extended that credit based on that perceived relationship with the community for that person.”

Because the state’s hiring process is confidential, the public has no way of knowing exactly what the state knew about Joel before he became a state employee.

Joel did not respond to requests for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:18

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

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Missile Defense Agency director James Syring told senators they don’t need to worry about a repeat of last year’s botched test, when an interceptor launched from California missed because the head failed to separate from the booster.

“The failure last July I won’t go into details in this forum, but it was very simple. I’m confident that we’ve corrected that,” he said.

The Missile Defense Agency is asking Congress for $7.5 billion for next year. Syring says one crucial element is a new detection system called LRDR – long-range discrimination radar, which is likely to be based in Alaska. Syring told a Senate Committee he wants to have the billion-dollar radar operating within six years.

“The importance of the radar is that it provides us that needed discrimination capability against the threat from North Korea,” he said. “As they continue to progress and add decoys and counter-measures, and I’ll stop there in terms of classification, we must have a discrimination ability of a radar to counter that.”

Syring says he hopes to announce a location in a few months, but the agency has already told potential contractors to assume the radar will be installed at Clear Air Force Station, near Fairbanks. The budget also calls for 14 more interceptors at Fort Greely, bringing the total there to 40 by mid-2017. One part of Alaska the Missile Defense Agency is giving up on is Kodiak. The agency used to launch rockets from there to serve as targets but stopped in 2010 in favor a Kwajelein atoll in the Pacific. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked if the Kodiak Launch Facility might be part of a future test. Syring said no, because the testing has to be more realistic now, and the geometry of a launch from Kodiak makes it a poor stand-in for North Korea.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Case To Remove Pebble Initiative From Ballot

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

(Alexandra Gutierrez/Alaska Public Media)

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

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Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar presented the State’s case before the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“The mineral deposits and fisheries in the Bristol Bay fisheries reserve impact all Alaskans,” argued Bakalar. “They don’t just belong to or impact the people living in that region.”

The Alaska Miners Association and Council of Alaska Producers are behind the lawsuit. Their goal is to remove the Bristol Bay Forever initiative from the November ballot. The measure would add another layer of scrutiny to the proposed Pebble Mine beyond the permitting process by requiring legislative approval of large-scale mining operations in the region. (The Legislature is already obligated to sign off on oil and gas operations in the Bristol Bay area.)

The miners’ attorney, Matt Singer, held that the initiative circumvents the Legislature’s authority to delegate land management decisions to state agencies. He also argued that because the initiative only focuses on Bristol Bay instead of mining operations throughout the state, it is unconstitutional.

“We don’t regulate land and environmental decisions by balkanizing those decisions — by regionalizing those decisions — unless we’re seeking to solve a problem that cannot be addressed by a general law,” said Singer.

Justice Craig Stowers pressed Singer on that point.

“My question is, if we have statewide interest in the minerals and fisheries in this world-class watershed, in this world-class fishery, isn’t that enough in establishing general applicability — or general interest, statewide interest — putting aside the purpose statement of the initiative?” asked Stowers.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the State certified the initiative in 2012, and has stretched on for about a year and half. The Fairbanks Superior Court sided with the State on the matter in February, and the Supreme Court justices would have to reverse that ruling for the measure to be removed from the ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Confirms Delay Of HAARP Demolition

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility. Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:16

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot.

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Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

“Judge Estelle filed 16 untrue affidavits, under oath, from September 2011 through February, 2013, swearing that he had completed or issued decisions in all matters that had been pending before him, for more than six months, when in fact, he had not completed those decisions,” DiPietro said. “Judge Estelle continued to receive his salary on time, and that’s contrary to a state law that prohibits a judge from being paid on time if the judge has undecided matters outstanding for longer than six months.”

The Judicial Council concluded that by filing untrue affidavits, Judge Estelle failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

Judge Estelle was appointed in 2003. He has been approved in two previous retention elections, in 2006 and in 2010.

In April of this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges against Judge Estelle, and, after a hearing, issued its findings and recommendations against his retention.

DiPietro says that only state judicial District Three voters will have an opportunity to vote for or against Judge Estelle. District Three encompasses Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:15

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

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The report shows basic health care – like a primary care doctor’s visit is generally accessible, even to low income, uninsured patients. Community health centers like the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center provide services on a sliding fee scale.

The report was prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services. Commissioner Bill Streur says there are 200 locations across the state that offer basic health care to low income Alaskans:

“The range of preventative services, the range of primary care services and the options for those folks are pretty significant,” Streur said.

But Streur acknowledges many low-income and uninsured Alaskans have more complicated medical needs. When that’s the case, they may find help through a patchwork system of charity care. Those options include hospital emergency rooms and Project Access, which connects uninsured residents to specialists willing to wave their fees. Streur says his department is trying to figure out how many uninsured Alaskans need regular access to specialty care:

“The majority are people with a chronic condition that require specialty care and there’s no service available to them,” Streur said.

The report also identifies outpatient mental health care as an area that may not be available to the uninsured. The department doesn’t make recommendations for addressing the overall gap in access. Streur says that will be the job of the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group that started meeting this spring:

“What could we do under Medicaid, what could we do under other initiatives to be able to fill this gap?” Streur asked.

Alaskans who fall into the gap generally are childless adults who have incomes under $15,000 a year. They aren’t eligible for subsidies to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act because the law assumed they would qualify for Medicaid instead.

Categories: Alaska News

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:14

Local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

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Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shishmaref Environmental Program. He said a gasoline-like odor from the sheen can be smelt throughout the community.

“You can smell the odor from the Native Store to the other store, which is three-quarters of the village’s length as far as houses,” said Kuzuguk.

Last Thursday June 5, 2014 Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The next day a team from the DEC, the Coast Guard, and Spill Response Coordinator Emerald Alaska arrived on the island to investigate.

Paul Lhotka is an Environmental Program Specialist with the DEC and said the sheen “looked to us to be some type of weathered petroleum product, such as a gasoline or a diesel.”

Contaminated nearshore sea ice. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

Lhotka said no source has been identified and no volume estimation of the product has been calculated. However, a situation report estimates the sheen covers a 1,200 foot area of near-shore ice.

Closeup of absorbent pad collecting product. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Eric Vogel with the Incident Management Division at Sector Anchorage said this ice is hindering clean-up efforts. Local responders are maintaining an absorbency boom and pads along the coast of the affected area to soak up and confine the substance. But with the ice in break up, responders cannot venture more than five feet offshore by foot or skiff to absorb the product.

“Responders are unable to work out on the ice,” Vogel explained, “so most of the recovery operations are from shore—the absorbent boom and pads that are anchored to the shore with rebar and passively collecting this emulsified oil.”

DEC’s Lhotka said the ice is thawing at a rapid rate and should be melted in a few days. Both Lhotka and Kuzuguk said “no known wildlife impacts” have resulted from the sheen.

Samples of the oily substance are being shipped to the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. They are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm.

The Coast Guard personnel are returning to Shishmaref this Friday June 13, 2014 to continue their investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

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