APRN Alaska News

Syndicate content aprn.org
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: 38 min 10 sec ago

A Mountaineering Season for the Record Books

Mon, 2014-06-23 17:08

This year’s mountaineering season has been one for the record books. Earlier this month, a new speed record was set on Denali. And a team of skiers knocked out back-to-back ascents of the three tallest mountains in the Alaska Range.

Ski mountaineers Anton Sponar, Aaron Diamond, Evan Pletcher and Jordan White at the summit of Mount Hunter, one of the three tallest peaks in the Alaska Range. Photo courtesy of Evan Pletcher.

For Evan Pletcher of Aspen, Colorado, summiting the three tallest peaks in the Alaska Range — that’s Hunter, Foraker and Denali — in a single expedition with three close friends was the experience of a lifetime.

Download Audio

“You know, I don’t plan on topping this. Ever.” Pletcher laughs.

“That feeling, that sense of accomplishment being on top of all the mountains was incredible — and especially on Denali, being our last one. We just all kind of broke down up there and just had a pretty incredible experience. And the view from the top is pretty unreal.”

It took the team of four 31 days to do all three summits non-stop. And the going was tough.

Diamond and White taking the final steps up to the summit of Mt. Hunter. Photo courtesy of Evan Pletcher.

“Like on Mt. Hunter for instance, packs were at least 80 lbs. because we went without sleds up that mountain with 6 days of food. It wasn’t light, ever,” Pletcher says.

Pletcher’s team actually had a friend, an experienced mountaineer in Colorado, who was giving the group weather updates from afar. Pletcher said the reports were extremely accurate — critical to helping the team bag all three summits back-to-back.

“I feel that we had incredible luck and a great group. Everything just kind of worked in our favor, but yeah I can see why it hadn’t been done before. It’s very taxing — mentally, physically, and the chances of you hitting those windows when you need them are just so slim,” Pletcher says.

For another Denali mountaineer, a one-day window in clear weather was all it took for a successful summit.

Spanish mountaineer Killian Bourgada went up and down in the mountain in just under twelve hours. Eleven hours and forty minutes, to be exact. There’s no official record-keeping group for speed ascents, but nobody is raising eyebrows at Bourgada’s time. He is known for being fast. Very fast.

Coley Gentzel at the Talkeetna Ranger Station says speed ascents up Denali actually aren’t that uncommon. Bourgada’s time breaks the last record by a couple of hours.

Killian Bourgada didn’t just hop a plane to Alaska, sling a backpack over his shoulder and climb as fast as he could. There is a lot of preparation and acclimating involved in speed climbs. Gentzel explains.

“What most folks will do is to acclimate ahead of time, to sort of spend time at the higher elevations and even go to the summit for a week or two weeks or event three weeks ahead of time so that they’re acclimated. That’s the only way you can really move quickly at altitude and to ward off the potential for altitude illness is to acclimate on the mountain or on the route prior to doing your speed climb. And so that’s the method that Killian used, and that everyone else have used as well. They go on to the mountain, climb it, spend a week or two at higher elevations and then they come back to base camp to wait for a good weather window to climb up and down as fast as they can.”

Gentzel says for most of the folks attempting speed ascents are very experienced mountaineers.

Speed climbers and ski mountaineers represent a sliver of the twelve-hundred-odd climbers who tackle Denali every season.

Diamond and White beginning the long Sultana Ridge climb on Foraker. Photo courtesy of Evan Pletcher.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 23, 2014

Mon, 2014-06-23 17:05

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.

Download Audio

Tsunami Warning In Effect From Attu to Nikolski

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A powerful underwater earthquake in the Western Aleutians triggered tsunami alerts for parts of the Aleutian Islands Monday afternoon.

Medicare Will Penalize Alaska Hospitals For Patient Safety

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The four largest hospitals in Alaska are facing Medicare payment penalties for the quality of their care. Providence, Alaska Regional, Alaska Native Medical Center and Fairbanks Memorial are all in the bottom 25% nationally for the number of infections and serious complications patients get in their hospitals, according to data analyzed by Kaiser Health News. The penalties are part of a focus on quality care that’s included in the Affordable Care Act.

Initiative Challenging Pebble Development Remains On Ballot

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

An initiative that would add another roadblock to the Pebble Mine project will appear on the ballot this fall, now that a legal challenge against it has failed.

Does The State Do Enough To Serve Alaska Native Language Speakers?

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

A federal trial has kicked off to determine whether the State of Alaska does enough to serve voters who speak Native languages.

Gov. Parnell Signs Bill To Finance KABATA

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Governor Sean Parnell on Friday signed a bill to finance a $900 million bridge across Knik Arm, from Anchorage to Point McKenzie. Bridge proponents originally wanted to fund the project entirely with federal earmarks. But then Congress banned earmarks, in part due to public outrage over this bridge and another in Ketchikan, both derided nationally as “bridges to nowhere.” The new Knik bridge plan is contingent on low-interest loans from the federal government.

Low Unemployment Limits Anchorage’s Business Growth

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s unemployment rate for May is 4.9 percent, one of the lowest rates in the state. Though that may seem like a good thing, it’s actually a barrier for growth in the state’s largest city. Businesses are having trouble finding reliable workers.

Legislation Transfers $3 Billion From State Savings To Public Employee Pension Systems

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Surrounded by dozens of public employees in the atrium of Juneau’s State Office Building, Gov. Sean Parnell today signed legislation transferring $3 billion from state savings into Alaska’s public employee pension systems.

A Mountaineering Season for the Record Books

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

This year’s mountaineering season has been one for the record books. Earlier this month, a new speed record was set on Denali. And a team of skiers knocked out back-to-back ascents of the three tallest mountains in the Alaska Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Tsunami Warning In Effect From Attu to Nikolski

Mon, 2014-06-23 14:50

A tsunami advisory is in effect for Unalaska. The advisory stretches from Unimak Pass to Nikolski.

Public Safety says people do not need to evacuate to high ground at this time. They say residents should avoid shore areas, but don’t need to take any other action.

There is a tsunami warning in place in the Western Aleutians, from Attu to Nikolski, and for the Pribilof Islands. People in that area should move to high ground and avoid coastal areas in case of wave action.

The tsunami alerts stem from an underwater earthquake recorded just before 1 p.m. today, about 30 miles northwest of Amchitka Island in the Western Aleutians. The quake happened at a depth of about 60 miles. Preliminary magnitude estimates are between 7 and 8.

That’s a powerful quake, which automatically triggers a tsunami warning. But the Alaska Earthquake Information Center says there’s very little tsunami risk from a quake so deep underwater.

They also say the quake does not have anything to do with the volcano on watch in that area. Semisopochnoi has been experienced a series of small tremors over the past couple of weeks. But the AEIC’s Natasha Ruppert says it’s not related.

“Earthquakes that are related to volcanos are very shallow, right beneath the surface,” she says. “This one is about 100 kilometers deep.”

Again, the tsunami advisory in Unalaska does not mean residents have to take any action. A tsunami warning is in effect for coastal areas from Attu to Nikolski and in the Pribilof Islands, St. Paul and St. George.

Categories: Alaska News

Itemized Work On Gas Line Considered Confidential

Mon, 2014-06-23 10:13

State reimbursements to TransCanada Corp. in pursuit of a natural gas pipeline are expected to total about $330 million. But the list of the itemized project work is considered confidential.

Natural Resources department spokeswoman Elizabeth Bluemink says the list contains competitively sensitive proprietary information. She said by email that protecting “this commercially sensitive information continues to be in the state’s interest,” given work underway on a proposed liquefied natural gas project.

She said state agencies working on the project have access to the information and related work products.

With state support, TransCanada pursued a pipeline that would serve North America markets. But it gained no traction.

The two recently ended that relationship but started another in pursuit of the LNG project, which would serve overseas markets and involve other players.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 20, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:42

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.

 

Listen now:

Convicted Killer Joshua Wade Claims Responsibility for 3 Additional Murders

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Anchorage Police Department and FBI are investigating claims by convicted Anchorage killer Joshua Wade that he is responsible for three additional murders.

Family of Wade’s Alleged New Victim Demands Justice

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

As Wade promises details about additional murders he claims to have committed, the family of one of his alleged new victims says they’re feeling their loss once again … and they’re angry Wade won’t face new charges or a trial for the murders.

House Ethics Panel Accused Don Young of Misusing Campaign Funds, Accepting Improper Gifts

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reproval to Alaska Congressman Don Young for accepting multiple hunting trips as gifts in violation of the House Gift Rule. The committee says he should repay $59,000 for gifts and expenses related to 15 hunting trips between 2001 and 2013.

State Rebuffs A Challenge to Its Gay Marriage Ban

The Associated Press

The state denies its laws on marriage curb the constitutional rights of five same-sex couples suing over Alaska’s gay marriage ban.

Fairbanks Area Sees Heavy Rainfall, Flooding

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks area has seen some impressive rainfall over the last few days. National Weather Service meteorologist John Lingass reports 2 to 3 inches around Fairbanks, and 3 to 4 inches over the hills northeast of town. The heavy rains are causing flooding along rivers.

New Placer Mining Permits Proposed

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Interior miners aren’t happy with changes proposed to federal permits for small scale placer operations that impact water resources, including wetlands. Dozens attended an Army Corps of Engineers public meeting in Fairbanks this week on the proposals.

Fishers Flock to Anchorage’s Slam’n Salm’n Derby

Joaquin Palomino, APRN – Anchorage

This weekend hundreds of fishing enthusiasts will be crowding Ship Creek in Anchorage, trying to snag a monster king salmon. The fishing frenzy is part of the slamin salmon derby, a 10-day long competition and fundraiser.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Convicted Killer Joshua Wade Claims Three More Murders

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:30

Law enforcement officials address the media regarding updates in the Joshua Wade case. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Anchorage Police Department and FBI are investigating claims by convicted Anchorage killer Joshua Wade that he is responsible for three additional murders.

Listen now:

In 2009, Wade pleaded guilty to the 2007 killing of Mindy Schloss and admitted to the 2000 murder of Della Brown.

Earlier this year, Wade gave law enforcement officials information about three other murders he claims to have committed.

Joshua Wade. (APD photo)

Officials believe two cases involve the unsolved murders of 38-year-old John Michael Martin in 1994 and 30-year-old Henry Ongtowasruk in 1999. Wade also says he killed another man the same night he killed Della Brown, though that victim’s identity is unknown.

Anchorage Police Detective Sergeant Slav Markiewicz says law enforcement is investigating Wade’s claims and reexamining old evidence.

“We keep evidence in every homicide case forever; we don’t dispose of the evidence,” Markiewicz said. “There are new advances in technology, DNA; we may analyze the evidence now in ways that we were not able to do in 1994 or in 2000.”

Markiewicz was unable to go into detail about the claims, as the investigation is ongoing.

Wade had been attempting to get out of his plea agreement in the Schloss case, which could have sent the case back to trial, but he agreed to drop his request and give law enforcement details on the three additional murders if they agreed to transfer him to a federal facility outside of Alaska.

Karen Loeffler, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, says it’s unclear why Wade requested the transfer.

“When the state came to us and the Department of Law and said, ‘Would you be willing to talk to the federal authorities about taking him,’ my answer was, ‘Who cares? He’s never gonna get out of jail. I don’t care where he serves it,’” Loeffler said. “He’s not getting anything that harms the community from us, so if we can get some closure to someone, our position was, work with the Department of Law, see what they want.”

“He doesn’t get out of jail, I don’t really care what his motivation is, I just care that he never gets out.”

Wade has been transferred to a a maximum-security federal prison in Indiana, where he will serve out the remainder of his life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Categories: Alaska News

Family of Wade’s Alleged New Victim Demands Justice

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:29

As Wade promises details about additional murders he claims to have committed, the family of one of his alleged new victims says they’re feeling their loss once again … and they’re angry Wade won’t face new charges or a trial for the murders.

Listen now:

Arlene Soxie lives in Nome. She says her son Henry Ongtowasruk was 30 years old and living in Anchorage when he was killed in 1999. She says she first heard about the connection to Wade in February.

“One of the detectives was talking to Joshua Wade and he confessed that he was the one that killed my son. They were able to get in touch with one family member. And that is how they contacted us. And it was like he died all over again.”

While investigators try to corroborate Wade’s claims, it’s still unclear whether he could face new charges. That, Soxie says, is not justice.

“I was wishing that there would have been a trial for the murder of my son. And I was told that there would be no trial because he’s in prison already. It seems like the law is for the people who have committed the crime and not for the family members who are left suffering.”

As for Wade, in exchange for the confession he asked prosecutors transfer him out of Alaska for the rest of his life sentence. Soxie says the idea her son’s alleged killer could bargain information to get anything at all offends her.

“It angered me. My son can’t speak for himself and to know that people in the governing system, or the law, allow things like that, it’s not right either,” she said.

Whether Wade’s claims on the additional murders prove true or false, he’ll still remain behind bars for the rest of his life:  he’s been transferred to a maximum-security federal prison in Indiana, where he will serve out the remainder of his life sentence without the possibility of parole.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ethics Panel: Rep. Young Misused Campaign Funds, Took Improper Gifts

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:28

The House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reprimand to Alaska Congressman Don Young for spending campaign money on trips to hunting lodges and improperly accepting gifts, many of them from lobbyists and related to travel.

Listen now:

The letter, and the report that backs it up, focus on $56,000 worth of rides in private planes, stays at hunting lodges, golf, meals, and in one specific instance, a pair of $400 boots.  The committee says Young has to repay $28,000 to the gift-givers, and use personal funds to repay $31,000 in misused campaign funds.

Young’s spokesman said the congressman would not talk about the report today. In a written statement, Young said he regretted what he called oversights and apologized.

He’s already repaid the money.

“Some of them are tough calls,”says Young’s lawyer, John Dowd. He says the people who hosted the trips played several roles in Young’s life, so the purpose wasn’t always clear-cut. “There are people who are campaign supporters, there are people who have an interest in transportation, there are friends of his, so that all gets mixed together sometimes on these trips. Sometimes it didn’t get sorted out. Sometimes it did.”

Dowd says after the Justice Department investigation, Young laid out all the information about his travel for the Ethics Committee. The committee found Young improperly accepted gifts and 15 trips dating as far back as 2001 and as recently as last year. Most of the travel occurred from 2004 to 2006, when Young chaired the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. At the time, he was raking in campaign contributions from the construction and transportation industries around the country

The gift-givers listed in the report include former Young staffers who became lobbyists, like C.J. Zane and Duncan Smith, Texas Lobbyist Randy Delay, and Tom Johnson, an executive at the Texas branch of Associated General Contractors. Many of the trips were to Texas lodges. The most expensive on the list, more than $11,000, was to the Mariposa Ranch in south Texas, paid for mostly by Houston-based construction conglomerate KBR.

Lobbyist Duncan Smith bought the $400 Le Chameau boots. The company specializes in knee-high rubber boots lined in leather.

The ethics case against Young originated with a wide-ranging Department of Justice investigation started at least eight years ago. In 2010, the Justice Department said it wouldn’t pursue charges against Young and instead sent a letter about him to the Ethics Committee. The panel says, with such old evidence, it couldn’t find that Young’s acceptance of the trips and gifts was purposeful or corrupt. The committee, though, noted Young listed none of it on his required personal financial disclosure documents. The Committee did not recommend the harsher penalty of censure by the full House of Representatives.

Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the punishment amounts to a letter saying, in effect, ‘bad Congressman.”

University of Alaska political science professor Forrest Nabors says he doubts the reprimand will affect Young’s re-election in November. Violations like these aren’t important to people outside Washington, Nabors says, and anyway, Alaskans have been hearing about Young being investigated for years.

“It doesn’t seem to deter them from re-electing him,” Nabors says “He has very strong relationships in the state.”

Forrest Dunbar, the latest Democrat running against Young, has raised less than a tenth of the campaign war chest Young has. In a written statement today, Dunbar called Young a repeat ethics offender.

Read House Ethics Committee statement.

Rep. Young’s statement:

I accept the House Committee on Ethics’ report and regret the oversights it has identified.  There were a number of instances where I failed to exercise due care in complying with the House’s Code of Conduct and for that I apologize.  As the Committee indicates in its report, I never made any knowingly false statements to government officials nor did I act corruptly or in bad faith.

I have made each of the payments recommended by the Committee and have taken significant steps since 2007 to strengthen my office’s polices for compliance with the Code of Conduct to ensure that these types of oversights do not happen again.  It is through these actions that I show my colleagues and Alaskans that I fully respect the House Rules and will continue to comply with them now and in the future.

I am pleased that today’s decision represents the conclusion of an extended inquiry by both the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Ethics and I will continue to faithfully serve the people of Alaska.

 

Categories: Alaska News

State Rebuffs a Challenge To Its Ban on Gay Marriage

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:27

The state denies its laws on marriage curb the constitutional rights of five same-sex couples suing over Alaska’s gay marriage ban.

Listen now:

The couples, four married outside Alaska and one unmarried couple, sued in federal court seeking to overturn the ban.

In a filing Thursday, there is a claim-by-claim response to the plaintiffs.

State attorneys say voters had a “fundamental right to decide the important public policy issue of whether to alter the traditional definition” of marriage.

They say Alaska isn’t required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and that, as a sovereign state, Alaska has the right to define and regulate marriage.

 

Categories: Alaska News

New State Law To Bring Back Universal Vaccine Access

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:26

For 30 years, Alaska maintained a universal vaccine program, where federal funding paid for all the standard shots. But in 2011, the money started drying up, leaving only the most vulnerable populations covered.

Listen now:

Now, universal access to vaccines may be back, with a law that uses the state as a broker between insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies to get a bulk rate discount. At the bill signing this week, State Sen. Cathy Giessel said the idea is to make sure “all Alaskans, insured and uninsured, had access to vaccines.” On top of increasing access to vaccines, health care providers expect the law to save them time and money.

Dr. Susan Beesley is making the rounds through the offices of the Anchorage Pediatric Group. Plenty of nurses stop to say hello, and one mentions giving shots. Beesley has practiced there for five years. But right now, she’s not on the clock.

“Today, I’m here as a mom. I’m here for my two-month well-child check with my daughter Robin Beesley.”

Her baby will be getting immunized against whooping cough and tetanus, diphtheria and rotavirus.

“So, today she’s getting one oral vaccine and three shots,” says Beesley.

While getting shots may be a new thing for baby Robin, immunizations are a huge part of what the Anchorage Pediatric Group does. Beesley alone sees about 20 kids every week who get vaccines.

When Beesley first moved to Alaska in 2009, the state still had universal vaccine coverage. It didn’t matter if you were a kid, an adult, insured, or uninsured: If you were getting an ordinary vaccination, the federal government was probably footing the bill.

“Slowly over the past five years, we’ve lost that. And it’s sort of been a step-wise progression from having universal coverage to then just a couple of shots not covered universally, and then slowly, all of them have been sort of changed over to a two-tier system.”

Public funding covers about a third of the shots administered by Anchorage Pediatric Group. The rest are billed to the insurance companies or to the patient.

To avoid a billing mess, the group has to make sure the vaccines are stored according to who pays for them, even though the shots are identical. That means keeping the same exact vaccine in separate bins, in refrigeration units divided by Plexiglas. Some clinics have to spend extra money on entirely different refrigerators for different types of patients.

And no matter how organized a group is, Beesley says there are occasional mix-ups when it comes to distributing the public supply and the private one.

“Sometimes, you give accidentally private stock to a child that you later find out may have had a private insurance, but lost it, and now they’re on Medicaid,” says Beesley. “You can end up eating the cost as the practice for that vaccine.”

Those vaccines aren’t cheap. While we’re waiting for baby Robin’s appointment, Beesley grabs practice administrator Brice Alexander to explain just how much money their group spends on them.

“The cost of the vaccines some of them are upwards of $200 just for the serum itself,” says Alexander.

Alexander adds that the Anchorage Pediatric Group fronts $40,000 a month on vaccines for patients who don’t qualify for the public immunization program, before passing that cost on through patient bills.

But starting next January, the group won’t have to do that. The State of Alaska will be implementing a new system where they act as a buyer for vaccines. They’ll assess insurance companies and private practices a fee, and then use that money to buy vaccines for providers at a serious discount. In states with similar programs, access to vaccines has increased, making disease outbreaks less likely. Providers, patients, and insurance companies have saved millions of dollars.

The new system also means hospitals and clinics won’t have to segregate their vaccines anymore or bill them differently. Alexander expects that to be a time-saver.

“Not having to worry about explaining to patients why they have such a huge bill, it’s much easier to focus on, ‘Yeah, you showed up for the visit. Here’s your bill for the visit, and everything else is covered,” says Alexander.

Beesley also welcomes the change.

“The bottom line is just that it’s such an important preventive service, and we want to be able to provide exactly the same to all of our patients,” says Beesley.

While the new system should make work easier for Beesley and her colleagues, the actual shots themselves aren’t as much fun for Robin. She cries a little, but quickly stops after being patched up with some sparkly Band-Aids and being returned to her parents.

After a few more minutes, Robin is ready to go until the next round.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Area Sees Heavy Rainfall, Flooding

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:25

The Fairbanks area has seen some impressive rainfall over the last few days. National Weather Service meteorologist John Lingass reports 2 to 3 inches around Fairbanks, and 3 to 4 inches over the hills northeast of town.

Listen now:

The heavy rains are causing flooding along rivers. National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb reports high water on the Chena River, along Chena Hot Springs road east of town.

“One to two feet of water is pouring over at mile 36.9 and it is impassable for some vehicles, and [there are] also reports of water over most of the banks out in the Chena rec area and other places upstream of the Moose Creek Dam,” Plumb says.

Gates on the Moose Creek Dam in North Pole are being lowered to shave off some of the cresting Chena, diverting flow into a spillway at the Chena Flood Control Project. Plumb says that will limit high water in the cities of North Pole and Fairbanks, but it won’t be enough to prevent flooding in the low lying Steamboat Landing, Freeman Road area just downstream of the dam. Meanwhile, he says flooding is also an issue on the Salcha River.

“One of our observers, about 20 miles upriver from the Richardson Highway bridge, and they’ve got 3-4 feet of water in their yard — and they’re in a cabin that’s generally up on a higher bank that doesn’t get flooded as often. They’re saying this is some of the highest water they’ve had since 1986.”

Plumb says the Goodpaster River is also high and likely overflowing it’s banks and flooding low lying areas, adding there are cabins along the river.

 

Categories: Alaska News

New Placer Mining Permits Proposed

Fri, 2014-06-20 17:24

Interior miners aren’t happy with changes proposed to federal permits for small scale placer operations that impact water resources, including wetlands. Dozens of miners attended an Army Corps of Engineers public meeting in Fairbanks this week on the proposals.

Listen now:

Roger Bergraff of Fairbanks has been in the mining business for 40 years, and says he’s witnessed a regulatory trend that’s forcing out mom and pop placer operators. Bergraff laments the demise he blames on expanding and increasingly complex environmental regulations and paperwork.

Miners fill the chairs at a public meeting in Fairbanks June 16.

Bergraff points to legal interpretations of the Clean Water Act that have expanded the definition of wetlands, resulting in more regulation of mining in wet areas that cover much of the interior. Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Specialist Deb McAtee says the proposed permitting system reflects court rulings.

The proposed new permits cover smaller areas, focus on wetlands, and require more specialized reclamation.  Army Corps project manager Leslie Tose (TOESE) points to a 2008 mitigation rule that’s being rolled into the permit.

Tose says miners would also be required to better document their sites and work with photos. The proposed new permit, which is out for public comment, did not sit well with most miners at the meeting, but Casey Post, who’s mined north of Fairbanks for 5 years, expressed mixed feelings.

Post attributes some of the negativity about the proposed new permit to miss information that’s been rumored around, but adds wetlands reclamation can be a big deal.

Post, one of the younger people at the meeting, says he understands the frustration of long time miners, but considers permits and regulatory compliance just another part of the business.

Those rules are blamed by old timers like Roger Bergraff for quashing the kind of pioneering people he credits with making Alaska what it is today.

Bergraff does not blame the Army Corps of Engineers, which he says is trying to craft a workable placer permit but has to meet constraints coming from above.  The Corp’s Tose is optimistic despite initial negative sentiment.

Tose says timing of the proposed permit roll out is not ideal because miners are busy during the summer. She says the public comment period will be extended to provide more off season time for feedback.

Categories: Alaska News

Fishers Flock to Anchorage’s Slam’n Salm’n Derby

Fri, 2014-06-20 14:49

On Thursday morning Bill Rawls, a visitor from North Carolina, cast a hook and bait into Ship Creek near Downtown Anchorage. After about an hour of waiting he felt a pull on the line.  A short struggle later Rawls reeled in the biggest fish he has ever caught in his life—a 40-pound king salmon. “Everyone around me kept saying how big it was,” he recalled giddily.

The 40-pounder was caught during the Slam’n Salm’n Derby, a 10-day long fishing competition in Anchorage which draws hundreds of locals and tourists looking to snag king salmon. Prizes are given out for the largest fish caught, which include a flat screen television, Alaska Railroad tickets, and a coveted 16-foot cataraft.

The event is free to the public, but donations are directed towards the Downtown Soup Kitchen. Last year the organization raised about $50,000, which it used to temporarily house and feed those in need.

The derby comes after a series of lackluster salmon runs in the region. This year, though, more than 100 fish have already been entered into the competition, some topping 30-40 pounds. “The Derby’s off to a great start,” said Dustin Slinker, owner and operator of Ship Creek’s Bait Shack. “A lot of the other fisheries in the state are under emergency orders and shut down, but here in Downtown Anchorage you can still catch a 40-pound King Salmon.”

A fish hatchery program that broke ground in 2012 is partially credited for the abundance of fish. This is the first season that grown salmon from the hatchery have swum through Anchorage, Slinker said.

The derby wraps up at noon on Sunday, when there will be a BBQ and awards ceremony. Rawls is heading back to North Carolina before the competition closes, but he’ll try to come back next year. “Down at the creek everyone was super polite, super helpful,” he said.  “It was just a once in a lifetime experience and I’m going to try and make it back.”

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Bethel

Fri, 2014-06-20 14:49

This week we’re heading to the hub community of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. John MacDonald lives in Bethel.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Fry Bread

Fri, 2014-06-20 14:48

Garfield Katasse mixes his fry bread dough and shapes each piece by hand. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Hot canola oil pangs off a stainless steel tub under the watch of a local fry bread master. Some people say it’s magic that turns a hand-stretched disc of dough into a puffy — but-not-too-puffy — piece of golden, delicious fry bread.

Fry bread, that high calorie treat that can go savory or sweet, has generations of history in many Alaska Native families, where the untraditional food has become a cultural fixture.

Download Audio

Fry bread cooks in canola oil. Cheaper oils make the fry bread come out greasier, Garfield Katasse says. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Garfield Katasse is the big guy under the tent by the Garfield’s Famous Fry Bread banner. On days like this during a big Native cultural convention, Katasse spends hours on his feet, patiently working the dough and frying it up piece after piece after piece.

He goes through 175 pounds of dough a day, all mixed by hand.

“You know, my day starts (at) 4 o’clock in the morning, and doesn’t end ‘til 10:30 at night,” Katasse says. “Because I have to run around and get all my ingredients and get ready for the next day.”

There’s a funny squeal coming from the headphones Katasse wears, plugged into a gadget clipped to the collar of his hoodie. He’s got severe hearing loss, and it helps him get by.

He says his disability makes it tough for him to work a regular job, but it also lets him travel and sell fry bread to thousands during events and festivals. Katasse has been setting up shop in the Juneau and Anchorage areas for about a decade. He grew up in Juneau, but lives in Albuquerque and Anchorage most of the year.

Even without four walls or a roof over his business, he’s become a local institution.

Garfield Katasse shows off a hot, fresh piece of fry bread. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Carmen Plunkett, who’s from Juneau but now lives in California, was carefully packaging up eight pieces of the plate-sized treats.

We love our fry bread, as you can tell,” Plunkett says. “I now take it back and I freeze’em, take it back and I can have’em later. Cause there’s no — I can’t cook it myself.”

The fry bread she can buy in California just isn’t the same.

Even in the rain, Katasse’s customers keep queuing up in the parking lot where he’s set up for a few days.

“I love Garfield’s fried bread. He does the best fry bread,” says Bettyann Boyd.

By the end of Katasse’s first week in town, she’d eaten four pieces.

It’s light and it’s big, and he always has good conversation while you’re getting it,” she says with a cheery chuckle.

Boyd, Plunkett and many others in line are Tlingit. They remember their first time eating fry bread made by their parents and grandparents when they were young children.

And yet, Smithsonian Magazine and popular lore attribute fry bread’s origins to the Navajo. Katasse, who’s Tlingit but spent a lot of his adult life in the Southwest, says his recipe came from a Pueblo friend. Sometimes, he sells fry bread topped with Mexican ingredients as an “Indian taco,” though he personally enjoys it with salmon and green chili.

Darrin Austin puts butter and powdered sugar on his fry bread. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Many Native American groups around the country have variations of fry bread. How it’s come to be so closely associated with Alaska Native cultures is a bit of mystery.

Boyd says she doesn’t know much about its history in Alaska.

I just know it brings a lot of people together,” she says.

Plunkett says she never thought about it.

“I never questioned it because it was part of our, you know, what we ate,” Plunkett says. “Now, you have me questioning it.”

Dwayne Lewis, a Navajo and owner of the restaurant Sacred Hogan Navajo Frybread in Phoenix, says he doesn’t have any theories about how it got to Alaska. He remembers his grandma saying fry bread was first created when the government was rationing food to the Navajo.

Like matzah is a symbol of Jewish persecution, Navajo fry bread has a lot of history, symbolism and emotion kneaded into it.

In the 1860s, the U.S. government forced the Navajo and other Southwest Native American groups to relocate to a doomed settlement called Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation. Traditional foods grew poorly there. Starvation led the government to provide canned goods, flour, sugar and lard, which led to fry bread.

For Katasse’s customers in Alaska, fry bread doesn’t appear to have that baggage. Darrin Austin doesn’t have a trace of ambivalence while he eats.

“Pretty good, I like how he makes them big, too. Has that big tub,” Austin says between bites. “Sweet, you got sugar on there, the butter, you know, it’s buttery. And it’s crispy, fresh out of the oil.”

Katasse keeps his recipe under wraps, but does share one key additive.

“I say my prayers … every time I do 10 pounds of dough, for everybody that walks across my booth, buys bread, that they would be blessed and nourished,” Katasse says.

When people ask him, “What’s your secret?” he says that’s it.

“There’s no magic about this,” he says.

Categories: Alaska News

Which Is The Best Alaska Book?

Fri, 2014-06-20 12:00

online surveys

Some Alaskans were drawn to come here by a book – for instance “Coming into the Country,” or “Two in the Far North,” or “One Man’s Wilderness.” We’ll be building a list of the Best Alaska Books on the next “Talk of Alaska.” Let us know which is your favorite.

Steve Heimel’s Top-5 Alaska Books:

  1. Coming into the Country
  2. Wilderness, a Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska
  3. Ordinary Wolves
  4. Into the Wild
  5. Pilgrim’s Wilderness

Do you agree with Steve’s list? Let us know!

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Vered Mares, publisher, VP and D House
  • David Stevenson, Director of the Creative Writing and Literary Arts Program, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • 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, June 24, 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

House Ethics panel: Young Misused Campaign Funds, Accepted Improper Gifts

Fri, 2014-06-20 08:42

U.S. House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reproval to Alaska Congressman Don Young for accepting gifts and expenses related to  multiple hunting trips in violation of the House Gift Rule. The panel says he should repay $28,000 to gift-givers and $31,000 to his re-election campaign. The committee found he accepted 15 such trips between 2001 and 2013.  For seven of those trips, only some of the expenses, such as air travel provided by friends, were deemed improper. But all expenses for eight of the trips were found to be gifts in violation of the rule or improper use of campaign funds for personal use. The committee also noted that Young listed none of the gifts or trips on the personal financial disclosure documents members of Congress are required to file each year.

The action originated with a wide-ranging Department of Justice investigation that began years ago. In August 2010, the Justice Department told Young it would not bring any charges against him. But that same month, DOJ sent information about his gifts and hunting trips to the Ethics Committee. The trips the Justice Department identified were trips taken by Young, his family members and staff to hunting lodges and all occurred between 2003 and 2007. Investigators for the committee found improperly funded trips dating back to 2001 and as recently as last year.

The Ethics Subcommittee that investigated Young did not conclude Young corruptly or purposefully accepted the gifts, nor that he made false statements to federal officials. The Committee did not recommend the harsher penalty of censure by the full House of Representatives.

Young’s spokesman said the congressman would not talk about the report today. He issued the following statement:

I accept the House Committee on Ethics’ report and regret the oversights it has identified.  There were a number of instances where I failed to exercise due care in complying with the House’s Code of Conduct and for that I apologize.  As the Committee indicates in its report, I never “made any knowingly false statements to government officials” nor did I act “corruptly or in bad faith.”

I have made each of the payments recommended by the Committee and have taken significant steps since 2007 to strengthen my office’s polices for compliance with the Code of Conduct to ensure that these types of oversights do not happen again.  It is through these actions that I show my colleagues and Alaskans that I fully respect the House Rules and will continue to comply with them now and in the future.

I am pleased that today’s decision represents the conclusion of an extended inquiry by both the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Ethics and I will continue to faithfully serve the people of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Haines Police Dispatcher Speaks Out On Alleged Harasser

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:45

Governor Sean Parnell wants the hiring process for state employees examined after it was revealed a former police officer hired with the ferry system has a checkered past.

Several people who talked about Jason Joel’s job performance for a previous story did not want to share their identity, including a former Haines Police Dispatcher who alleges Joel harassed her on the job. Now she is speaking out.

Download Audio

Forty-six-year-old Angie Goodwin started at the Haines Police Department as a dispatcher in 2009. By then, Jason Joel had been on the job for three years. Goodwin says at first, she considered him a friendly coworker. But slowly, she says Joel’s comments and actions toward her turned from friendly and joking to crude and harassing.

RELATED: State Hires Ferry Security Officer With Questionable Past

“It was so gradual, that by the time it got bad, I didn’t realize that I was in trouble,” Goodwin said. “I mean at first he joked around and stuff, but it was just joking.”

“But he gradually pushes his way in, and you let him come in because you feel safe. He’s a police officer.”

Goodwin says the alleged verbal harassment was sometimes sexual. Occasionally it included physical contact. Once, Joel picked Goodwin up over his shoulder, she says. Another time he grabbed her wrist. And, she says, the harassment became constant.

“There was some form or other of harassment – verbal, physical, sexual – almost every time we worked together,” she said.

Goodwin says there were witnesses to the harassment, but none who could be reached for comment. Several other women in Haines and Skagway say they either witnessed or experienced harassment by Joel, but have not wanted their names used publically.

As the harassment increased, Goodwin says she became more stressed. She began seeing a counselor. She mentioned some of the incidents to her doctor when she complained of not being able to sleep. In March 2011 she decided to finally make an official complaint to Chief of Police Gary Lowe.

“I was on edge and I just got really upset and I called him and he was almost home when he answered his phone and I started crying,” Goodwin said. “I said ‘I need you to come in here, I have something really important you need to know.’”

About two weeks later, she says the chief told her Joel had resigned. The borough confirms that Joel was allowed to resign in a deal signed by Joel, the borough manager and a public employee’s union representative.

Goodwin resigned a few weeks after Joel. She says she wanted out of the department.

“I was sick of it. I was so burned out at that point I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “I just wanted out at that point.”

Shortly before she resigned, Goodwin began documenting incidents of harassment from Joel. She also has a letter she wrote to an attorney asking for guidance. But after Joel surrendered his state police certification, she quit pursuing legal action.

When Goodwin heard Joel had been hired as a security officer with the state, she was upset and decided to finally speak out.

“He’s dealing with 5,000 times more people now than he was at the police department. I mean, this isn’t just small town Haines now that he’s dealing with. Now he’s got the whole state under him,” Goodwin said. “What were they thinking? But there’s no way for them to dig it up because the borough, everyplace he’s worked for has hidden it one way or another.”

Joel has not responded to email requests for comment. The Haines borough – along with other police departments he’s worked for – say his personnel file is confidential and won’t confirm any complaints that were leveled against him.

But the allegations and documented work history were enough to get some lawmakers, and now the governor’s attention.

“The governor has asked Commissioner Kemp to look into the hiring process and we’re following through with that request,” Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow said.

Exactly how DOT Commissioner Pat Kemp will examine the process is not yet clear, Woodrow says.

“It’s important to point out that Mr. Joel is a state employee so anything the state does regarding his employment has to be done under the strict guidelines that follow state procedures,” Woodrow said.

Some state hiring policies are developed by the Department of Administration and could be changed by staff. Others are outlined in state statute and would require the legislature to take action. But, right now, Woodrow says details of the hiring process are confidential.

State Representative for Haines, Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says he hopes Kemp will share the results of his examination of the hiring process with the public.

“I think Gov. Parnell directing Commissioner Kemp to look into this is a needed and positive step and I hope they come full circle and let us know what happened,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

Sen. Dennis Egan, also a Democrat and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee has also sent a letter to Commissioner Kemp asking him to look into the hiring of Joel, according to Egan’s staff.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senators Work to Allow Foreign Students Back in Fish Plants

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:43

In Congress today, a bill that would allow foreign students to work in Alaska fish processing plants cleared a major committee. The provision is part of a spending bill now headed to the Senate floor. Both Alaska senators say they pressed for the return of the J-1 visa program to help meet demand for seasonal seafood processors. But the program is controversial.

Download Audio

J-1 visas are intended to promote cultural exchange. As the State Department explains it in promotional materials, it’s all about “hands-on experience to learn about U.S. society and culture.”

But some U.S. employers and overseas recruiters exploited the program, exposing students only to the culture of hard labor, night shifts and squalid housing. After a protest at a Hershey factory in Pennsylvania, the State Department changed the rules in 2012. It barred J-1 students from certain jobs, including seafood processing. The Alaska industry had been hiring several thousand J-1s a year.

Daniel Costa, who researches immigration issues for the Economic Policy Institute, says the processors should not be allowed to employ J-1s again.

“It was being used more as a cheap labor program,” he said.

He says Alaska fish plants aren’t a good place for these students to fulfill the purpose of the visa.

“They’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere, in isolated towns where there aren’t a lot of cultural exchange activities to do,” he said.

The U.S. has another type of visa for temporary workers, the H2B. Costa says fish processors should really hire H2Bs, but then they’d have to run ads announcing the vacancies to locals first, so employers prefer J-1.

“They don’t have to do the advertising, they don’t have to pay any of the taxes, Medicare, Social Security, that sort of thing,” he said.

Recruitment agencies even have J-1 savings calculators on their websites, showing employers they can save nearly 8 percent per worker if they hire J-1s. Dennis Phelan of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association says his members search near and far for seasonal workers, including from Alaska’s job centers.

“They will tell you we hire every qualified person that they send us,” Phelan said. “But that is just a fraction of what we need.”

They do hire some H2B visa holders, but he says that program is too complicated, and the number of visas issued is limited. Phelan says, though, the processing gig is good for J-1 students.

“Because of the way the salmon season tends to work there tends to be a good bit of overtime and so then they get paid time and a half for that, plus they obviously have free room and board so they have virtually no expenses and are making more than minimum wage,” he said.

In the past, he says, the students had their cultural experience after working.

“The students then once they had finished their contract and had made the money, the vast majority of them then head out and travel across Alaska, travel across other parts of the United States,” he said.

The State Department says that’s not good enough anymore. Phelan says if they’re allowed to hire J-1s again, the processors know they’ll have to provide cultural enrichment during the work period.

“Obviously, these are not heavily populated areas where the plants are and so you’re opportunities for things like that are somewhat limited but obviously we’ll do everything we can to make sure the students are getting out,” he said.

If the visa provision survives negotiations with the House in the months ahead, it would allow foreign students to work as fish processors only through September 2015.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 19, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:43

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.

Download Audio

Former Haines Police Dispatcher Speaks Out On Alleged Harasser

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Governor Sean Parnell wants his staff to examine the hiring process for state employees after APRN reported a former police officer hired with the ferry system has a checkered past. Several people who talked about Joel’s job performance for a previous story did not want to share their identity, including a former Haines Police Dispatcher who alleges Joel harassed her on the job. Now she is speaking out.

U.S. Senators Work to Allow Foreign Students Back in Fish Plants

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Congress today, a bill that would allow foreign students to work in Alaska fish processing plants cleared a major committee. The provision is part of a spending bill now headed to the Senate floor. Both Alaska senators say they pressed for the return of the J-1 visa program to help meet demand for seasonal seafood processors. But, the program is controversial.

Remains of 17 Servicemen Identified from 1952 Crash

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The remains of 17 service members who died in a 1952 plane crash near Mount Gannett have been identified by the Department of Defense. An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crew discovered the crash site two summers ago on Colony Glacier during a training exercise. A team went back to the site to recover what they could later that month. The identified remains will be returned to families all over the country and given burials with full military honors.

Army Changes Training Procedures In Wake Of Stuart Creek 2 Fire

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

It’s been one year since the Stuart Creek 2 Wildfire was reported burning in the Yukon Training area northeast of Fairbanks.  The blaze, ignited during an army artillery training exercise, burned more than 87,000 acres. Later, military officials conducted multiple investigations to find out why Army leaders signed off on the use of high explosive ammunition at a time when the National Weather Service had issued Red Flag Warnings. In response, training procedures have been rewritten.

New Oil Tax Proponents Argue In Favor Of Law

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A handful of leading advocates for the new oil tax regime made the case for keeping the law Wednesday night. The forum was hosted by the Anchorage Young Republicans, and panelists included economist Scott Goldsmith and State Sen. Cathy Giessel. They argued that if voters repealed the new tax law in August, the oil companies could abandon development of a natural gas pipeline.

ADF&G Shuts Down Little Su Kings for the Season

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Days after lifting restrictions on one river in the Susitna drainage, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is shutting down king salmon fishing entirely on another. A Fish and Game emergency order will close fishing for Kings at 12:01 am on Friday on the Little Susitna River south of the Parks Highway bridge.

Learning Language Through Alutiiq Culture and Tradition

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

The Alutiiq Museum held a language immersion retreat this week in Kodiak. More than 30 participants gathered to learn traditional games and practice their language skills with speakers of all different generations.

Categories: Alaska News
ON THE AIR

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4