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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: 6 min 54 sec ago

New Science Released On How Human-Made Sounds Impact Marine Mammals

Thu, 2014-01-23 18:40

Humpback Whale: Endangered (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public comment on guidelines updating the effects of human-made sounds on marine mammals.

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Marine mammals rely on their sense of sound for survival. “They use it for feeding, locating mates, and just generally understanding what’s going on in the world around them,” says NOAA fisheries biologist Amy Scholik-Schlomer, who is also an acoustic specialist.

She says the guidelines update the levels at which human-made sounds affect marine mammals temporarily and permanently. NOAA calls these threshold shifts. A marine mammal experiencing a temporary threshold shift is like going to a rock concert. “Your hearing is temporarily affected but it fully recovers, while permanent threshold shift would be something that your hearing is affected but it doesn’t fully recover. You have some permanent loss. It doesn’t mean you’re deaf and it doesn’t mean that it affects your entire hearing range; it just means that you can’t hear quite as well as you could before,” Scholik-Schlomer explains.

Brad Smith is a marine mammal biologist with NOAA in Anchorage. He says acoustic impacts on marine mammals are pertinent to Alaska, especially to the oil and gas industry, “We have seismic geophysical surveys which introduce very, very loud sounds into the water in areas where we have endangered and threatened species and marine mammals in general, notably the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and, more recently, in Cook Inlet.”

The construction industry also needs to be aware of the sounds it creates.

“The Port of Anchorage, certainly the KABATA crossing, the bridge if its built, all those construction activities that involve pile driving or placing sheet pile, possibly others such as dredging, anything that creates in-water noise in areas where marine mammals exist may potentially generate enough noise to cause an animal to be harassed,” Smith says.
Activities involving operating a vessel, like running a loud outboard motor, don’t reach the same levels of in-water noise, he says.

Scholik-Schlomer says the new guidelines address the fact that different marine mammals hear noise differently. For example, humpback whales are considered low frequency cetaceans. Many human-made sounds heard underwater that come from construction activities or seismic surveys are also low frequency. “Humpback whales hear and use low frequency sounds so they would be more impacted by something like seismic, opposed to killer whales who actually hear better at higher frequencies where there isn’t as much anthropogenic sounds,” she says.

How sounds affect marine marines is still an emerging science and Scholik-Schlomer says there are gaps in research:

“All the large whale species, we actually have no direct information on how they hear because it’s difficult to do those types of studies, so we have to use the best available information we have and extrapolate from data from bottlenose dolphins or even sometimes from terrestrial species, like mice and rats, where we don’t have any other data.”
The public comment period on the updated acoustic guidelines ends Jan. 27. Due to requests from members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, the oil industry, and various conservation organizations, NOAA is considering an extension to the public comment period.

Categories: Alaska News

Residents Anxious as City Mulls Condemning Motel

Thu, 2014-01-23 18:15

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

About two-dozen residents of a motel that was seized by the Municipality of Anchorage recently, may soon be looking for a new place to live. They have not been evicted yet, but the city says that will likely happen because of unsanitary conditions.

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Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

When Sonya Savok got back to her apartment in room 305 of the Big Timber Motel after having a baby earlier this month she heard that city officials had paid a visit.

“Municipality first came when I was actually in the hospital giving birth to my 19-day-old,” Savok said. “And when they gave the notices for inspection I was at the hospital with my daughter’s two-week appointment.”

The visit worried her. She pays $800 a month for a one bedroom apartment that she shares with her brother and her three young girls, 4-year-old Ruby, 2-year-old Neveah and newborn Emerald. Savok has lived in the apartment since September. The officials returned this week, posted notices on doors and did an inspection. She says the apartment was the best she could find.

“There’s not heat or hot water. I’ve still been having to pay $800 a month,” Savok said. “You know I live here because there isn’t much people that’s willing to work with limited income so I settled for this place.”

Down a dank hallway covered in scraps of old carpet, 68-year-old Shirley Bates thought she’d finally found a place she could call home when she moved into room 707 at the back of the motel about nine months ago. But when inspectors with the city showed up and posted a notice on her door recently they crushed her hope.

“Two people knocked on the door and said that the Municipality of Anchorage had just taken over and that we had three or four days to move out,” Bates said. “Pounded on the doors, two gentlemen. And I said well I just paid rent. I don’t have any place to move. And they said, well that’s not our problem.”

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Bates has two artificial hips and uses a walker. She pays $675 a month for her small room. If the building is condemned, she’s worried she won’t find another place she can afford.

“The rents are like up to 11 and 12-hundred dollars at other hotels,” Bates said. “I can’t afford that. There’s no way.”

Beside its dingy appearance, building inspectors describe Dickonsonian conditions at the motel near strip clubs across from Merrill Field. Lindsey Whitt, a spokesperson for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office says inspectors looked at the building Tuesday and posted a list of violations:

“The lack of heat and hot water in the building; the concern that the fire sprinkler system pipes may freeze,” Whitt said. “The electric space heaters that they’re using to heat the area and the stoves that they’re boiling water with are primary heat sources for the units, that’s very dangerous; and then we found bedbugs in every single room and mice and vole infestation.”

A task force met Wednesday to discuss the property. Whitt says officials are reviewing whether to condemn the building. The owner of the Big Timber Motel, Terry Stahlman, owes about $34,000 in back taxes, Whitt says.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Officials say that there were no smoke detectors in the building, so the Municipality purchased and installed smoke detectors. No other upgrades are being made at this time. Whitt says the municipality is trying to figure out what’s next.

“We are working with social services and trying to make arrangements, calling around to see their availability and how we move people from this building if it gets much colder,” Whitt said.

As of Thursday afternoon, neither Bates nor Savok had heard from anyone with social services about other possible living options. Savok says she’s worried.

“I’m kinda worried, but you know I pray every day,” Savok said. “The Lord always have our side, our back. I believe everything will come through.”

Officials say they will make a decision on whether to condemn the building and evict residents in the coming weeks. There are 24 known tenants at the Big Timber Motel, nine of them children.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 23, 2014

Thu, 2014-01-23 18:09

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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Parnell Offers ‘Choice’-Friendly School Reform Package

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

For most of Sean Parnell’s administration, oil taxes have gotten top billing in the Capitol. But with that legislative fight behind him, the Republican governor is changing his focus.

Legislators Not Sold On Governor’s Education Package

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Democrats may have clapped during Gov. Sean Parnell’s State of the State address when he suggested increasing the base student allocation but they weren’t happy with his larger education package.

Court Says Chukchi Lease Sale Environmental Assessment Faulty

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A federal appeals court has ruled that the environmental assessment behind a massive oil lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 was faulty.

Residents Anxious as City Mulls Condemning Motel

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

About two-dozen residents of a motel that was seized by the Municipality of Anchorage recently, may soon be looking for a new place to live. They have not been evicted yet, but the city says that will likely happen because of unsanitary conditions.

Document Highlights Rural Housing Shortage

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Affordable housing is getting harder to find in Nome and surrounding villages. The regional non-profit corporation – Kawerak – is drafting a document to present to the state legislature identifying housing as one of the major issues facing the communities in the area.

Final Fine Particulate Public Hearing Draws Large Crowd

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A final public hearing on proposed Department of Environmental Conservation fine particulate pollution regulations drew a large turn out earlier this week in Fairbanks. The regulations aimed at bringing wintertime air in Fairbanks in line with federal standards, continue to be controversial.

New Science Released On How Human-Made Sounds Impact Marine Mammals

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public comment on guidelines updating the effects of human-made sounds on marine mammals.

Categories: Alaska News

President Declares Federal Disaster For November Storm Victims In Alaska

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:26

President Barack Obama declared a federal Disaster for Alaska Thursday, making federal dollars available for victims of storms that occurred back in November.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says federal money is available to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in areas affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, and flooding in the Bering Strait Region as well as the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Lower Kuskokwim and Lower Yukon regional areas.

Along with the declaration Dolph A. Diemont  has been named the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas. According to a press release, additional designations could be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Offers “Choice”-Friendly School Reform Package

Thu, 2014-01-23 13:00

(Skip Gray/Gavel to Gavel)

For most of Sean Parnell’s administration, oil taxes have gotten top billing in the Capitol. But with that legislative fight behind him, the Republican governor is changing his focus.

PARNELL: 2014 will be the Education Session.

During the State of the State address on Wednesday night, Parnell laid out an agenda that was friendly to the school choice movement. And he made a commitment to increase school funding if it passes. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The deal he presented to state lawmakers is basically this: You give parents more options beyond traditional public schools, and I’ll give those public schools more money for the next three years.

“If we are successful at real reform and more new funding, our children will benefit,” said Parnell.

Parnell didn’t specify how much funding, but he did say it would come through the “base student allocation” — that’s the dollar amount a school gets for each child enrolled. That number has sat at around $5700 for the past four years, and school districts have been clamoring for an increase in the face of budget shortfalls.

Now for the strings attached. One:

PARNELL: I urge the House and Senate to vigorously debate the provisions of Senate Joint Resolution 9 and move it to the people for a vote.

That item would amend the Alaska Constitution so that the state could fund private institutions, including religious ones. The resolution doesn’t set up a school voucher system, but it would allow lawmakers to set one up if they wanted. For it to pass, it needs support from 2/3rds of the Legislature and then a majority vote of the people.

Number two:

PARNELL: I propose all local, state, and federal funding — except some capped district administrative expenses — travel with a student to a charter school.

Parnell also described this as “expanding choice.” He said too many students are being put on wait lists for the state’s public charter schools because of “restrictive” state laws. Parnell also encouraged the legislature to pass a law giving parents the right to appeal if a school board denies their application to start a charter school.

Condition three:

PARNELL: I propose repealing and replacing the obsolete High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

The governor explained that the test became obsolete when the state implemented new education standards. In its place, Parnell would require students to take a nationally recognized college entrance exam or a job skills test within two years of graduating — specifically, the SAT, the ACT, or WorkKeys. He would also have the state foot the bill for the first test.

Bills that would get rid of the high school exit exam have already been introduced in both chambers of the Legislature, with Republicans and Democrats signing on as sponsors.

Number four:

PARNELL: We must continue to expand the number and type of regional residential schools.

Like Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. This was a nod to the state’s rural areas, where charter schools and private schools are in short supply and the only alternatives kids have to their local public school is home-schooling or boarding school.

And five:

PARNELL: We must recognize our students need 21st century classrooms to compete in a 21st century economy.

Parnell called for continued support of the Alaska Digital Teaching Initiative, which lets student take classes at other schools through a video link.

During his address, Parnell also spoke favorably of expanding vocational education, letting kids test out of classes for credit, and allowing for dual-credit options that could count toward high school graduation and career certification.

In all, Parnell spent nearly half of his annual speech on education. It got more time than his recommendations on fiscal policy, the proposed gasline, and the state’s pension liabilities combined. No mention was made of the state’s budget shortfall, which is expected to approach $2 billion this year.

*****

Democrats may have clapped during Gov. Sean Parnell’s State of the State address when he suggested increasing the base student allocation, but they weren’t happy with his larger education package.

House Minority Leader Chris Tuck argued that after four years of keeping the per-student funding amount flat, there shouldn’t be conditions on an increase.

“What have we been doing? Short changing education and crippling it. And once crippled – no more funding until there is reform.”

His Senate counterpart Hollis French said he was disappointed that the governor supported a constitutional amendment that would allow state funds to be used at private schools, and he expressed concern that it could lead to vouchers.

“Diverting public money to private schools simply continues to deprive our public schools of the resources they need to do their job,” said French.

French suggested that Parnell could achieve better student outcomes by focusing on early education, which did not get a mention in the governor’s speech.

The Democrats also expressed some skepticism over the governor’s recent gasline deal, saying they didn’t trust the governor to negotiate with North Slope producers because of the controversial oil tax law he signed.

Meanwhile, Republicans expressed support for Parnell’s State of State speech. Lesil McGuire, a senator and candidate for lieutenant governor, called it “right on point” in a written statement, while House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt tweeted that it was “strong.”

Categories: Alaska News

Palmer Hearing Pinpoints Divisive Legislation

Thu, 2014-01-23 12:48

Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

 The Matanuska Valley’s Chickaloon Tribe invited state Department of Natural Resources leaders to speak at an information session in Palmer on Tuesday evening. Three DNR officials who responded fielded questions and heard comments about aspects of an unpopular piece of legislation now before the state legislature.  None of those who spoke were in favor of HB 77.

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Liz Robinson is the executive director of the citizens group, Envision Mat Su

“As we continue to grow, our progress should reflect a state that serves the public, not one that ignores it. As an organization, or mission is to actively engage Mat Su residents and other Alaskans in the conservation, restoration, stewardship and enhancement of our region’s most valuable resources,” Robinson said. ”House Bill 77 is at odds with such a mission. This piece of legislation effectively trades the voice of the people in favor of faster permitting for natural resource projects. This bill would limit our ability as citizens to become informed about and appeal natural resource project decisions, and would disproportionately concentrate decision-making power within the hands of the DNR Commissioner.”

Liz Robinson, the executive director of “Envision Mat-Su.” Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

About 60 people turned out for the session, which was not an official state public hearing.  Former school teacher and retired principal Stephen O’Brien, who spent 3 decades in Bethel, says the designers of the state’s constitution were careful to include Alaskans in the decision making process.

“And Alaska became unique among the fifty states, as an owner state, where the resources of Alaska belonged to the people of Alaska,” O’Brien said. ”That’s what really concerns me about this bill. The founding fathers of our statehood saw the wisdom of including individual people with the rights to stand up. Is it worth it to undermine these long-established principals that make us, as Alaskans, the owners of our resources? I think not. “

 DNR’s Wynn Menafee , a deputy director of DNR’s division of mining, land and water, helped explain that the state wants the bill to streamline the process by which the public is involved in decision making on resource development projects. But he said he was hearing otherwise from the people who spoke out at the meeting.

“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with HB 77 that was expressed tonight,” Menafee said. ”And I think it ranged from issues with the general permits, appeals, water, but it also just basically, in general concept, there was a lot of consideration that they thought the bill was over-riding the public process, and public participation. “

Menafee  says it’s up to the legislature to make the call on whether or not the bill fufills constitutional mandates.

But the Chickaloon Tribe’s health director, Lisa Wade, said the bill is actually helping to unite people

“Pretty much, people are really concerned with this bill. And one thing that you can say about it is, is it is uniting us. It’s uniting Alaskans. It’s bringing us together and calling us to speak out to protect our rights and our future rights from top-down government legislation. You may not streamline and modernize your work load at the expense of the safety of our families and our natural resources. ”

 Menafee said that DNR is currently considering making changes to the bill, but he was not at liberty to discuss what those changes might be.

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC President Retires Amid Controversy With The Board

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:29

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation employs more than 1,600 people. It’s the largest employer in Bethel and has been led by Gene Peltola Sr. for 24 years. However, the CEO spent this past weekend clearing out his office amid controversy with the board of directors.

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Gene Peltola Sr.

Peltola announced his expected retirement Jan. 10. He said he’d work through April. Yet just days later, YKHC’s board of directors told him to leave immediately.

The board is not speaking publically about the issue. Their decision came in a closed executive session. In a release, the board said they bought out the remainder of Peltola’s contract and his early retirement was effective immediately.

They wouldn’t comment to KYUK but referred to a statement where Board Chair Ray Alstrom thanked Peltola “for his years of service”.

A few days before the board meeting, none of the controversy was apparent in a lengthy interview with Peltola when he called the board “excellent”.

Peltola, who is Yup’ik, sat in his office overlooking the Kuskowim River. He reminisced about how YKHC has changed since he took it over in 1990. Back then, the corporation was going through tough times. Three dozen staff had been laid off and most of the director positions were vacant.

“And immediately, I was able to fill those positions with quality people and competent people and that was the crux of the turn around for the corporation,” Peltola said.

YKHC’s annual budget was between $10 and 11 million then. Now it’s $175 million. Peltola said he got marching orders from the board for three things: to pursue sub-regional clinics in the villages, move the hospital from the Indian Health Service to tribal management and to consolidate offices into one main building in Bethel.

Peltola accomplished all three. Through Denali Commission funds he brought 37 new health clinics to the villages.

He said he’s liked the job because he sees results.

“You can see that it’s improving the health of the people we serve and ultimately improving the quality of life of the people we serve,” Peltola said, “and that to me is the most rewarding.”

Before YKHC, Peltola was a business man. He was a private contractor and was involved in construction, the airline industry and retail sales. He brought those skills to YKHC where he bought a medevac company, Life Med. Prior to that, YKHC used commercial airlines.

“We bought three rows of seats on a 737 with Alaska Airlines or a 727 with Reeve then and then strapped in a gurney with a patient and had the attendant sitting there,” Peltola said.

But in 1997, commercial airlines could no longer carry oxygen tanks for safety reasons and Life Med was the solution. The medevac company not only services the Y-K Delta but leases aircraft in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, and Soldotna.

“The bottom line is, last year Life Med nearly broke even, we had a small loss but we got $3.8 million dollars of free medivacs,” Peltola said.

Peltola has seen the corporation through two major lawsuits with the federal government fighting for shortfalls in BIA-IHS funding. In 2007, they won $42 million, which was put into a permanent fund. Another settlement last month is bringing in $40 million in back pay. Peltola says tribal organizations have been shortchanged for a while.

“If we were Halliburton or GE or a Lockheed or a Bowing or any other federal contractor, they would be fully funded,” Peltola said.

He says funding has been the biggest challenge of the job. It’s hard when money comes from people who don’t understand just how expensive remote services are.

“I’ve been asked by IHS employees new to Alaska, meeting with them in Anchorage, which way do I drive to get to Bethel from Anchorage,” Peltola said, “and you kind of laugh and chuckle and then tell them there’s no way you can drive there.”

Recently, the health corporation spent $18 million developing a system for electronic health records. Peltola says these successes happen because smart people are working at the corporation. He says it’s important for a CEO to have good people under them.

“He or she can’t do the job by themselves and they’ve got to put together their team and give the members of that team the authority to fulfill their duties and responsibilities,” Peltola said.

YKHC’s board has hired its Chief Legal Counsel Dan Winkelman to replace Peltola, someone Peltola had been grooming for the job.

In a release, Peltola said: “It’s going to be a difficult time but we need to ask and encourage our employees and our community members to come together to support Dan in this transition.”

Categories: Alaska News

GovTrack Completes 2013 Report Card On Congress

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:28

GovTrack, a nonpartisan website that collects data on proposed federal legislation, has completed its 2013 report card on members of Congress. It found Alaska’s Mark Begich co-sponsored more bills than any other senator, while Congressman Don Young introduced more bills than any other House Republican. But the report card was especially interesting for what it said about U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.

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Categories: Alaska News

Admiral Ostebo Outlines USCG’s Plans For Western Alaska

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:27

Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Nome last week to outline summer plans for Western Alaska. The plans are part of the Coast Guard’s Alaska operation for the year, officially titled Arctic Shield 2014.

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Nome should expect a regular stream of Coast Guard ships pulling in for supplies, fuel, and crew changes.

Expected vessels include buoy tenders and cutters, particularly the Alex Haley.

In Barrow the Coast Guard will station a buoy tender and a national security cutter offshore. Also, they will open an emergency response helicopter facility to aid industries and communities in the North Slope.

If Shell Oil Company receives its drilling permits for the Chuckchi Sea, a Coast Guard ship will remain on the drill site at all times.

In Kotzebue the Coast Guard will use the air facility on an as-needed basis for deployment and crew swaps. In Point Clarence, the Coast Guard will port a patrol boat to monitor the Bering waters, respond to offshore incidents, and aid local vessel boardings.

In addition, the Coast Guard will conduct disaster and oil spill response training in communities along the Western coast.

“So you can expect to see a lot of Coast Guard folks again,” Ostebo said. “Hopefully that’s a good thing.”

While in past years, the Coast Guard focused either on the Arctic or on Alaska’s western coast, Ostebo says, this summer the Coast Guard will be patrolling both areas.

“Next summer we’re going to have to try to keep our foot in both places, because the threat remains in both places,” Ostebo said.

That threat stems from potential accidents like vessel collisions, oil spills, and situations requiring search and rescue. Ostebo’s top concern is the unregulated increase of vessels through the Bering Strait. This traffic overshadows even the risks associated with oil and gas extraction. Last year, Ostebo says, the Bering Strait saw the highest number of ship and cargo passage in the strait’s history, and the Coast Guard expects an even higher rate this year.

“When we have as much of the increase in traffic as we’re seeing take place in the Bering Strait, two ships colliding with each other, a ship running aground on Little Diamede, a ship losing power or having a fire, or those kinds of things are really the biggest concerns that I have as I look to the threats in this area and the CG needs to be here to support that,” Ostebo said.

Ostebo says the Coast Guard and its Russian counterpart are drafting voluntary regulations for vessel routing and reporting through the strait.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Says Inadequate Studies Conducted Before 2008 Lease Sale

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:26

A federal appeals court has ruled that federal regulators conducted inadequate environmental studies before selling $2.7 billion in petroleum leases off Alaska’s northwest coast.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

What Is The Center For Ocean Solutions?

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:25

Representative Beth Kerttula’s new position will be the first for an elected official at the Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions.

The center is a collaboration of marine research organizations connected with Stanford.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘Excluder’ Could Limit Salmon Bycatch

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:24

The Pollock trawl fleet now has a device that could help them avoid catching too many salmon. It’s what’s called an “excluder,” and has been in development for more than ten years. The design was presented at the Marine Science Symposium meeting in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Setnet Initiative Heading To Court

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:23

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance did not agree with the Lt. Governor’s decision this month to not allow its proposed ban on commercial set netting on the 2014 ballot. They’re taking their case to court.

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Categories: Alaska News

Young And Old Turn Out To ‘Bonfire for Bristol Bay’ Rally In Dillingham

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:22

The atmosphere was festive Tuesday night at the Dillingham boat harbor as dozens came to celebrate some recent successes in the fight against the Pebble Mine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 22, 2014

Wed, 2014-01-22 18:14

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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YKHC President Retires Amid Controversy With The Board

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation CEO Gene Peltola Sr. spent this past weekend clearing out his office. The Board of Directors dismissed him without publicly explaining the decision.

GovTrack Completes 2013 Report Card On Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

GovTrack, a nonpartisan website that collects data on proposed federal legislation, has completed its 2013 report card on members of Congress. It found Alaska’s Mark Begich co-sponsored more bills than any other senator, while Congressman Don Young introduced more bills than any other House Republican. But the report card was especially interesting for what it said about U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Admiral Ostebo Outlines USCG’s Plans For Western Alaska

Anna MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Nome last week to outline summer plans for Western Alaska. The plans are part of the Coast Guard’s Alaska operation for the year, officially titled Arctic Shield 2014.

Court Says Inadequate Studies Conducted Before 2008 Lease Sale

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska & The Associated Press

A federal appeals court has ruled that federal regulators conducted inadequate environmental studies before selling $2.7 billion in petroleum leases off Alaska’s northwest coast.

Gov. Parnell Addresses Budget, ‘Choose Respect’ and Education

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Parnell says he has three main priorities for the legislative session that started yesterday in Juneau: education, the gas line and the unfunded Pers/Ters pension fund liability.

What Is The Center For Ocean Solutions?

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Representative Beth Kerttula’s new position will be the first for an elected official at the Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions.

The center is a collaboration of marine research organizations connected with Stanford.

‘Excluder’ Could Limit Salmon Bycatch

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The Pollock trawl fleet now has a device that could help them avoid catching too many salmon.  It’s what’s called an “excluder,” and has been in development for more than ten years.  The design was presented at the Marine Science Symposium meeting in Anchorage.

Proposed Setnet Initiative Heading To Court

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance did not agree with the Lt. Governor’s decision this month to not allow its proposed ban on commercial set netting on the 2014 ballot. They’re taking their case to court.

Young And Old Turn Out To ‘Bonfire for Bristol Bay’ Rally In Dillingham

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The atmosphere was festive Tuesday night at the Dillingham boat harbor as dozens came to celebrate some recent successes in the fight against the Pebble Mine.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Parnell Addresses Budget, ‘Choose Respect’ and Education

Wed, 2014-01-22 17:32

Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage.

Governor Parnell says he has three main priorities for the legislative session that started yesterday in Juneau: education, the gas line and the unfunded Pers/Ters pension fund liability.

Parnell told APRN’s Lori Townsend, the budget will be tight this year, but Alaskans have been through this before.

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After years of surpluses, Alaska is now facing a $2 billion shortfall. The state is expecting to draw on a substantial amount of savings. Under your leadership, capital budgets have grown. What would you propose now for revisiting that and reining those expenses in?

Gov. Parnell – Well, Alaskans will remember that we’ve been here before. Because our budget is dependent upon oil revenues, and the price of oil goes up and down, historically, we’ve always used those savings to buffer those lower-price times. That’s the situation we’re in right now. So, we need to be restrained and we need to be prudent about those investments we make – we want to make them count. So, we’re gonna focus on those constitutional priorities; we’re gonna focus on education, on public safety, on transportation. But, we’re also gonna work at the systemic, to make those systemic changes so that our kids, down the road, don’t have their education budget squeezed by an unfunded pension liability payment like we do today. So, instead of paying $1.1 billion to fund that pension liability obligation some years from now, I’m gonna propose a way forward where they’re paying $500 million in those years ahead. So, it’s about keeping our eye on the future, but making those important investments for today.

The new gas line agreement you recently signed has the state taking an equity share in the pipeline. You’ve talked about this as a new idea, but when we look back to the days of Governor Murkowski’s administration, there were similar ideas. What makes this deal different from that proposal?

Gov. Parnell – Quite a few things are different in this proposal. But, I do believe, fundamentally, like many governors before me that Alaska can better control its destiny and better own its destiny if we own a stake in this gas line. What’s different this time is that there will be more public process, more transparency to it, so instead of having one legislative session where the fiscal deal is done at once, billions of dollars are put at risk at once, we move through stage gates, or phases of this project just like companies do all the time. So, for example, the next 18 months – what is known as pre-feed, the pre-front-end engineering and design work – that’s what these agreements address. It allows us to move forward in an aligned fashion on a gas line, but only through that first stage. Once that pre-feed stage is done, we come back to the legislature, show what’s gone before, show the new agreements that have been negotiated for the next stage – known as feed – get approval and the legislature’s commitment after a public process. So, one of the key things that’s different this time is the openness and transparency of the process and the less risk to Alaskans along the way.

You’ve hinted at an education proposal that would be more supportive of expanding the charter school system. How does that help communities off the road system?

Gov. Parnell – Well, because any time you put money into the hands of parents or anytime you loosen the restrictions on charter school creation, that opens opportunities to parents in rural areas and in urban areas. There’s just no question. And in fact some of our charter schools are in the rural areas. So, the issue is really one of giving charter schools, which are part of the public school system, giving them and their students equal treatment with the rest of the public school system.

You graduated from East High in Anchorage. If you had young kids that were about the enter the Anchorage public school system, would you feel OK about their education, given the extensive cuts the district has made and will continue to make?

Gov. Parnell – That really is dependent upon each parent. And for our kids, we had our kids in both public schools during their K-12 grades and we had them in a private as well. So, we had that ability to choose. For somebody that doesn’t have that ability, I say we have to do better so that they have more opportunity as young people in our schools. And I think the question that you ask is a good one. It’s pretty tough to say that funding hasn’t been increased from the state – because it has – but I think we have to deal with the fundamental structure that we put money into and say, “are our kids getting value for the dollars we’re spending?” And in some cases I think they are, and in some cases they are not. That, again, is a huge debate that is going to be had here in the halls of the legislature and throughout the state as we move forward. I remain committed to making sure that our kids get the best education that we can provide. I’ve set a goal along with others across the for a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. We’ve made progress. In fact, our graduation rate I believe has improved the last three years or so. But we have a long ways to go to get to 90 percent. I want the discussion to be about, how do we get to that 90 percent graduation rate? It’s not just about how much money we can spend, it’s about how that money gets spent. And those are two sides of the equation that I intend to bring together in Juneau for the benefit of our kids.

When you rejected the Medicaid expansion, you said the state’s community health centers already are helping the population the expansion was intended to serve. But those clinics are really counting on increased funding from Medicaid expansion. Do you think the legislature should appropriate more community health center funding?

Gov. Parnell – One of my points in declining Medicaid expansion was that we weren’t fixing anything for Alaskans who are having to pay for the system. The working class Alaskans whose healthcare costs are going up, whose health policies are being cancelled, again it’s this argument of why are we putting more money in a system when there’s no perceived benefit, there’s no benefit that can be ascertained to the broad swath of Alaskans who are losing policies and paying more for health care. The dollars from a federal Medicaid expansion certainly help health care providers, but there’s little indication that for putting billions of dollars more into our system, that our kids and grandkids will pay for, that that actually has any other benefit than further increasing costs and laying the debt and burden on them. So, it was this balance of looking at the population that needs health care and health care coverage, looking at where they currently have access to that through the community health centers is one place. And seeing if we can’t better target the funds or channel the funds to where they’re needed instead of just a big outpouring, a big parachuting of federal dollars into the system. It didn’t make sense to me.

You recently sent out a mailer that says, “Alaskans are free from sexual violence” under your watch. In fact, the rate of sexual violence has gone up. Do you think your “Choose Respect” campaign is working?

Gov. Parnell – So, I don’t believe what you just said. You just said that sexual violence has gone up. Reported sexual violence has gone up. And I think that’s a distinction that really needs to be made. When we started the “Choose Respect” initiative, when that first survey came out that exposed all of Alaska to how the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault is in our state, I was cautioned by people that said, “Look, if you’re gonna take this on, the numbers are gonna go up in the first five years or so because you’re spotlighting an issue that people have kept hidden in the dark, and on one hand the victims and survivors feel guilt and shame and don’t report, but when we have 150 communities marching and other Alaskans standing courageously for those victims and survivors, more report because more have the courage gained from seeing their fellow Alaskans standing in front of them. So, yes, reported harm is up, but I also know just from the letters and correspondence I get and that the accounts I’ve heard in all the shelters, that following an event or leading up to a “Choose Respect” rally, just even the fact that a poster is put up in a village that says, “Join us for the ‘Choose Respect’ march,” will no longer be silent about domestic violence and sexual assault. That mere putting up of a poster, in one instance, caused a young woman to call and get the help she needs and get out of her violent situation. So, to me, that’s working. If together we can help one, and I know we’ve helped hundreds if not thousands, break that cycle –stand up and get the help they need, I look forward to a day when we’re not talking about the epidemic anymore. We’re still gonna be talking about the harm, but we’re not talking about this as an epidemic.

Categories: Alaska News

Natural Gas Service To Expand In Sterling

Wed, 2014-01-22 15:04

Several hundred Sterling residents could finally get hooked up to natural gas later this year.

Enstar is hoping to hook up an additional 750 lots later this summer, says the company’s Director of Business Development, John Sims.

“The pipeline itself, in Sterling, is going to be running south along Swanson River Road to Scout Lake Road, extending down Husky Street to the banks of the Kenai River.”

Enstar has submitted a plan to the Department of Natural Resources to install a plastic pipeline underneath the Kenai River at that point.

“It’s about a 1,000 foot bore underneath the Kenai River. And once we’re done with that, we look at installing about 13,000 feet of six-inch plastic (pipe) that will distribute gas to about 750 lots across the river.”

He says the plan is to be done with the project by August. Lot owners in the area are working to get special assessment districts drawn up.

“Currently the lot owners are working on two separate utility special assessment districts; one on the east side, one is on the west side after we’ve crossed the river. The east side USAD is about 10.5 miles of distribution pipe. And then on the west side is about another 10 miles.”

He says they plan on having the work under the Kenai completed before anglers hit the river.

Public comments are being accepted by the Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water through February 10th.

Categories: Alaska News

ADF&G Anticipating Another Low King Salmon Return

Wed, 2014-01-22 15:02

The Department of Fish and Game is predicting another below-average year for king salmon returns on the Kenai River.

The department is forecasting a total run of a little less than 20,000 fish. If those numbers are correct, it will be the lowest return in the 29 years for which records are available on the Kenai, and less than half of the average-sized run over that same time period. That number still falls within the Department’s sustainable escapement goal of 15-30,000 fish.

This year’s forecast is lower than last year’s pre-season estimate, however, total run size is anticipated to be about the same as 2013. King returns to the Kenai the past couple years have come in later than expected.  ADF&G Managers have indicated that they will be conservative in how they prosecute the Kenai River and related fisheries, as they continue to see weak returns.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak Police Seize $120,000 Worth of Drugs

Wed, 2014-01-22 11:17

Two men have been arraigned in Kodiak District Court following a drug seizure over the weekend.

Kodiak Police Chief Ronda Wallace said the drugs were seized during a search of two hotel rooms on Sunday and have an estimated street value of at least $120,000. She said the investigation began when police officers noticed suspicious behavior by two individuals in the downtown area on Sunday.

“After making contact with them it was later discovered that one of them was a probation parole absconder from Anchorage. And that prompted them to make contact again with them. And during that contact it was discovered some drug paraphernalia,” Wallace said. ”That prompted the officers to stop, apply for search warrants, which gave us access to two rooms because it was discovered during that little bit of investigatory time that there was two rooms with those two individuals. So they were able to execute search warrants on those rooms.”

The room searches yielded more than 76 grams of suspected black tar heroin, 28 grams of Afghan brown heroin, 10 grams of methamphetamine, 42 grams of crack cocaine, 6 grams of powder cocaine and what appeared to be the two men’s personal stash.Wallace said this is the first time the police department has seen Afghan brown heroin during a drug seizure in Kodiak.

She said Sunday’s arrest follows a recent trend of rising heroin use in Kodiak, and is one of the larger drug seizures the police department has encountered in terms of value.

“But this has been the largest seizure of all of this combined drugs with this amount of money valued to it. And it’s just; it’s disturbing the rise and the demand here in Kodiak that we’re seeing here in Kodiak for the drugs,” Wallace said. ”It’s becoming a lot. Our last year’s cases nearly doubled what we had the year before in terms of our drug cases, our drug investigations that we worked. So we’re seeing a rise in the demand.”

There is only one drug enforcement officer in the Kodiak Police Department and Wallace said they worked more than 650 drug investigations this past year. She said the rise in drug-related investigations has prompted an internal shift this year to add one more person the city’s drug unit.

Wallace said a problem the department has noticed is that outside sellers have recognized the demand for drugs in Kodiak and are coming to the island with supplies. She said that fits with Sunday’s arrests, seeing as one of the individuals was on probation in Anchorage and the other was from Missouri.

The drugs found over the weekend follows a different drug seizure last week, where 7 ounces of methamphetamine was found, with an estimated street value of about $26,000.

“We’ve got to do something and put more eyes on the street, along with a canine and start making some kind of impact. We’ve had an impact but the more we’re seeing it’s just, it’s incredible the rise. Kodiak has a problem and the Kodiak police department and our officers, they’re vigilant, but we can only see so much,” Wallace said. ”And people helping us by what they see and calling crime stoppers just aides us in our investigations. And there’s three ways people can do that, they can call in a tip, or they can text a tip or they can do a web tip for crime stoppers and we can use that information to again aide us in the investigations that we do.”

Wallace said the investigation from Sunday is ongoing.

Folks wanting to submit tips to crime stoppers can call the hotline at 486-3113 or text 4-8-6-TIP plus to your message to 274637.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan, Australian Natives May Be Vulnerable To Bird Flu

Wed, 2014-01-22 11:12

Indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia may be vulnerable to influenza, particularly a recent form of bird flu.

Since the first break-out of H7N9 in China early last year, 150 people have been infected and 45 people have been killed. Two people died earlier this month. It’s called bird flu since people have obtained the virus from domesticated poultry.

Although there does not currently appear to be a sustainable person-to-person transmission of H7N9, scientists and health officials worry that will eventually happen with further mutations of the virus. That potential person-to-person transmission is what worries researchers like Katherine Kedzierska, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and laboratory group head at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She was also senior author of the study that was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined possible pre-existing cellular immunity among various human ethnic groups.

Kedzierska said indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia have been relatively isolated and have not had the exposure to various influenza viruses that were identified as circulating in Greece as early as two millennia ago.

She said their latest research provides some clues as to why mortality rates were so high among Alaska Natives during the 1918 influenza outbreak.

Link to published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Preexisting CD8+ T-cell immunity to the H7N9 influenza A virus varies across ethnicities

Link to page of frequently asked questions about H7N9 influenza from the Centers for Disease Control: H7N9 FAQ

Categories: Alaska News

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