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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: 16 min 33 sec ago

Judge Temporarily Halts EPA’s 404(c) Process on Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-11-24 16:29

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland issued a preliminary injunction Monday, temporarily halting the EPA’s 404(c) process regarding the Pebble Mine.

The process allows the EPA to restrict or prohibit projects that could have adverse effects on fishery areas.

The Pebble Partnership contends the EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which ensures advisory committees are objective and accessible to the public, while developing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

“The preliminary injunction basically says that the EPA can’t take further steps in their preemptive process against Pebble until the merits of this case have more time in front of the court,” Mike Heatwole, spokesperson for the Pebble Limited Partnership, said.

The EPA initiated the 404(c) process at the end of February, alleging the Pebble Mine would have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed.

Trout Unlimited‘s Tim Bristol says the ruling is disappointing.

“The people of the region, the people who depend upon that fishery for their livelihood, I think after last week’s announcement of a potential huge run, I think they were hopeful that we would have the Clean Water Act protections in place, so for the first time in over a decade and fish and operate their businesses and get on with their lives and not have the specter of Pebble looming over their head,” Bristol said.

Bristol says Monday’s ruling likely means Judge Holland needs more time to sort through the information filed by the Pebble Partnership.

The EPA says it’s waiting to see the court’s written order on the preliminary injunction and hopes the litigation is resolved quickly so the agency can move forward with its regulatory decision-making.

Court proceedings are expected to resume early next year.

Categories: Alaska News

“Frost” Brings Art Seekers into Anchorage Parks

Mon, 2014-11-24 15:41

Frost is one of Anchorage’s newest public art projects. It’s a scavenger hunt with photo clues that lead you to a place where the artists have mixed lights and film into a temporary art piece. It’s called “creative placemaking” and aims to get people out into the city’s parks and help them see the space in a different way. A team of seekers and followed the clues to find the newest installation.

Readers, beware: this story may spoil your search. So if you’re hoping to find the hidden art exhibit completely on your own, stop reading and stop the audio player on your computer.

“Hi, I’m unnaturally telling my name into the microphone….” joked Krystal Garrison as she did exactly that.

The clue we used to find Frost. Photo by Sierra Mills and posted to frostanchorage.org.

Krystal had heard about Frost and let me tag along on her expedition to find it. She roped her fiancee Corey Crawford into the outing and their trusty dog Leo.

The first stop was inside at the computer to look up the clue on the Frost website.

“So I just googled ‘Anchorage Frost’…” Krystal narrated.

“You got Frost Dental, so I guess we can go get our teeth cleaned…” I responded.

With a more refined search we find the first clue — a picture of a snowy lawn with towering lights. In the distance you can see a blurry fence and a dark area on the edge.

“I would have a hard time guessing on this picture to be honest with you,” Krystal said.

But Corey knew it instantly.

“That’s *****,” Corey states matter-of-factly.

“That’s *****?” Krystal questioned, disbelievingly.

“Yeah, that’s *****.”

“He’s super visual,” Krystal said to explain how he instantly knew the site of a park he rarely visited from a dark, half blurry photo.

“Yeah, the duck pond’s right here. The parking lot is right in front of it.” He pointed out vague features.

Corey said it makes sense because the park is easily accessible by car, bus, bike, and foot, but people don’t always think to hang out there.

Gretchen Weiss is one of the project coordinators. She said the five exhibits will be placed in different parks in the city for short periods throughout the winter.

“Anchorage is huge, and we’ve got over 200 parks, and each one has it’s own flavor and variety. And we kind of took the personality of what that ‘Frost’ was going to be like and what that parks were like and we kind of matched them up.”

This time the Frost exhibit is a short film made from footage gathered around the world, so the setting has a more classic cinematic feel.

Weiss said the temporary, outdoor exhibits invite people to interact with strangers that they may never otherwise meet.

“For Frost it’s dark, and people are wearing lots of layers so you really don’t have a whole lot to go off of somebody except for here’s one marshmallow, and you’re a marshmallow and you see this thing and it’s pretty cool and you can start talking when maybe usually you wouldn’t,” she explained.

When we arrived at ***** to look for the movie, the park was empty, despite the relatively warm weather. Leo the dog leads the way. As we enter the park, Corey finds the scene of the clue.

“You remember seeing the rock in the picture?”

“No, I don’t,” Krystal said.

“These rocks were in the picture. That’s the duck pond to the left.”

Leo bounds ahead, and we follow him straight to the movie.

“You totally called it,” Krystal said.

The film was projected from a locked box onto a white wooden board. Extension cords trail away from the set up. Krystal watches it while standing outside, in the cold. She was impressed.

“This is so awesome that you’re bringing art to the public. And you’re leaving it out there for people to explore and discover on they’re own whether they’re meaning to or not,” she said. “But it’s also got to be kind of nerve wracking to leaving this equipment and this art and, you know, all the time spent involved setting it up. Hopefully people will enjoy it for what it is and not feel the need to tamper with it.”

Krystal’s statement turned out to be prophetic. Within a week of our successful quest, cords began to disappear and the set up had to be altered to make it more secure. But Weiss said they’ll try to keep it running until December 6 when they’ll reveal the final location and host a drive-in movie at the *******.

OK, I’ll give you another clue. It’s that big building in midtown where you can go to read for free…

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Transition Team Brings 250 Delegates to Shape Policy

Sun, 2014-11-23 19:57

Hundreds of delegates came to Anchorage to offer policy solutions to the incoming governor and his team. In 1990, Hickel’s transition team was 20 advisers who met behind closed doors. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes).

Governor Elect Bill Walker and his transition team held meetings over the weekend that shed new light on the incoming administration’s priorities, and the very public process they are using to find policy solutions to state-wide issues ranging from fiscal planning to subsistence.

Small working groups made up of stakeholders from across the state met in classrooms all over the UAA campus to discuss a wide spectrum of topics. Gail Anagik  Schubert is CEO of the Bering Straits Native Corporation, and brought her region’s needs to conversations within the infrastructure committee.

“We’re on the Bering Straits, and so any of the Arctic development, you know the Northern waters expansion and that sort of thing,” Schubert explained after Sunday’s Plenary Session,  ”our communities are going to be impacted by it.”

Each of the 17 committees will produce reports from notes taken all weekend long, and share them with the public as well as with all 250 delegates broadly considered part of the transition team. The reports will also be used by the governor and his staff as the starting point for policy revisions.

“This is a listening process, and the question has been asked: what’s the product? The product is you and the relationships you’ve built, and that report,” said Rick Halford, co-chair of the Walker transition team, emphasizing the influence the weekend’s discussions will have on the incoming administration. ”It is not intended to stop here, it’s intended to go on.”

Meetings were open to the public, and represent a strong effort to bring as many voices from different parts of the state into the transition process. That has not been the case for most gubernatorial change-overs. Malcolm Roberts was part of Governor Wally Hickel’s transition team in 1990.

“It was only a very small group of people involved,” Roberts recalled, 20 or so advisers meeting behind closed doors.  ”This is a whole new world,” he added.

The crowd at the meeting’s final session was as diverse as the as the agenda, with men in suits sitting knee-to-knee with women holding the sunshine ruffs of their parkees, and plenty in between.

“We should identify best practices and utilize tribal structures to capture the values in our state,” read the other chair of the transition team, Ana Hoffman, summarizing comments made from the various committees. “We will achieve sustainability by being conservation-minded. We need to reverse negative trends, to populate our training facilities and not our holding facilities. We all agree to put fish first, and we know that the low-hanging fruit can sustain us,” added Hoffman, earning a laugh from the crowd.

The air of optimistic camaraderie was undercut by the bleak financial outlook facing the state, and conversations early in the weekend about leaner budgets in the years ahead. Walker told the crowd his campaign’s motto of diversity creating unity will be fundamental to his administration’s approach for finding economic solutions.

“Yes, I wish the oil wasn’t at $75, or whatever it is. But it is. And there’s nothing we’re gonna do about that ourselves,” Walker told the large audience. But he stressed bringing his campaign’s motto of diversity creating unity forward into the administration’s approach to developing policy solutions. “We’re gonna work our way out of this because we’re Alaskans.”

“And there’ll be some changes, you bet there will be,” Walker added.

Two of those changes have already been announced, as Walker’s team named new commissioners for his cabinet. Mark Myers will replace Joe Balash at the Department of Natural Resources. And Randall Hoffbeck has been chosen to head the Department of Revenue, a position currently held by Angela Rodell.

Categories: Alaska News

City to Pursue $485 Million Design Strategy for Port of Anchorage

Fri, 2014-11-21 20:07

On top is the current Port of Anchorage configuration, and below is the proposed modification, with a draft depth of -45 feet, and other tweaks. Photo: Anchorage Port Modification Plan.

The mayor’s office announced it has selected a design for the Anchorage Port’s overhaul, setting a blue-print for how the half-billion dollar project will take shape in the years ahead. At a work session on Friday, planners and engineers explained their decisions to members of the Anchorage Assembly. 

Representatives from the port and the company managing the project, CH2M Hill, made presentations to on the different plans they analyzed, and how they settled on what was previously referred to as ‘Concept D.’ But now, said the port’s Director of External Affairs Lindsey Whitt, it’s just called ‘the plan’  as they move forward with a longer term solution for fixing the facilities.

“The wharf pilings are rotting, and eroding, and rusting,” Whitt explained after the work session. “So every year we pour money into putting band-aids on the piling. And its really only a temporary fix.”

The plan calls for building out terminals to accommodate bigger ships in deeper water, cutting back a wedge of land to help mitigate sediment build-up and all the expensive dredging it takes to remove it, and adding a new extension for loading cement and fuel.

The three different designs were given a weighted analysis comparing different criteria, from short term costs to effects on cargo handling. Photo: Anchorage Port Modernization Project.

The design determines how the port will be configured what it’s done, but it also sets out the different steps getting there, and how to keep construction from interrupting cargo coming in and out of the terminals. The idea is to build a port that can endure for the next 75 years, without hampering commerce too much as it is built. Mayor Dan Sullivan has done a lot to guide the port project’s development, and believes this version will help it progress smoothly during the two major government transitions in the year ahead.

“The key is to have a solid plan with a price tag that’s affordable. And one that has the minimum amount of risk for changing and all the sudden become a project that’s much more expensive,” Sullivan said. “I think what we saw today is a plan that’s really well thought out, and I think we have price estimates that are reasonable.”

That reasonable estimate is $485 million dollars, which was the least expensive of all the options analyzed. There’s already $130 million set aside, but the city will have to raise the remaining $355 million. Whitt says that while it’s expensive, she expects financial support to come from the legislature and elsewhere given the facility’s critical importance for the state as a whole.

“The Port of Anchorage is kind of a magical place, because it brings most of the food and goods for Alaska through the docks,” Whitt said, lighting up as she spoke. “This project is vital to Alaskans, and I wish I could show the port to every single person who lived here.”

So far about $312 million has been spent on an earlier model of port expansion that was halted, and which is the subject of a lawsuit the city has brought against three of the companies previously involved.



Categories: Alaska News

Mexican Consulate Readies To Help On Deferred Action Plan

Fri, 2014-11-21 17:53

The Mexican government, through it’s consulate in Anchorage, has issued a statement regarding President Barack Obama’s announcement regarding deferred action on illegal immigrants. Senor Javier Abud is Anchorage’s Mexican consul. He says the Mexican government welcomes the announcement.

“Why, because some studies show more than fifty percent of undocumented people in the US are of Mexican origen. And we are talking about more thatn 11 million in total”, Abud said on Friday.

President Obama on Thursday announced his executive action on a plan to grant temporary, three year legal status to up to five million undocumented immigrants who have family in the United States. The president says that the plan does not grant them citizenship. The president’s action  protects families and allows federal immigration authorities to target criminals and those undocumented immigrants recently arrived in the US for deportation.

Senor Abud says the Mexican consulate is preparing to help those undocumented immigrants in Alaska who may benefit from Obama’s announcement.

“…to give them some guidance, to give them some advice. And I can tell you, when the process formally starts, the consulate will be ready with some contingency measures.”

Abud says that those affected must inform themselves about the plan through official sources only, such as the Mexican consulate, to avoid misinformation and to avoid being taken advantage of by scammers who may mislead them.

Abud says according to the Pew Hispanic Center studies, , there are an estimated 1,800 undocmented Mexicans in Alaska.




Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 21, 2014

Fri, 2014-11-21 16:39

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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LNG Project Gets Export Approval

The Associated PRess

A federal agency has approved the export of liquefied natural gas from a proposed mega-project in Alaska to free-trade nations.

Regional Tribal Government Considered by Calista Regional Committee

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Could the YK Delta see a new tribal government system?  Delegates from the region will consider steps that could lead to a new regional government, new taxes, and a constitutional convention.  That topic will be front and center at a meeting of the Regional Committee Monday in Anchorage. The group was created by the board of directors of Calista, the YK Delta’s regional native corporation.

Kennels Protected Under New Mat-Su Ordinance

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Dog mushers in the Matanuska Susitna Borough now are protected under a new Borough ordinance.  The law licenses kennels, and is aimed at protecting mushers against complaints from neighbors as the Mat Su population grows.

Another Orphaned Alaska Bear Cub Needs A Home

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Another orphaned Alaska bear cub needs a home. The young black bear found near Eagle is the 8th the state has dealt with this year.  The other seven cubs, all but one black, including a trio rescued in Galena in September, have been placed in lower 48 wildlife care facilities.  The fate of the latest orphaned cub is uncertain.

NOAA Designates Kachemak Bay a Habitat Focus Area

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week it is designating Kachemak Bay as its next habitat focus area. That will open up the door to more directed research and conservation efforts and possible federal funding.

Federal Court Rejects Alaska’s Appeal

The Associated Press

The state of Alaska has lost another attempt to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage, and Gov.-elect Bill Walker has changed his stance on the issue.

Listen: What Marriage Means For One Alaska Same-Sex Couple

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Since same-sex marriage became legal in Alaska  around 90 marriage license applications have been issued to same sex couples

AK: Eagles Up Close

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Each fall, thousands of bald eagles flock to a stretch of the Chilkat River about 20 miles north of Haines. The birds fly there for a late chum salmon run. And it’s one of the largest gathering of eagles in the world. Dozens of people travel to witness the raptors each year, filling up almost every hotel room in Haines.

300 Villages: South Naknek

This week, we’re heading to the community of South Naknek on Bristol Bay. Lorianne Rawson is the tribal administrator with the native village of South Naknek.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Musher’s Law Protects Dog Kennels

Fri, 2014-11-21 16:01

A  hundred huskies howling is  the  kind of noise that angers homeowners who happen to live close by a sled dog kennel. And with suburbia edging ever – closer to the heart of the Mat Su, clashes between dog owners and new neighbors are inevitable.  Iditarod musher Cim Smyth, from Big Lake, testified Wednesday at the Mat Su Assembly public hearing on a new ordinance aimed at protecting musher’s rights.

“There’s a lot of regulations out there. Very few are positively supporting our sport. Which is the state sport. It is a major hobby for a lot of people, but it is also a major business in this state for a lot of people. I pay my taxes racing sled dogs, racing sled dogs.”

The ordinance sets out terms for a three year kennel license  for a fee of 150 dollars.

 Mat Su Assemblyman Vern Halter , who  keeps a kennel, has run his share of Iditarods, and happens to be an attorney.  Halter sponsored the lengthy ordinance that covers everything from a definition of sled dog to mushing facility standards of care.

 Halter also points out that  sled dog  mushing is the state sport, and that Alaska has been officially recognized as a “right to mush” state by the legislature.

 A number of professional kennel owners spoke up at the meeting in support of the ordinance.   Dee Dee Jonrowe,  says the ordinance protects the dogs as well. In her forty years of mushing, Jonrowe says she’s seen positive changes in dog care.

“And I believe that this ordinance is really helping to design the framework for the quality facilities that I think we would like to see all sled dogs have available to them.”

 Other mushers related negative incidents aimed at their sport… blocked trails and signs with derogatory messages. The ordinance spells out the the definition of interference with mushing, with possible fines for interference of up to one thousand dollars and imprisonment of 90 days.

 The Borough’s Animal Control Board did not offer an opinion on the ordinance. But John Wood, board chair and a sprint musher, noted the economic boost that mushing has become for the Valley

“If you take a look at the economic driver that this industry provides for you, it’s immense. It’s an international sport. If we play our cards correctly, we could be the center of that.

 But some expressed concerns.  Patty Rosnel spoke against the ordinance, saying that  the Borough has not attached a fiscal note to the law, and that there is no money in the Borough budget to pay for enforcement.

 Despite that complaint, the ordinance passed unanimously, adding a new chapter to the Borough’s animal care regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

LNG Project Gets Export Approval

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:53

A federal agency has approved the export of liquefied natural gas from a proposed mega-project in Alaska to free-trade nations.

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The U.S. Department of Energy said Friday that the automatic approval, which was required by law, should not be read to indicate the department’s views on a still-pending request to export to non-free trade countries, like Japan.

Pacific Rim nations such as Japan have been eyed as possible markets for the project, which is being pursued by the state, TransCanada Corp., and the North Slope’s three major energy companies. A final decision on whether to build the project has not been made.

Federal pipeline coordinator Larry Persily said more significant than Friday’s order was the relatively little opposition the department received related to the project’s export license application.

Categories: Alaska News

Regional Tribal Government Considered by Calista Regional Committee

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:52

A new regional tribal government, new taxes, and a constitutional convention will be considered when theCalista-facilitated Regional Committee meets Monday in Anchorage.

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The delegates will look at major changes to how the YK Delta is governed through four main resolutions under discussion. The first option being considered would strengthen the role of the Association of Village Council Presidents. Amendments include changing the name to the “Association of Sovereign Yupiit Villages,” providing for direct election of the President, and modifying the charter to allow the President to take executive action to carry out directives from the board.

The next option is to create a new borough government under Alaska state law, with the goal of strengthening the region’s political voice.
The third option is a constitutional convention to establish a regional tribal government with the intention of assessing taxes currently being paid by regional and village corporations to the United States and State Governments.
Willie Kasayulie is Chairman of the Calista board of Directors, as well as the Regional Committee and its steering committee.

“I think the strongest of the three options would be a regional tribal government format. In that concept we basically create a two house system, similar to the state and federal legislative structure. One side of the house would include tribal representation and tribal governments, the other house would be the house of organizations,” said Kasayulie.

A draft 12-page constitution lays out a regional tribal government, complete with three branches of government, power for law enforcement, and fish and game management. The resolution looks at capturing income taxes from native corporations and assessing taxes on regional lands and businesses.

The Regional Committee formed this February after the Calista board of directors voted to create the group to study problems with current legislation affecting Alaska Native people, tribal government, and corporations, and come up with a strategic plan. A 16-person steering committee has met several times since the spring. Calista’s website says more than 50 tribes have registered for the second full meeting in Anchorage.

Several regional organizations have passed resolutions opposing the Regional Committee and regional tribal governments, including the Bethel Native Corporation and Bethel’s tribe, ONC among others.

The Association of Village Council Presidents provided a list of 16 groups opposing an earlier AVCP resolution in support of a regional tribal government, or the Calista Regional Committee process. Myron Naneng is AVCP President.

“That has come up before but it has been rejected by tribal governments in the villages because they want to ensure they have their local tribal power. This happened 1986 and 2000. We’re kind of perplexed by the fact that Calista wants to move in this direction,” said Naneng.

A final option calls for no changes in governance and would terminate the regional committee. The meeting agenda includes a vote on whether to pursue any of the governance options.

The Regional Committee meets at the Egan Center in Anchorage Monday. Calista’s board approved 200-thousand dollars to run the committee process. Several corporate sponsors made it possible to fly in delegates to Anchorage for the meeting.

KYUK requested to broadcast the proceedings for both of this year’s full meetings, but Calista declined. When KYUK requested that a reporter attend the meeting, a spokesperson said the meeting was closed to the public and to the media. It’s open to shareholders and descendants, space permitting.

Resolutions and draft constitution are posted on Calista’s webpage.

Categories: Alaska News

Another Orphaned Alaska Bear Cub Needs A Home

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:49

“BaBa” the bear cub, comes out of a dog house at his temporary home with Kate Rourke and Andy Bassich. (Credit Terry Pratt / BBC)

Another orphaned Alaska bear cub needs a home. The young black bear found near Eagle is the 8th the state has dealt with this year. The other seven cubs, all but one black, including a trio rescued in Galena in September, have been placed in lower 48 wildlife care facilities. The fate of the latest orphaned cub is uncertain.

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Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Designates Kachemak Bay a Habitat Focus Area

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:48

Ocean acidification and climate change have become more prominent topics of conversation over the past few years, especially in areas heavily dependent on the sea, like Alaska.

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“The ocean conditions are changing and that’s something that we want to understand as well as we can so that we can be better prepared to address those changes and help our coastal communities be more resilient to those changes,” Julie Speegle, who works with the Alaska region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said.

She says Kachemak Bay joins seven other habitat focus areas nationwide under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint initiative. And it was a logical choice.

“One of the special things about Kachemak Bay is we have already gathered quite a bit of data on ocean conditions and habitat there,” says Speegle. “What we haven’t done is put all that data together and see what comes out of it, what we can learn from it.”

The bay is already a State of Alaska Critical Habitat Area and a National Estuarine Research Reserve. So, the building blocks are already in place. She says the blueprint initiative provides the framework for organizations to efficiently work together in a targeted area.

“So, we basically select habitat focus areas where we can prioritize resources and activities and foster and leverage partnerships to address changes in coastal and ocean habitats,” says Speegle.

NOAA already has relationships with outside groups in the Kachemak Bay area, including tribal governments, regional citizens advisory councils, municipal bodies, and environmental interest groups like the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.

But the designation also encourages NOAA to make a concerted effort within the branches of its own organization.

“So, you’ve got NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and we’ll be working together internally to focus our efforts on Kachemak Bay,” says Speegle.

But what does that mean practically?

Speegle says it provides groups with the incentive to conduct scientific studies and the facilities to streamline data sharing. But it also has the potential to ease the financial burden that’s often a barrier to ongoing research programs. She says there is some federal funding that opens up to projects once they are designated within a habitat focus area.

The research and information that comes out of these projects will reach beyond Kachemak Bay as well.

“So, as we go forward, we’ll be sort of using Kachemak Bay as a testing area to improve NOAA mapping and model information,” says Speegle. “And we have a goal of developing new tools for habitat assessment that can be used not just in the Kachemak Bay area, but other coastal areas throughout Alaska.”

Speegle says the next step is to evaluate ongoing studies and what’s already in place. Overall, she hopes Kachemak Bay will provide some more insight into changing ocean conditions and the best ways to manage those changes for the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Court Rejects Alaska’s Appeal

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:47

The state of Alaska has lost another attempt to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage, and Gov.-elect Bill Walker has changed his stance on the issue.

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The federal appeals court for the West rejected the state’s request that an 11-judge panel review the district court decision that found the state’s ban unconstitutional.

The state could appeal again to the federal court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has spent more than $100,000 defending the ban.

As a candidate, Walker said he wouldn’t pursue costly litigation with little chance of success, even though he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

But now his spokeswoman says Walker wants a proper analysis before making any decision on the lawsuit.

Categories: Alaska News

Listen: What Marriage Means For One Alaska Same-Sex Couple

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:46

Kelli Burkinshaw (front) and Megan Ahleman paddling in Berner’s Bay this past fall. (Photo courtesy Kelli Burkinshaw)

Since same-sex marriage became legal in Alaska, of the roughly 480 marriage license applications in the state, about 20 percent are from same-sex couples.

One of those couples is former KTOO employee Kelli Burkinshaw and her partner Megan Ahleman. They’re getting married tomorrow in Juneau.

The two had talked about marriage before, but they didn’t get engaged until a federal judge decided October 12 that Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. It was important they marry in a state that meant something to both of them.

Megan and Kelli had a conversation at KTOO last Sunday about their relationship and getting married. In the tradition of StoryCorps, here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

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Categories: Alaska News

Borough Bus Lines To Consolidate

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:45

Several public bus lines now serve various markets within the Mat Su Borough, but a new state mandate may force them to consolidate. 

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Public transportation in an area as spread out as the Matanuska Susitna Borough poses its challenges. Some of those challenges have been met with the help of non – profit transportation companies, like MatSu Community Transit, or MASCOT, that runs mini busses through remote neighborhoods. The Valley Mover line makes regular commuter runs from Wasilla to Anchorage, and Talkeetna’s tiny Sunshine Transit, operated by the Sunshine Health Clinic, provides wheels for patients and the elderly headed for doctor’s appointments or shopping in Wasilla and Anchorage. The services have one thing in common – they all depend on a state subsidy, and now that money may be drying up.

 Naomi Nelson, Mascot executive director, says the state Department of Transportation wants to see cost savings, and has mandated a consolidation of transit services:

“The idea behind that is to reduce expenses and to put more busses on the road and provide better service.”

In a letter to the bus companies, DOT’s transit program manager said there would be no grant funding of any future transit expansion projects unless the bus companies merge. DOT wants an operational plan in place by next year. And a committee has been formed to come up with a plan so that the Mat Su bus systems can continue to get funding in the next grant cycle. Nelson says the committee needs to submit it’s plan by January of next year.

“That plan will outline more than just the merger. There’s community needs that need to be assessed. There’s a lot of work going into planning routes and services, including costing those out.”

The Mat Su bus lines share in a million dollar a year pot of money from the Federal Transit Administration that is passed through DOT. So far, the committee has decided that Sunshine Transit does not have to be a part of the merger, since it is essentially an arm of a health clinic.

A fourth bus line, operated by the Chickaloon Tribe, would be excluded, too, because it is paid for with tribal funds. That leaves MASCOT and Valley Mover to merge their administrations and staff.  Valley Mover executive director Jennifer Tew says the merger plan is still uncertain.

“So we don’t know exactly how it’g going to pan out yet. But that’s the whole purpose, to bring more services to the Valley.”

Tew says her busline makes 15 round trips to Anchorage a day, keeping cars of the highway, and that the DOT funds are needed to help defray costs to consumers.

“Our fare cost is $7 one way, $10 round trip, but our cost per ride is about $12″.

The state money helps makes up the slack between fares and costs. Consolidation would mean the organizations would reduce administrative staff.  Mascot’s Nelson says implementation of the plan is set for July of next year.   Nelson says the trend toward consolidation is nationwide, but Mat Su is the first area in the state to be affected.  








Categories: Alaska News

Village Sewer and Water

Fri, 2014-11-21 12:00

It is estimated that one of every three families in village Alaska still do not have a sanitary means of sewage disposal, in spite of hundreds of million dollars poured into rural sanitation. Systems have been installed in 77 percent of villages, but the smaller the village the higher the cost per person. What is the answer to this puzzle?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network



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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: South Naknek

Fri, 2014-11-21 10:27

This week, we’re heading to the community of South Naknek on Bristol Bay. Lorianne Rawson is the tribal administrator with the native village of South Naknek.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Eagles Up Close

Fri, 2014-11-21 10:19

Photographer James Norman shared this picture of eagles along the Chilkat River. (Photo by James Norman)

Each fall, thousands of bald eagles flock to a stretch of the Chilkat River about 20 miles north of Haines. The birds fly there for a late chum salmon run. It’s thought to be the largest gathering of eagles in the world. Dozens of people travel to witness the raptors each year, filling up almost every hotel room in Haines.

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“They have a fish, two more kind of flew in eyeing it, so far the first guy has it,” Laura Ferraro said, standing on edge of the Chilkat River watching bald eagles fish for salmon. Ferraro describes herself as a “serious hobby photographer.” She has a camera on a tripod in front of her with a huge lens.

“Yeah it’s probably close to two feet long so it’s pretty heavy, probably 8 and half pounds just for the lens,” she said.

Ferraro is from Orange County, California. She’s visited here once before to photograph the eagles.

“They’re a beautiful bird, they symbolize freedom. They’re great,” Ferraro said. “And it’s really fun getting the interactions with them here when they try to steal fish from each other.”

Ferraro is not alone on this bank of Chilkat River. Half a dozen photographers are clicking away.

They’re here during the Bald Eagle Festival. It’s a week-long event Haines holds each November to capitalize on the influx of visitors like Richard Barrett, who has traveled even farther than Ferraro. Barrett is an amateur photographer from the UK.

Barrett: “Quite a difficult place to get here is Haines, and I’ve come a very long way to get here.”

Files: “Do you think it’ll be worth it?”

Barrett: “Oh yeah sure. Definitely, no doubt. All the raptors are great birds to photograph. And then here we got the fantastic mountain backdrop as well. So you’ve got a lot of ingredients to make a really nice photograph.”

He’s planning to use some of the pictures he takes here in a wildlife calendar.

Eagle photographers along the Chilkat River. (Photo by John Hagen)

Other people have less official plans for their eagle photos.

“Making everyone else envious they haven’t been here,” Chris Klore, who traveled from Dallas with her twin sister, Michaela Davis, and their husbands Duncan and Jack, said. They’ve been planning this trip for three years.

Michaela: “It sort of makes my heart beat fast, it’s so pretty.”

Jack: “It’s something you don’t see in the Lower 48. You don’t see all this beauty. It’s something different for us to see.”

Michaela: “It’s flat where we live. We have no mountains; we have no snow; we have no bald eagles.”

This year, there seem to be fewer bald eagles, because the weather has been clear and sunny and the rest of Chilkat River isn’t frozen over. But American Bald Eagle Foundation Executive Director Cheryl McRoberts says they’ve counted more than 2,000 eagles along the river.

This is the 20th year the foundation has held the Bald Eagle Festival.

“We have people here this year from New Zealand, Africa, England,” McRoberts said.

McRoberts says 184 people registered for the festival. Throughout the week, the foundation holds eagle feedings, raptor presentations, lectures and more.

Dave Olerud is the founder of the Bald Eagle Foundation. He helped advocate for the 48,000 acre Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve that was established by the state in 1982.

“Every creature out there has a beautiful story to tell,” Olerud said. “And the bald eagle is a classic.”

Olerud says one reason people are interested in eagles is their power.

“Ancient civilizations or old civilizations what did they use to tell the story of their dominance or the power of their society?” Olerud said. “They used the eagle.”

Back along the river, Dave Teeson from Whitehorse points out a group of about a hundred eagles near the water.

“I think it’s rare for wildlife not to be scared of us,” Teeson said. “Most animals just avoid us so much that you just catch a short glimpse.”

“But for eagles you can watch them close up for a long time they don’t care.”

What many of the photographers here hope for is that perfect picture.

“I got a shot yesterday I’m just thrilled to death with, it makes the entire trip worthwhile,” James Norman, an amateur photographer and retired lawyer from Virginia, said, describing the picture. “Two eagles interacting, both in the air, claws extended separated by an inch perhaps, nice spray of backlit water behind them. I’m just thrilled to death.”

Norman plans to enter the shot in photography contests.

The migration of eagles and photographers to the Chilkat River will continue until the end of the salmon run, around late December.

Categories: Alaska News

Reports Highlight High Rate of Violence in Alaska

Fri, 2014-11-21 08:00

Two recent reports highlight the tragically high rate of violence in Alaska. One from the FBI is a revision of how rape is defined in the state. The new definitions have resulted in much higher numbers in a state that already suffers from being the worst in the nation for sexual violence. The second report looks at the impact on Native children from exposure to violence in their homes and communities.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Valerie Davidson
  • Walt Monegan

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 22 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 22 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

ASD budget surplus indicator of unfilled positions

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:32

The Anchorage School District spent less money than they planned during the first quarter of this year. If that trend continues, they’ll have an extra $22 million left over by the end of June 2015. 

Superintendent Ed Graff attributes the savings to prudent business practices and the district’s difficulty in hiring and retaining highly-experienced teachers and staff. ASD is spending less than planned on salaries and benefits.

According to state law and board policies, the district can only keep 10% of their budget in a fund balance that’s held in case of emergencies. That means they have 18 months to spend about $24 million dollars. Graff says he thinks they need to set most of it aside for next school year’s $22 million projected fund deficit.

“We do have budget challenges based on projected revenue. That’s not going away,” Graff says.

Graff says the district also needs to address ways to solve the hiring problems. The district was unable to fill 23 full-time teaching positions this year, and those classes are being taught by long-term substitutes.

“People are deciding they don’t want to take a risk and seek employment, or they understand the challenges we’re facing and the uncertainty,” he says. “You know, that’s difficult.”

The district also has dozens of posted support staff openings.

Alyse Gavin with the education advocacy group Great Alaska Schools says the fund surplus indicates unknown problems within the district.

“When we heard these numbers come out, the first thing in our mind was ‘why haven’t we heard these alarm bells sooner? A) That we’re having trouble hiring teachers, and B) that we can’t keep the teachers that have great experience that are really contributing to our classes.’ If that truly is happening over the last few months, I think we should have heard about it by now.”

Gavin says part of the problem goes back to insecurity about long-term school revenues.

School Board member Natasha von Imhof says the extra money could help complete studies and implement practices to make the district run more efficiently in the future, but they’re keeping the vacancies in mind.

“We’re going to be very conservative, I think, with the spending of the money. We will continue to make every effort to fill the needed positions, and the money will be set aside for sure.”

The district also might spend the money on summer school programs and increasing pay for substitute teachers. The administration will make recommendations and the School Board will discuss the issue during their December 1st meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Hoffman, Halford Prepare for Walker Transition Weekend

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:05

Hoffman and Halford speak as Bill Walker and Byron Mallott look on. (Photo from Walker campaign)

Bethel’s Ana Hoffman and former Senate President Rick Halford are chairing incoming Governor Bill Walker’s transition team. Walker is racing towards inauguration next month.

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Hoffman and Halford are pulling together stakeholders in 17 topic areas, from budgets and subsistence to the National Guard and education. Those people will attend this weekend’s transition conference to prepare briefings for Walker and Mallott. Hoffman says they’re seeking a demographic that’s representative of Alaska.

“We’re trying to reach out to a variety of age groups, males, females democrats, and republicans, people who work in both rural and urban Alaska, so all those perspectives can be shared and can contribute toward the end product,” said Hoffman.

Over the weekend, about 200 people will gather at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus with the incoming Governor and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott to dig deep into the state’s most pressing issues.

“We’ll get together and identify the most significant area of concern, areas where we can reach consensus, and steps forward for implementation. The groups will spend time identifying areas under those specific topics where the stakeholders couldn’t reach consensus but try to identify items that can be overcome and work toward implementing those areas where they can overcome their differences,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman says the group will work more with policy issues and less with any personnel decisions for the incoming administration.

Walker must submit a budget to the legislature in less than a month. While he’s been campaigning around the state, the price of oil has dropped well below forecasts, leading to deficit spending for the legislature and lean budgets in the near future. Hoffman says the state’s fiscal reality will play into every discussion this weekend.

“I’m sure that all of the different areas, such as infrastructure, natural resources, public safety, revitalizing the National Guard, in all of those areas, I’m sure everyone would agree they need more services. But before those discussions happen, participants will all need to understand what type of budget constraints we’re facing in the state, and with that in mind, what sort of things we can continue to strive toward,” said Hoffman.

Walker is slated to be sworn in December 1st.

Categories: Alaska News