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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: 31 min 11 sec ago

No Primary, Only General Election Contest For Juneau Legislators

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:32

Sam Kito lll (left), Sen. Dennis Egan (middle), and Rep. Cathy Munoz (right). (Photos by Skip Gray)

All three Juneau legislators will be challenged in the November general election, but not in the August primary.

The candidate filing deadline was 5 p.m. Monday.

George McGuan, 33, filed as a Democrat to run against Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz for House District 34 in November. Munoz currently represents House District 31, which encompasses the Mendenhall Valley and out the road. With redistricting, the number has changed, but not the geography.

Peter Dukowitz, 44, plans to run in November as a Republican against Democrat Sam Kito III for House District 33 (now HD 32). Kito was appointed in February to fill out the term of Beth Kerttula, who resigned her seat in January to take a fellowship at Stanford University. Kito’s new House district will include Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat, will be challenged by Republican Tom Williams. Egan’s Senate District P will change to district Q in November, also encompassing Haines, Skagway, Gustavus and Juneau.

The primary is August 19. With no primary contest, the candidates can concentrate on the general election campaign.

Categories: Alaska News

Low-Level Eruption Of Pavlof Volcano Escalating

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:19

The Pavlof Volcano ssh clouds were reported to reach 22,000 feet yesterday. (Photo by Christopher Diaz at northernXposed Photography)

Alaska Volcano Observatory spokesmen say a low-level eruption of a volcano about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage is escalating, with pilots reporting that ash clouds are getting bigger.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Power said Monday in a statement that pilots have recently reported ash clouds from the Pavlof Volcano rising to 22,000 feet above sea level.

Scientist Robert McGinsey says the current eruption began Saturday and lava has reached the surface. Asked how long the eruption might last, he replied, “hours, days or weeks.” On Saturday, a pilot reported a gas and ash plume about 8,000 feet above sea level.

McGinsey says aircraft flying below 25,000 feet should avoid the area. He says the ash cloud is currently a narrow plume streaming about 50 miles to the east.

The 8,262-foot volcano is one of the state’s most active.

An eruption last year prompted regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities.

Categories: Alaska News

Bergdahl Release Ignites Political Controversy

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:29

Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.

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Categories: Alaska News

New EPA Carbon-Pollution Rules Will Spark Rate Hikes In Fairbanks

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:28

Golden Valley Electric Association customers can expect a rate hike to pay for new federally required pollution controls. The EPA’s emissions control requirements announced today, will be phased in over coming years in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule will require all U.S. powerplants to cut production of carbon dioxide by 30 percent by 2030, based on their output in 2005.

The EPA hadn’t released details of the new rule on Friday, and the agency’s spokesperson in Seattle didn’t respond to a request for comment. But GVEA’s C-E-O Cory Borgeson says all of the co-op’s coal-fired powerplants, and at least some of the other fossil-fuel fired plants, will not meet the stringent standards of the new rule.

“We think it’s very possible that the limitations would affect not only our coal plants, but also our plants fired with naphtha, diesel, …” he said.

About 60 percent of GVEA’s electricity is generated by coal and oil, including diesel. So, Borgeson says, the utility will be required to spend money to bring its powerplants into compliance with the new rule. And more rate hikes will be required to cover those costs. How much, he can’t yet say.

But Borgeson cited as an example the $92 million that GVEA is now paying on emissions controls for the coal-fired 50-megawatt Healy 2 powerplant. That work is required under a deal the co-op cut last year with EPA and the state. Those controls, however, will not remove carbon dioxide or CO2 from the plant’s emissions. So Healy 2 will be out of compliance with the new rules when it’s fired-up in about a year. And Borgeson says it’s not known how much the additional emissions controls for the plant will cost.

“So, you go in and put in additional controls to take out CO2, or limit those emissions, and – it’s just hard to speculate on the cost,” he said. “But, ultimately, it’s a big cost.”

Environmentalists counter that ratepayers nationwide already are paying for the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Colin O’Brien, an attorney with the environmental-advocacy groupEarthjustice, said in November interview that those so-called “hidden costs” come in the form of, for example, increased insurance and medical payments to repair damage from extreme-weather events or health costs associated with poor air quality.

“People pay the cost of energy in several different ways,” O’Brien said. “One is the bill that they get from the utility. Another might be the money that they pay to their healthcare provider, if they have asthma or another lung or heart condition that’s a consequence of the air pollution that comes from coal production or coal combustion.”

The new CO2 rule is intended to encourage utilities to convert from coal, which provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity, to natural gas. Borgeson says that’s not an option here.

“That’s something that will still don’t have in the Interior,” he said. “And even if we do get it, it’s going to be at a much higher cost than the rest of the nation.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the proposed rule is scheduled to go into effect in 2016.

Between now and then, Borgeson says GVEA will be making its case to EPA that the co-op should be granted exceptions and/or extensions for compliance.

He says GVEA will support litigation that he expects the utility industry, among others, will be filing in opposition to the new rule in the coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Discover Years-Old Human Remains On Kenai Peninsula

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:27

Firefighters on the Kenai Peninsula made a disturbing discovery over the weekend.

Alaska State Troopers say human remains have been found near Sterling.

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Troopers say they were notified Sunday that a fire crew found the remains.

According to troopers, the remains appear to have been there for several years. There were no identifying items found and the identity of the remains is unknown.

The state medical examiner’s office has been notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Prescribed Interior Burn Extends To Over 6,000 Acres

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:26

On the Kenai Peninsula, rain over the weekend helped further knock down the Funny River fire, but in Interior Alaska, a wild fire in the Delta Junction area gained major acreage over the weekend. The 100 Mile Creek Fire, sparked by an earlier prescribed burn on military land, went from about 700 acres to more than 6,000, as high winds fanned flames.

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Categories: Alaska News

McGuire Dropping Out Of Lt. Governor Race

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:26

KTUU channel two news is reporting State Senator Lesil McGuire says she will not run for Lieutenant Governor. McGuire says she would be “more effective” remaining a policy maker.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Alaska Chief Medical Examiner Named

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:25

A pathologist who has been working as an assistant Alaska medical examiner has been named the state’s chief medical examiner.

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Gary Zientek has worked for the Alaska Division of Public Health since 2009. Gov. Sean Parnell approved Zientek’s promotion in January.

The Anchorage Daily News reports Zientek’s medical license was suspended for four years in Virginia because of alcohol and drug abuse. His Virginia license was restored in late 2007.

Zientek says he has been sober for 10 years. He says his is a story about redemption.

The Department of Administration says Zientek was the only person interviewed for the job, which pays about $225,000 a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Katie John Honored In 375-Mile Walk For Subsistence Rights

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:24

On Saturday, two Athabascan men completed a 375-mile trek honoring their mother Katie John, and her cause – subsistence rights. Dozens of people joined them for the last few miles, and about 200 celebrated the walk’s end at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

12-Year, Human-Powered Expedition Summits Denali

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:23

This year, more than a thousand people will try to climb Denali. Some of those will be making the attempt as part of a “seven summits” expedition, which involves reaching the highest point on all seven continents. One family expedition, named Top to Top, is attempting the seven summits in a way that has never been done before.

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For most climbers coming to Denali from outside of Alaska, the trip involves long hours of travel via planes and road vehicles.  For Dario and Sabine Schwörer and their children, it meant years of travel by very different means, as Dario explains.

“Just sail from one continent to the other, and then climb the highest peak in each of the seven continents…Denali was actually our second-last.”

To get to Denali, the Schwörer family sailed through the Panama Canal and up the coast to Whittier before cycling their way to Cordova and spending the winter there.  In the spring, they began the trip north to Talkeetna, where local climbing experts Willi Prittie, Brian Okonek, and Roger Robinson provided insight on the terrain and the best way to get in and out of the Alaska Range without an engine.  Dario says the feeling of true wilderness on the way in and out is part of what appeals to him.

“It was a little bit [of] an adventure to get through the willows on the moraine to get to the Kahiltna Glacier, and then it was straight forward.  It was so nice, no people, this wonderful mountain surrounding you…”

Once the expedition reached base camp, they begin seeing other people again, and on the way down, there were hundreds of climbers on the mountain.  Martin Schuster grew up in Alaska and was part of the Denali climb.  He also says that the parts of the trip that were off the beaten path were the most memorable.

“From Petersville up to base camp and from base camp down to Talkeetna, we didn’t see anybody.  That really made the trip for me.  It was really cool just being out in the middle of nowhere without one hundred, two hundred people doing the exact same thing you are.”

The Denali climb was successful, but for Dario and Sabine, that’s not the most important part of the expedition.

“In Top to Top, on this global climate expedition, we really try to volunteer as much as possible for a good cause and then teach the children and inspire them with all the positive examples we encounter on our journey.  That’s actually really filling our batteries.”

Sabine Schwörer did not climb Denali, since the family’s children are too young for the harsh environment. Instead, she stayed behind and conducted homeschooling and other aspects of the expedition. She has been part of the expedition since the first day, back in 2002.  She jokes that Dario told her it would only take four years to finish the journey.  Twelve years and four children later, she says she is still enjoying the trip.

“I really, really enjoy the time in the classrooms, and working with the children, and how amazing [the] ideas they have [about] what we could do better with our planet.  I think it’s really important to invest in the children.  They are so open, and they still have lots of the future in their hands.”

In all, the Top to Top expedition has sailed more than 70,000 nautical miles, and Dario and Sabine have shared their journey with more than 70,000 students in a hundred countries.  Their work in local initiatives has helped clean up more than 50,000 tons of waste.   They have one continent and one peak left to do, Mount Vinson in Antarctica.  They aren’t in any particular hurry to get there, though.

“Our idea is to go through the Northwest Passage, so we go again out to the Aleutians and up to Cape Barrow, then through the Arctic to Greenland, then make it down the East Coast of the U.S., through Panama, then to Patagonia again and Antarctica.  So what we’re trying to do is a figure-eight around the two Americas.”

Obviously, that route takes much longer then sailing straight back down the West Coast of North and South America. Dario estimates another three or four years ought to do it.  No doubt thousands more children will share in the Schwörer family’s one-of-a-kind journey by the time it’s over.

Categories: Alaska News

Layoffs Begin At Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:22

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation started handing out pink slips on Monday.

YKHC officials announced the layoffs in May.

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Officials said the reduction was necessary due to an $11.7 million budget shortfall. They say the shortfall is due to several factors: sequester cuts to Indian Health Service funding, not meeting revenue collection goals and hefty investments in a new elders home and a new medical records system.

It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year. Last fall around 50 positions were cut.

110 employees will be let go across departments and 50 more vacant positions will not be filled. Officials say village clinics will be impacted, but no doctors will be cut.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Officials say the layoffs will continue this week and they’ll release more information Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Native Reimagines Qaspeq

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:21

Michelle Konig Works on a Qaspeq with Annie Woods. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

One Alaska Native woman is putting a new spin on the traditional qaspeq. Michelle Konig uses stretchy fabric and a unique pattern to make the modern qaspeqs. With a label under her own name, the designer can barely keep up with orders and is now traveling around the state teaching others to make her designs.

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At the last minute, Michelle Konig decided to sew a batch of qaspeqs to sell at Camai Dance festival to make a little extra money for a trip to California.

“I made the traditional qaskpek a little bit too small for an adult and I decided to add, I called it stretchy fabric at the time, but it’s jersey knit.”

She ripped side seams out and added a panel of the jersey material. She also made some other alterations.

“Instead of using qaspeq fabric for the sleeves I decided to also use the jersey knit for the sleeves along with the waistband and instead of hood, I decided to make a cowl.”

A qaspeq is a lightweight parka or over shirt worn by Alaska Native women and men, usually a cotton tunic with an oversized pocket and a hood. The garment was originally made of animal skin or gut and was worn over a fur parka to keep it clean.

As stores became more common in remote bush villages Natives began making them out of calico grain sacks. They are now generally made from cotton material.

Konig often uses batik material and heathered knits and embroiders instead of using rickrack trim, creating a more tailored silhouette than a traditional qaspeq.

Konig grew up in Bethel but now lives in Kenai. She balances her designer qaspeq business with raising three kids. She learned to sew at a young age and remembers drawing clothes as a child. But she wasn’t always a pro.

“My first time makin’ a qaspeq was probably in the 3rd grade with my Yup’ik teacher. And I thought I’d be quick. It was a torso piece and she wanted us to sew the top and the sides but leave the hole opening for the arms, which I didn’t do. Instead, I made (laughs) a tube so … She looked at my sewing and started laughing and said, ‘how are you gonna put your arms through!’”

But with practice she got better. And then one day when she was 21 and her grandmother was teaching her to make qaspeq something happened.

“It never really came to me that making clothing would be my career until I had my grandmother teach me the first time using a sewing machine and making a qaspeq.”

Her grandmother wanted to do it the traditional way, but Konig had other ideas. Lots of them. Those ideas coalesced under pressure as she created her modern day qaspek prototype that day at the Camai craft sale.

Once people started seeing her original designer qaspeq around her hometown of Bethel, word spread and orders started trickling in. She says she doesn’t really had to advertise and does a lot of custom orders through facebook. Since starting her business last fall, she she’s had around a hundred orders and had to hire another seamstress to keep up. She hopes her story encourages other women to start their own businesses.

“I feel like I’m inspiring other women to experiment with their crafts, also to get their name out there because of their unique idea.”

Konig is now in the process of patenting her modern qaspeq pattern and she’s developing her own clothing line. She’s working on a website with hopes to eventually have a storefront in Anchorage. Konig is now touring around Alaska teaching people to make her modern qaspeq.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott Campaign Computer Stolen

Mon, 2014-06-02 15:01

A laptop was taken from Byron Mallott’s Anchorage campaign office. (APRN photo)

A laptop computer with donors’ financial information has been stolen from the Anchorage office of the Byron Mallott gubernatorial campaign.

The laptop was discovered missing about 7 p.m. Wednesday, as volunteers were wrapping up their day.

Campaign advisor Bruce Botelho says the laptop was in a restricted area at the back of the office.

“What we believe may have happened was the back door had not latched properly. Someone had come in through the back door while volunteers were working in the front public area of the campaign and it was removed.”

Botelho says nothing else was taken.

PDF copies of checks and credit cards were on the computer, including each contributor’s name, mailing address, phone number, bank account, or credit card and security code numbers, as well as occupation and employer.

A letter went out Thursday to more than a thousand Mallott contributors, recommending they verify and monitor their bank and credit card accounts. State law requires immediate notification of lost or stolen personal information, unless a criminal investigation calls for delay.

“Important to this entire incident is the fact that the computer was password protected and was shut down at the time,” Botelho says. “In that respect that lessens the risk, I think, to any of our donors. But nevertheless, there still is a risk.”

Botelho believes it was a random theft and not targeted at the Democrat’s campaign for governor.

Anchorage police are investigating the incident.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Subsea Fiber Optic Cable Project Begins Summer Marine Surveys

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:27

The proposed network map for the the fiber optic cable. (Image via Arctic Fibre)

A Canadian telecommunications company is implementing plans to lay a fiber optic cable from London to Tokyo by way of the U.S. and Canadian arctic, and is readying summer marine surveys to map exactly where it will lay the cable.

When complete, several spurs off the main fiber line could mean high-speed broadband internet for many communities in northwest Alaska.

Arctic Fibre is the company building the fiber backbone. Anchorage-based Quintillion Networks is the “middle mile” provider in Alaska who will link the fiber optic pipeline to local telecommunications providers in Nome, Kotzebue, and other communities in the Bering Strait and along the North Slope.

Despite international complexity and an approximate $650 million price tag, Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce said during a visit to Nome this week that the project is far enough along for marine surveys to start this summer, “which is actually ships in the water using sonar and video to map the whole route of the cable,” she said.

“The cable will be built this winter to exactly match that route,” she added, with a timeline of laying the fiber in the arctic by summer 2015.

Pierce’s presentation highlighted the sonar equipment Quintillion and Arctic Fibre intend to use in its surveying this summer. The company’s presentation showed the equipment to be similar to what some oil companies use in their undersea mapping process. While the risks mentioned in Quintillion’s presentation in Nome discussed issues that could negatively impact the fiber project, the company did not note what, if any, impact the sonar surveys and eventual subsea construction work could have on arctic ecosystems. The report also made no mention of potential impact on subsistence species.

Categories: Alaska News

Most Territorial Court Records Will Stay In Alaska

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:25

View of west side of State Library Archives and Museum that is under construction in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Most of Alaska’s Territorial Court records will not be transferred to the National Archives in Seattle, but will stay in Alaska.

The National Archives and Records Administration says it will transfer 92 percent of Territorial Court as well as Alaska Railroad historical records to the Alaska State Archives in Juneau. Both account for about 25 percent of the records now housed in the National Archives office in Anchorage. The Anchorage facility will be closed this summer and the remaining documents will be transferred to the Seattle NARA office.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was notified of the decision on Friday. In a letter to Murkowski, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero said most of the Territorial Court records don’t require permanent preservation in the National Archives. They include court proceedings; birth, death and marriage records; mining and other property records that pre-date statehood as well as case files, dockets, and records of civil and criminal proceedings in the Alaska court system through 1959.

The territorial and railroad records will be housed in the new State Library Archives and Museum building under construction in downtown Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Low Level Eruption at the Pavlof Volcano

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:23

The Pavlof Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula has started erupting but it’s considered a low level eruption.

Photograph of Pavlof steaming, with fresh lava flow on its north flank. Photograph taken by Brandon Wilson, PenAir pilot, at about 7 pm, May 13, 2013. Brandon was at about 10,500 feet, westbound from Sand Point to Cold Bay. Photo by Brandon Wilson.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory raised the volcano alert level to “Watch” on Saturday after detecting a thermal anomaly at the summit of the volcano Saturday morning.

AVO issued an update Sunday afternoon confirming that the elevated surface temperatures persist at the summit of the volcano and weak incandescent glowing at the summit was observed Saturday night in the FAA web cam in Cold Bay. AVO confirms that no ash clouds have been detected in satellite images.

Some weak seismic activity is being detected on the network set up on the Pavlov Volcano and AVO confirms that some small explosion signals were detected by a distant infrasound sensor.

The National Weather Service issued a special statement Saturday afternoon about the eruption of the Pavlof Volcano. The Weather Service is warning that very light ash fall is possible in the vicinity of the volcano.

The Pavlof Volcano is 8,200 feet above sea level and there have been about 40 historic eruptions. It’s considered one of the most consistently active volcanos in the Aleutian arc. Cold Bay is about 37-miles southwest of the volcano. You can follow all of the activity at the volcano on the website of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Categories: Alaska News

Kenai Peninsula Burn Ban Lifted

Sat, 2014-05-31 22:48

The State Department of Natural Resources said in a release today that rain and cooler temperatures have allowed a ban on fires to be canceled for the entire Kenai Peninsula, including all federal, state and private lands. The closure was lifted at one minute past noon on Saturday.

The DNR release says cooking, warming or signal fires are allowed. Within state and national park lands, fires may only be built in campgrounds that have metal fire rings or grates.

The Funny River fire continues to burn within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. At least 193,00 acres have been consumed by the blaze. Rain and higher humidity in recent days have slowed the growth of the fire, allowing fire fighters to achieve 46% containment.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Wind Gusts Push Over Trees In West Anchorage

Sat, 2014-05-31 13:44

Wind conditions in Anchorage were not predicted to be strong enough to cause damage today, but sporadic gusts fell at least two trees in the Turnagain neighborhood in west Anchorage. Water was seen seeping across Spenard road near Westchester Lagoon. Drivers should be cautious and on the look out for wind driven debris in roadways.

 

Tree broken by wind gusts in Anchorage’s Turnagain neighborhood on Saturday morning. Photo by Bede Trantina- KSKA

Categories: Alaska News

Drug Stockpile Recovered From Unalaska Home

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:12

(Courtesy of Unalaska Dept. of Public Safety)

Unalaska police may have reached a turning point in a long investigation into drug sales. Two people are in custody after a stockpile was discovered at the home — and business — they both share.

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Unalaska’s police chief, Jamie Sunderland, says he can’t remember a bigger bust.

Sunderland: “Easily over a half a million dollars worth of drugs found so far, and the search is continuing.”

It’s turned up staggering quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine — more than two pounds each — plus more than a half-pound of marijuana, and two kinds of heroin.

Sunderland: “There’s certainly more evidence out there and clues to be found, but we feel that we have found a major player in this enterprise here.”

Thu McConnell and Tam Nguyen are both 45 years old. Their current relationship is unclear, but they have raised a family together. And they’ve definitely gone into business in Unalaska – opening a cab company, a tanning salon, and a variety store called Dutch Harbor Asia.

Police say that store is where Tam Nguyen was on May 24 when he allegedly sold two packets of heroin.

The order for the drugs came from a criminal informant who agreed to buy heroin from his sources in the community, to try and get leniency on his own charges.

Officers arrested Nguyen shortly after the alleged drug deal. They got warrants to search through the Dutch Harbor Asia store the same day.

Along with the regular inventory — snacks, jewelry, movies — police say they found digital scales and a loaded semiautomatic handgun.

They also say there were 55 individually wrapped packets of heroin, cocaine, and meth. Based on that, officers got warrants to search Nguyen and McConnell’s house — and arrest warrants, to put them in jail.

Now, the pair is facing multiple felony charges for allegedly possessing drugs with the intent to distribute them in the community.

Illegal drug sales are always a target for police action. But Unalaska’s been cracking down since last fall.

That’s when police orchestrated the first of two big sweeps — arresting up to nine people at one time. At least two dozen have been taken into custody and charged since then.

Sunderland, the police chief, says officers have gotten tips about the operators of Dutch Harbor Asia in the process.

But to Del Huber, they were model tenants. Huber is the property manager at the strip mall where Dutch Harbor Asia is located.

Huber: ”It was a smooth relationship. Their business was pretty much smooth. We never had no problems with anything.”

Huber says he did some renovations in the building and helped fix up the Dutch Harbor Asia storefront. The operators seemed happy, he says. They even agreed to sign a longer lease.

But lately, they had been trying to get out of the business. Thu McConnell posted it for sale on a Facebook message board in January – even cutting the price of Dutch Harbor Asia to attract a buyer.

Soon after that, she listed her house for sale.

Huber, the property manager, says he doesn’t know what’s going to happen now that the pair is in jail.

Huber: “As of right now, it’s totally up in the air. All we can do is just take care the rest of the tenants in the [Dutch Harbor] Mall and make sure everything’s upkept — and also make sure that Dutch Harbor Asia stays secure.”

That means making sure customers respect the sign in the window that says the business is closed.

Categories: Alaska News

Amid Green Peace Protests, ExxonMobil Readies for Summer Project in Russian Chukchi

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:11

A walrus haul-out in the Serdtse Kamen Cape on the Chukotka Peninsula. (Photo: Anatoliy Kochnev, Haulout Keepers)

Norwegian police and Special Forces  cleared Green Peace protestors off an oil rig in the Barents Sea this week. Activists have since been using a boat to block access to the proposed drill site, which could become the world’s Northern-most offshore oil well. The action is part of increasing efforts by environmental groups.

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“We are escalating our actions against Arctic drilling. I mean, the oil industry is escalating their activities in the far North, and so are we,” said Arctic campaigner Sune Scheller from aboard the Esperanza in the Barents Sea.

Scheller was in Point Hope two years ago with Green Peace protesting Shell’s offshore exploration in the Chukchi Sea. And while the company announced earlier this year they won’t be resuming work in Chukchi waters this season, there’s an American company that will—but on the Russian side.

“Seismic surveys will go along in certain parts of the Russian license areas this year and next year, just like we did in the Kara Sea,” said Patrick McGinn, spokesperson for ExxonMobil, which is partnered with Russian energy company Rosneft in several oil and gas ventures, including a seismic survey in the Chukchi Basin above the Chukotka Peninsula west of the Bering Strait.

Seismic surveys are an early step in assessing potential oil reserves, and use blasts of air to map the sea floor.

In its partnership, ExxonMobil handles project management and technical expertise, while Rosneft handles local affairs. McGinn says both companies have extensive protocols in place to make sure national and international rules are closely followed.

“Just like in the United States, in Russia the oil companies are required to have public consultation meetings, and Rosneft does that with their local communities where they talk about what’s going to take place.”

But several groups in the Chukotka region have criticizedRosneft’s conduct in the consultation process. They’ve filed a claim with the public prosecutor’s office alleging that the ecological assessments are based on a different habitat, and insufficiently consider social and environmental impacts on marine mammals near Chukotka. Aleksey Zimenko, director of the Center for Wild Nature Preservation, wrote in January that by ignoring input from local populations, Rosneft is violating current legislation in Russia.

There’s also disagreement over the impact to marine mammals from seismic testing—a  debate taking place in Alaska, too.

Sue Banet is with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which handles oil and gas permitting in US federal waters, and bases its seismic regulation on scientifically established protocols. American companies like ExxonMobil are extremely careful when it comes to the regulations around monitoring marine mammals, Banet said.

“During activity there will be continual monitoring from the agencies—and BOEM in particular—based on reports from observers that will be on all the ships, and also from weekly reports on operations.”

The monitoring program puts trained observers on survey boats. Their job is spotting whales, walruses, and other marine mammals, and instructing the crew to reduce or cease seismic operations until the animals have passed.

McGinn says ExxonMobil takes the measures very seriously, adding, “although, I got to tell you, we’ve been doing this for many decades in the water and there’s never been a documented case, a proven case, of a marine mammal being injured by a seismic testing.”

But many say the monitoring program doesn’t work. In December, Anatoliy Kochnev, a Russian walrus biologist, wrotethat Rosneft has offered insufficient evidence seismic blasts will not disrupt the massive walrus pods Chukotkan hunters rely on.

In Alaska, the North Slope Borough banned seismic and industrial noise during the fall Bowhead hunt, citing scientific evidence backing up claims by whaling captains that—observed or not—underwater noise deflects whales.

For Scheller, proper conduct is irrelevant because development is premature so long as there’s no real ability to cleanup accidents if a well does go online.

“There is no oil spill response plan when a major oil spill takes place that far North,” Scheller said. “You have to take into consideration the very long distance to any usable infrastructure, the amount of ships that can respond to it is minimal. And when the oil gets mixed with the ice it just becomes an impossible job to do.”

While activists protest Arctic drilling in the Barents, ExxonMobil and Rosneft are set to begin work this season once the last of the Chukchi sea ice moves out.

Categories: Alaska News
ON THE AIR

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

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

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