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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: 23 min 19 sec ago

Sea Lion Lunges At Sitka Fisherman

Tue, 2014-01-28 11:20

A 19-year-old Sitka man had a run-in with a sea lion at Seafood Producers Cooperative on Saturday.

Sea lions touch noses as one clambers onto a buoy in Sitka Sound. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau.

Alaska State Troopers say the man was sitting on the railing of a fishing vessel when a large bull pounced. The sea lion jumped out of the water and attempted to bite him — on the behind, causing the man to fall forward into the vessel.

The bitten man was a crew member on the Sitka-based Fishing Vessel Confidence, which was offloading bait herring at the time, according to State Troopers Spokesperson Megan Peters.

Julie Speegle, a spokesperson with the National Marine Fisheries Service says the man did not require medical attention.  “There were no puncture wounds, just abrasions,” she said.

According to Speegle, quote,  “it isn’t unheard of for big and powerful wild animals to habituate to humans, and see us as a food source.” Troopers do not believe that the crew was feeding sea lions, but, just to be safe, officials are reminding fisherman and hunters to dispose of waste properly, rather than dumping carcasses or scraps in the harbor.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Begin Review of Gasline Project

Mon, 2014-01-27 19:37

It took Gov. Sean Parnell three years to get his oil tax overhaul through the Legislature. Now, the goal is to pass a bill setting the terms for a massive natural gas pipeline in 90 days. Hearings on the project started today, and a half dozen more are scheduled through this week alone. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The gasline bill that Gov. Sean Parnell produced Friday is long and detailed. So detailed in fact that the title alone takes up two pages.

But here are a few highlights: The legislation taxes natural gas at a rate of 10.5 percent starting in 2022. It allows for those taxes to be directly paid in gas instead of money. It expands the powers of the natural resources commissioner and the revenue commissioner to work out a deal with all the other parties involved. The governor has said this is the sort of stuff that needs to get turned into law if the North Slope producers are going to lock themselves into a project that’s expected to cost upwards of $45 billion.

For lawmakers to lock themselves into the project as well, they want to be assured Parnell’s arrangement is going to work.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday morning, Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer wanted to know what made this gasline proposal better than all the other plans he’d seen. He likes the idea of the state partnering with the North Slope producers and getting an ownership share in the projects, but needs to hear a little more.

“This one is a little different, and so I am trying to get excited – I am excited – but is there anything else you can share to help my excitement?” asked Meyer. “I’m getting old, I’ve been hearing this too many times, and I’m done doing cartwheels. But I do want to see a gas pipeline in my lifetime.”

Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says there are two big reasons why this gasline is more likely to be built. One, the legal settlement over gas at Point Thomson has made Exxon more eager to develop their leases there.

And two:

BALASH: In the past, when the companies have evaluated various opportunities to commercialized North
Slope gas, they’ve had to take into account the oil that would not get produced if the gas was blown out and sold.

Balash says that’s not the case anymore.

“What we see in the next decade is that we are approaching the turning point in the field’s economics in the recovery of gas versus oil.”

While that answer satisfied some questions about the viability of a natural gas megaproject, it triggered a whole different set of questions about the state’s energy outlook. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican, pointed out that just last session, the Legislature passed Parnell’s oil tax bill on the premise that it would boost production of that resource.

“The exercise that we went through last year, how does that jibe with the gas approach this year?” asked Dunleavy. “In other words, we are anticipating and hoping for more production. Does that more production in oil is that predicated on the long use system of re-injecting gas, or is there another approach?”

Balash responded that the oil tax act they voted on last year will accelerate this transition to gas by encouraging Exxon, Conoco, and BP to produce more oil now. Mike Pawlowski, a deputy commissioner with the Department of Revenue who was also testifying on the project, added that the whole Prudhoe Bay Unit still has areas with untapped oil within it that don’t fit in within that oil-gas trade-off.

The bill is slated to be heard in the resource and finance committees in both chambers, as well as the House Labor & Commerce Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

State, Valdez Officials Assess Richardson Highway Avalanches

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:22

UPDATED 4:22 p.m. - Alaska Department of Transportation continues to monitor the Richardson Highway after avalanches over the weekend cutoff road access to the city of Valdez.

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Officials gave an update on the situation during a teleconference earlier Monday afternoon.

Valdez may not have road access, but progress has been made to provide transportation to its residents.

Following an aerial assessment of multiple areas, the Alaska Department of Transportation determined that some mountains along the Richardson Highway are still fairly active.  DOT maintenance engineer Jason Sakalaskas said once those areas are deemed safe, crews will begin work on the northern end of the avalanche area near Milepost 39.

“On the north side we do not see a lot of large avalanches, which is good,” Sakalaskas said. “So the cleanup efforts in that location should be fairly minimal, or fairly expeditious.”

As for the Keystone Canyon area, there is still a significant amount of water behind the north side of the dam created by Saturday’s slide. Sakalaskas said there is no safe way to approach relieving the water without removing it from the downstream side.

He did see one positive from the area. The Lowe River in the canyon has begun flowing again.

“We do this as a positive measure because obviously it will drain the impounded flow, but also will be a controlled release of the water, which is on the north side of the canyon,” Sakalaskas said.

Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s and 30s for the rest of the week, but DOT officials are hoping for cooler temperatures to help stabilize avalanche conditions especially at higher elevations.  They don’t expect find any road damage from the slides.

Valdez is still accessible by ferry and plane. The Alaska Marine Highway System modified its schedule to three direct trips between Whittier and Valdez.  Normally, the ferry Aurora sails clockwise from Cordova to Whittier to Valdez and back to Cordova.  DOT Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost explains…

“On Tuesday there will be a trip in each direction starting in Valdez to Whittier, then back from Whittier to Valdez. Thursday, we’ll have the normal Whittier to Valdez sailing; Friday we’ll have a Valdez to Whittier Sailing; Saturday, another Whittier to Valdez and finishing up Sunday with a Valdez to Whittier.”

Era Alaska also added a fourth flight between Valdez and Anchorage.

A voluntary evacuation advisory from the city is still in effect for residents of the Nordic and Alpine Woods subdivisions of the 10 mile area.

The Valdez City Council plans to hear an update on the situation during a special meeting tonight.

Original Story:

Valdez remains cutoff by road from the rest of the state due to avalanches and flooding over the weekend.

Progress has been made in clearing some of the debris on the Richardson Highway, but crews still have a long way to go.

Crews from the Alaska Department of Transportation spent Sunday stabilizing slopes along the Richardson Highway. They were also able to clean up some debris around the 39 Mile area.

DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says no progress has been made near the Keystone Canyon due to a lake forming behind an avalanche damn.

“The water is coming out of the old railroad tunnel and so water is flowing, which is good news,” Woodrow said. “Though it would be more helpful if the water were decreasing at a faster rate than it is.”

The Nordic and Alpine Woods subdivisions in the 10 Mile area have been under a voluntary evacuation advisory as a result. Valdez Public Information Officer Sherri Pierce says the city is closely monitoring the area.

“We’ve asked them to be prepared if we have any reason to believe that they’re in any sort of imminent danger,” Pierce said.

City officials are working with the Alaska Marine Highway system to increase ferry service to Valdez.

A DOT maintenance engineer arrived Sunday night to assess to the situation as is expected to make a report the findings Monday afternoon.

Valdez City Manager John Hozey, Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer, and Valdez Fire Chief George Keeney plan to do their own assessment via helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan, Treadwell Address Variety of Topics At Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:21

Two of the Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senator Mark Begich’s job, presented their records and thoughts on a range of issues for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd today.

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Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and former Attorney General and DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan agreed on all of the topics. From supporting a gas pipeline to denouncing federal overreach and the NSA. Both men are pro-life and both say the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment in Bristol Bay was too early.

Treadwell says the state invited exploration of the potential for a copper mine in the Bristol Bay region and the EPA made a bad decision. He said the state needs to fight back.

“Because we do protect the environment here. I’m very proud of my record on the environment but I’m very proud of Alaska’s record on the environment. And don’t let them tell you, you aren’t smart enough,” Treadwell said. ”The EPA was looking for a sponsor for a long period of time. With about a million and a half dollars of research they said, we can overcome close to $150 million worth of science on a half trillion dollar project. It’s wrong, we have to fight it, and we have to be outraged. I am.”

Sullivan says the state has the highest standards in the world and companies should be allowed to go through the permitting process. He says the EPA completing a watershed study before there was a Pebble mine proposal was unprecedented.

“They’ve never done it before. And when I was Attorney General and DNR Commissioner, most recently a joint letter from me and Attorney General Geraghty, we asked the EPA, where do you get this authority? They never answered,” Sullivan said. ”And whether you are for Pebble or against it, and I know it’s a controversial project, no Alaskan should be for an EPA that believes it can preemptively look at any project in the state, on state land and tell us whether or not we can move forward on it.”

Anchorage Chamber officials say candidate Joe Miller was invited but declined to appear today. Miller’s spokesman Randy DeSoto says the campaign not aware of an invitation until it was too late to participate.

Categories: Alaska News

Researchers Explore Polar Vortex

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:20

With unseasonably warm weather reaching all the way up into the Brooks Range in Alaska and bitterly cold weather dipping deep into the Lower 48 states, everybody wants to know more about the Polar Vortex – the jet stream that wobbles around the Arctic. Last month in San Francisco a team of scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center came out with a study that takes one more step toward better understanding that wobble by putting a lot more detail into high-latitude weather records of the past.

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Categories: Alaska News

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:19

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property, but the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

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As marine traffic escalates through the Bering Strait, the passage is gaining global prominence. And nearby on the Seward Peninsula sits Port Clarence, one of Alaska’s few naturally deep water ports.

The Coast Guard owns the real estate—around 2,500 acres— and was set to divest the property after the site’s LORAN station shutdown in 2010. However, Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Nome recently and said with the port’s strategic proximity to the Arctic and Bering Strait, the branch is keeping some of the land.

“The Coast Guard would like to retain a portion of that property as a hedge for you all, for the federal government, for the people of the U.S. to have a piece of property that’s right adjacent to what could become the most important international strait north of the Panama Canal,” Ostebo said.

The Coast Guard isn’t the only entity interested in Port Clarence. Ostebo says federal agencies, the state, corporations, and industries all want a piece of the property. One of those parties is the Bering Straits Native Corporation. Matt Ganley, BSNC Vice President of Resources and External Affairs, says the Corporation claimed the land in 1977 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and the property is one of the final pieces to the Corporation receiving full entitlement.

Ostebo says the Coast Guard will be divesting an undetermined amount of Port Clarence, but couldn’t provide a timeline. He is encouraging interested parties to negotiate agreements amongst themselves before approaching the Coast Guard with an offer.

“My number one objective is that at the end of the day, everybody wins. And I think there’s an everybody wins solution here with the Coast Guard retaining a piece, the state getting a piece, industry maybe getting a piece, other federal agencies getting a piece,” Ostebo said. “And it’s going to take a while.”

In the mean time, Ostebo says the site is well preserved and in working order.

This summer the Coast Guard will station a patrol boat at the port to monitor Bering Sea waters, respond to offshore incidents, and assist with local vessel boardings.

Categories: Alaska News

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:18

The Army has 657,000 acres of training ranges around Fort Greely, next door to Delta Junction. Because Delta is not located within a borough, the feds gives PILT funds to the state to distribute.

City and borough government officials here in Alaska are a bit on edge about Congress’s failure to provide funding for the PILT program, which helps local governments with a lot of federal land in their areas. The program is especially critical to smaller communities like Delta Junction.

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Local governments can’t impose property taxes on federal land. So, since the late 1970s, the federal government has been paying counties around the country – or boroughs here in Alaska – to compensate them for revenues that they otherwise could’ve generated through property taxes on that land.

That’s the PILT program – it stands forPayments in Lieu of Taxes. It’s not a big program, by federal standards – it totals about $400 million this fiscal year, of which Alaska would get about $27 million.

But Delta Junction Mayor Pete Hallgren says it’s very important for small communities like his, which gets most of its revenue from PILT.

“We’re looking at somewhere close to two-thirds of our income is from the federal PILT,” Hallgren said. “So you can see that the PILT is extremely important to the city.”

But Delta, which is flanked on the south and west by Fort Greely and Army trainingranges, may not receive the $930,000 or so that it’s slated to get from PILT this year. Because, Congress did not include funding for the program in the big omnibus spending package it passed last week.

That’s worries local government officials around the state, including Denali BoroughMayor Clay Walker. He says his borough will lose about a tenth of its revenues if it doesn’t receive the $300,000 that it was scheduled to get through PILT this year.

“Boy, the idea of 10 percent of your budget just getting whacked with no advance notice or planning is just a tough one to swallow,” Walker said.

Walker says the Denali Borough Assembly passed a resolution earlier this month calling on Congress to fund the program. He says the borough counts on PILT to supplement emergency services and solid-waste disposal. It provides those services to both the borough and facilities in the adjacent 6-million-acre Denali National Park.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough stands to lose only about $400,000 if Congress fails to fund PILT. But Mayor Luke Hopkins says the borough is already making painful budget cuts. And borough officials don’t want to ask borough taxpayers to fill a gap created by the lack of PILT revenue.

“Payment in Lieu of Taxes is certainly an important program,” he said, “And we don’t want to see it expire.”

Hopkins says this isn’t the first time that Congress has been slow in funding PILT. The degree of partisan budget battling of the past few years, however, makes this delay disconcerting.

“But this is – this one is getting down really close to the wire,” he said.

The uncertainty is especially worrisome because local governments must soon begin working in earnest on the next fiscal year’s budget.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says he’s optimistic about the chances of Congress restoring funding for PILT, because it appears to have bipartisan support.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Begich said. “This is about fairness, when the federal government has possession of so much acreage within Alaska, they need to pay for some of these services.”

Begich says members of a House-Senate conference committee that’re working on the Farm Bill have resolved almost all of their differences, and will send the bill back to each house soon. He expects the Senate will then act quickly to work out remaining differences and approve the measure when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

“We have and I have advocated to get this up on the floor of the Senate in short order, because I think we’re close enough that we can resolve these issues,” he said.

Begich says the Farm Bill will also, of course, help Alaska’s agricultural industry. And he says there’s funding for water and sewer systems, as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:17

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster.

The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

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Jeremy Zidek with the state Department of Homeland Security says the announcement is significant because it means the U.S. government will foot 75 percent of the bill for public repairs.

“Damages to roads, boardwalks, utilities, other public infrastructure, critical facilities – perhaps like a clinic or school that was damaged, so it’s really to help the community to recover,” Zidek said.

The state provides assistance to individuals and households to help re-coop lost property. Those funds have not yet made it to people in Stebbins. Part of the reason is that the state extended the deadline for applying for assistance until last Friday.

Leaders in Stebbins are finalizing a list of funding priorities for public assistance money. that list includes building a new mitigating seawall, plotting a second evacuation route and accelerating air-strip and water system updates.

Categories: Alaska News

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:16

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed. And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

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Categories: Alaska News

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:15

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Girdwood’s Callan Chythlook-Sifsof had hoped to make the U.S. snowboardcross team but when the team was announced on Saturday she was left off.

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Chythlook-Sifsof is now 24-years old and she grew up in Aleknagik and Dillingham before moving with her mother to Girdwood to be closer to the Aleyeska Resort. She was in the running for one of the 3 spots on the women’s snowboardcross team but was edged out by two snowboarders from Vermont and a snowboarder from Utah.

Chythlook-Sifsof was hoping for a return trip to the Olympics. She made the snowboardcross team in 2010 and became the first Alaska Native to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.

Via Facebook, Chythlook-Sifsof issued a statement about missing the Olympics. In that statement she noted that she has been struggling through two consecutive seasons of injury and recovery and she labeled this as one of the toughest seasons yet. She stressed that she’s looking forward to cheering on her teammates in Sochi.

Chythlook-Sifsof suffered a season ending knee injury in February of last year and she battled other injuries this season.

While Chythlook Sifsof will miss the Olympics, she was able to compete in the just-completed X-Games in Aspen. She placed 10 in the women’s snowboardcross competition.

The members of the snowboard cross team that will head to the Olympics were selected based on their World Cut results and Chythlook-Sifsof had finishes of 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 24th.

There are 4 members of the men’s snowboardcross team. Two of the riders are from California, one is from Vermont and the final rider is from Maine.

The head coach of the Olympic Snowboardcross team is Peter Foley who said the U.S. will have a strong team with a mix of seasoned veterans plus some new athletes who are riding very fast.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 27, 2014

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:11

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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State, Valdez Officials Assess Richardson Highway Avalanches

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Alaska Department of Transportation says highway access to Valdez has been cut off indefinitely by avalanches. The community may not have road access, but progress has been made to provide transportation to its residents.

Hearings Begin For LNG Pipeline

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It took Governor Sean Parnell three years to get his oil tax overhaul through the Legislature. Now, the goal is to pass a bill setting the terms for a massive natural gas pipeline in 90 days. Hearings on the project started today, and a half dozen more are scheduled for this week alone.

Sullivan, Treadwell Address Variety of Topics At Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Two of the Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senator Mark Begich’s job, presented their records and thoughts on a range of issues for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd today.

Researchers Explore Polar Vortex

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

With unseasonably warm weather reaching all the way up into the Brooks Range in Alaska and bitterly cold weather dipping deep into the Lower 48 states, everybody wants to know more about the Polar Vortex – the jet stream that wobbles around the Arctic. Last month in San Francisco a team of scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center came out with a study that takes one more step toward better understanding that wobble by putting a lot more detail into high-latitude weather records of the past.

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property. But the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Local government officials are getting nervous about Congress’s failure to continue funding for a program that helps municipalities with a lot of federal land. Money for the so-called payment in lieu of taxes or PILT program wasn’t included in the trillion-dollar spending bill Congress passed this month. But it is reportedly part of the Farm bill that lawmakers unveiled late today. The program is especially critical for smaller communities like Delta Junction.

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster. The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchroage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed.  And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 Yukon Quest Set to Start Despite Warm Weather

Mon, 2014-01-27 16:29

Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Officials are keeping a close eye on the weather and trail conditions as they prepare for the starts of the 1000 mile race this Saturday.

With temperatures well above normal and not much snow in the forecast, there’s been plenty of speculation about trail conditions for the upcoming Yukon Quest.

“There have been absolutely no discussions to cancel or delay the race. Nor are any planned. The race will start on February 1st,” Race Marshal Doug Grilliot said in a statement on the race organization’s website.

Temperatures are forecasted to drop slightly by the end of the week.  Race Manager Alex Olesen says trail breakers are still working on both the Alaska and Canadian sides of the trail.

“It’s soupy, it’s soupy everywhere right now,” Olesen said.  “We’re just hoping it locks up enough with this cold weather coming that it isn’t soaking wet the whole way. But it’s going to be a lot of wet or hard ice.  It will be just trenches through slush.”

Olesen says the trail isn’t the only concern.  The organization is dealing with drop bags filled with perishable meat and food as well. “We had all of our food drops in a conex [trailer].  It actually went well,” he says.  “The warmest they got was 28 degrees and then we put them in a refrigerated unit and set it to 15 below to keep them as cold as we could.”

Officials say the race could be re-routed.  That has happened in the past, most recently last year when a lack of snow and icy conditions kept teams off of American summit outside of Eagle.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Proposes Slight Bump To Base Student Allocation

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:49

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.
That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled.

For four years, the BSA has sat at $5,680. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. For the upcoming academic year, it would be raised to $5,765. The year after that, it would go to $5,823. Finally, during the 2016-2017 academic year, the BSA would be set at $5,881. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

In a statement, the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate said they appreciated the increase, but that they didn’t think at $200 boost over three years went far enough. This year alone, the Anchorage School District requires a $251-increase to the BSA to cover their shortfall. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District needs $300, while the Juneau School District needs $425.

At current student enrollment levels, the BSA increase would cost $11 million this year. In addition to the BSA increase, Parnell has already included $25 million to offset school energy costs in his budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

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he Alaska Department of Transportation says the driver did not have time to stop and struck a snow berm. The driver was not injured.

Valdez police called Alaska State Troopers at 8 a.m. Friday morning to report the highway through Thompson Pass was completely blocked by avalanches,

The Transportation Department says it has closed the highway from Mile 12 to Mile 69.

Crews have been unable to clear the road because of fears of unstable snow. The highway could be closed for 24 hours as crews wait for conditions to improve.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hollis

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

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Categories: Alaska News

Educators, Lawmakers Rally Around Repeal of High School Exit Exam

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:30

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package. But part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate.

Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

To make sure schools are doing their job of educating students and preparing them for college or the workforce, you need some sort of metric. But what if that metric isn’t actually measuring anything anymore?

On Wednesday, Gov. Sean Parnell said the exit exam every high schooler must pass to get their diploma is “obsolete” and unnecessary given that the state has new standards. Now, lawmakers like Charlie Huggins, a Republican senator from Wasilla, are questioning whether the test ever had any value.

“I don’t think it affected any change,” says Huggins.

That seems to be a popular opinion. A chorus of school board members, superintendents, and parents called in to a Friday hearing of the Senate Education Committee to support Senate Bill 111. They also voiced their complaints over the high school graduation qualifying exam. Among the most frequent : It takes time away from classroom learning; it’s expensive to administer; and it doesn’t really capture how much a student has learned.

The exit exam also has a real “human cost,” as Larry Talley put it. Talley came to the meeting in person to testify about the experience of having a special needs child who couldn’t pass the exam.

“He took the test six times. And five times of course was while he was in school, starting his sophomore year,” says Talley. “Again and again, he failed.”

Talley says his son maintained a 3.25 GPA and was accepted into a college that teaches students with learning disabilities. But he couldn’t attend until he passed the exit exam and got his diploma. That meant putting off college for a year, and getting removed from his parents’ health insurance because he was no longer a full-time student.

“The stress, the humiliation, the pain – it’s very hard to describe, but we went through that,” says Talley. “My family lived that.”

Not all of the testimony hammered the exit exam. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse with the Department of Education said that while the test may now be obsolete, it did have a point when it was first introduced.

“My belief is that for our student who are struggling the most and have been the least successful, maybe the exam brought higher instructional programs to them over time so that they were achieving at least at the basic level before they left.”

Even so, the Department of Education is supportive of retiring the test now.

“So the assessment played a role, but may not need to continue to play that role anymore,” says Morse.

The bills introduced by state legislators don’t offer a replacement for the exit exam. However, the governor has proposed using college placement or job skill assessment tests as a substitute for the exit exam as part of his omnibus education bill. The state would pay for the first test, and there would be no minimum score a student needs to beat to get a diploma.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 24, 2014

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:06

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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ASD Budget Cutting Process Begins as Legislature Mulls Increasing Education Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau & Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.

That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. For four years, the BSA has been $5,680 dollars. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

And that isn’t enough of an increase to please Anchorage School district officials, who presented the 2014-2015 budget to the Anchorage School Board last night. The district is facing cuts of $23 million this year.

Bill Could Eliminate High School Exit Exam

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package.

The part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate. Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning.

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million dollars in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

The Associated Press

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

AK: Spoken Word

David Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

For the fourth consecutive year, the group Brave New Alaskan Voices is assembling a squad of teen spoken word artists to compete in the International Spoken Word & Poetry festival. This year the competition will be held in Philadelphia, but first these Alaskan artists have to face each other for a chance to represent their state.

300 Villages: Hollis

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

Fri, 2014-01-24 17:44

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

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The road would slice through the center of the congested University district in Anchorage.

Representative Andy Josephson, of Anchorage, says this is the second time he has pushed this issue. The first time was on the day the Legislature adjourned last year.

“And nothing about my feelings or my constituents’ feelings have changed since then,” Josephson said.

Since the money was given out last year, though, some factors regarding the project have changed. One factor is an increased price tag going as high as $42 million. Josephson says the second is the state’s changing strategy for spending money.

“Under the guise, or the theme, of the governor’s is that we should finish what we’ve started,” Josephson said. ”This program, or this project, is essentially not started. It’s in its engineering phase, its development phase, but there is no road yet.”

Josephson says though some of the money has already been spent on planning, he believes most of the appropriated money is still available and could be returned to the state.

The Municipality of Anchorage remains in favor of the project.

In a statement issued by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, he says the project is a priority for the city. And he says it would help relieve traffic congestion in the U-Med District.

Sullivan also says the project has been taken through the proper planning processes. Lindsey Whitt, the spokesperson for the City of Anchorage, read the statement on behalf of Mayor Sullivan.

“The Department of Transportation with DOWL engineers went through the very public process, holding meetings with the community councils, public hearings, and received public comment,” Whitt said. “The project is supported by the university and the hospitals in the area. The project will greatly improve the safety for both motorists and pedestrians.”

Representative Josephson says all five of the community councils in the area unanimously oppose the road.

Senator Berta Gardner, of Anchorage, filed similar legislation in the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

Fri, 2014-01-24 14:09

People pray at Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle, before the start of a rally opposing a mining project in western Alaska. Fishermen in Washington say the project threatens salmon in Bristol Bay, where about 1,000 Washingtonians have permits to fish. Photo by Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle.

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

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Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle feels less like a slice of this big city and more like a coastal community in Alaska. Fishing boats are moored to floating docks. They ask what you’re up to in the nearby restaurants – and actually wait for you to answer. And around here, you’re more likely to see someone in Grundens than Gucci. But the connections between Washington and the 49th state run much deeper.

“Well, I’ve been fishing in Bristol Bay for the last few years,” Billie Delaney, from Port Townsend, north of Seattle, said.

And she’s among some 1,000 Washington residents who earn at least part of their living in Bristol Bay. Today, she’s part of a rally at Fishermen’s Terminal. A couple hundred people have turned out to oppose the Pebble Mine – a proposed project that would sit not far from the bay and its productive salmon habitat.

“The commercial fishery there is a renewable resource we’ll have forever if we manage it correctly,” Delaney said. “The mine would last about 80 years and completely destroy the culture and economy of that area.”

Senator Maria Cantwell agrees. On a stage in front of the crowd, the Washington Democrat calls the Pebble Mine a, quote, “giant cauldron of toxic waste.”

“I say that because the science shows this material would take hundreds of thousands of years to get rid of if it reached the watershed,” Cantwell said. “One mistake and that cauldron starts to seep into our water, into the fish, killing these important jobs.”

An EPA assessment says the mine would pose a danger to salmon and destroy miles of spawning grounds. Cantwell sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to follow up on that EPA report, and use his authority to stop the project.

“Senator Cantwell’s request is unprecedented in the history of the EPA for a major resource project before it’s even had an opportunity to file for permits,” Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, which wants to build the mine, said.

He says the project isn’t being given due process, and that it hasn’t even filed for permits yet. As for that damning EPA report?

“The EPA’s document is not conclusive science, but rather a political report intended to harm our project’s ability to apply for permits and frankly receive an objective review under the laws of our country,” he said.

Heatwole says the permitting process will be rigorous, and that the mine will have to comply with thick volumes of regulation to operate. He also says Pebble would be an important economic booster in a part of Alaska where the work is sorely needed. He says the fishing industry isn’t enough.

“Not to cast aspersion to the industry – it is an important economic engine – but if it was a healthy economic engine it would provide greater economic opportunities,” Heatwole said. “Our premise is that we want to have a project that co-exists with that fishery so that we can provide year-round job opportunities where right now there are simply none.”

Robert Masonis, the vice president for western conservation at Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that opposes the mine, disagrees.

“That’s a very limited view of the economic benefits of the Bristol Bay fishery,” he said.

Masonis says year-round jobs are supported by the fishery, both in commercial fishing and sport fishing. He looks around at the 200 or so people who have gathered at the rally.

“It makes me hopeful,” Masonis said. “I think a lot of people are realizing just how special this place is, and how fragile it is. I think what we’re seeing is an outpouring of public support for the Obama administration to do the right thing and protect this area.”

Cantwell says the EPA’s report is new enough that it’s not surprising the Obama administration hasn’t acted. She’s hoping the people at this rally, and the letters she and others will send, change that.

Categories: Alaska News

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