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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: 17 min 19 sec ago

Petersburg Seafood Processor Testing Shrimp Market

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:03

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One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. They should have their answer in a few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Sikuliaq Commissioned, Ready to Begin Research

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:02

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The Research Vessel Sikuliaq was officially commissioned Saturday in a ceremony at the boat’s home port in Seward. The commissioning marked the end of decades of efforts to design and build it; and the beginning of its mission to research the Earth’s rapidly changing and increasingly important polar regions.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Republicans Preview Medicaid Reform Bill

Mon, 2015-03-09 16:34

Senator Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, previewed a bill he is planning to introduce this week to reform the current Medicaid system.  He said the bill won’t include a provision to expand Medicaid, he said during a press conference this morning. A group of Anchorage religious leaders and lay people are in Juneau to try to convince him and other skeptical lawmakers to change their minds on the issue.

Senator Kelly said his Medicaid reform bill will feature Health Savings Accounts. A portion of the permanent fund dividends of Medicaid recipients would go into the accounts to pay for costs that are considered unreasonable:

“If you got to an emergency room when you shouldn’t have, then that comes out of that Health Savings Account [and] if you self-refer to a specialist; if you use brand name drugs instead of a generic when they’re available, those kinds of abuses,” he said.

The bill will also include a provision for managed care, a system for controlling health costs by managing how patients use health care services, he said. Full details won’t be available until the bill is formally introduced later this week.

One thing Kelly’s bill won’t include is Medicaid expansion. He said that may come as a surprise to the Walker Administration. Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson did not respond to requests for an interview. Her department issued a short statement saying they will comment on the bill after they have a chance to review it.

Kelly said he thinks reform should happen before expansion. “It’s a broken system,” he said. “I think everyone agrees that Medicaid is broken. I think it’s been broken for 30 years. And now to expand it and put more money into it, to bring more people into it, that’s certainly not going to help its brokenness.”

Kelly will likely encounter a large group of Anchorage residents in Juneau early this week who will try to change his mind. They are from Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together- or AFACT, a federation that represents 15 congregations and 10,000 congregants.

Reverend Julia Seymour expects their diverse group of 14 representatives to stand out at the capital. She says their message is pretty simple:

“We’re about honesty,” she said.  “And the reality is that Medicaid expansion is an honest need for Alaskans, and religious and faithful people support that.”

Reverend Seymour says Medicaid expansion has been a priority for AFACT for at least three years. In 2013, the group started publishing a small booklet explaining the complicated issue to congregants. AFACT decided to send representatives to Juneau this session, because it’s the first time the legislature has seriously considered the issue. Reverend Seymour is a pastor at Lutheran Church of Hope in  Anchorage.

Reverend Seymour said they will meet with as many lawmakers as possible on both sides of the aisle. “We’re hoping that we will come back from Juneau smarter about this issue,” she said. “With more knowledge about what’s going on with Juneau with the concerns of both the majority and minority caucuses and with a clear understanding of what needs to be done… to get Medicaid expansion in Alaska.”

For Reverend Seymour, approving Medicaid expansion is the moral and ethical decision to make for the state’s future:

“It’s about the health of Alaskans,” she said. “Healthy Alaskans are productive Alaskans. Productive Alaskans enjoy the gifts of creation and we have excellent gifts of creation in this state.”

At the press conference, Senator Kelly said he didn’t think Medicaid expansion is a moral imperative. But he didn’t shut the door completely on the issue either. Kelly said this draft of the bill doesn’t include expansion, but talks on whether it – or another bill- should include it will continue for the rest of the session.

“I’m one person with one bill, so I think expansion and reform are discussions that are going on with 60 people in this building, 61 including the governor. My bill just doesn’t have expansion in it.”

Kelly’s Medicaid reform bill is tentatively scheduled to have its first hearing Friday. Reverend Seymour said when their members return to Anchorage they will regroup to consider their next steps and also pray for lawmakers to do their work.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Officer & Senator: Sullivan Cedes Command But Says Roles Jibe

Mon, 2015-03-09 15:44

Alaska’s Dan Sullivan is one of only two U.S. Senators who are current military reservists. His ongoing military service as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves was one of his strongest selling points as a Senate candidate. But now that he’s a senator, the Marines have removed him from his assignment as a commander, saying it’s incompatible with congressional office.

Sullivan’s dual role, as a senator and a military officer, is frequently seen at hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Other senators and witnesses often commend Sullivan’s military service. It’s an extra credential that fortifies his denouncements of President Obama’s national security posture, which Sullivan says is too mild.

“In his state of the union,(Obama) painted what I would consider a benign, almost delusional view of the world environment,” Sullivan said at a hearing last month, “with quotes like ‘the shadow of crisis has passed …. We’re stopping ISIL’s advance …. We’re opposing Russian aggression …. We’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.’ These are quotes from the president. To the American people.”

Other Republican senators make similar arguments, but Sullivan can draw on his experience as a reservist for added detail, like when he challenges assertions, by the president and others, that America is a “war-weary” nation. Sullivan tells the Armed Services Committee the troops he knows aren’t weary.

“One of the concerns that they raise, at least with me — and these are just anecdotal but I’m throwing them out there — is they want to deploy,” Sullivan said at another hearing. “They joined the military to serve their country. They don’t want to be sitting around.”

Sullivan intends to remain a military officer and senator. But a clause in the U.S. Constitution has proved problematic. It’s called the Ineligibility Clause (or sometimes the Incompatibility Clause) and it prohibits members of Congress from holding office in the executive branch of government. Whether it applies to Reservists is an old dispute, but in December the Marines cited that bit of the Constitution in a letter telling Sullivan he couldn’t keep the commander job he’d had for 18 months. So in February Sullivan flew to the West Coast for a ceremony to relinquish command, ahead of schedule.

“It was a bittersweet change of command for me,” he says.

Sullivan was commander of 6th ANGLICO, a California-based Reserves unit, and he loved it. ANGLICO Marines deploy in small teams, often attaching to foreign allies on the battlefield to coordinate air strikes.

Professor John Harrison of the University of Virginia School of Law is an expert in the Ineligibility Clause, Article 1 section 6 of the Constitution. The relevant part reads:  ” … no person holding any office under the United State shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.”

It’s a separation of powers thing. Harrison believes the clause bars senators from serving as any kind of officer in the Reserves, in a commander role or not.

“Well, because, as with any military officers, there’s an appointment from the president, giving that person some role in the government of the United States,” Harrison says.

Some argue the infrequency of Reserve duty doesn’t fit the definition of an executive branch office, so it’s OK to be both a Congress member and a Reservist. A report from the Congressional Research Service says the question has never been clearly resolved.

But the Constitution does clearly say Congress is the judge of the qualifications of its members, and Senate Historian Don Ritchie says Congress has been fine with simultaneous service.

“We have had a history of Reservists in the Congress,” Ritchie says. “In fact, there was a Reserve unit on Capitol Hill for many years. Barry Goldwater was the commanding officer for it.”

Lyndon Johnson was a Naval Reservist while in the U.S. House and was the first Congressman to report for active duty in World War II, two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Strom Thurmond was promoted to general in the Army Reserves during his long Senate career. And these days, Thurmond’s successor, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is a JAG in the Air Force Reserves. (When Graham served as a military appeals judge, the Constitutionality of his dual service was challenged in court. A higher court said the Constitution doesn’t allow simultaneous service in Congress and the judicial branch. The opinion didn’t address his military service. Sen. Graham now instructs at the JAG school.)

In Sullivan’s case, a Marine spokeswoman cited several laws and policies along with the Constitution’s ineligibility clause to explain why Sullivan had to give up the position of 6th ANGLICO commander. Among them: rules that say Ready Reserves – those that might be called to mobilize in an emergency – can’t include people who have key federal jobs, or whose communities would endure extreme hardship if they were mobilized.

Sullivan says his understanding was the Ineligibility Clause was the main reason. The senator says he doesn’t have his own take on that part of the Constitution.

“I’ve not looked at it in depth,” he said.

But Sullivan says being a Reservist makes him more effective in the Senate, in part because he can better press to retain Alaska’s military assets.

“Having first-hand experience, being able to talk about just how incredible Alaska is for military training, I think, gives me a lot of credibility as a senator to make the case to not only my fellow senators but to senior administration officials,” he said.

Sullivan says it’s not hard to separate his two roles – one that entails criticizing President Obama, the other requiring that he obey him.

“When I put the uniform on, I’m on Marine and I don’t criticize the president of the United States when I’m a Marine,” he said. “As a U.S. senator, when I think it warrants it, I can be critical of the administration, but I’m doing it in a way that I think advances our national security.”

The senator says he’s in talks with the Marines now about what he’s next assignment will be. He’s not sure they’ll let him be a commander while he’s in the Senate, but he says he intends to carry on the tradition of serving as a senator and an officer.

Further reading:








Categories: Alaska News

Getting to Iditarod Start Line in Fairbanks Had Its Own Challenges

Mon, 2015-03-09 14:14

Teams prepare for the 2014 Iditarod start in Fairbanks Monday morning. (Photo By Emily Schwing – APRN)

Normally Iditarod dog teams restart the race from Willow the day after the ceremonial start in Anchorage, but this year, they spent an extra day travelling north for a restart in Fairbanks.  For some teams, the trip to the start line in Fairbanks Monday wasn’t without incident.

Many mushers left for Fairbanks directly from Anchorage’s Campbell airstrip following Saturday’s ceremonial start.  Curt Perano, also known as the Kiwi musher, says the combination of an unreliable dog truck and poor weather had him heading for Fairbanks immediately.

“Yeah we hit a bit of a snowstorm and then Bret Sass his real wheel, so we recovered him and helped haul his dogs up here to Fairbanks, so a six hour trip became like 10 [hours],” Perano said.  “The wheels fell off the truck literally, but yeah, we made it.”

Brent Sass won the Yukon Quest last month.  He says a hairy trip up the Park Highway hasn’t dampened his attitude.

“I feel great. I’m super stoked to get on the trail as always  it’s been kind of a bigger buildup now with the travel after the ceremonial,” he said. “The Iditarod is always a bigger build up than the Yukon Quest anyways, but yeah, I’m stoked.  I can’t wait until the say go.”

But Michelle Phillips was a little nervous.  She accidentally locked, her parka, warm clothes and other gear in her truck, along with the keys.

“Yeah, Murphy’s law.”

Phillips, from Tagish, Yukon tried to laugh it off as she waited for a locksmith arrive. It took a few minutes, but once the truck was open, Phillips was able to concentrate. Her goal is a top ten finish this year.

“You never know until you get out there and see what the race holds for you, you know. I’m just going to try to stick to my schedule, do my plan and see where that takes me,” Phillips said.

Nearby, long-time Iditarod musher Ray Redington, Jr. was scrambling.  His dog truck wouldn’t start, because it wasn’t plugged in overnight. He didn’t comment, but did find a way to make it down the trail, among 78 other teams who will race for Nome over the next two weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

“City Limits” explores development of Anchorage

Mon, 2015-03-09 13:39

New Anchorage Museum exhibit opened on Friday.

As part of Anchorage’s Centennial Celebration, the Anchorage Museum is hosting a new exhibit called “City Limits.” It’s a brief walk through Anchorage’s past that helps visitors understand how the city developed.

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Curator Carolyn Kozak walks past Dena’ina artifacts and an empty white tent into the echo-y museum gallery. Surrounding her are bits of Anchorage’s history –photos of the first railroad spike, a teal kitchen from the 1950s, the uniform of a pipeline worker.

Kozak says the exhibit tells the story of how Anchorage’s landscape and diversity came to be. When non-native settlers first arrived, they chopped down trees and built a work camp focused on the railroad. Kozak says the first Railroad Commissioner Frederick Mears soon realized that they needed to care for their environment before proceeding with development.

“The water was close to becoming contaminated so he changed his first order of business from railroad construction to surveying a new town site and getting people to higher, safer ground.”

That’s why downtown is a perfect grid, and the rest of the city is not.

The exhibit’s opening gallery during installation.

“The city limits were really only a small part of the town. Beyond that it was unregulated. They didn’t have municipal services. There wasn’t any running water. If you wanted a road out there you had to build it yourself. So it sort of explains the midtown sprawl in a way, and I think Spenard Road is a good example.”

Kozak says the exhibit is about more than the physical development of the city, it’s about the community as well. She walks into the center gallery and faces a giant map highlighting more than a hundred countries — they’re the places where Anchorage residents are originally from. Colorful graphs show how Anchorage’s diversity compares with other big cities.

“I’m hoping that this gallery will help dispel some myths that our visitors have about Anchorage and Alaska more broadly and also some permanent residents as well. I think people think of the state as being very homogeneous at times, especially visitors from the Outside, but in reality Alaska is the fifth most diverse state in the United States.”

The exhibit’s central gallery during installation.

Kozak says the exhibit also celebrates the city’s more colorful past with t-shirts from famous strip clubs and bars, a historic photo showing barrels of liquor being destroyed during Prohibition, and a cartoon of an animal chorus line the 1970s singing the old tourism theme song, “Wild! Wild about Anchorage…”

The City Limits exhibit runs through October 11.

Categories: Alaska News

Tonka Seafoods Tests Out The Shrimp Market

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:22

Seth Scrimsher stands in one of Tonka’s freezers with blocks of frozen pink shrimp. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)

One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods, Inc. is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. As Angela Denning reports, they should have their answer in a few weeks.

Shrimping used to be a robust industry in Petersburg. The state’s first shrimp plant started here in 1916 but the market ceased being profitable and the last plant closed down ten years ago.

Still, co-owner of the local seafood processor Tonka Seafoods, Seth Scrimsher, says the product is special.

“There are very few cold water shrimp left in the world,” Scrimsher says. “It’s mostly warm water shrimp or farmed shrimp. And the cold water shrimp is known for a sweeter flavor.”

We’re talking about pink shrimps, the tiny ones found on salads.

Tonka Seafoods is a locally-owned business located just outside of downtown Petersburg and they think they may have found a new shrimp market involving Iceland and England.

“We need to see if we can freeze them fast enough and maintain the quality and ship it to the buyer as cheaply as possible to work under their budget contraints,” Scrimsher says.

Tonka can freeze up to 30,000 pounds of shrimp within 24 hours but this winter was about testing. They froze smaller batches totaling 250,000 pounds. Those shrimp are enroute to Iceland where they will be cooked and peeled and then sent on to markets in England.

“Iceland has a tremendous amount of quota for these pink shrimp but it’s been steadily declining which is why they’re looking over here to replace some of that,” Scrimsher says.

That means competing against Iceland’s at-sea processors who freeze the shrimp at sea.

Tonka’s process starts at the back dock of the plant located along the Wrangell Narrows so boats can drive up and unload their catches.

I follow Scrimsher into the first room off the dock.

“The shrimp comes in here, would get dumped on that table where the initial sorting and the distribution to the belt begins,” Scrimsher says.

As the shrimp travel along a large white conveyor belt they are rinsed and sorted by about a half dozen workers called “graders”.

“And they’ll pick out the seaweed, the pieces of broken shrimp and pick out the side stripes and so we’re just running clean pink shrimps,” Scrimsher says.

The cycle starts in the morning with the catch the fishermen delivered the night before. They try to have the shrimp frozen within 24 hours.

They’re already good and cold as fishermen are icing the shrimp when they catch them which Scrimsher says takes a careful hand.

“They’re layer icing them and then we ice them heavier once we get here,” Scrimsher says. “There’s kind of a fine line between too much ice and just enough ice.”

Too much ice changes the flavor of the shrimp and too little will spoil it.

The shrimp get frozen in 22 pound blocks in the freezing area. There are two huge storage freezers that keep the shrimp frozen before shipping.

Tonka should know by mid-March if this whole process will work out with the international markets. And if it does?

“Then we would try to add a few more fishermen to try to catch and process the entire guideline harvest amount,” Scrimsher says.That’s about three million pounds of shrimp near Petersburg. On a busy day, that would mean employing 18 people working shrimp at the plant.

Although there is a strong domestic market for pink shrimp, Tonka doesn’t have the equipment to process it yet but Scrimsher says with luck, that could one day be happening too.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Say Woman Injured In Fairbanks In Officer Shooting

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:14

Alaska State Troopers say a woman has been hospitalized with apparently non-life-threatening injuries in Fairbanks after a trooper-involved shooting.

The woman was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Sunday evening after the incident at a Dale Road home.

Troopers say they responded to the home after getting a report shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday that a woman had pointed a gun at another woman.

Troopers say that during an interaction with the woman who reportedly pointed the gun, responding troopers fired at her, injuring her.

The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation.

According to troopers, the names of the officers are being withheld for 72 hours, as dictated by department policy.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Faces Murder Charge In Woman’s Shooting In Eagle River

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:13

A 32-year-old man is facing a murder charge in the shooting death of a 56-year-old woman in Eagle River.

Police say James Andrew Baker also faces two attempted murder counts after two others were wounded early Sunday morning. He is being held without bail.

Investigators say June Mary McCarr was found dead in a vehicle.

Police say the incident started when the vehicle owned by Baker was parked with six people inside using drugs. At some point for an undetermined reason Baker allegedly started shooting at the others.

All of the occupants then fled on foot except for McCarr. The two who were wounded were hospitalized in stable condition.

Police say Baker was later given a ride by a motorist and they’re hoping to make contact with that driver.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Prepare For New Route Through Interior Alaska

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:00

Willow musher Lisbet Norris prepares for the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

The Ceremonial start of the 43rd Iditarod filled Downtown Anchorage with dogs, fans, and snow trucked in from Goose Lake.

Unusually warm weather has hampered Southcentral Alaska’s winter snowpack and led officials to move the race start to Fairbanks for only the second time ever. The new route through the Interior will challenge even the most tenured seasoned racers as long-held strategies are scrambled.

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Light morning rain and temperatures in the upper-30s Saturday morning were yet another reminder: it hasn’t been a good season for mushers in Southcentral Alaska. Reliable training grounds like Willow, where many prominent veterans keep kennels, all the way down to Kasilof have been without good snow to put miles on their teams. That’s led many, like 2014 finisher Monica Zappa, to spend winter on the move.

“We’ve basically been living out of our truck, we haven’t been able to train at home on the Kenai Peninsula for 2 and a half months, so we actually ended up going to Wyoming,” Zappa said.

Monica Zappa makes her way through Anchorage during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

While the switch in start locations may seem like an advantage for Interior mushers clustered around Fairbanks, many teams moved up there for part of the season to take advantage of the snow. And with the first leg of this year’s route following smooth, fast rivers rather than the technical climb and decent through the Alaska Range in past years, veteran Richie Diehl says the terrain isn’t to any one region’s advantage.

“I’m from Aniak on the Kuskokwim River, so I love river traveling,” he said.

But long stetches on the Chena and Nenana rivers so early on present new challenges. Paige Drobny will be pacing her team in the first leg of the race.

“I’m gonna make sure to have my GPS on so that I don’t let them go any faster than 10 miles per hour, is my speed, because it’s flat and straight it’s really easy to let them run, and I think you can burn ‘em out if you do that,” Drobny said.

The other confounding variable is the distance between checkpoints. Iditarod mushers who design strategies around sprinting from one stop to the next will have a difficult time making it all 119 miles from Tanana to Ruby without stopping. And that, says Lisbett Norris, means making plans to camp.

“I packed an extra caribou skin, in addition to my regular sleeping pad, ’cause I want to be comfortable and cozy,” Norris said.

Brent Sass. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

There is one other long-distance sled-dog race where stretches on rivers and camping on the trail are the norm, and that’s the Yukon Quest. While Brent Sass of Eureka has only run the Iditarod twice before, he’s run the Quest 9 times and just a few weeks ago came in first.

“Yeah, camping out is one of my main deals, I love camping out on the trail, and I’ll be doing the same thing: building a big fire every stop I can,” Sass said.

Few mushers at the Ceremonial Start would reveal the details of their layover strategies—which is par for the course in a race where psychological advantages are their own tactic. But there are also some unknowns in the weather forecast, as temperatures are projected to drop to twenty below with a possibility of heavy snow. And for Kelly Maixner, changes in the layover rules are yet another variable to contend with.

(Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

“We do have a different option this year of taking our 8 before our 24,” Maixner said. “So I’ll just have to get out there and assess the situation, it’s kind of gonna be an on-the-fly race this year for me.”

In a year with so many adjustments, the one change that mushers across the board, like Hugh Neff of Tok, are looking forward to is the race’s first ever stop in Huslia, home to George Atla who passed away just last month.

“Ya know, George Atla is the greatest dog-musher ever, and we’re honoring his spirit this year,” Neff said.

The festivities were marred by the death of a sled-dog not involved in the ceremonial start. One of the dogs belonging to Lachlan Clarke, a race veteran from Colorado, got loose from the staging area at Campbell Tract, and was hit by a car several hours later.

The race’s official start is at 10 a.m. Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Voices on Homelessness seeks solutions to region-wide problem

Sun, 2015-03-08 23:16

Treating people who experience homelessness like people could help solve the problem. That was one of the solutions discussed by a group of community members who met on Saturday for the Northern Voices on Homelessness conference in Anchorage.

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The three-hour-long conference was a brainstorming session that brought together social service agencies, people who have experienced homelessness and others who are concerned about the issue. People teleconferenced in from Nome, Juneau, and Kodiak as well.

UAA Anthropology professor Sally Carraher helped coordinate the event. She says the idea was to look at homelessness from many different perspectives and together think of possible solutions.

“So we want to do a network that connects and services and agencies and real people and the public and connects them so we’re all speaking a shared language,” she explains.

The group includes people from northern Canada and throughout Alaska as well. Carraher says one thing that makes homelessness unique in the north is the sense that everyone should take care of themselves.

“And on the one hand I think that resiliency and that strength is really awesome about Alaska and northern Canada and Northerners in general. But I think it’s also kind of a barrier when trying to think about a problem like homelessness. You can’t expect individuals to each pull themselves out of this problem.”

So the community needs to remember that homelessness is just a circumstance and could happen to anyone, says Kaya Wolfe, who lived in shelters as a child and has couch surfed as an adult.

“These are people on the street, they’re not scenery, they are human beings. And I want to talk about their successes, I want to talk about their struggles, and I want to talk about hope for the future.”

Wolfe and other attendees spoke about reducing the stigma attached to being homeless so that people can more openly seek help.

Robert Alexie is a resident of Karluk Manor, Anchorage’s Housing First facility. He says that social service agencies and the public need to stop seeing people who experience homelessness as statistics and instead seem them as humans who need encouragement.

“You know, you want to say anything to someone, say ‘Hey, go up to Karluk Manor. Use the resources.’ A lot of people don’t want to use the resources.”

Alexie says not using resources is often an issue of pride but being directed to Karluk Manor is what saved him and his health. He says the staff at Karluk sought him out for housing and helped connect him to medical services.

“After almost 20 years on crutches, I’m walking without them. And it’s nice,” he pauses, thinking of words. “That’s what Karluk gave me, and there’s no way I can repay them. There’s no way.”

Housing First provides individuals with permanent housing without requiring them to seek treatment. Many experts see it as a successful solution for ending chronic homelessness.

More than fifty people attended the conference. Conference coordinators say this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Categories: Alaska News

Sled Dogs in Slow Motion

Sat, 2015-03-07 17:06

The dogs were ready to pull on this unseasonably warm day in downtown Anchorage at the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 6, 2015

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:52

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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Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point.

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from the Bethel District Attorney’s office. His resignation comes on the heels of the Walker Administration’s firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the funding public media gets from the state.

As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make.

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away.

AK: Women Who Mush

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women. In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

Categories: Alaska News

Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:43

In a press conference March 2, 2015, Gov. Bill Walker holds up a copy of House Bill 132 that would limit the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s powers on the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline. House leaders introduced it earlier that day. The governor was adamant that the bill would hinder rather than help progress for the project by tying the state’s hands during negotiations. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez checks in with us on where the Legislature is on its timeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:42

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from his position at the Bethel district attorney’s office. His resignation comes about two weeks after the firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

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While working in the office Sunday, February 22nd, Stein received a letter, hand-delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

Stein says the letter said, “This action is being taken at the direction of the governor as part of the transition of the new administration.” The Governor’s spokesperson has so far declined repeated requests for an interview about why Stein was fired and maintains Governor Bill Walker can’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.

Carpeneti was tapped to be interim leader at the Bethel DA’s office after Stein’s departure. Stein’s last day is Monday, March 9th. Carpeneti’s last day is scheduled to be April 3rd.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:41

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:40

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the fundingpublic media gets from the state.

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As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make. 

In Dillingham, KDLG shares the airwaves with a commercial station and a few religious broadcasters. But once you get outside town, general manager Rob Carpenter says his public AM station is the only one on the air for miles.

“We are in the center of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska,” he says. “Our broadcast area is roughly the size of Ohio.”

It spans most of Bristol Bay’s 25 villages, and the areas in between, where residents travel to hunt and fish off the grid.

“We do messages to people who don’t have any other form of communication,” Carpenter says. “We’re the only one that can provide weather for the region, and there’s a lot of areas that are very remote, where there’s cabins and stuff where they can get no other signal.”

But KDLG isn’t technically a sole service station. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, that would have to be “the only primary broadcast service — radio or TV, commercial or noncommercial — within a 50-mile radius from the station’s transmitter.”

There’s only a handful of stations that fit that description in the whole country, and most of them are in Alaska. KUCB is one of them.

The state is hoping to spare sole service stations from major budget cuts. Tyson Gallagher is a staffer for Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, who proposed the 59 percent reduction for public broadcasting in the state House. If it goes through, Gallagher says they still want to make sure all Alaskans have access to information on the air.

“And so with our intent language, we’ve asked the Department [of Administration] to basically do their best to hold harmless those communities that have only one source of broadcast, being public broadcast, and look at a reduction of service of places that have duplicative services, first,” he says.

That could include the ability to stream radio online, which isn’t always possible in rural areas with slow connections.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission to implement any cuts. Brenda Hewitt has been on that board for 10 years. She says losing funding would likely lead stations to cut staff, and that could mean less local news content and original programs.

“You know, you could just put repeaters in every nook and cranny,” Hewitt says. “And then you would have to rely on maybe just national programming and national news, and you’d have one person there that would turn the light switch on and the knobs on and that would be it.”

Some of Alaska’s smallest public radio stations already rely on larger neighbors to help to fill out their daily broadcasts. KCUK in Chevak, for example, repeats programming from Bethel’s KYUK.

Though Bethel is home to more than one radio station, KYUK is the only broadcaster reaching thousands of people in villages across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It broadcasts in English and Yup’ik, providing services like travel warnings about the freeze and thaw of the Kuskokwim River.

“If people in Anchorage or any other urban area can imagine, it’s like someone needing to tell you whether or not you can drive on the roads that day,” says KYUK’s programming director, Shane Iverson.

Budget cuts and layoffs in Bethel would have a ripple effect, Iverson says, since his station shares local news with others across the state.

That’s why Brenda Hewitt, the public broadcasting commissioner, says it’ll be hard to separate the Alaska Public Radio Network’s rural and urban stations in trying to dole out cuts.

“We need everybody,” Hewitt says. “The small stations are the ones that give us the boots on the ground. They can send us the stories that we wouldn’t otherwise hear when you’re in urban Alaska — and we are a whole state. I mean, we’re not just Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.”

Juneau’s public radio station, KTOO, is part of a Southeast consortium called CoastAlaska, which covers about every size of media market Alaska has to offer. Executive director Mollie Kabler says the network has recently started selling its fundraising expertise to rural stations, including KUCB.

“It’s a fee-for-service arrangement, and it’s worked out great, because we know how to do the business of public media, and stations that are small … have just worked with us directly to do that,” Kabler says.

It’s just one way she says stations are trying to build up listener support and consolidate resources. As state funding declines, Kabler hopes that kind of change will help the whole system stay afloat.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:39

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away. His family says he died in Anchorage this morning. His family says he was around 88-years-old.

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John was one of the most respected leaders in the region. He is remembered for dedicating his life to the younger generation and encouraging the well being of Alaska Natives in the YK Delta. He advocated for the preservation of the Yup’ik language and for maintaining traditional values.

His funeral arrangements are still pending.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Women Who Mush

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:38

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women.

In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers, many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

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In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman ever to win the Iditarod. A grainy YouTube clip from coverage by CBS news shows a crowd gathered on Nome’s front street to greet Riddles.

Libby Riddles: “What I feel like is if I died now it’s ok.”

CBS: “And the Money?”

Libby Riddles: “The money? Maybe Hawaii that’s what I keep talking about. A box of dog biscuits for every dog on the team.  I don’t know. I can’t even believe it yet.”

The following year, Susan Butcher won the race and set a new speed record in 11 days and 15 hours.  Butcher repeated her win and broke her own record again in 1987. She went on to claim the championship twice more in 1988 and 1990.

But a woman hasn’t won the Iditarod since. In fact, the only woman to win another thousand-mile sled dog race in Alaska is Aliy Zirkle.

“I didn’t get into dog mushing to race or to win or to go, go , go , go, I got into mushing because I love dogs,” Zirkle said. “It’ so fun to travel with dogs who want to go and run more than you do.”

In 2000, Zirkle became the only woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Since then she’s tried to claim an Iditarod championship.

“Now, when you get competitive, and you learn to train these dogs like they’re athletes, then the sky is limitless,” she said.

Zirkle has come up short in the Iditarod placing second the last three years in a row. But does it really make a difference if you’re a woman when it comes to long-distance mushing?

“I would say that in the dog mushing world, most people want to beat Aliy Zirkle,” she said. “There are a few men that I could probably count on ten digits that want to beat me because I’m a woman.”

“It’s a level playing field,” Ryne Olson said. “There’s no advantage either way.”

Olson first started mushing in Alaska under the guidance of Aliy Zirkle.

“I mean you could argue that some of the stereotypical traits of women might help you in some ways and hinder you in others, but I don’t think I mean the sport of mushing there’s nothing stereotypical about it,” Olson said. “Everything is abnormal, I guess.”

Olson finished her first Iditarod in 2012. She was training a puppy team for Zirkle. Olson just finished a successful Yukon Quest with her own team of yearlings and young dogs. Olson placed third, ahead of Zirkle, in this year’s Copper Basin 300. Zirkle placed sixth. So even though Zirkle won’t have to look over her shoulder for her protégé in this year’s Iditarod, she expects to in the future.

“Ryne – my step daughter or adopted daughter or whatever you want to call her – she’s going to beat me,” Zirkle said. “She did beat me.”

But that rivalry is friendly.  The relationship among women who mush is something up-and-comer Kristin Knight-Pace says helped get her to the start line of this year’s Yukon Quest for her rookie 1,000-miler.

Paige Drobny at the Iditarod’s ceremonial start in 2013. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“I think the camaraderie between all of the women who are my friends who are mushers which – oh my gosh, there’s so many – they’re all around my age, they’ve all worked so hard to get to this point and now here we are about to jump off the ledge and do a thousand mile race and man the support system is incredible between all of them,” she said.

Knight-Pace also has Iditarod aspirations for the future.  This year, she helped train up a few dogs during her Yukon Quest run that will compete on Paige Drobny’s Iditarod team. But Drobny, a two-time Iditarod finisher, says they work well together not because they are women, but because they have similar philosophies on how to raise and race dogs.

“You know it’s not just the girls actually. I feel like everyone is super focused on dog care, smaller kennels and working with what they have,” Drobny said. “So yeah, there’s a bunch of women, but there’s also some men too that have the same devotion to their kennels so it’s a really  positive direction for the sport.”

Of the 25 women who will line out their dog teams at the Iditarod start line this year, at least half a dozen have the potential to finish in the top-20. And then there’s Aliy Zirkle who will try for her first Iditarod win- and the first win by a woman in a quarter century.  A group of young female mushers will likely be cheering her on.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:37

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

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Categories: Alaska News