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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: 59 min 31 sec ago

The Newly-Named ‘Alaska Dispatch News’

Fri, 2014-07-18 12:00

Not very many years ago it was pretty easy to know how the publisher of a newspaper felt about things. All you had to do was look at the editorial
page. But when the Anchorage Daily News was acquired by the Alaska Dispatch, it stopped running its own editorials.  Now it is changing its name, and the managers of the Alaska Dispatch News will be taking questions from Alaskans across the state.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Alice Rogoff, Majority Owner
  • Tony Hopfinger, President and Executive Editor
  • Callers Statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Friday, July 18, 2014

Fri, 2014-07-18 07:20

Inmate deaths lead to hearing before lawmakers. The woes of Buccaneer Energy. The fight over who is responsible for the North Pole suloflane spill continues. The evolution of Alaska oil taxes. The North Slope haul road is in trouble from “a moving mass of frozen debris.” An update on the US Senate race. A successful missile test over the Pacific increases the likelihood the Defense Department will send more missiles to Fort Greely. Headline; “Ex-Guard Chief Moves to Arctic Frontline.” Who is he?

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HOST: Michael Carey


  • Dermot Cole, Alaska Dispatch/ADN.
  • Paul Jenkins, Anchorage Daily Planet
  • Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday July 18 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, July 19 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday July 19  at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

NASA Testing Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring Technology With High-Flying Ex-Spy Plane

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:20

NASA is flying two Airborne Science ER-2 aircraft out of Fairbanks to test equipment to be used to monitor Arctic sea ice. (Credit NASA)

NASA is piloting a mission out of Fairbanks with a specialized plane that can fly high enough to test technology destined for satellite applications.

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Categories: Alaska News

Report Investigates Coal Dust Hazards In Seward

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:19

Alaska Community Action on Toxics has issued a new report on the hazards of coal dust in Seward. The organization is recommending further monitoring, but city officials deny that local air quality is poor.

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Categories: Alaska News

Musk Ox Killed After Attacking Sled Dog

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:18

(Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome)

Living with wildlife isn’t always easy, as a recent incident with a musk ox attack in Kotzebue makes clear.

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Categories: Alaska News

In Transition: When a Family of Five Calls One Room Home

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:17

Corey MacDonald and his wife (not pictured) have three children – Miles, 7; Leland, 5; and Chloe, 4. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau charity organization St. Vincent de Paul has a record high number of people staying in its transitional housing shelter. Usually, around 55 people live in the 26 units. At the moment, there are 66 occupants, almost half are children.

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Twelve-year-old Carrie McVey has been living in and out of transitional housing at St. Vincent de Paul for as long as she can remember.

“I’m used to calling St. Vincent’s home because I’ve been here most of the time,” Carries says.

She lives in unit 16 with her 16-year-old sister, 11-year-old brother and their parents.

“We’re all just living in one room. I’ve basically made my bed my own room, ‘cause I have to sleep on the bottom bunk. My brother sleeps in the top bunk and I can just tuck blankets in under my brother’s mattress.”

St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional shelter has 26 rooms. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

It’s like a little fort, she says.

Carrie’s father has a job at Goldbelt Security Services and her mother doesn’t work. During the school year, Carrie goes to Juneau Community Charter School. She’s open with her classmates about sometimes living in a shelter.

“‘Cause, like, some of my friends would ask if they could stay the night and I’d have to tell them no,” Carrie says.

There are more kids at the shelter than usual, she says, which means she actually has someone her age to hang out with. During the summer, Carrie visits the playground and wanders around the shelter.

“I like going in and hanging out with some of the other families ‘cause, you know, I know how they feel. Most of us just feel alone, like we have nowhere to go,” Carrie says.

She wants her family’s stay at St. Vincent’s to be what it’s supposed to be – transitional.

“I hope that we can get our own house that we can stay, for once. ‘Cause it seems like, you know, every year we move from one house and then back in here, and I’m getting tired of it,” Carrie says.

Carrie is one of 30 kids currently living at the shelter.

St. Vincent de Paul housing manager Tamee Martini says the high number of shelter occupants is driven by the number of kids. She says families at the shelter usually have one or two kids. At the moment, several families, like the McVeys, have three. A couple families have more.

“It’s sad to see a large family with children that are homeless for whatever reason. I mean, being homeless is sad for everybody, but those children deserve to be in a place of their own and not in a room. I just believe that they need more room to wander around and be kids and be outside poking at bugs or whatever, just being kids,” Martini says.

Individuals and families can stay in transitional housing for a maximum of two years, though most stay for a year. In order to get in, there’s an application and an average wait time of six months.

Rent is $525 a month. That gets a person or family a 400-square-foot room, which includes a bathroom with a toilet and sink; shared kitchen, laundry and shower facilities; as well as a kids’ play room and a computer area for job searching. The shelter stays clean through assigned chores.

Martini says residents are required to be actively looking for permanent housing and for work if they don’t have it.

“We do keep on top of that and have frequent conversations with the families about what are you’re doing to move on to a better situation. So even though it is probably the cheapest rent in town, especially for a family, it’s not something we want anybody to consider the last stop,” Martini says.

Cory MacDonald and his wife live at the shelter with their three kids.

“Miles is the oldest. He’s 7. Leland is 5 and little Chloe is 4,” says MacDonald.

This is the family’s second stint. They spent about six months in the shelter two years ago. This time, it’s been about three months. In between, they’ve lived with family in town. They haven’t lived as a whole family in their own place for three years.

Both parents have jobs, but MacDonald is away from the family for large chunks of time.

“I’ve been in and out of trouble, so I’m actually out on an ankle monitor here right now,” he explains.

For a tight space, the MacDonalds have made the room as homey as possible. The parents have a large bed in one corner. In another corner, Miles and Chloe share a homemade bunk bed, with Leland’s bed at the foot of it.

“Then we got our fridge and our entertainment system and we brought this freezer in here so we could store extra food and stuff. This is our little dining area set up,” MacDonald says.

The children look at home sitting on the beds, eating crackers and watching TV. But MacDonald doesn’t want this to be home. At least, not forever.

The plan is to stay at the shelter for up to a year while MacDonald and his wife save up enough money buy a home of their own.

Categories: Alaska News

FERC Nominee Approved Despite Murkowski’s Objection

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:16

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. One of those nominations was approved over the outspoken objection of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, had two members confirmed on Tuesday.  Cheryl LaFleur, acting chair of the Commission, was approved in a 90-7 vote.  The vote for the second nominee, Norman Bay, had a much closer vote of 52-45.  The vote on Bay’s nomination fell along mostly partisan lines, though two Democrats did break ranks to vote with the Republican minority.  Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of the more vocal opponent’s of Norman Bay’s nomination.  Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy committee, says that part of her reason for opposing the nomination has to do with President Barack Obama’s intent to make Bay, a first time Commission member, the chairman of FERC.

Upper Valley residents may be familiar with FERC.  It is the agency that, among other things, licenses hydroelectric projects like the proposed Susitna dam.  That’s far from all there is, however. Senator Murkowski explained in a floor speech on Tuesday what else FERC does.

“In the energy world, FERC regulates ‘midstream everything.’ The Chairman is its CEO.  Under his or her leadership, FERC regulates: Interstate natural gas and oil pipelines; LNG import and export facilities; The sale of electricity at wholesale (and therefore the large and wholesale power markets that increasingly affect the affordability of all electric service, including at the retail level); The transmission of electricity in interstate commerce – basically the nation’s bulk power system, practically speaking, its high voltage transmission networks; The reliability of that bulk power system; The licensing of hydroelectric facilities and the safety of dams; And the list goes on and on. ”

Senator Murkowski contends that Norman Bay is not ready for the leadership role.  Bay has worked as an employee of FERC for five years.  Under a proposed compromise agreement, he would serve on the Commission for nine months before taking over as chair.  In the meantime, acting chair Cheryl LaFleur would head the agency.   Senator Murkowski says there isn’t certainty at this time as to what exactly would actually take place, however.

“You have to ask the question: What are its terms? Will Acting Chair LaFleur have the opportunity to serve fully and completely as chair? Will it be clear that Mr. Bay is not a ‘shadow chairman’ or ‘chairman-in-waiting’ during this crucial period? At a minimum, before we make a choice about who should lead FERC, the president owes senators a clear timeline of who will be in charge, and what powers will be given to her or him.”

Senator Murkowski also questioned the reason that Cheryl LaFleur, the Commission’s only female member, would be “demoted” in favor of someone who has never served.  She says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated it has to do with changes to policies put in place by former FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff.

““One hint came from our Majority Leader, Sen. Reid. He recently told the Wall Street Journal that Ms. LaFleur ‘has done some stuff to do away with some of Wellinghoff’s stuff’ – without, of course, defining what ‘stuff’ that was, and without acknowledging that much of Mr. Wellinghoff’s ‘stuff’ was either controversial or incapable of withstanding legal challenge.”

Senator Murkowski also says that Norman Bay’s tenure as the head of FERC’s enforcement division has also raised questions.  In the past, she has said that she would not necessarily oppose Bay’s nomination were it not for President Obama’s plan to promote him to chair.  On Tuesday, however, she mentioned questions about Norman Bay’s handling of enforcement for FERC.  In the end, Bay’s nomination was confirmed, albeit not by a large margin.

While Senator Murkowski says she does not always agree with Acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur, she does support her nomination to continue on the Commission.  Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Senator Murkowski, refers to LaFleur as a “liberal Democrat,”  but says that the Senator has been impressed by her ability to lead.

Who ultimately ends up as chair of FERC will be up to President Obama.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Rattles Yakutat; Felt in Whitehorse; No Damage Reported

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:15

A strong earthquake near the Canadian border rattled portions of Southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory just before 4 this morning.

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The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the earthquake occurred at 3:49 a.m. Thursday in an area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.
(Credit U.S. Geological Survey)

Natasha Ruppert is a seismologists with the UAF Geophysical Institute’s Earthquake Information Center. She says the magnitude-6.0 quake was centered in a rugged area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.

“This earthquake was in a very remote mountainous region – glaciated region, Ruppert said.”

Ruppert says that’s a very seismically active area, with a very complex intersection of tectonic structures. She says the Earthquake Information Center routinely monitors hundreds of small quakes in the area every month.

“Most of the earthquakes are very small and not felt by anybody,” she said. “But once in a while, you have a significant earthquake that’s large enough to be felt by people in that area.”

The Associated Press says Yakutat-area residents reported feeling the temblor, and that reports also were received from as far east as Whitehorse, about 200 miles east of the epicenter.

Ruppert says the Earthquake Information Center didn’t get any reports from residents of the Interior.

Categories: Alaska News

Skiing on Eagle Glacier Connects Alaska to the World

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:14

It’s a warm July day in Girdwood, but after a 10-minute helicopter ride into the Chugach Mountains to Eagle Glacier, it starts to look and feel a bit like winter. The temperature drops, and snow blankets the ground. About two dozen women—most from Alaska Pacific University’s cross country ski team—take advantage of the summertime snow during a week-long training camp.

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The athletes workout five hours a day, and spend their down time in a rustic building precariously perched beside a 5,000 foot cliff.  Olympian Kikkan Randall has been coming to the trainings for 14 years, and says they’ve helped her become one of the world’s top speed skiers.

“I’ve always been really proud of Eagle Glacier and the opportunities we have here,” she says. “We can ski twice a day, and we can do so at a moderate altitude where we don’t have to modify our training intensities, so it’s pretty unique.”

While snow is a constant, relatively warm summer temperatures create less-than-ideal skiing conditions on the glacier. As the athletes trudge up a steep hill on the 10 kilometer track, they struggle to push through the slushy snow.  But Erik Flora says the tough environment has its perks.

“Every time the Olympics come up people pray for nice weather, but the trail always turns to a mess,” he says. “You have rain, sleet, soft snow and that’s the magic of Eagle Glacier because as you can see in the course here it’s not easy…. We have a term for it: championship weather.”

APU skiers aren’t the only ones benefiting from the weeklong training. Each year at least one international athlete travels to Eagle glacier. Two years ago Aino-Kaisa Saarinen came from Finland and quickly befriended APU skier and Olympian Holly Brooks.  The two reunited at the Sochi Olympics last winter where Saarinen took home two silver medals.

“We ran into Aino Kaisa and she stopped us and she started crying and said I want to thank you girls, because I think spending time in Alaska and spending time with you really helped me and my team earn this medal,” Brooks recalls. “Of course we wished that the U.S. had been able to bring home that medal, but that was really a priceless moment for us.”

This summer Norway’s Celine Brun-Lie traveled 4,000 miles to train on Eagle Glacier. Since thereare no places to ski in the summer in Norway, Brun-Lie says she’s having a blast in Alaska. And while she recognizes that many of the women she’s skiing with will be fierce competitors on the World Cup circuit come winter, right now she’s just trying to learn as much as she can.

“I can teach Kikkan [Randall] something, she can teach me something, and then in the winter maybe I beat her because of what she taught me, or she beats me because I told her something,” Brun-Lie says. “But I think that’s the way it should work, and that’s the fun thing about sports.”

The women’s training session ends Sunday, and APU’s men’s team will be on the glacier at the end of July.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 17, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:01

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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NASA Testing Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring Technology With High-Flying Ex-Spy Plane

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

NASA is piloting a mission out of Fairbanks with a specialized plane that can fly high enough to test technology destined for satellite applications.

Report Investigates Coal Dust Hazards In Seward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska Community Action on Toxics has issued a new report on the hazards of coal dust in Seward.  The organization is recommending further monitoring, but city officials deny that local air quality is poor.

Musk Ox Killed After Attacking Sled Dog

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Living with wildlife isn’t always easy, as a recent incident with a musk ox attack in Kotzebue makes clear.

In Transition: When a Family of Five Calls One Room Home

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau charity organization St. Vincent de Paul has a record high number of people staying in its transitional housing shelter. Usually, around 55 people live in the 26 units. At the moment, there are 66 occupants, almost half are children.

FERC Nominee Approved Despite Murkowski’s Objection

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  One of those nominations was approved over the outspoken objection of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

Earthquake Rattles Yakutat; Felt in Whitehorse; No Damage Reported

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A strong earthquake near the Canadian border rattled portions of Southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory just before 4 this morning.

Skiing on Eagle Glacier Connects Alaska to the World

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA – Anchorage

In most places, summer isn’t the best time to ski. But atop a mile-high glacier in Girdwood, elite skiers have converged from across the country and the world, to train.

People Mover Teams Up With Google To Make Bus Route Planning Easier

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system is trying to become more people, and tech, friendly. You can now use Google Maps to figure out your bus route.

Categories: Alaska News

People Mover teams up with Google Maps to make bus route planning easier

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:55

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system is trying to become more people — and tech — friendly. You can now use Google Maps to figure out your bus route.

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As I unlock my bike from in front of the Downtown Transit Center, I type the name of my next destination into my phone. Instead of showing me bike trails and roads, it tells me which bus to hop on to get back to work – the number 45, scheduled to leave in two minutes.

The Google Maps app displaying bus route information for Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

It took me about 15 seconds to plan my bus route. On other days I’ve poured over paper schedules or stared at timetables on bus stop walls. With the new system, I used Google Maps on my smart phone just like if I was looking for driving or biking directions. Mary Burt was waiting for the same bus.

“I think it’s a great idea. Just wish I had a smart phone. ‘Cause I get on the bus and I’m hurrying up looking, what’s the connection I can make at the next stop? How can I coordinate? If I could just download instructions, it could be wonderful.”

Public Transport Director Lance Wilber says that was the idea — to make the bus system more accessible, especially for visitors.

“It’s really like Expedia for buses. Or Orbitz. You make travel arrangements. You find out where you want to come, where you want to go, and the time you want to do it and it just brings it right up on the screen.”

People Mover has been working on the project for two years. They had to convert their bus schedules and routes into a data format that Google could use with their mapping program. Soon the transportation department will make the information available to anyone who wants to use it to design different transport apps. Wilber says they want to link the bus route planner with maps of the trail system as well.

When it’s time to board the bus, I glance at my phone but check my route the old fashioned way, too.

“Morning!” I say to the bus driver as I deposit my coins. “Where do I get off to go to the University?”

He patiently explains.

Settling in, I chat with other riders, like Roy Mcdole, who has used the buses for years. His dad used to be a driver.

“This is the route he drive. My dad was the singing bus driver, back a few years back,” he says proudly.

A People Mover bus. Hillman/KSKA

Mcdole doesn’t have a smart phone. But like many other frequent riders, he doesn’t really need a trip planning map.

“Most of the time, people just know where they’re going.”

Turns out, thanks to Mcdole, the driver, and the map tool, now I do, too.

I pull the yellow cord. Ding! “Stop requested,” announces the automated female voice. Then the bus driver tells me I should wait until the next stop. He can get me even closer.

You can check out the trip planner online here as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Tuck Fined $14,000 For Campaign Finance Violations

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:36

Rep. Chris Tuck addresses a joint session of the Alaska Legislature during debate about confirmations of the governor’s appointees, April 17, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The minority leader of the State House has agreed to pay a major fine for mismanaging campaign funds.

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Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged that he mixed up his campaign contributions with his personal savings and failed to make accurate and timely disclosures.

The consent agreement signed by Tuck and the Alaska Public Offices Commission describes a rat’s nest of accounting problems. It starts with a 2012 fundraiser at the Firetap restaurant that Tuck didn’t report as a contribution. That kicked off a process where APOC found that Tuck managed his campaign money as a section of his personal banking account. Over the past two election cycles, more than $16,000 “flowed” through his personal account, and more than $11,000 in campaign money had been used for personal expenditures.

According to the report, there were “so many errors that it is beyond the expertise of APOC staff” to “untangle” them.

Paralegal Delight Mells told the commission as much at their Wednesday meeting.

“Given the complexity of the issues compounded by the banking errors that resulted in the use of at least three different bank accounts, and the extensive time that has already been dedicated, the parties believe that this consent agreement is the most efficient means to resolving the violations and moving forward,” said Mells.

While the maximum penalty for the violations exceeded $700,000, the Commission agreed to a fine of $14,000 in an effort to match the proportionate harm to the public. Tuck is also required to forfeit $6,000 of leftover campaign funds and to correct his old financial disclosure reports. The Commission also acknowledged that Tuck took “great efforts” to deal with the reporting problems once they were brought to light.

Tuck says the errors were unintentional – that they were the result of sloppy accounting and not anything deliberate. For example, he says campaign funds went toward personal expenditures because he mixed up his debit cards, and that he tried to repay that money immediately.

Tuck wishes he’d been more careful.

“There was some mistakes there that, yes, they did happen,” says Tuck. “And I regret that they happened. I understand what I did. I’m sorry for making those mistakes.”

But Tuck also thinks that a $14,000 fine is too high. He says he alerted APOC to some of the errors mentioned in the consent agreement, and that the public wouldn’t be aware of them if he hadn’t been cooperative. He’s concerned that a fine of this size might prevent candidates from self-reporting if they bungle their records, and that it could potentially discourage people from running for public office.

Tuck says he would have taken the case to court, if he had the time and money.

“This is one of the toughest things I have ever gone through,” says Tuck. “I’ve gone through divorce and a custody battle, and this is right up there with that.”

Tuck is running for a fourth term in the State Legislature, and his race is uncontested. He says from here on out, he’ll have an accountant manage his books.

Categories: Alaska News

Kerry Names Ex-Coast Guard Boss Special Rep to Arctic

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:35

Secretary of State John Kerry today named former Coast Guard commandant Robert J. Papp Jr. as special representative to the Arctic. Kerry created the new position to elevate Arctic issues in America’s foreign policy and national security strategy as the U.S. prepares to assume the chair of the Arctic Council.

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Papp was head of the Coast Guard from 2010 until he retired in May. Both Alaska senators praised the appointment and said Papp has substantial experience in the region.  Papp says he’s seen the changing Arctic first-hand. When he was new to the service, in July 1976, he was sent in a helicopter to look for a way to get a Coast Guard cutter from Nome to the North Slope.

“I was amazed that, first of all, we didn’t find any leads in the ice going through the Bering Strait,” he said in a 2012 address. “And as we landed in Kotzebue, as I looked out across the water, all I could see was ice. Ice as far as I could see.”

Fast-forward three decades. As commandant, he decided to go back to Kotzebue.

“As we were landing, I looked out as far as I could see, and I saw no ice,” Papp said. “Same time of the year, 34 years later, no ice.”

Kerry also announced the appointment of former Alaska Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer as Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy. Ulmer says it will be in addition to her current post, as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

“But this role is a slight expansion of that in that it will focus on some of the broader Arctic Policy issues that are specific to the 2015-2017 Arctic Council chair rotation,” Ulmer says.

Ulmer says it’s important for Alaskans to have an opportunity to engage with the Arctic Council.

“If you look at what has been done recently (on the Council) in terms of search and rescue, and oil spill response and research in ocean acidification and the health of marine mammals, these things are important regionally, nationally, locally, globally,” she says.

Secretary Kerry says Papp plans to visit Alaska soon to consult with policymakers there.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Joins Democrats on Vote for Birth Control Coverage

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:34

A U.S. Senate bill requiring companies to cover birth control in employee healthcare plans failed a procedural vote today . Both Alaska senators voted for the bill, aimed at undoing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of only three Republicans to vote for the measure, dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.” It fell four votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.

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The legislation would’ve restored a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies to provide workers with coverage for all legal forms of contraception. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the court allowed closely held companies to refuse birth control coverage on religious grounds.

The case is seen as pitting a woman’s access to contraception against her bosses’ religious freedom. Murkowski chose the other side of the issue in 2012, when she voted for an amendment to allow any employer with moral objections to opt out of the requirement to cover birth control. A few days later, Murkowski told Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley she regretted that vote and felt she’d let down people who’d believed in her.

Murkowski issued a written statement today saying her vote is consistent with her long-held belief that women should have access to affordable birth control. She says she’s still seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act but doesn’t think access to healthcare services should be restricted in the meantime.

The bill never stood much chance of passing, but Democrats hope the issue will help rally their base to the polls in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Authorities Investigate Explosion in Petersburg

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:33

Details are emerging about an explosion that injured a Petersburg person over the weekend and has brought federal explosives agents there to investigate.

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Petersburg police issued a press release outlining the incident and some of the resulting investigation. Since no criminal charges have been filed, police are declining to identify the person injured in the explosion Sunday other than to say it was a 59-year-old Petersburg resident.

In their press release, police say the department received a 911 call reporting a person laying outside of the hospital emergency room at one o’clock Sunday afternoon. The caller requested assistance getting the person into the hospital and reported the injury could have been caused by dynamite.

Emergency medical volunteers and firefighters along with local police officers helped hospital staff get the injured person into the emergency room. Police say the person confirmed the injuries were the result of an explosion. Police cordoned off the area shutting down the street and access to the emergency room. Officers found what appeared to be approximately 20 pounds of a gelatinized substance in a vehicle the injured person drove to the hospital. Officers notified hospital staff and moved a large dump truck directly behind the vehicle. Police say residents in the area were notified and some evacuated. Local police say they consulted with a local construction company, state Department of Transportation staff and personnel from Fort Richardson before public works employees moved the explosives away from the hospital.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are in town and have brought an explosive detecting dog. An investigator with the state fire marshal’s office is also here. A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flew in five of the responders on Monday, along with a response vehicle and equipment. Police say three sites, including the unnamed location of the explosion, were secured by local police along with U.S. Forest Service officers.

Local officers along with federal agents served search warrants Monday at a home on North Nordic Drive along with the vehicle left near Petersburg Medical Center. Officers and agents processed the scene of the explosion and the vehicle left near the hospital. Residue from the explosion site and the vehicle were tentatively identified as a commercially available explosive.

A police car was stationed outside a North Nordic Drive home belonging to Mark and Pat Weaver Monday and police tape cordoned off the yard of that home from the street. Mark Weaver turned 59 on Saturday. Other property near Cornelius Road south of town belonging to Weaver was also cordoned off by police this week.

The police investigation continues and authorities say more information will be available later.

Categories: Alaska News

Permitting Officials Explore Alternatives For Donlin Gold Mine

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:32

Donlin Gold is in a multiyear permitting process for the proposed gold mine located north of Crooked Creek about 120 miles upriver from Bethel. Scientists and engineers are now studying not just Donlin’s proposed plan, but several variations that would significantly change the mine.

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Anticipating more than 100 permits, regulators are writing a 2000-page Environmental Impact Statement about Donlin Gold’s plans to mine a million ounces of gold per year from an open pit mine. But they’re not just looking at the company’s ideas.

Taylor Brelsford is a senior scientist for URS, an international engineering and environmental company doing the heavy technical work for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The law requires that we kind of step away form the Donlin proposal and think a little more broadly about potential alternative technologies or processes and at least fully analyze those,” said Brelsford.

The team is looking at about eight major alternatives, some of which have been considered by Donlin in the past. Donlin’s proposed a hugely expensive natural gas pipeline from Cook Inlet to Southwest Alaska, plus barging diesel up the Kuskokwim. Don Kuhle is the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“A lot of we looked at were ways to reduce the amount of diesel to be barged on the Kuskokwim,” said Kuhle.

A diesel pipeline would eliminate about 40 million gallons of fuel a year going to the Junjuk port site. Brelsford says each alternative has unique challenges.

“A diesel pipeline is more difficult to build, it’s a bigger risk if there’s ever a spill, compared to LNG, so that shows the tradeoffs involved in one alternative versus another,” said Brelsford.

Another option involves having large trucks at the mine run on LNG instead of diesel. They will also study having the port site nearly 70 miles further downriver at Birch Tree Crossing.

The team of more than 50 specialists will also study changes to the mine site, such as changing the tailings dam to dry storage instead of the dammed area with water, and looking at allowing discharge of some treated waste water, rather than keeping it all on site. Another option involves running the gas pipeline through Dalzell Gorge near Rainy pass as was considered before by Donlin.

The draft EIS is not due for another year. People will then see the details of the eight alternatives. In the meantime, the Corps of Engineers does not plan to release much new information but says some details will be a newsletter this month.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska LNG Project community meeting provides questions and hope

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:31

The Alaska LNG Project hosted a community meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday night. About 90 people listened to an explanation of the newest version of a plan to get natural gas from the North Slope to market.

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Project manager Steve Butt explained this project is different from previous failed attempts to build a gas pipeline.

“An LNG project is when resource owners work together to create an infrastructure to connect that resource to a market,” Butt said. “It’s regulated differently, it has different business risks, and it’s a different business model. A pipeline is an important part of our project, but what we’re really trying to do is deliver gas to global markets, not to just any one market.”

Butt said that Alaska has some advantages over other natural gas producers. Unlike for oil, the cold weather helps when transporting gas because it keeps the gas condensed. It only takes two weeks to ship LNG to Asia from here. And the project can use some of the oil-drilling infrastructure that’s already in place.

But the hour and a half long presentation still left some community members with questions, especially about the economics of the project and the viability of the long-term LNG market. Butt says he can’t talk specifics, however they are researching markets during this preliminary design phase.

“We don’t ever really talk about but what marketers do is they work with buyers to understand their interest and appetite for the gas and they come up with structures that work for their buyers over very long time frames and prices that work. And they build in mechanisms that create different flexibilities to recognize different risks.”

Wasilla resident Carol Shay said she questions how to predict the future markets – what if China decides to use renewables instead?

“Boy, it’s a risky thing. It’s amazing,” she said. “But we might benefit tremendously, so…”

Community member Ross Bieling agreed, “It’s very important. Not just for jobs. It’s important to improve the living standards for those who haven’t enjoyed them previously.”

Bieling referenced the five potential outtakes from the line that would provide natural gas to Alaskans. At the moment, only two are set – one for Fairbanks and one for Anchorage.

At this point, the LNG project is still in the preliminary design phase. Butt said it could take up to six years to obtain the hundreds of necessary permits, secure the market, and finalize the design. Then it would take another six years and anywhere from $45 to 65 billion to build.

Categories: Alaska News

Fall Chum Season Opens on the Yukon

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:30

The fall chum salmon season on the Yukon begins Wednesday.

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Fishermen along the river are saying the fall run comes not a moment too soon. During a weekly teleconference of fishermen and fisheries managers organized by the nonprofit Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, subsistence users spanning the length of the river were vocal in their anticipation of the fall chums.

Chum Salmon. (Photo: NOAA)

“The water is high but dropping,” one fisherman near Fort Yukon said. “We’re just waiting for the fall chum, that’s going to be really important for us this year.”


“Too much humpy,” in the waters near Holy Cross, one angler said. “I think they’re going try and go for the fall chums.”


“There’s very few people fishing mainly due to the closure and lack of gear,” another added from upriver. “There’s no fish camps, no fires or smoke houses, and everybody’s just waiting for chums.”


One fishermen from the Lower Yukon merely sighed when asked about fishing in his community. “They’re just waiting on the fall chums right now.”


Fish and Game managers said the wait will mean a lot of fishing, with a strong run of 850,000 fish expected, likely more. Even with fishermen relying on chums in the face of unprecedented restrictions on fishing for king salmon, Fish and Game biologist Jeff Estensen said the fall chum run should be enough to fill out fish racks up and down the river.


“We don’t anticipate, because of our run size this year, that there will be any restrictions to the subsistence fishery,” he said. “Everybody should be able to get their subsistence needs.”


The strong fall chum run will mean commercial openings in the Lower Yukon as well. But while subsistence salmon fishing on the lower river through Galena has been open for some time, fishermen on the Upper Yukon near Stevens Village and Fort Yukon still can’t fish at all, out of concern for Chinook still making their way to spawning grounds in Canada. When it comes to those imperiled kings, Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt said the numbers are looking better than the dire predictions from earlier this year, but they’re still far from good.


“The Chinook salmon run is nearly over in the lower Yukon, and the cumulative passage at the sonar project near Pilot Station is approximately 130,000 Chinook,” she announced. Though a full week earlier than historical runs, Schmidt said the final king salmon passage—estimated to be anywhere from 47,000 thousand to 63,000 fish—is now passing the final observation point in Alaska near the community of Eagle. While the overall run may be low, Schmidt said escapement targets could still be reached, and she credited successful management and restraint from users along the river as key to reaching those targets.


“This year we’ve taken more unprecedented management actions and have not been fishing on those lower river stocks, as we have in past years,” she told the teleconference. “So that’s a good sign that the management actions we’ve taken have been able to get fish on the spawning grounds.”


As for the fishermen on the upper river still waiting for salmon, Estensen said the openings will come soon—as early as this upcoming weekend—and he said the Department of Fish and Game is prepared to halt the commercial harvest downriver if subsistence users aren’t catching what they need.


“If we get to points like we did last year where we kind of have doldrums, or kind of a lull as we like to call it, we may find ourselves pulling back a little bit on the commercial fishery to let some fish by, so we have some going up river for subsistence,” he said.


“Then, once we’re back to where we feel like we need to be, then we resume commercial fishing.”


full list of fall chum openings on the Yukon River can be found among the Alaska Department of Fish and Game releases for 2014.


Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Climate Researchers Zoom in on Plankton

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:29

Researchers collect water samples in the Chukchi Sea. (Courtesy of Amanda Kowalski/ArcticSpring.org)

They’re not recognizable like polar bears or whales. But phytoplankton are a key part of life in the Arctic – and now, they’re at the center of a new research effort to predict how the region will respond to climate change.

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Almost every animal in the Arctic eats — or eats something that consumes — phytoplankton. They’re tiny specks of algae that usually blossom into big clouds out in the ocean in the springtime.

But that’s not what Kevin Arrigo saw a few years back. He was in the Chukchi Sea for a research cruise funded by NASA.

Arrigo: “The deeper we went into the ice, the more phytoplankton there were. They reached amazing concentrations, to the point where it was the largest bloom anybody had ever seen anywhere in the world’s oceans. And it was under three feet of ice.”

Phytoplankton need two things to grow — nutrients and light.

In the past, scientists have assumed that sun can’t get through thick Arctic sea ice. But as the earth warms up, the ice is thinning out. And it’s definitely easier for light to get through.

Arrigo: “The thing we didn’t know was what the nutrient distributions look like — particularly before the bloom starts, early in the spring. Because nobody’s ever been in the Chukchi Sea, sampling the entire ocean from top to bottom at that time of year.”

That’s what Arrigo set out to do this spring, with a team of about 40 other scientists. They examined the base of Arctic food web in the Chukchi Sea, with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

That paid for a trip aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. Arrigo says it was an ideal vessel, but there were some roadblocks it couldn’t plow through.

Arrigo: “We were really unlucky in that everything happened late this year. The melt ponds never formed while we were out there. The phytoplankton under the ice never developed because there was never enough ice. But we were really happy with the results because we know now that the whole region — the entire Chukchi Sea — is really prime habitat for these things to develop.”

Bob Pickart is the lead physical oceanographer for this project. He says he’s coming away with hundreds of water samples from up and down the Chukchi Sea — all loaded down with nutrients.

Pickart: “These nutrients –- they spur the growth of the phytoplankton. And then from there on, it just spirals right up the food chain. So it’s like the base of the ecosystem. This is what it’s all about.”

Pickart says there’s a lot of work ahead to analyze the samples. His findings will be shared with other scientists on the team.

Pickart: “They have to know, why are the nutrients in the water in the first place. How did they get there? Where does the water go? What’s the timing of the water? So they have to know all about the physics of the circulation on the Chukchi Shelf in order to then understand the biology.”

Arrigo is a biologist, and he has his own questions — about the timing of the phytoplankton bloom.

Arrigo: ”Productivity has been shifting earlier and earlier, because the ice is melting earlier and earlier. But now the bloom — the productivity — is not even waiting for the ice to melt.”

If it’s coming earlier than animals are used to:

Arrigo: “What’s going to happen? Are they going to produce their offspring at a point when the bloom’s already happened, it’s too late, there’s no food in the water?”

Arrigo says the best chance of predicting that is to understand how the phytoplankton are interacting with their environment right now.

That’s why the researchers are hoping to return to the Chukchi Sea next year to gather more water samples, and a better look at the bottom of the Arctic food web.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Find Climate Cooling Effect in Ancient Thermokarst Lakes

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:28

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate. But a new study published online by the journal Nature today indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost in the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales. The study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

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Katey Walter Anthony is an Associate Professor at  the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering  She studies methane emissions from Arctic thermokarst lakes.

“Until now, we have understood these thermokarst lakes, or lakes where permafrost thaws, to be a really important source of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes the climate to warm,” she says.

A few years ago, Anthony was in a boat on a river in Siberia, when she noticed something in the sediments along the riverbank.

“We could see where ancient lakes had been eroded by the river, so we could see the lakes in cross section,” she says.  ”It looked like we were looking at a layered cake.  Those layers were the layers of sediment in the lake and we saw really thick beds of moss.”

Some time after the last glacial maximum – roughly ten thousand years ago – permafrost began to thaw.  Depressions formed, filled with water and eventually millions of small lakes started to dot the Arctic landscape. They were all emitting methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Anthony says that process probably lasted for about a thousand years.

“But those waterbodies sit around as lakes for several thousand years,” she explains, “and at some point, they burn up all of the permafrost carbon and so their methane emissions decline and as they slow down in their emissions, they speed up in their ability to soak up carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Over time, Anthony believes thick, carbon rich beds of peat moss grew as microbial decomposition declined.  She and colleagues studied more than 50 ancient lakes in parts of Siberia and Alaska.  In some places, she says they found beds of peat moss up to four meters, or 12 fee, thick.

“We would walk up to these permafrost exposures and we could pull on those mosses and it was like pulling long tendrils of spaghetti,” she laughs. “They were very well preserved and poorly decomposed, and the reason is that when the mosses grow and then senesce in these lakes, they have anaerobic bottoms.  there’s no oxygen down there and so site mosses don’t decompose and eventually, lakes drain and the sediments really quickly refreeze.  it’s like flash freezing of those mosses.”

Anthony believes lakes across the landscape have accumulated 1.6 times the amount of carbon they emitted before the lakes refroze. She says that increases the total estimated amount of carbon scientists believe is currently stored in the circumpolar permafrost region by 50 percent.  The results also show these ancient lakes actually have a net cooling effect on climate over thousands of years.

“It’s cooling the climate,” she says.  ”It’s soaking up more climate than its emitting.  It’s is offsetting human emissions.  It’s not a  avery large offset to human emissions and I think there bigger concern is that all of this very large reservoir of lake moss peat, this lake carbon, is stored in permafrost since the sediments refreeze when they drain.”

Anthony doesn’t believe this net cooling effect till offset current predications for a warmer climate in the future. “So, in the future, the projected warming of permafrost across the Arctic, will thaw all of that carbon again and make it vulnerable to decomposition by microbes and return that carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane.”

The study is published in the most recent issue of Nature.  Funding comes from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the US Geological Survey.

Categories: Alaska News
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