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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: 53 min 49 sec ago

Parnell Signs SB99 To Allow POW Mine Loans

Tue, 2014-06-17 09:41

Gov. Sean Parnell was in Ketchikan on Monday to sign into law Senate Bill 99, which allows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to issue bonds for two Southeast Alaska mining projects, plus a loan for Sitka’s Blue Lake Hydroelectric Project.

While the legislation received support from area elected bodies and business interests, a regional environmental organization questions the wisdom of investing state money in “risky” ventures.

Gov. Sean Parnell signs SB99 into law during a special Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch on Monday. (KRBD photo)

With a flourish of a pen, Parnell put his stamp of approval on up to $150 million in bonds to help finance the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare-earth mine, plus the Niblack gold, copper, zinc and silver mine – both located on Prince of Wales Island.

“Today I have the privilege of signing SB99, which is about creating new opportunity throughout the state, but primarily in this region,” Parnell said

Senator Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican and the bill’s sponsor, also attended the signing. Parnell asked her to talk about its impacts. She said the bill is a creative way to help finance projects that will benefit Alaska.

McGuire said the rare-earth prospect is particularly exciting.

“Ninety-five percent of those rare earth minerals have been produced and exported from China,” she said. “We want to be, in Alaska, the ones that take their place. We want that for national security reasons; we want it because we want the jobs.”

Ken Collison is the CEO of Ucore, the Canadian-based developer that’s exploring the Bokan project. He also spoke during the Chamber event, and said the support provided by state and local governments is good for his company when it comes to attracting other investors. Collison said it’s also good for the state; it shows that Alaska is open for business.

“This is a tough time in the mining business. It’s a natural resource business, so prices go up, prices go down. Right now, prices are down. And to be able to show that we have the kind of support that we have in the State of Alaska is huge,” he said. “We’re going to have a really active program on the site this summer – we’re going to spend a couple of million dollars on some drilling programs and some other work. Without this support, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to raise the funds to do this kind of work.”

Not everyone is happy with the prospect of using state money to finance the mining projects, though. Guy Archibald of the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said it’s risky to invest the public’s money in these two Prince of Wales mines.

“If these mines are unable to make it economically, and they declare bankruptcy, then the state of Alaska is just going to be in line with all the rest of the creditors, and they may only get paid back pennies on the dollar,” he said.

Archibald said that the loan process also sets up a conflict of interest, because the state is an investor as well as the regulatory body for permits.

“How is Alaska supposed to enforce their permits when that enforcement may affect the mining companies’ ability to pay back the loan?” he said. “Congressman (Don) Young wants to build a road to the mines, and now Governor Parnell wants to lend them money to build the mines.  What will they want next, a parade?”

The road he mentioned is a proposal by Alaska’s congressional delegation that would allow a road to both mines through federally designated roadless sections of the Tongass National Forest.

Archibald also is concerned about the potential environmental effects of both mines. He said waste rock and tailings from the Niblack mine could require perpetual water treatment, and that the Bokan mine has radioactive material.

Both projects are still in the exploratory phase.

Categories: Alaska News

Potential PSP Case Reported From Clam Beach Clams

Tue, 2014-06-17 09:28

A man reported possible symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning after consuming clams gathered near Clam Gulch on the Kenai Peninsula Saturday - one of the few beaches the state monitors.

The man recovered but reported the symptoms. He said he may have consumed Butter Clams as well as Razor Clams.

The Department of Environmental Conservation’s Clam Gulch monitoring results are not back from the lab yet.

Categories: Alaska News

One Year After Galena Flood, Rebuilding Effort Underway

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:10

A relief effort coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building nearly a dozen homes in Galena this summer. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

With warm weather here, construction projects are starting up across the state. In Galena, the sight of houses going up is particularly welcome. The 470-person village is still recovering from a catastrophic flood last year, when the break-up of an ice jam caused the Yukon River to overflow. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports on the rebuilding effort.

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It’s a humid morning in Galena, and about a dozen workers are framing a house. They’ve been working at it for about four days, and already the place is taking shape. It’s a big two-story building, with a wide footprint and space for at least four bedrooms. The goal is to finish the exterior work within a week.

Decked in a red shirt and a camouflage cowboy hat, Doug Konetchy is sawing away at wooden boards.

“Right now we are building rafters for this particular house,” says Konetchy. “It’s not particularly complicated. We just make a lot of cuts.”

Konetchy is one of the hundreds of FEMA volunteers who will work on the construction effort in Galena this summer. He’s from North Carolina, and he’s part of a Christian relief effort called Samaritan’s Purse.

Konetchy is working with a fellow tar heel named Hugh Honeycutt. Neither of them have been in Alaska before, let alone worked in the state. For one, you can’t drive to Home Depot if you need extra materials. And then there’s the rain.

“Down in the Lower 48, if it rains, you take the day off,” says Konetchy. “But here, if you take the day off, then you only have four days when you can build.”

“Or three, or two,” says Honeycutt.

So, they’ve gotten used to being damp.

“Put on a raincoat and keep going,” says Honeycutt.

The building process itself is also different. The house they’re building is striking not just for its massive size. It also happens to sit on tall steel pilings, elevated at least five feet off the ground.

“Where I live, we build them up off the ground, but not on stilts like this,” says Konetchy.

The 11 houses that FEMA volunteers are working on are raised like this. The flood came in hard and fast last year, swamping areas of town that should have been safe. So now, houses must be built above the high water mark to qualify for disaster relief.

“Everything’s up in the air,” says Konetchy. “I mean you have to lift everything up there. Every single piece, every single nail goes up.”

Steve Settle is a Galena resident who qualified for one of these elevated FEMA houses. Construction of his new place is underway as well, and its frame also rests on 25-foot pilings buried deep in the ground.

“So, this ends up being four feet something higher than the house I had before,” says Settle.

Settle says the new place will be a lot different from his old one. On top of being built to survive a flood, it will also meet new cold climate housing standards, with thicker walls and other features to make it airtight.

“It’s going to be way smaller. They say way warmer,” says Settle. It’s always nice to be way warmer anyway, you know?”

Settle has lived in Galena for 33 years, and he says the flooding of the Yukon River last April was like nothing he had ever seen.

“It was just like a bathtub,” says Settle. “Pull the plug and it just went out.”

Even though his property is fairly inland, Settle’s home was basically destroyed.

“Back of the House sloughed off,” says Settle. “The only thing that was holding that house from floating off was the power line.”

Settle says he lost a lot in the flood. But he’s looking forward to moving into his new place this fall. Right now, he’s trying to figure out where his windows will go.

“It’s probably going to be four or five, you know, so it’s going to be well lit,” says Settle. “White walls, so it will probably really glow in there.”

And, he says, it should hopefully stay dry.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismic Storm Continues in Noatak with Fifth 5.7 Quake

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:03

A fifth 5.7 magnitude quake rocks Brooks Range near Noatak. (Image: Alaska Earthquake Center)

The seismic storm in the far-western arm of the Brooks Range that began nearly two months ago continued early Monday morning.

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Another magnitude 5.7 quake in the Noatak earthquake swarm struck around 4:01 a.m. Monday. The Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks said residents reported about a minute of strong shaking.

The quake was located about 13 miles northeast of Noatak, at a depth of 15 miles.

A magnitude 4.2 shock preceded this morning’s larger quake by just one minute. The earthquake center said in online posting that it’s expecting numerous aftershocks with magnitudes up to four in the coming days.

The early-morning quake is the fifth such powerful shake since the earthquake swarm began April 18, with with two 5.7 magnitude earthquakes. Three more 5.7 temblors struck in early May and early June. In all, the larger quakes have been followed by more than 300 smaller aftershocks.

In May seismologists with the Earthquake Center installed field equipment in Noatak and Kotzebue to better monitor the activity.

Michael West, a seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake, said in early June that despite the new equipment, seismologists still don’t know what’s causing the powerful quake series. West said such earthquake swarms are usually seen near volcanoes, but with no volcanic activity in the region, there’s still no firm scientific consensus for what faults are causing earthquakes and other tectonic activity in that region of western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Public Comment Open on ‘Land Into Trust’ Until June 30

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:02

The U.S. Department of Interior is asking for public comments on a new policy that will allow it to take land into trust for Alaska Native tribes. Alaska Native leaders say the change, after years of litigation, brings them one step closer to self-determination.

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Trust status for tribal land protects it from taxation and alienation – the taking or sale of land –  and gives tribes greater jurisdiction. Reservations are trust lands, and are common throughout the lower 48. However the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, or ANCSA, transferred title to land to for-profit regional and village corporations, not to tribes.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, or ANCSA, transferred title to land to for-profit regional and village corporations, not to tribes.

Then a Department of Interior associate solicitor issued an opinion in 1978 interpreting ANCSA to mean tribes shouldn’t be allowed to put lands into trust.  Now the courts say that’s going to change, due to a lawsuit filed by the villages of Akiachak, Tuluksak, Chelkeysak, and Chilkoot. That’s good news says Moses Peter from Tuluksak, upriver from Bethel.

“Hallelujah! It’s about time. I’ve been praying, praying to the secretary of interior to put the non-ANCSA lands into trust. It’s gonna change the public policy.”

Under the new rules, tribes could put lands they own into trust, including land they’d purchased, received through an inheritance from a church, or lands transferred to tribes by Native Corporations. Mike Williams Sr., from Akiak, says the rule-change could help correct problems created by ANCSA.

“For instance, you know, not managing our own lands as tribes. We don’t have any land according to the claims. And then our hunting and fishing rights were extinguished by that law.”

Trust status basically gives tribes control over laws and management of the land, while restricting the power of the state.

Proponents of the change hope it will improve public safety. The Indian Law and Order Commission recently recommended the prohibition be removed for that very reason. Supporters say it could also enhance tribes’ ability to provide services, promote economic development and exert regulatory authority in their communities. In short, provide an avenue for more local control. Noah Andrew Sr. from Tuluksak says that’s what he wants.

“I’d like it to be within the village council itself, not with the federal trust or state involvement – get it back to our traditional government. We do have established ways of doing things and we’ve exercised them. It has been brought down from generation to generation and we’ve managed to co-manage things and that’s how we’ve succeeded.”

Heather Kendall Miller is the attorney with the Native American Rights Fund who argued the original case of Akiachak v. Salazar on behalf of the four tribes and one individual, which led to the rule change. She is urging people to submit comments telling the Department of the Interior what the rule change would mean to them.

“It’s important for people to understand that this is an opportunity for people to come forward and to discuss with assistant secretary Washburn their unique circumstances and why they believe that given those circumstances they may benefit from having lands taken into trust.”

Still, it’ll be a long process before land transfers can occur. The Department of Interior is accepting comments on the proposed rule change. Then the agency will develop a process for tribes to apply for trust status. Once an application is made, the Department still has the authority to deny the transfer. Albert Kookesh, Chairman of the Board of Sealaska Corporation in Southeast, says he understands tribes are eager for the change:

“So I can understand why the tribes are looking at it and saying to all of their corporations, ‘Let’s do something different? How bout you let us be the land owners. How bout let us be the land operators? How bout let us be the land caretakers?”

Kookesh says his corporation isn’t making plans to transfer lands to tribes but will consider it when the rule change is final.

The state of Alaska (had) intervened in the case in 2008, arguing the rule change would diminish its authority to tax tribal lands and to enforce regulations, and undermine ANCSA, views the court did not uphold. In a written statement, Anne Nelson, the state’s lead attorney on the case says the state believes the rule change is premature because the state is appealing the district court judgment.

People can review the proposed rule change and learn how to submit comments at the Department of Interior website. Comments can be submitted until June 30th.

People can review the proposed rule-change online.

Written comments can e sent via email at: consultation@bia.gov or via mail to Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs, 1849 C Street NW, MS 7328-MIB, Washington, DC 20240

Categories: Alaska News

Tentative Deal Reached On Ferry Union Contract

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:01

The state has reached tentative agreement on a new, three-year contract with the largest union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers.

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The proposal includes a 1-percent pay raise starting July 1, 2015, and 2 percent the following year.

It also calls for employees to pay $100 annually to use the ferry, a benefit the union’s regional director says extends to immediate family. Previously, workers and retirees and their families received free passage on ferries on a stand-by basis.

Terms must be approved by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the state Legislature.

The agreement keeps in place the long-standing pay differential between in-state and out-of-state employees that lawmakers debated earlier this year.

A Department of Administration spokesman says talks are continuing with the other two marine unions.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Making Progress On 100-Mile Creek Fire

Mon, 2014-06-16 17:00

Mangers of the 100-Mile Creek Wildfire response are bracing for high winds.  A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the 23,000 acre fire west of Delta Junction from noon to midnight, calling for south winds gusting to 35 miles per hour, and humidity in the 25 percent range. Over 500 firefighters are assigned to the blaze and Fire Information Officer Sarah Sarloos says a lot of work has been done.

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“The amount of firefighters that we’ve had in there the last week, they’ve been able to really establish some strong control lines on the north end of the fire. With today’s wind, it will test those lines, but the fire operations are feeling confident that those lines will hold,” she said.

The 100-Mile Creek Fire is about 20 miles west of Delta Junction, but the scar from last summer’s Mississippi Wildfire is between it and the city. The Whitestone Farms Community to the northeast is also buffered. Sarloos says much of firefighters work has been focused on protecting private properties on the fire’s west side.

“There are some recreational homes and cabins that we’ve been at and doing structure protection and structure assessment,” she said.

Sarloos says the work around the homes, which are located in the Remington Clearwater area, has been completed.

Categories: Alaska News

Invasive species could increase as climate warms

Mon, 2014-06-16 16:59

Tim Ridle scrapes Elodea out of Anchorage’s Sand Lake (Photo by Joaquin Palomino)

Tim Ridle’s porch overlooks the southern shore of Sand Lake in South Anchorage, a popular destination for fishers, boaters, pilots, and nature lovers. While once relatively pristine, an invasive weed called Elodea has taken over parts of the lake. “It looks like super thick scum,” Ridle said, while examining the green, brown, and yellow muck colonizing the lake in his backyard. “It’s almost like a disaster. You can’t describe it until you see it, and the next thing you say is, ‘wholly cow, how did that happen?’”

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Elodea is the only known invasive aquatic plant in Alaska. Since being discovered near Fairbanks in 2010, it has taken root in 15 of the state’s rivers, lakes and streams. Once established, the weed spreads quickly, crowding out spawning grounds for fish and killing off food sources for birds and other wildlife. Ridle says the plant can also be a pain-in-the-neck for boaters and pilots.

“It stops your boat it’s so thick,” he said. “You have to tilt your motor up and clean out the weeds and keep blasting until you finally get into open water.”

To manage the invasion, the state issued a quarantine on the plant in March, making it illegal to transport Elodea across Alaska’s borders. But the new policy won’t necessarily stop it from spreading. With warmer days and less ice projected for Alaska’s future, researchers worry Elodea will thrive. Increased float plane traffic—a major vector for Elodea—could also help spread the weed even further.

“If there’s less ice on the water or more ice free days, more people are going to want to be out as long as possible while the weather is good,” said Heather Stewart, a researcher with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources. “There’s going to be more plane activity throughout the season.”

Warmer weather won’t only make it harder to curb Elodea. It could also prompt a sharp increase in other invasive species throughout Alaska. Changing conditions in the Arctic are particularly concerning, especially since melting sea ice has connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The new naval passage will likely lead to an uptick in shipping, thereby increasing the potential for non-native species to be transported from one ecosystem to another. “When invasion scientists see a new corridor or a new pathway opening up by which different biota can be mixed it always sends up a big alarm signal,” said Whitman Miller, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

In Anchorage, Tim Ridle is less concerned about the future of the arctic; he’s just waiting for the state to clean out the 85-acre, Elodea-infested lake behind his home. “I [used to be able] to stand on the porch and see fish and the bottom of the lake,” he said. Now all you can see is weeds and that super thick, industrial scum on top.”

State and federal biologists are testing different herbicides in Kenai to try and eradicate Elodea. Once the results are in, they’ll look into tackling the problem in Sand Lake.

Categories: Alaska News

Weaving A Journey Of Change

Mon, 2014-06-16 16:58

Gail Cheney holds open the finished “Leadership and Change” robe, woven by her mother Della Cheney. It’s made of merino and alpaca wool. (Photo by James Franco)

The biennial culture and dance festival Celebration ended Saturday night in Juneau with a Grand Exit.

The gathering of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshians began in 1982 with just a few hundred people. This year, 7,000 were expected in Juneau for the 4-day event.

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The festival, organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, included performances, lectures and language sessions. The Juried Art Show features Della Cheney’s Ravenstail robe “Leadership and Change.”

When Cheney started weaving the robe in honor of her daughter’s doctorate, she didn’t realize she would go through her own big change.

“Every time she wraps the robe around her she is getting a hug from her family,” says Della Cheney, of her daughter Gail Cheney, who’s wearing the robe. (Photo by James Franco)

In early 2011, Della Cheney started weaving a Ravenstail robe for her daughter in honor of her doctoral degree. She had weaved about a quarter of it, when she began to feel not right.

“I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know, so I went to get my yearly test and they found something abnormal,” Cheney says.

She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She stopped weaving and had to have surgery and chemotherapy.

A year later, Cheney went back to the robe and started over. This meant undoing 14 inches of weaving, more than a year’s worth of work.

“You don’t want to have bad feelings in the robe. You don’t want to be weaving while you’re thinking bad things or in a bad place, ” Cheney’s daughter, Gail Cheney, explains. “So can you tell yourself, ‘No, I want to start again’? That’s hard when you’ve gone down as far as she did when she took it back. In the midst of all her challenges, she held herself to a very high standard.”

Gail was in the process of getting her Ph.D. in leadership and change from Antioch University, a program focused on bringing about change in workplaces and communities.

She was also the Human Resources Director at Sealaska Corp., a position she still holds. Her dissertation explored the future of Native values at an Alaska Native corporation.

Gail says Sealaska has been working on integrating Native values at a corporate level for the past few years. She uses Haa Aaní, meaning ‘our land,’ as an example:

“We have a sense of what Haa Aaní means at a community level – subsistence, maintaining our resources,” Gail says. “What does that mean at a corporate level? Perhaps it means figuring out sustainable uses because we do need to use our land, but we need to use it in way that it’s there for future generations and for everyone’s use.”

Cheney’s challenge was how to show leadership and change in her weaving. She had to work with shapes like rectangles, triangles and squares, characteristic of Ravenstail weaving.

“So I chose to do the pattern called the flying geese pattern to show the change with the geese arriving in the spring and leaving in the fall and how the leadership changes when they’re flying in a flock. They take turns leading,” Cheney says.

The robe shows three rows of geese changing direction, flying right and left, then right again. The prominent colors are red and white.

“The red color shows the power of change and the white color shows the integrity that needs to be followed in order for change to happen,” Cheney says.

On the bottom of the robe is a black design that Cheney calls, “All of Our Ancestors.” It’s the foundation of the robe.

“That’s where our lives started, was from our ancestors,” she says.

The black also represents loss.

“We had four of our family members pass away with cancer in the time I started the robe to the end,” Cheney says.

For Cheney, no evidence of cancer remains. She says weaving is a form of art therapy and helped her through the process of being OK again.

“There’s all that healing that goes on because of that long repetitive movement that you have across the 60-inch robe, going over and under. Each row is a long ways across, maybe 45 minutes to get across. And what do you think about during that time besides the pattern? Really it’s a healing time,” Cheney says.

On the top of the robe, Cheney weaved the words Keex’ Kwáan in big, bold letters, which is Tlingit for their home village of Kake. This was Gail’s idea.

“She has grown up with this love from our family in Kake, so every time she wraps the robe around her she is getting a hug from her family,” Cheney says.

After seven years of studying, Gail received her Ph.D. this past February and had the graduation ceremony in Kake to thank the community. It took her mother three years to finish the robe. In the final year, she brought the loom wherever she went. She weaved in Juneau and Kake. She even brought it to Anchorage.

Gail says the robe represents journeys they both finished.

“When I look at this I think, ‘I’m done, I’m really done.’ I still have a lot of work to do, but the piece that’s kind of been nagging at me for seven years, the wait’s gone. It’s nice to see it finished. I think she feels the same, ‘Oh thank God, I’m done.’”

The robe will outlive both of them, Cheney says. In 500 years, the robe will continue to tell their woven stories of leadership and change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 16, 2014

Mon, 2014-06-16 16:56

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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Seismic Storm Continues in Noatak with Fifth 5.7 Quake

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The seismic storm in the far-western arm of the Brooks Range that began nearly two months ago continued early this morning.

Rebuilding Continues In Galena

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With warm weather here, construction projects are getting underway across the state. In Galena, the sight of houses going up is particularly welcome. The 400-person village is still recovering from a catastrophic flood that occurred last year, when the break-up of an ice jam caused the Yukon River to overflow.

Public Comment Open on ‘Land Into Trust’ Until June 30

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The U.S. Department of Interior is asking for public comments on a new policy that will allow it to take land into trust for Alaska Native tribes. Alaska Native leaders say the change, after years of litigation, brings them one step closer to self-determination.

Tentative Deal Reached On Ferry Union Contract

The Associated Press

The state has reached tentative agreement on a new, three-year contract with the largest union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers.

Crews Making Progress On 100-Mile Creek Fire

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Mangers of the 100 Mile Creek Wildfire response are bracing for high winds. The 23,000 acre fire west of Delta Junction could have south winds gusting to 35 miles per hour, and humidity in the 25 percent range.

Invasive Species Could Increase As Climate Warms

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

For the past few years Alaska has tried to eradicate its only known invasive aquatic plant: Elodea. The sturdy weed has taken root in a handful of the state’s water bodies, threatening native birds, fish, and fauna. As ocean temperatures increase and icy days decrease, researchers worry it’s only a matter of time before Elodea-and other invasive plants and animals-spread throughout Alaska.

Weaving A Journey Of Change

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The biennial culture and dance festival Celebration ended Saturday night in Juneau with a Grand Exit.

The festival, organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, included performances, lectures and language sessions. The Juried Art Show features Della Cheney’s Ravenstail robe. When Cheney started weaving the robe in honor of her daughter’s doctorate, she didn’t realize she would go through her own big change.

British Kayakers Arrive in Unalaska

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A British kayak team that’s paddling along the Aleutian Islands reached Unalaska Sunday night.

Categories: Alaska News

British Kayakers Arrive in Unalaska

Mon, 2014-06-16 15:31

Sarah Outen sits in her kayak in Unalaska Bay on June 15, 2014. (Pipa Escalante/KUCB)

A British kayak team that’s trekking along the Aleutian Islands reached Unalaska Sunday night. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik was part of a group that paddled out to greet them.

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Clockwise from left: Sarah Outen and her kayaking partner Justine Curgenven, with Unalaskans Jeff Hancock, Josh Good, Keils Kitchen, Pipa Escalante, Melissa Good and Annie Ropeik in kayaks on Unalaska Bay. /Courtesy: Sarah Outen via Twitter

Since they set out from Adak in May, Sarah Outen and her kayaking partner Justine Curgenven have had plenty of warm welcomes in Aleutian villages. But –

Outen: “No one’s ever been out to kayak to meet us. You guys top it, in that respect.”

A group of Unalaskans in kayaks met up with the adventurers in Unalaska Bay. The pair’s last village stopover was in Nikolski, more than a week ago. Since then, they’ve been rowing and camping their way east on their own.

Curgenven: It’s been eight days from Nikolski, which is quicker than we –
Outen: Which day is it today?
Curgenven: This is day eight.
Outen: Is it Sunday? We left — yeah, last Sunday.
Curgenven: Yeah, so that was quicker than we expected. But we were lucky with the weather, so we haven’t had a day off. Normally, we’d expect to have a few days off because of the weather.

And they were greeted by more than just people on their way in toward Unalaska.

Curgenven: When we came around the corner to see the bay, it was just flat calm, the sun was out, the mountains were all beautiful — it was amazing. And then Sarah was like, “There’s a whale!” And we watched two whales — she saw it breach. I missed it, but… yeah.
Outen: And then we had sea lions kind of escort us in for a bit as well. They were braver than the ones we’ve met out further on, so that was fun.

The team was tired and hungry. But dry land, showers and beds were just a few minutes away — meaning Outen had time to stand up in her boat and snap a selfie of the whole group:

Outen: Now I’m gonna try and get in it…
Curgenven: Whoops! Oh, dear.
Outen: So if I do this… Yeah!! (laughing) Oh, excellent.

Outen is rowing and biking her way all around the world. She and Curgenven will rest in Unalaska for a few days before continuing on their way toward Homer. From there, Outen will bike across Canada, aiming to reach Nova Scotia by next March.

Outen and Curgenven will speak at the Unalaska Public Library Tuesday at 7 p.m. And you can track all of Outen’s progress at www.SarahOuten.com.

Categories: Alaska News

BBNC Educational Foundation Sells Its Donated Northern Dynasty Minerals Stock

Mon, 2014-06-16 12:09

The Education Foundation of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation has sold its donated stock in the company that’s seeking to develop the proposed Pebble Mine. Back in early April the major mining company Rio Tinto divested itself of its 19-percent interest in the proposed Pebble Mine.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, the company gave its stock investment to two non-profit organizations. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s Education Foundation was one of the recipients of the Northern Dynasty Minerals stock. They received about 9-million shares.

The Foundation announced the sale of that stock on Friday for over $6.4-million. The sale was apparently completed on June 10th. The money will be used to support the Foundation’s scholarship programs and will also be used to develop a cultural heritage program.

The Foundation’s Executive Director released a statement Friday noting that occupations that require higher levels of education and training are growing and the costs to attend post-secondary training are increasing She also pointed out that more and more BBNC shareholders are applying for scholarships through the foundation.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s Education Foundation was created back in 1991 and it’s overseen by a Board of Directors that is separate from the Board that controls the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. The Foundation only serves BBNC shareholders or their relations.

The other 9-million shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals stock was given by Rio Tinto to the Alaska Community Foundation for the creation of a new workforce development initiative called the “Vocational Fund for Alaska’s Future.” That fund has a goal of supporting programs to train Alaskans for careers in mining. That includes new training programs. ACF currently holds over $70-million over 300-different funds.

Categories: Alaska News

Clean-Up Continues on Shishmaref Fuel Spill, Source Still Unknown

Mon, 2014-06-16 12:01

Shishmaref nearshore fuel spill and absorbent boom. (Photo: Richard Kuzuguk)

Local responders and the Coast Guard continue cleaning up the oily substance floating off the coast of Shishmaref.

Amanda Barnett is a Marine Science Technician Third Class with the Coast Guard and was on the island Friday June 13, replacing sections of absorbent boom.

“There was definitely chunking and kind of like a foaming type when we came last week,” Barnett said, describing the emulsified oil. “And this week when we got eyes on scene, it was more of a sheen. There wasn’t as much of the yellow foam and thickness. Now it’s pretty much just a rainbow sheen that’s getting flushed in with the tides, and that’s what we’re trying to absorb with the boom and pads.”

Four hundred feet of boom line the north shore of the island. The boom sits three feet offshore, confining most of the product.

“We haven’t been able to see any sheen past the boom line this time since we’ve been out,” said Barnett. “So we’re pretty confident that we’re able to trap most of it that’s still remaining within our boom configuration.”

The sheen covers about a 1,200 foot area of nearshore ice with an estimated 100 gallons of product spilled. The Coast Guard first responded to the spill two weeks ago, June 5, after Shishmaref Village Police Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack with a gasoline odor” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Barnett said the Coast Guard has not located the source of the spill, but identifies the substance as a type of fuel.

Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shismaref Environmental Program and said residents can still smell the gasoline-like odor throughout the community. “The odor,” Kuzuguk said,  “is still present. The only time it’s really recognizable or when it causes a lot of attention is when the wind shifted.”

The ice surrounding the spill is in breakup. When the ice floes clear, Barnett said the investigative team can determine if the fuel source is coming from beneath the ice.

Barnett and Kuzuguk said they have received no reports of wildlife being affected by the sheen.

Samples of the product are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut.

Categories: Alaska News

New Coast Guard District 17 Commander Brings Arctic Experience

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:49

Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo inspects the District 17 crew with Rear Adm. Dan Abel. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

With the buoy tender Sycamore as a backdrop and Coast Guardsmen and women in their dress blues, Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo turned over Coast Guard District 17 command to Rear Adm. Dan Abel on Thursday.

Ostebo is known for his work in the Arctic, and Abel says he’s ready to continue what his predecessor started.

Pacific Area commander, Vice Adm. Charles Ray, praised Ostebo’s leadership over the past three years.

“Tom Ostebo has flown over, sailed across, walked the beaches more than any Coast Guardsman, I believe, in the history of this district,” Ray said.

During Ostebo’s tenure, the Coast Guard launched seasonal operations in the Arctic, where shipping traffic is on the rise. When a winter storm prevented a fuel delivery to Nome in 2012, he sent the icebreaker Healy to clear a path for a Russian tanker. He also supervised the Coast Guard’s response to the grounding of the Shell drill rig Kulluk near Kodiak in early 2013.

For these and other successes, Ostebo gave credit to the men and women under his command.

Every day you protect the nation’s commerce, you protect Alaskans, and you protect America’s greatest maritime resources,” Ostebo said. “And you do it better than anyone else, with efficiency and skill.”

Ostebo received a citation for exceptional meritorious service. He’s been nominated for a promotion to vice admiral and a post as the Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Mission Support in Washington, D.C. The position is subject to Senate confirmation. Ostebo says it will allow him to continue focusing on the Coast Guard’s Arctic mission.

He says there’s still a lot of work to be done in that part of the world.

“It’s more than just exploration. It’s the maritime commerce piece,” Ostebo told reporters after the ceremony. “It’s what’s the Bering Strait is going to look like 10, 20 years from now? Will it look like the Straits of Hormuz or the Straits of Malacca? You know, one of these big international straits.”

This will be Abel’s first tour in Alaska, but he says he’s no stranger to the Arctic. In his previous command in Boston, he supervised the International Ice Patrol. That’s the Coast Guard program established to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic to avoid another Titanic.

“We also supported Operation Nanook, which was practice mass rescue, environmental cleanup in the Arctic,” Abel said. “And the other thing we did, we supported the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum to 17 nations that band together. Eight of those are the Arctic nations.”

Abel says he plans to travel extensively in Alaska and work with local communities to learn as much as he can about the state’s unique needs.

The far reaches at these high latitudes are going to be the challenge,” he said. “And I’m going to have to learn from the folks that’ve been standing watch a little longer than I.”

Abel is already planning to visit Nome, where Mayor Denise Michels says marine traffic has increased so much that the port, which used to close in October, is now open into November.

“Last year we had over 400 dockings in Nome,” Michels said. “Every year it’s more and more. We have more cruise ships this year.”

Michels hopes Abel can visit in July, when vessel traffic is at its peak.

“Safety is a concern, environmental issues is a concern,” she said. “The marine mammal migration through the Bering Strait, which is the choke point where we’re at, you know, it’s our front yard. So, to have him understand our concerns for subsistence, food security is going to be very important for his leadership for the next couple of years.”

The Coast Guard’s 17th District is based in Juneau. The commander leads 2,500 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary personnel statewide, and manages operations over more than 3.8 million square miles and more than 44,000 miles of coastline.

Categories: Alaska News

Man killed in logging operation south of Petersburg

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:46

A 51-year-old Idaho man working on a timber sale near Banana Point south of Petersburg died Thursday after a tree top fell on him.

Alaska state troopers say Mark Debates was working as a hook setter on a logging operation on southern Mitkof Island when a tree top broke off and fell on him. He was unresponsive at the scene and was transported to Petersburg Medical Center but later died from his injuries. Debater was working for Columbia Helicopters.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Plan For Maritime Workforce

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:44

It’s a topic talked about often around Petersburg – what kind of jobs are most needed for the fishing fleets and boats of this coastal community and how to fill those jobs. A new plan released by state this spring identifies the highest work force needs around Alaska for seafood harvesting, processing, fishery management as well as ship operations and repair. The plan also lists steps forward to fill those jobs.

(KFSK photo)

The maritime industry is Alaska’s largest private employer with more than 70,000 jobs across the four sectors. More than 50,000 of those are in commercial fishing and seafood processing. But employers have told the state that the supply of skilled workers is not meeting demand – and that’s where this document comes in.

“The Alaska maritime workforce development plan really represents a way to really look at the workforce development system, from the k-12 education system, post-secondary education, any specific occupational training and then what employers are demanding, what kinds of skill sets they need and figuring out ways to bridge those two systems so that the education and training system is delivering workers with the right skill sets at the right time,” said Wanetta Ayers, business partnerships director with the state’s Department of Labor.

An advisory committee of industry representatives worked with five state agencies and the University of Alaska to draft the plan over the past two years. Kris Norosz who works with Icicle Seafoods in Petersburg was co-chair of that advisory committee. “I think the big message is there’s a lot of jobs in the maritime industry in Alaska. Many of the jobs require very similar skills. Just because you might get started on a particular career track doesn’t mean that you can’t veer off and go into something different, but still use those same skills.”

The plan names four sectors of the maritime industry. Those are seafood harvesting, seafood processing, management of fisheries and ship building, operations and repair. It also lists 23 priority occupations where a workforce is not meeting industry demand. They range from permit holders and crew members for fishing boats under the harvesting category, to plant managers, machinists and refrigerant specialists for processing plants. Under research and management, the needs are fish biologists and hatchery managers among others, while captain, deckhands and ship builders are needed for support industries.

Norosz said the plan lists strategies for helping people secure those jobs. “And those strategies might include reaching down into the middle school and high school level to make kids aware that opportunities are available, what they need to be work ready when they graduate from high school. You know we want em drug free, we’d like to have the free of any criminal record and we want them physically able to be ready to work.”

Norosz said other strategies are designed things for people who want to change careers. She noted the plan has already produced some newly trained workers through the University system. “You know as a result of just putting this plan together, we’ve already connected people to take refrigeration classes that were offered up at the Mat-Su campus that none of us knew even existed. So I think we got 12 people through that in April. And now that instructor’s going down to Dutch Harbor Unalaska to talk to the processors there and offer a class right there at one of the plants.”

Norosz said the university is also developing other training opportunities. “I know that the company I work for Icicle makes an annual donation to the University of Alaska. We put up 40 thousand dollars last fall, which the university was able to match. So with that 80 thousand dollars, they’re developing a two week program for people to go through a program for people to become employable as quality assurance technicians.”

Once workers are trained, the next step is connecting them with job opportunities and employers.
To that end, the department of labors Ayers said the agency plans to rollout a new website portal for people to explore careers and opportunities online. “For example you’ll be able to go in on the maritime jobs site and take a look at biometrician let’s say or even an electrician, that’s also one of the priority occupations in the maritime industry and see not only the labor market information for that, what’s the typical wages, what kind of outlook for growth in that particular occupation and then also listed on that same page are what the training resources are to be able to prepare for that occupation.”

The plan is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Assembly Passes Truancy Ordinance

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:26

The Fairbanks North Star Borough assembly passed a truancy ordinance last night.  The ordinance lines out local policy addressing chronic unexcused absence from school including fines for repeated offenses.

The approved ordinance is less strict and cumbersome than one in state law. It reflects a request from the school board for a policy more aimed at getting students back in class, but many parents who testified at last night’s assembly meeting took offense.

Shalom Perkins, a mother of six, objected to the idea of government involvement in whether or not kids go to school. “The removal of parental rights from the decisions made about one’s children, especially with regards to their education, upbringing  and beliefs is wrong,” she said.

Perkins expressed concern that the truancy policy, which must be approved by the school board, could later be amended to be more onerous. School Board member Sue Hull said school board board administrative regulations would be much more specific then the ordinance, but emphasized the need for local truancy regulations, especially for high school kids.

“Parents are often frustrated, as are teachers, that there aren’t some teeth. They see these kids that think they can pass without being in class and the teachers and others know they can’t, and then they get behind and end up dropping out of school. So staff as well as parents have asked that there be more teeth in our attendance policy so that kids would take it more seriously,” Hull said.

The truancy ordinance passed the assembly 7-1, with member Lance Roberts opposed. It now goes before the school board.

Among other business attended to by the assembly last night was passage of an ordinance amending local zoning to allow operation of alcohol distilleries in the downtown area. The change was prompted by local businessman who plans to start a small scale craft distillery and tasting room in the old Fairbanks City Hall building on Cushman Street.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Fishermen Look To Loosen Restrictions at Yupiit Nation Forum

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:09

Kuskokwim fishermen looked for some relief from the king salmon restrictions at a Yupiit Nation tribal fish forum in Bethel on Friday.

Kuskokwim leaders on Friday heard about the widespread restlessness, fear of famine, and even anxiety over facebook pictures of various fish racks. Whatever the stress level may be, Yupiit Nation Chief Mike Williams and Working Group co-chair Bev Hoffman did not agree on whether subsistence fishers are at a breaking point.

(KYUK photo)

“People need to at least put something on their racks and obviate the possibility of civil disobedience. We’re trying to not get there. I think we’re down to that point,” said Williams. -Hoffman: “No, we’re not’- Mike: That’s what’s we’re trying to avoid,” said Williams.

Fishing opportunity for other species of salmon is expected, but managers can’t yet commit to an exact day. Several fishermen Friday asked for a chance to get some kings. Father Alexander is from Kwethluk.

“If at least they can give us a week to fish, if not give us at least three days. Our elders used to say whenever they fish and catch at least 10, they used to say, there will be no hunger,” said Alexander.

After a full day of hearing from fishermen Acting Refuge manager Brian McCaffery alluded to the tremendous fishing power of the river’s 2,000 subsistence households.

“We simply can’t have a directed Chinook opening, even a four hour opening could take out 40,000 fish during the peak of the run which is why we don’t want to have an opening during the peak of the run. We want it on the backside when the chum and sockeye have increased considerably,” said McCaffery.

The Bethel Test Fishery numbers by most accounts look great. The index including Thursday stood at 252. Last summer it was July 10th before that abundance of fish had moved past Bethel. But with no real harvest below Bethel, no one is certain what it means. McCaffery is waiting a few more days for more data before setting a 6” gillnet opening.

“This is an early run, if it sustains itself, if these prelimary numbers continue to be positive, which is your hope and my hope, then we should be able to open before the 23rd, but it’s still too early to give you guys a date,” said McCaffery.

The small crowd of lower river subsistence fishers has mostly cleared before Mike Williams floated the general strategy that Yupitt Nation urge that the federal manager to open up for gillnet fishing as soon as possible, based on test fishery data.

As the season approaches the typical peak of the run, Bev Hoffman repeated the working group’s strategy that puts chinook escapement as the top priority and allows for harvest of other species in the coming weeks.

“Once we’re assured that we’re going to make escapement and the chums are mixing with the reds we’ll have incidental kings with the reds, you know that, we’re just not going to be able to fill our racks with kings this year and maybe not for a while, said Hoffman.

The Kuskokwim Working Group will meet Tuesday in Bethel to hear from managers whether enough fish have passed to look towards loosening the restrictions.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Painted as Soft on VA Scandal

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:49

Alleging a senator is indifferent to vets is serious anywhere. Even more so in Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita. Anti-Begich ads, running on nearly half a million dollars of Alaska airtime, aim to plant Begich in the midst of the scandal.

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“Veterans died waiting for care that never came,” says one. “Sen. Mark Begich sits on the veterans affairs committee. His response: ‘If there’s a problem, they need to fix it.’ If there’s a problem?”

It’s paid for by Crossroads GPS, a national group running ads against Begich and for Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.  Sullivan highlighted the same Begich “if there’s a problem” quote in an op-ed published last month in the Anchorage Daily News. Sullivan says Begich acts like he’s a mere bystander to the veteran crisis.

But FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, says the ad misuses the Begich quote, which is from a Wall Street Journal story. In it, Begich says the administration should have learned its lesson from the healthcare.gov website debacle. The exact Begich quote in the journal is:  “They should have learned from that – If there’s a problem, they need to fix it.” FactCheck says Begich did react to the VA scandal. He called for an immediate hearing, wrote then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki to express outrage, and at a hearing last month, Begich pressed Shinseki on why no one had been fired for falsifying records.

Crossroads unveiled a new TV ad this week, still painting Begich as disengaged on the scandal and suggesting that all he did was write a letter.

Begich is trying to show that he IS helping. He’s trumpeting Senate passage of a bill this week aimed at getting veterans quicker access to care. Begich says it relies on a solution he’s been pressing since he first ran for Senate in 2008 – allowing vets to make appointments at non-VA facilities.

“When I campaigned on the hero’s health card (bill), I just believed that we had a resource that we could maximize, that we could move forward on, that we could make a difference for our veterans,” he said on the Senate floor yesterday. “And we’re seeing it.”

In Alaska, the VA has agreements with Native hospitals and clinics and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center that have reduced VA wait times to among the lowest in the country. But that brings us to another charge Begich is facing – that he claims credit for successes that weren’t his alone. Alaska Congressman Don Young knocked Begich for it in a campaign video that surfaced on YouTube this week.

“Don’t take credit for something you did not do,” Young scolded in the video. ” And when we do something together, say we did it. I think it’d be a lot better.”

 The Senate record shows Begich has pressed to have vets seen at Alaska Native health centers for years. But it also shows Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing that cause since at least 2007, back when Begich was still mayor of Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Considering Transfer Of HAARP Facility To UAF

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:48

The Air Force has paused a plan to demolish the HAARP facility, as it reconsiders options for transferring its ionospheric research infrastructure near Gakona to another entity. That could be the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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The University of Alaska Fairbanks would own and operate the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility under a proposal before the Air Force. UAF Geophysical Institute Director Bob McCoy confirms the university has been pursuing the possibility of taking over HAARP. ”President Gamble and Chanellor Rogers volunteered to take ownership, but so far we haven’t completed these discussions,” he said.

(Image by United States Federal Government)

McCoy says the offer was initially made during a HAARP summit held in Washington, D.C. at the end of February.  HAARP employs large generators to send powerful radio signals through a field of 180 antennas into the ionosphere, to stimulate activity like aurora.

It’s the most powerful of three so called “atmospheric heaters” in the world, and widely acknowledged as valuable for communications and other research, but the Air Force has decided it no longer needs the facility and closed it last year. It’s slated for demolition this summer unless a new operator is found, and alternative funding can be secured.  McCoy says HAARP is expensive to operate.

“There’s maintenance and there’s operations and when it’s running it consumes quite a bit of diesel, so we’re trying to figure out ways to share the cost among government agencies so that we can continue to use it,” he said.

McCoy likens UAF taking on HAARP to the university’s management of the Poker Flat Rocket Range outside Fairbanks for NASA

“The University of Alaska and the Geophysical Institute, we own it. Scientists from around the country propose to NASA, get funding, build rockets, come here and we help NASA launch them. That’s a good model, and we operate it fairly cost effectively. NASA likes us,” he said.

McCoy cites similar partnerships with government agencies under which UAF is funded to operate the Alaska Earthquake Information Center and Alaska Satellite facility.  UAF scientists have long used HAARP for research.

UAF assistant professor of space engineering physics Chris Fallen says, ”I’m using HAARP to understand or model the artificial blue aurora and enhanced plamsa ionization.” He says the loss of HAARP would handicap his research.

“Without HAARP, we basically have to wait for nature to create various events in the upper atmosphere that we can then study and try to explain,” he said.

Fallen and other scientists have worked at HARRP at the invitation of the Air Force. He says if UAF took it over, scientists could contract out time at the facility. Dozens of researchers from around the world have signed a petition and submitted letters of support for HAARP’s continued operation. The documents were forwarded to the Secretary of Defense by Senator Lisa Murkowski. Spokesman Mathew Felling emphasizes HAARP’s future hinges on funding.

“America invested $300 million in HAARP, and it costs less than one percent of that to keep it running every year. The science is not in question. This is completely an economic exercise, and Murkowski wants to bring people together to see what creative approaches can be found,” he said.

Felling says HAARP has been poor at self promotion, but the recent discussion about it being scrapped has raised its profile.  Felling says the Air Force is expected to make an announcement about HAARP’s future as early as Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

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