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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: 43 min 36 sec ago

High Energy Prices Driving Builders, Homebuyers to More Efficient Housing

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:11

UAF Professor Tom Marsik, who now teaches at the Bristol Bay Campus, at his home in Dillingham. The 600-square-foot, extremely energy-efficient house has been certified as the world’s most airtight house. (Credit KDLG)

As energy prices continue to rise, Alaskan engineers and builders are pushing the envelope in the quest to build ever-more energy-efficient housing. Some of those innovations are making their way into residential construction, as builders look to meet homebuyers’ demand.

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UAF professor Tom Marsik has built what he says is the world’s most efficient house, a small, airtight structure that he and some friends built in Dillingham a couple of years ago.

“It’s extremely insulated – we’re talking 28-inch thick walls, just to put it in perspective,” Marsik said.

Those thick walls are rated at R-90, nearly four times more than the required R-21 for walls; and the ceiling’s R-140 rating is nearly triple the required R-49.

Marsik and friend Gordon Isaacs conduct a blower door test on Marsik’s home in March 2013 to determine how tightly it’s sealed. The test was certified by the World Record Academy, which declared the structure was “the world’s most airtight house.” (Credit KDLG)

Marsik, who teaches sustainable energy, says on most days he can warm his small, airtight home with about the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair-dryer.

“Last year, it cost us about one-hundred-fifty dollars to heat the home for the entire year,” he said.

Marsik says he was inspired to build the house after spending a few winters here in Fairbanks teaching at the main UAF campus.

Cold Climate Housing Research Center President and CEO Jack Hebert marvels at the work of Marsik and others he calls “pioneers” of efficient homebuilding. He includes Thorsten Chlupp, a Fairbanks-area builder who like Marsik has constructed highly efficient homes that are super-insulated and that also often employ sustainable-energy heating systems.

“There’s amazing things done in Alaska by very creative people – like Tom, like Thorsten, like others in the state who’ve always been pioneers in housing,” he said.

But Hebert says not all the advances developed by those pioneers in their quest for a home that requires little, if any additional energy to heat, will make their way into mainstream homebuilding. Because some are too expensive or unappealing to homebuyers.

“I think these pioneers and creative people right now that are approaching net-zero with their passive houses and the work that they’re doing on extremely energy-efficient envelope small home – extremely admirable. But how can we incorporate that into the mainstream, where the market says I don’t want to live in a house like that, or I can’t afford it?”

That’s the challenge that green homebuilders like Aaron Welterlen confront. Welterlen’s Fairbanks-based company, WV Builders, touts its line of energy-efficient and affordable homes. He says most of his customers tend to be first-time homebuyers, often young families or people temporarily here, like military personnel or contractors.

Welterlen says homebuyers in the Interior have increasingly shown a preference for energy-efficient homes in recent years since, not coincidentally, the price of heating oil began its rise to $4 a gallon. But he says he must weigh how many of those features a prospective homebuyer is willing to pay for. Because such features as super-insulated windows and ground-source heat pumps – which extract heat from underground – all add to the upfront cost.

“So we as builders are trying to find ways, constantly, of how do you give people the best house that they can afford, the most energy-efficient house they can afford, for a cost that is reasonable to them – without having them having to bankrupt themselves in order to get into a house.”

Welterlen says despite such incentives as rebates of up to ten-thousand dollars offered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and the payback that energy-efficient features promise, many homeowners still just can’t get past the sticker shock of, for example, a twenty-thousand-dollar ground-source heat pump.

“Yes, the ground-source heat pump is still more expensive, but it’s about 50 percent cheaper to operate,” he said. “So if we can convince the client to spend some money out of their own pocket at the beginning, then you have a heating cost which is now about 50 percent less, so you’re heating a house for a hundred and 10 dollars a month in winter – it kind of becomes unbeatable, very quickly, in the long term.”

Hebert says that shows that shows a demand for energy-efficient homes – but, for many, it’s a demand that has limits, based on cost.

“The market is really the loudest voice,” he said. “If the market starts to demand energy efficiency – a highly efficient heating appliance over a commercial range in the kitchen – then that market demand will start to drive where the builders go.”

Hebert and Welterlen both say that’s already happened, as shown by homebuyers’ sustained interest in energy efficiency. Hebert says building on that progress won’t be easy, and will require educating homeowners by getting the word out about breakthroughs in efficiency and introducing them into the marketplace, then making the case on investing more now to reap the energy savings later.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate F Race Pits Valley Educator Against Seasoned Legislator

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:10

Republican incumbent Bill Stoltze (left) and Democratic challenger Patricia Chesbro (left). (Photos by Josh Edge/APRN)

A new District – Senate F – was created with last year’s state redistricting plan, and now two candidates with solid ties to the the area want to represent it in Juneau. Educator Pat Chesbro, a Democrat, is challenging long – time House Republican representative Bill Stoltze for the seat.

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Senate F is regarded as the gateway between the Matanuska Susitna Borough and the easternmost Anchorage suburbs. It stretches from Palmer, and the outskirts of Wasilla to Chugiak. Republican Bill Stoltze has served some outlying Palmer voting precincts – Lazy Mountain and Springer Loop – for many terms in the state House.

Earlier this year, Stoltze chose a downtown Palmer location to announce his decision not to seek another House term in order to run for the new Senate seat.

“I am going to ask your permisstion” Stoltze told an audience of seniors, ” and ask to become your new state senator.”

But the Democrats have positioned a strong challenger. Pat Chesbro has served the area for years, too. Chesbro was a Palmer teacher and school principal for 25 years, did a stint as superintendent of the Mat Su Borough School District, taught at UAA, and administered a statewide federal education grant.

“You know, I have experience in institutions too, and I think at some point in time, unless you shift your focus a little bit, sometimes you loose perspective. And as I read about and learn about what’s happening in the legislature, I just became more convinced that people needed a viable choice.” Chesbro said.

Chesbro has one legislative run behind her.. she ran against Stoltze in 2008.

Stoltze, first elected in 2002, has co-chaired the House Finance committee from 2008 until this year, before that, he was vice chair of House Finance. He says next session, legislators will have to make some tough budget decisions — many of them regarding social services and state pension obligations.

“Fiscal analysts have warned us about another 250 to 300 million dollars in increased pension obligation costs that are going to be before us, notwithstanding the three million dollars forward funding of that to help pay down that debt. The issue of , well the best way to control the spiral of that cost, and the three biggest drivers are Medicaid and welfare increases, and just in FY 06 I think, it was 360 or 380 million dollars. Now it’s over 700 million dollars.”

Chesbro says UAA data indicates state spending is a “billion dollars more than conditions allow”, and one place to look for cuts would be proposed capital projects.

“I think we’ve begun to invest in too many projects at this point, especially, you know, as we continue to talk about where, well where’s the money going and where’s the money coming from to support all of these things. I also think people are underestimating.. for example, let’s take the bridge.. I think people are underestimating the amount of infrastructure development that needs to happen on the Mat Su side, after that bridge is done. Who’s going to pay for that?”

‘That bridge’ is the Knik Arm Crossing, and it gets Stoltze’s support.

“I’m in support of it with a caution of the cost. But I think the opportunities that it represents are pretty big. In conjunction with the gasline development and the opportunity to create a real foundational economic base in the Valley. Right now is a great opportunity .. we have a deeper port than Anchorage does, it’s a ready made industrial port,” he said.

They differ on the Susitna -Watana dam too. Stoltz supports the hydro project, Chesbro says the dam benefits only the Railbelt, and she would favor small, localized renewable projects to benefit bush communities.

The two candidates spar on educational issues, as well.

“I believe that we have given education a short shrift in last year’s, not just in funding but sort of our attitude toward our educators and education. And I think that that needs to shift, ” Chesbro says. Chesbro supports state funding for preschools and funding a year in advance for school districts.

Stoltze points to population growth in the Mat Su, and the current range of educational choices there. He says

“Our delegation and myself as well are going to work on making sure that they have places to put their kids. And that’s just not our brick and mortar, but that’s opportunities for home school, charter school, and looking at the customer side of the counter of an education. Making sure that we have educational opportunities that are relevant and accountable to for what’s best for our students. The constituency for the schools shouldn’t be a teachers union, it shouldn’t be employees, it should be the parent’s and their children.”

Both candidates  have reservations about marijuana. Chesbro supports a minimum wage hike, Stoltze says he’s not sure about that.  And both have some innovative ideas.

Chesbro says she’d like the state to invest 25 million dollars in an Angel Fund to help local entrepreneurs.

“I think we can turn around some of these fiscal issues we have. I think we can invest in new and innovative industries in Alaska, so that people can have good jobs. Oil and gas have been really important in our lives, and will continue to be, but its not the only thing that we can do. I am optimistic that we can make it better by tapping and investing in Alaskans. ”

Stoltze says he’d like to continue work to support an elected state Attorney General’s office. He says an elected AG would be more responsive to criminal issues. Election day is November 4.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Writer Presents Simple Philosophy On Wildlife

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:09

Bill Sherwonit knows a thing or two about Alaska wildlife. The Anchorage based writer has spent decades traipsing through swamps, forging rivers and hiking mountains studying and writing about Alaska’s critters. From the superstars like grizzly bears, moose and caribou to the lowly wood frog. Even shrews and spiders have been given respectful literary treatment.

Sherwonit has a simple philosophy about his relationship with wild animals

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Categories: Alaska News

Ret. Colonel runs for House District 15, seeks to reduce and realign budget

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:33

Candidate Laurie Hummel for House District 15

A political newcomer is vying for the House seat in Anchorage’s district 15, which contains Muldoon and Elmendorf. Retired Army Colonel Laurie Hummel, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Gabrielle Ladoux, who has served in the legislature representing first Kodiak and now district 15. KSKA spoke with Hummel about her campaign. Ladoux did not respond to requests for an interview.


Laurie Hummel’s calm, measured speech is peppered with expressions like, “It felt like I was pushing a wet noodle uphill each and every day.”

She was describing trying to integrate women into the Afghan military academy.

Hummel says she never planned to run for office after her 34 years in the military. But she says she saw that many politicians were “hiding the football sometimes and not being forthright.”

Hummel says Alaska’s politicians have drained the state’s budget because ”we spend money like a drunken sailor. The Legislative Office Building comes to mind as an egregious example of spending the people’s money to feather your own nest. That’s just ridiculous.”

And that’s why she’s running for state house. Hummel says she doesn’t want to be a long-term politician — she’s already had her career that’s included teaching geography at West Point and being commissioned into the military intelligence corps. But she says she wants to see changes to avoid a grim future for the state.

“So good-bye PFDs, hello income taxes,” she states bluntly.  ”That’s not a place we have to go and we shouldn’t go. We have to get our priorities arranged. We have to spend where we need to spend and no where else.”

Hummel says the spending should be focused on education statewide so that Alaska’s students are prepared to work on projects like the gasline. She says money needs to go back into Muldoon to provide things like parks, sidewalks, and street lighting.

Hummel thinks getting there will take negotiations and compromise, skills she learned when working with international forces on nation building projects and when earning a master’s degree in strategy.

“Throughout my career I’ve had a lot of opportunity to hone my negotiation skills, but also to bring people of differing backgrounds and opinions together. Get them on the same team, and help everybody to look forward to make progress.”

Hummel moved to Alaska for the first time in October of 1996. She lives with her husband in Muldoon.

Her challenger, Gabrielle Ledoux, has been in the state for 36 years. Ledoux did not respond to requests for an interview and declined an invitation to appear on Alaska Public Media’s Running program.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Top National Guard Leaders Fired

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:17

Three leaders of the Alaska National Guard have been fired from their positions.

The removal of Brig. General Catherine Jorgensen, Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, and Col. Edith Grunwald was announced Monday night, and came at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell.

In an appearance on Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning, Parnell declined to give specifics on the staffing change, citing personnel confidentiality. He did say the decision related to an investigation done by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations. The findings were released in September, and they described cronyism, fraud, and the mishandling of sexual assault.

“The report was pretty scathing with respect to the troops and the airmen not having confidence in their leadership. And clearly that played a role in this,” said Parnell.

Two of the leaders targeted for removal were already fired earlier this month, only to be rehired within a day.
Jorgenson, who has served as chief of staff for the Alaska National Guard, and Grunwald, who directed human resources, were slashed from their positions by Acting Adjutant General Mike Bridges. At the time, Bridges said were reinstated at Parnell’s direction to avoid the perception of impropriety because both – along with Bridges – had applied for the Guard’s top position.

All three of the removed leaders had applications in with the Governor’s Office for the position of Adjutant General as of Friday. They are no longer under consideration for the post.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 21, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:07

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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3 Alaska National Guard Leaders Fired Monday

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Three leaders of the Alaska National Guard have been fired from their positions.

The removal of Brig. General Catherine Jorgensen, Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, and Col. Edith Grunwald was announced Monday night, and came at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell.

Military Recruiters Banned From Anchorage, Mat-Su Schools

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Military recruiters are no longer welcome at Anchorage schools. Superintendent Ed Graff made the decision after the Anchorage Press published allegations that an Army National Guard recruiter had sex with and made sexual advances toward high school JROTC cadets.

The Mat-Su Borough School District has also temporarily suspended all military recruitment in Valley schools.

Federally-Managed Cook Inlet Waters Could Open Up For Oil, Gas Exploration

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet could open up for oil and gas exploration in the next few years. Industry interest has spurred the review of sites along the Inlet by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM held the first of two meet-and-greets yesterday with Peninsula residents to reopen the conversation about the proposed sale. Today, it released its intent to draft an environmental impact statement in support of a potential sale.

False Pass Forges Ahead With Tidal Power

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The 40-odd residents of False Pass have waited years to find out if their turbulent seas could ever be used as a source of energy. And they may finally have an answer – and a path to renewable power.

Wrangell Doctor Appears In Court Again After Arrest For Child Porn

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A Wrangell doctor arrested last week for possessing and distributing child pornography appeared in court again yesterday.

After Hazing, Juneau School District Tries To Move Forward

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School District has spent at least $20,000 investigating and dealing with last May’s hazing incident where seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen.

The district took disciplinary action, which resulted in one student appeal. The school board will decide Tuesday behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

AVCP Works to Reopen Flight School

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Association of Village Council Presidents is working toward reopening their flight School, Yuut Yaqungviat, in Bethel.

Public Meetings Begin On Proposed Park Service Sport Hunting Ban

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Park Service will host 17 public hearings across the state beginning Tuesday through November 20th to address the agency’s proposals to prohibit some sport hunting on National Park and Preserve lands.

Courts Rule Against 2 Plaintiffs Challenging Park Service Authority

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 9th Circuit Court of appeals has ruled against plaintiffs in 2 cases challenging National Park Service authority. The court found against hunters John Sturgeon of Anchorage and Jim Wilde of Central, who challenged park service regulation of state waters inside Yukon Charley Rivers Park and Preserve.

After Two Years, Biologist is Still Trying to Count Alaska’s Migratory Shorebirds

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Two years ago, one biologist set out to try and count the number of shorebirds that migrate to and from Alaska each summer. The data collected in conjunction with the National Park Service the will help wildlife managers track bird reproduction and survival rates. It may also be useful as off shore oil and gas development moves ahead.

Ketchikan Assembly Says No To Adding Official Prayer

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly rejected an ordinance Monday night that would have added prayer to the regular meeting agenda. The issue was controversial, with many residents voicing opinions on the issue.

Categories: Alaska News

Military Recruiters Banned From Anchorage, Mat-Su Schools

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:06

Military recruiters are no longer welcome at Anchorage schools. Superintendent Ed Graff made the decision after the Anchorage Press published allegations that an Army National Guard recruiter had sex with and made sexual advances toward high school JROTC cadets.

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The Mat-Su Borough School District has also temporarily suspended all military recruitment in Valley schools.

The district is currently reviewing its protocols regarding military recruitment, saying it “values its partnership with the military,” but the safety of students is its highest priority.

Categories: Alaska News

Federally-Managed Cook Inlet Waters Could Open Up For Oil, Gas Exploration

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:05

The federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet could open up for oil and gas exploration in the next few years. Industry interest has spurred the review of sites along the Inlet by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM held the first of two meet-and-greets yesterday with Peninsula residents to reopen the conversation about the proposed sale. Today, it released its intent to draft an environmental impact statement in support of a potential sale.

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Categories: Alaska News

False Pass Forges Ahead With Tidal Power

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:04

The 40-odd residents of False Pass have waited years to find out if their turbulent seas could ever be used as a source of energy. And they may finally have an answer — and a path to renewable power.

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False Pass sits at the very edge of the Aleutian chain. The only thing separating it from mainland Alaska is a narrow strip of water with a lot of oomph behind it.

(Courtesy of Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

“I mean, you can just see it being on the dock. You watch it rolling by,” says city clerk Chris Emrich. “If you put your fishing line out there? It’s dragged fifty yards within a matter of minutes.”

That force prompted a team of scientists, engineers, and utility experts to kick off an investigation in 2012. Now, they’ve come up with a plan to save False Pass money and fuel by making power with a high-tech ocean turbine.

It’s kind of like harnessing wind, says lead scientist Bruce Wright. But the ocean’s more predictable.

“Also, water is a couple hundred times more dense than air,” Wright says. “So we should be able to produce an awful lot of electricity.”

Enough for five towns the size of False Pass, according to theirresearch. That didn’t come as a shock, but the exact source of that energy did.

Wright used to think a wide-ranging coastal current system was speeding past as it traveled to the Arctic. And he thought False Pass could be the first town in the country to harness that current system for power.

But when researchers dropped a meter into the water, that’s not what they saw. Instead, it was “only the best tidal current we’ve ever measured,” Wright laughs.

Tides are still pretty new, but they have been used for energy before. And that means False Pass should be able to tap into them a lot faster.

“If we get funding, it could happen in four years,” Wright says. “And if we get our permits squared away, it may be less than that.”

Besides permitting, the next step is finding the right spot to put a turbine underwater. It should be where the tides are strongest. But it can’t be too far from town, to avoid the need for expensive transmission lines.

Either way, the costs will be steep — somewhere between $5 and 7 million dollars, according to the turbine manufacturer.

Ocean Renewable Power Company has been running tests around the state, and they have their eye on False Pass. But manager Monty Worthington says they won’t install anything without running the numbers “to assure that this would be a benefit to the community.”

“Not just in the environmental sense, but in the sense of saving them money on their energy and stabilizing their energy costs,” Worthington says.

Electric rates are triple the national average in False Pass. And they can go higher, depending on the cost of diesel. Just getting that fuel can be a challenge.

Last year, the commercial supplier for False Pass shut down. The local government and city clerk Chris Emrich scrambled to fill the gap.

“So we had to convert to one of our tanks into a stove oil tank and the city’s been selling gas,” Emrich says. “Me personally? I’ll be so glad when I don’t have to deal with that too.”

As of this month, the community development quota group for the Aleutians is taking over. They built a new fuel storage facility, to go with their newly remodeled fish plant.

The Bering Pacific Seafoods factory has been expanded so it can stay open year-round.

Processing fish takes a lot of power, and having stable demand should help an expensive tidal energy system pencil out. At least, that’s the argument that Emrich and others are making as they apply for grants to keep the project moving forward.

If tidal power works in False Pass, “then the next village down, it’ll get cheaper,” Emrich says. “And as these get to be more mainstream, hopefully they’ll become very cost-effective within a few years after that.”

And hopefully, that would create a rising tide of affordable — and clean — energy around the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Doctor Appears In Court Again After Arrest For Child Porn

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:03

A Wrangell doctor arrested last week for possessing and distributing child pornography appeared in court again Monday.

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Doctor Greg Salard arrived in U.S. District Court in Juneau dressed in orange prison garb and wearing handcuffs and leg shackles. As he was being escorted into the courtroom by U.S. Marshals, he hid his face from photographers using the cardboard from an unused Fed Ex box.

Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith presided over the ten minute hearing by video conference from Anchorage.

Salard made a request for a court-appointed defender to represent him in the case.

Private defense attorney Michael Nash made a limited appearance by telephone, but – Salard said- “I can’t afford to pay him anymore.” Salard said he had been fired from his job. But he did not specify whether he was let go from Alaska Island Community Services, Wrangell Medical Center, or both institutions. He also said he owned no cars or trucks as assets, owed alimony and child support, and also had a ‘substantial debt’ that was owed to the Internal Revenue Service.

Salard was arrested at his home in Wrangell last week after federal investigators allegedly tracked him using his home computer and a peer-to-peer network to trade in sexually explicit photos and videos of children. Arresting officers say they executed a search warrant just as Salard was attempting to delete all of his files from his computer.

Categories: Alaska News

After Hazing, Juneau School District Tries To Move Forward

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:02

The Juneau School District offices. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The Juneau School District has spent at least $20,000 investigating and dealing with last May’s hazing incident where seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen.

The district took disciplinary action, which resulted in one student appeal. The school board will decide tonight (Tuesday) behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

The school district is trying to move forward proactively.

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As an athlete at Juneau-Douglas High School, junior Jon Scudder doesn’t think hazing is an issue, even in light of last May’s hazing incident when seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen. He’s been playing soccer and tennis since freshman year.

“I think that it got carried away this one time, but I do not think it’s a problem,” Jon says.

He says he hasn’t noticed an uptick of anti-bullying or anti-hazing messages from his coaches or teachers since the paddling.

“At the beginning of the sport, whatever it is, every student gets a talk about how bullying is not all right, drugs are not all right. Just the standard talk about all the things that you can’t do if you want to participate in these sports and I think it’s pretty standard every single year,” Jon says.

During the Juneau school board’s September meeting, state education commissioner Mike Hanley said athletic coaches are partly responsible for changing the culture of hazing. A couple weeks later, Juneau School District superintendent Mark Miller says he met with around 80 middle and high school coaches and activity instructors during two closed meetings.

“I made it clear – and everybody was on the same page before; I just reiterated – that hazing and bullying is not acceptable and that coaches need to be proactive in stopping it and report it immediately if they find out that it’s occurred,” Miller says.

The school district has spent at least $20,000 on the hazing investigation. Now, the district is in discussions with Gonzalez Marketing, an advertising and media firm in Anchorage. Miller says the firm will train sports and activities staff on how to more effectively communicate with media, parents and students. He says how staff represents the district is important.

“All coaches have at one time or another said something that they in retrospect would take back or speak differently. This is just a way to get everybody together and do some practicing,” Miller says.

The district is also sending two staff members to Arizona for intensive training on restorative justice, an alternative to traditional punishments of suspension and expulsion. It focuses on promoting respect, taking responsibility and strengthening relationships.

Miller says the goal is to implement a restorative justice plan throughout the district.

“Sending kids home from school as punishment has been shown to be terribly ineffective in both changing behavior and in improving the quality of education in the district,” he says.

The district never released who was punished for the May hazing incident due to student privacy rights. There was one appeal from the discipline process and Miller says the school board will decide tonight behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

Jon Scudder says he doesn’t need to know what the punishment was. As a student, he thinks the message on hazing is clear.

“People have realized that, like, if you do it, you will get caught and that it’s not all right,” Jon says.

He just wants everyone to focus on the positive.

“I feel like there was an incident that was a problem but that’s in the past and that we can move on and I think we’ve learned from it and that we can be a stronger community as a whole,” Jon says.

Jon will be a senior next year and he plans to welcome the incoming class with the same respect and encouragement he received as a freshman.

Categories: Alaska News

AVCP Works to Reopen Flight School

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:01

The Association of Village Council Presidents is working toward reopening their flight School, Yuut Yaqungviat, in Bethel. AVCP President Myron Naneng says bringing back the flight school is part of an economic development strategy.

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“Jobs, jobs , jobs, that are provided as an opportunity for many of our young people within our region and other parts of the state that may want to become pilots,” said Naneng.

Originally opened in 2003, AVCP closed the flight school last fall, citing diminished federal funding and high operating costs. AVCP is now pursuing a new funding plan as a Regional Training Center, and is currently building new energy efficient housing for students with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. Naneng is seeking partnerships with businesses, which can gain a financial advantage by supporting the training center.

“To be able to pursue tax credits that village or regional corporations or businesses that owe taxes to IRS, or the feds or the state, they can reduce their taxes by applying their money to a regional training center,” said Naneng.

In the meantime, Naneng hopes to be able to pass funding through Yuut Elitnaurvit, which maintains Regional Training Center status. The new dorms are set to be done this winter, but Naneng doesn’t know when the flight school will start up again, but hopes to have money this winter and begin operations in the new year. He says another region has committed to sending students to Bethel.

“We’ve seen like a bout 20 students who are flying commercially throughout the region, and other parts of the state,” Naneng said. ”It’s getting to the point where other parts of the state are saying if you can produce pilots in your region, why can’t we send them to your flight school and produce our own commercial pilots that could fly in our region?”

Categories: Alaska News

Public Meetings Begin On Proposed Park Service Sport Hunting Ban

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:00

The National Park Service will host 17 public hearings across the state beginning Tuesday, October 21 through November 20th to address the agency’s proposals to prohibit some sport hunting on National Park and Preserve lands.

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The new rules apply to all ten of Alaska’s National Parks and Preserves. The total acreage makes up about 9 percent of the land in Alaska. The Parks Service calls the state’s hunting policies for predators “liberalized.” The agency argues state policies are not in keeping with the Park Service’s federal mandate to maintain natural ecosystem.

New rules would permanently prohibit sport hunting for wolves and coyotes on Park lands in early summer.  As well, hunters would not be allowed to harvest brown bears at black bear bait stations or use artificial light to hunt black bear sows and cubs at dens.  For the last four years, the Park Service has implemented temporary restrictions on those hunting practices.

Although the state asked the Park Service to finalize rules regarding predator hunting on park lands last spring, officials with the Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game do not support the proposed rules.

Categories: Alaska News

With Millions Pumped into U.S. Senate Race, Voters Near Their Limit

Mon, 2014-10-20 18:08

GeorgeAnne Sprinkle says she’s inclined to vote for Begich but all the ads, calls and visits are turning her off.

Anchorage resident GeorgeAnne Sprinkle opened her door in College Park this weekend to a stranger who asked for her by name. Her lips were pressed together in controlled fury as the door-knocker started his patter. When he handed her a flyer supporting the re-election of Sen. Begich, Sprinkle kind of lost it.

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“This has got to be the fifth BLEEPing time that someone from Begich has got to the BLEEP damn house! It is so annoying, not to mention phone calls and internet ads! And BLEEPing BLEEP, that doesn’t even count Dan Sullivan! DONE! You’re not going to sway my vote! So annoying!

Rob Gruss, a labor activist from Ohio, shrugged off the rant. He explained he is from a group called Working Alaska, not either of the campaigns. If that was supposed to have a calming effect, it didn’t work. The thing is, Sprinkle, a professional organic gardener, already supports Begich. She needs no convincing. Still, she says the relentless messages follow her everywhere. Even at the supermarket, they’re piped into the sound system. And pro-Sullivan door-knockers have come by repeatedly, too.

“And in fact,  the smear campaign is causing so much fatigue, it makes me want to not vote. BLEEP it!” she said. She apologized for her language repeatedly but couldn’t seem to stop.

She’s hardly the only one fed up with the race. The Begich and Sullivan campaigns have spent more than $14 million so far. Independent groups that support one or the other have spent another $32 million. That comes to more than $180 per likely Alaska voter, and many don’t like the effect it’s having.

Heavy Internet users seem especially frustrated. Chris Hines, 33, an IT director, says he’s getting so many ads about the Senate race it almost feels like harassment.

“I mean it’s just overload, especially when the ads are exactly the same, over and over and over,” he said.  ”It’s getting to the point where I can recite them word for word.”

He doesn’t tune in to TV or radio, opting for YouTube and Pandora instead. But, with every online turn, he’s faced with the same few ads, all of them negative, and Hines says, devoid of substance.

“Most of them are unskippable. It’s infuriating,” he said.

Hines says he generally votes Republican, but he says he won’t vote for Sullivan or Begich, because of their endless ads.

“Yeah, they’re backingfiring for sure, with me at least,” Hines says. “Because there’s just no way somebody who has ruined my Internet browsing experience for the last two months, I’m not going to vote for them. I don’t care what platform they’re on.”

UAA Journalism Professor Mark Trahant says his students despise the online Senate ads, and part of the problem is the ads themselves.

“They’re traditional negative ad campaigns that work great for television but will not work with Millennials,” Trahant says. “And I think they’re absolutely undermining their own message by using them.”

Millennial voters – adults in their early 30s and younger – are used to the style of “The Daily Show” and John Oliver, so they expect messages with both humor and meaning, Trahant says. Instead they’re getting clubbed over the head with downbeat monotony.

Even teens too young to vote are pretty much forced to watch Senate ads whenever they go online. Allison Haynes, a junior at West High, says whether they’re online for fun or for school work, the ads are unavoidable.

“Maybe even during school,” she said. “If a teacher wants to show a YouTube video — maybe a science one, or a French music video, language video — a little negative ad – Dan Sullivan! Mark Begich! – pops up.”

More than the sheer number of the ads, she says it’s the negativity that shocks people her age. Haynes says to them it smacks of a big taboo: bullying.

“It’s a huge emphasis, teaching anti-bullying campaigns for our generation, so when you see people making negative comments, they’re like ‘Well, we’ve been taught that that’s not OK. What’s going on with this? Why are politicians exempt from these lessons that we have learned from our schools that they’re allowed to make negative comments and lies?’” Haynes says.

Haynes is a volunteer for Youth Vote, a group organizing an Anchorage-wide mock election. She says young people listen for the sponsorship and know who is paying for the ads.

“It’s not just from the candidates. It’s from the PACs, right?,” she says. “The Lower 48 is coming in. And that’s another reason kids are disinclined to like those ads, because they’re like ‘this is not from Alaska.’

The New York Times reports that a Republican digital strategy firm in Viriginia this summer bought all of YouTube’s inventory in Alaska for the final weeks of the campaign. If the strategy backfires, as Prof. Trahant predicts, that could hurt Sullivan. But, if Millennials are so put off by the barrage of ads that they don’t vote at all, that would likely hurt Begich, since young voters lean Democratic.

Until the ads stop, Chris Hines, the IT director, is deploying Internet trickery to defend himself. He’s using a VPN service at home. Essentially, he’s routing his Internet traffic through another country – usually the Netherlands — so no one can see he’s in Alaska. It’s slower, and it means he has to sit through a lot of ads in Dutch but he doesn’t care, as long as they’re not about Begich or Sullivan.

Categories: Alaska News

As Field Season End, Gasline Becomes Focal Point In Gubernatorial Race

Mon, 2014-10-20 18:00

Just about every major gubernatorial candidate since Jay Hammond has made advancing a gasline part of their platform. This election is no different. With early field work being done on a project, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker are sparring over who can negotiate the best deal and who can close it. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

How much money do you have to spend to get a handful of dirt? About half a billion, if you’re talking about samples from the proposed site for a natural gas liquification plant in Nikiski.

“Dirt’s what you sweep under the rug!” interjects Dick Raines, as a drill rig seizes up about a cupful of soil.

Raines is a geotechnical engineer for ExxonMobil, and he’s collecting samples to make sure the land is stable enough for a massive construction project. A member of his team shows off the gravel to a handful of reporters, who have been flown down to see people actually working in the field. The deal to get this point in a gasline project was inked this past year by the State of Alaska, Exxon, BP, Conoco, and TransCanada, and plenty of effort has already gone into permitting and export licensing. But the early engineering work that started this summer was really the first to involve boots on the ground.

The scene itself isn’t very impressive: a small mobile drill rig to extract the soil, about a half dozen men in safety gear. But all the Alaska LNG employees accompanying reporters to the site are quick to emphasize that the project itself is unprecedented in its scope.

“Nobody has ever permitted a project like this before. There has never been a project this large done in the U.S,” says project manager Steve Butt, during his presentation at the Alaska LNG site.

Butt says even the numbers for the preliminary work match the ambition of a project that involves one gas treatment plant, one liquefaction plant, and 800 miles of pipeline.

“You’re investing $2+ billion to see if it makes sense to invest another $45 to $65 billion,” says Butt.

Now, there’s the question of whether the project will get to that point. Just as summer fieldwork is winding down, the gasline is coming up as a political issue. With oil production a fraction of what it was during the boom years, construction of a gasline is seen as the state’s best hope of offsetting a decline in oil revenue.

RADIO AD: Bill Walker wants to renegotiate the deal, which will add years of delays. Let’s stick with a gasline project that’s working, and the governor that’s making it happen.

Republican incumbent Sean Parnell has started airing ads promoting his own work on the project and criticizing his unaffiliated opponent. Parnell campaign manager Tom Wright notes Walker has litigated against the industry in the past, seeking to block the state’s settlement with Exxon over the development of Point Thomson’s gas reserves (Walker sought to have the state seize ownership of the Point Thomson leases because of the company’s delay in developing the prospect, and then offering them to other parties). Wright says Walker has also made statements about the gasline that suggest he would try to change the project.

“At one point, he called the gasline ‘fatally flawed.’ And now he’s saying, ‘Well, we might continue to work at what the governor’s doing,” says Wright. “We just don’t know where he’s coming from.”

Walker has campaigned heavily on the issue of a gasline in the past, and he’s been an advocate for a project in which Alaska has a greater stake. Right now, Exxon, BP, and Conoco control 75 percent of the project, and Alaska splits its share with TransCanada with the option of buying it back down the road. Walker now says he’s willing to operate within the framework established by lawmakers this past year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t try to affect the terms of the deal going forward, depending on what those confidential terms are.

“I will finish the project. I will not start over,” says Walker. “But I do have an issue with the ultimate decision-making being made by somebody other than Alaska.”

In a recent interview with the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Walker also expressed some reservations about some of the parties involved in the deal. He says he’s still talking with the companies, though.

“I don’t know that they have a particular issue with me being governor,” says Walker. “They certainly seem to continue to invite me to come meet with them.”

While the gasline has been a flashpoint for the two candidates — with Walker even suggesting they hold an hour-long debate just on that issue – gasline experts say that companies tend to be more comfortable with an incumbent even if the two candidates share the same views on a project. Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas project, says that’s simply because they know what to expect from a person with whom they’ve already negotiated.

“The oil and gas industry, any industry, and business, especially one that’s looking at spending tens of billions of dollars gets a little nervous when there’s political change,” says Persily.

For their part, the oil companies are being politic about the governor’s race. Back in Nikiski, Walker and Parnell signs both dot the roadside leaving the worksite. Project manager Steve Butt says he’s been asked pretty often about how much the governor’s race will affect the natural gas project.

“It’s a fair question. I understand it,” says Butt. “But the project is measured in decades, and there’s going to be lots of political transitions. As long as all the owners can continue to work in that spirit, you know, we can find a way to work.”

So far, none of the companies involved in the project have put money behind either candidate.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Meets With Guard Members

Mon, 2014-10-20 17:44

Gov. Sean Parnell met with Alaska National Guard members Sunday amid ongoing criticism about the administration’s response to allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct within the Guard.

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Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow says this was a drill weekend and hundreds of Guard members attended the town hall at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Sunday.

Leighow said by email that Parnell was addressing changes that are being implemented within the Guard and taking members’ questions. She says Guard leadership was not in attendance.

A report from the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations found that victims did not trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the command. In response, Parnell asked the leader of the Guard to resign.

Parnell vowed to implement the report’s recommendations to help restore confidence.

Categories: Alaska News

Elders and Youth Conference Kicks Off In Anchorage

Mon, 2014-10-20 17:43

The 30th annual Elders and Youth conference began Monday in Anchorage. The conference is held each year at the beginning of the same week as the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. The gathering is an opportunity for youth to discuss an array of issues relevant to Alaska Natives with support from their elders.

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The conference got off to another impressive start this year. 17-year-old Devlin Anderstrom was chosen to give the youth keynote address. Not only did he introduce himself in his Tlingit language, he gave his entire speech in it. For nine minutes Anderstrom spoke Tlingit to the audience, never once slipping into English until he gave the speech a second time.

After the first few minutes, people in the audience turned to each other with wowed faces, they nodded and smiled. Anderstrom’s keynote speech was no small feat.

There are only a few hundred Tlingit speakers left and most of them are over the age of 60. Anderstrom, who is a senior at Yakutat High School, learned some of the language when he was young. He moved out of Alaska as a young boy and returned when he was 12.

“I’ve lived in downtown Denver, the suburbs in northern California, even a small rural community in Nebraska,” Anderstrom said. “When I left home I knew the entire time that home was where I belonged and it was my place to be.”

Growing up, Anderstrom says he spent a lot of time around elders who spoke the language fluently. He began his study of Tlingit in earnest after he moved back home to Yakutat. Just this year – he started taking Lance Twitchell’s Tlingit language class through the University of Alaska Southeast.

Anderstrom says one of the reasons he has been so dedicated to learning Tlingit is because some cultural values and ideas can only be truly expressed in their original language.

“One of them would be haashagoon,” Anderstrom said. “So, haashagoon, it’s our ancestors and at the same time it’s the future generations, like, everything that we were and everything that we will be. It’s just kind of a hard concept to explain.”

And it’s not just the Tlingit language that Anderstrom feels compelled to learn. He’s also Iñupiaq, Ahtna and Tanacross Athabaskan. He’s trying to learn all of those languages.

“Right now Tlingit is the language I know best,” Anderstrom said. “It’s the only language I could have made a speech like that in. But I’ve also started to learn other languages as well, Eyak, Ahtna and Inupiaq. My goal is to learn as much as I can. I want to try to help preserve everybody’s language because I think everybody in the state deserves that, everybody that’s Alaska Native.”

True to the spirit of his role as a youth at the conference, 17-year-old Anderstrom brings optimism to the conversation. He’s doesn’t think that Alaska Native languages can ever be truly lost.

“I think language is a big part of culture, for me, and it’s really a hard hit for any culture to take to lose their language,” Anderstrom said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily the necessarily the end game, I don’t think it’s game over when a language is lost because like Eyak, a lot of language can be brought back at least partially through all the documented resources that we have. We just have to pull together and I think we can avoid language death all together.”

Anderstrom gave the youth keynote address after elder Fred John Jr. this (Monday) morning. The conference room at the Dena’ina center had 1,300 chairs set up and nearly all of them were full within a hour of starting the conference.

Categories: Alaska News

Malaspina Crew Helps In Canada Rescue Effort

Mon, 2014-10-20 17:42

The crew of the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Malaspina participated in a weekend rescue effort in Canadian waters.

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Alaska Department of Transportation Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the distress call came in at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday off Campbell River, British Columbia. The Atlantic Harvester 1 was reportedly taking on water at the time of the call.

“When the ferry arrived on scene, no vessel could be located,” he said. “The ferry deployed its fast rescue boat and was able to rescue one crew member from the water. They did search for other crew members, with no success. Shortly after that time, the Canadian Coast Guard arrived on scene.”

Woodrow says the Canadian Coast Guard took charge of the rescued crew member, and took over rescue efforts at that time.

Lt. Greg Menzies, a public affairs officer in the Royal Canadian Navy in Victoria, BC, said Monday afternoon that the other two crewmembers remain missing. He says it’s unclear at this point what happened to the Atlantic Harvester, a 67-foot landing-craft vessel. Menzies says it sank in about four minutes.

Campbell River Royal Canadian Mounted Police Spokeswoman Poppy Hallam says all three Atlantic Harvester crew members are Campbell River residents. She says the sunken vessel has been located, and a dive team search is planned for Tuesday.

Woodrow says the Alaska Marine Highway System helps boaters in distress about twice a year on average. He says this is the first he’s heard of a ferry responding to a vessel in distress in Canadian waters.

Woodrow says ferry crews are trained for rescue response.

“That’s one reason we have these fast rescue boats on board is to provide rescue operations to other vessels and to the ship itself,” he said.

The Malaspina had been on its way from Bellingham, Wash., to Ketchikan. The rescue effort delayed its arrival by a few hours, but the ship has since made up the time and is back on schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Southeast Community Becomes New Alaska City

Mon, 2014-10-20 17:41

A small community in southeast Alaska is the state’s newest city. A state commissioner signed incorporation documents last week for Edna Bay, which has a population of 49.

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A state commissioner signed incorporation documents last week for Edna Bay, which has a population of 49.

The community is located on Kosciusko Island 90 miles northwest of Ketchikan. State officials say Edna Bay is the first community to incorporate since 2004.

Elections officials earlier this month certified results of an election involving locals in Edna Bay on whether to incorporate. State officials say residents voted 33 to 6 to incorporate.

The Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs participated in an organizational meeting with Edna Bay.

Officials say the state is helping in establishing a new city council, and plans to work with it in coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

Deadline Approaches For Fairbanks Air Plan

Mon, 2014-10-20 17:39

The clock is ticking toward the deadline for a plan for getting Fairbanks into compliance with federal air quality standards. The state hasn’t given up on getting the fine particulate pollution plan in by a Dec. 31 Environmental Protection Agency deadline.

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Categories: Alaska News