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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: 20 min 31 sec ago

Scientists, Fishermen Test Strategies To Reduce Trawl Bycatch

Thu, 2015-01-22 15:26

F/V Auriga prepares for the start of B season. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

Reducing bycatch has been a hot topic in the pollock trawl industry. Scientists are working with the commercial fishermen to find a solution to the problem. And, at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium this week in Anchorage, they say they are making progress. 

Much of the conservation effort is done in line with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which, among other things, establishes essential fish habitats and mandates that harvests remain sustainable.

“It also says the act of harvesting can’t damage core components of the habitat that fish need,” Brad Harris, a professor at Alaska Pacific University and directs the fisheries aquatic science and technology lab, said. ”And the sense is that maybe you’re not over-fishing, but the way that you’re fishing might actually damage the productivity of the system. And so it requires that there’s a process in place that minimizes these adverse effects.”

Harris says there’s really only three ways to minimize those adverse effects.

“You can stop fishing or fish less; you can fish somewhere else – you can close an area; or you can change how you fish,” Harris said.

In Alaska, especially, the first two options aren’t viable. So, scientists are concentrating on the third option – changing how you fish.

Ideally, the pollock trawl fleet fishes pelagically – meaning in the water column above the sea floor, but, according to Carwyn Hammond, who is with the conservation engineering group at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, sometimes that’s not where the fish are.

“There are times where, you know, you’ve got these beautiful schools of pollock that are in the water column and you can fish pelagically, but then there’s times those pollock aggregate on or near the sea floor and they do have to have a certain amount of contact in order to catch those fish,” Hammond said.

But, the more contact the net has with the sea floor, the more damage it can do to vital fish habitat. Hammond and her team are working with commercial fishing crews to try alternative gear setups using weight clusters attached to the front of the net using a strong, lightweight rope spaced every 90 feet.

Though the weight clusters still contact the bottom, it allows the rest of net between the clusters to float above the sea floor – and Hammond says it doesn’t have to be by much.

“Just a few inches; we may have knocked over either a sea whip or a basket star, which is what we used for the bottom trawl proxy,” Hammond said. ”We may knock them over, but they can recover and they can go onto still be vital habitat.”

Besides minimizing contact with fish habitat, Hammond says raising the gear off the ground limits the impact of bottom trawling on other creatures of the deep.

“What we discovered with the bottom trawl, with raising those sweeps, is we significantly reduced what we call the unobserved mortality of crabs – so snow crab, tanner crab, and king crab,” she said. “Because those invertebrates can interact with the gear on the sea floor, but they’re not actually caught, they stay on the sea floor. So we wanted to know in that study, what percentage of them lived versus what percentage of them died.”

With the adjusted gear, impacts were almost fully reduced to snow and tanner crab, and mortalities with red king crab were reduced by about half.

Scientists are testing other options as well. And when they figure out which setup is best, Hammond says the next step will be to partner with commercial fishermen to test the gear and ensure fishing can still be done effectively and efficiently.

Categories: Alaska News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Takes on Cannabis Cultivation Outside City Limits

Thu, 2015-01-22 14:00

Kenai Peninsula residents overwhelmingly turned out in support of establishing cannabis agribusiness in the borough, or at least not restricting it too much this early in the game.

Kalifornsky representative Kelly Wolf put forward the ordinance that sparked the debate. It would ask voters in the municipal election this fall to decide whether or not to prohibit marijuana cultivation outside city limits, in unincorporated areas, of the borough.

This was just the first reading. Kenai representative Blaine Gilman explained that’s when the assembly chooses to introduce it or not.

Cannabis Plant. (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“I think it’s important that people realize that introduction of an ordinance is not the same thing as saying you’re going to support it,” said Gilman. “What it is in support of is due process. And so, when you don’t vote to introduce something, you’re basically saying we don’t want the issue heard.”

Although this was not the official public hearing, the public was entitled to comment on the agenda item. For two hours, dozens of residents voiced their thoughts.

All but a couple opposed restricting cultivation, but their reasoning was split into a few distinct camps. There were those who didn’t want the borough to make any decisions before the state moved forward, those who supported legalization and therefore the process, those who saw economic benefits of agribusiness, and those who simply didn’t want the government restricting freedom of choice outside city limits.

The assembly introduced the ordinance. Though, there was some confusion on both sides of the room about the nature of the public comment period and the fact that the assembly couldn’t comment on the topic at this time. Both the assembly and residents like John Dykstra seemed to take the bumps in good humor as byproducts of such a hot topic.

“I just want to thank you guys for enduring through this evening—the hearing that wasn’t supposed to be a hearing, we could call it,” said Dykstra. “I just wanted to go ahead and leave it with one more point. When you go home this evening, think about the passion that people brought here tonight because that’s what this subject invokes.”

Homer representative Kelly Cooper said it’s time for the assembly to do its homework. Then, it can return in February with a deeper understanding of both the proposed restrictions and the larger topic of cannabis regulation and industry.

“They were trying to tell us to do our research and it’s not as simple as a quick Google [search],” said Cooper. “We have to meet with the people on both sides; we have to become educated. So, I took that as a plea from our constituents to learn about what we’re voting on.”

At that point, there will be the actual public hearing and the assembly will decide whether to put the issue on the fall ballot or table the discussion until a later date.

The next meeting of the borough assembly is scheduled for February 3rd. The next look at the marijuana ordinance will be February 24th.

Categories: Alaska News

Healthcare.gov Navigators See Steady Enrollment As Deadline Approaches

Thu, 2015-01-22 13:57

Nearly 17,000 Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during this open enrollment period. That’s already a substantial increase from last year. And Affordable Care Act navigators expect the next three weeks will be even busier as the February 15th enrollment deadline approaches. 

Micah Williams gets help from Navigator Joan Fisher at the Loussac Library. Photo Credit: Annie Feidt

Micah Williams is sitting in front of a computer at the Loussac Library in Anchorage, dutifully checking off boxes for his healthcare.gov application.

Williams is 27 and uninsured. He thought about signing up for health insurance last year, but he decided to wait. He didn’t think he would qualify for much of a subsidy and he kept hearing how bad the website was. On this afternoon, healthcare.gov is working, but it is not moving quickly. The site is overloaded because it’s January 15th, the deadline for coverage that starts February 1st.

Joan Fisher is looking over William’s shoulder.

“That’s called the circle of death. Last year, I looked at that a lot.”

Fisher is an Affordable Care Act navigator with the United Way of Anchorage. She’s walking Williams through his application and helping him research his different plan options.

Williams works at Title Wave Books and makes $10.50 an hour. He also pays a lot in student loans each month, so his income qualifies him for a big subsidy. He can pick a plan with a $250 deductible at no cost. Williams is impressed:

“That’s actually pretty good. This is a lot better than I thought it was going to end up being.”

Fisher has been a navigator since the first open enrollment period that began in the fall of 2013. She says those six months were a frenzy, with a crush of people who wanted to sign up and a website that barely functioned – at least at first. This time around, she describes the enrollment process as more calm, but steady. Fisher says she’s helping a lot of people like Williams, who decided to put it off a year:

“I’ve seen a lot of people who just said I didn’t want to do it last year. And a lot of it was related to the website but a lot of it was that they just didn’t understand and thought it’s only going to cost me $95 if I don’t sign up so I’m not going to bother with it.”

The penalty for 2014 taxes is $95 or 1% of income, whichever is greater. That expense is motivating a lot of people Cherise Fowler sees as the Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator with the Alaska Primary Care Association. Fowler has traveled to Barrow, Bethel and Fairbanks to get the word out about the enrollment period.

“I think people are warming up to the idea of the Affordable Care Act and slowly but surely, one person at a time is coming to understand the benefits that it has and how it can positively impact their life.”

Fowler says people love to procrastinate when it comes to signing up for health insurance. She says at the end of the last enrollment period, she was pulling all nighters. And she expects the same as the February 15th deadline approaches:

“I imagine it will be very busy and days will be blurred together of just trying to help as many Alaskans as we can access the marketplace and get their coverage before the deadline closes.”

As for Micah Williams, his application is still caught up in a website glitch. But navigator Joan Fisher is helping him sort out the problem. And he’s confident he’ll have insurance well before the deadline.

“I’m pretty healthy. I wouldn’t need on average more than a yearly visit, but it’s comforting to know I have some way to stay healthy if something bad were to happen.”

Williams is so pleased with his healthcare.gov experience, he’s trying to get the word out to his friends and coworkers- hoping they’ll sign up for health insurance too. In Anchorage, I’m AF.

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






Categories: Alaska News

Walker Sketches Agenda In State Of State Address

Wed, 2015-01-21 22:39

(Skip Gray/360North)

In his first State of the State address to the Legislature, Gov. Bill Walker spoke broadly of the need to address the state’s financial shortfall and the importance of building a natural gas pipeline. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that while its spirit was praised, legislative leaders found it short on detail.

In the 39 minutes he spoke, Gov. Bill Walker offered a few specifics on how he would he would approach his first session in office.

He announced a special investigator tasked with looking into the Alaska National Guard would be named Thursday.

“That investigator will have full access to all paper and electronic evidence to get to the bottom of the allegations of sexual assault, misconduct and cover-up. As the Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard, let me assure you that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, face expulsion, incarceration or both.”

Walker announced he would sign a bill known as “Erin’s Law” to educate children on what sexual abuse is and how to report it if they are victims.

“Members of the Legislature: if you send this bill to my desk, I will sign it and we will take an important step toward protecting the lives of so many young, precious Alaskans,” said Walker.

And Walker announced that Craig Fleener — his former running mate, who was bumped off the ticket when his campaign merged with that of Democratic candidate Byron Mallott — would be treated as a member of his Cabinet and given a portfolio of Arctic issues.

The rest of his speech reprised many of his campaign themes, and outlined his goals as governor in looser terms. Unlike past governors, he did not preview specific pieces of legislation he planned to introduce.

Walker committed to building a natural gas pipeline — a priority for Alaska lawmakers since the supply was discovered — and highlighted his work courting Asian buyers for the resource. He recommitted to accepting federal dollars for expanded Medicaid coverage in Alaska. Walker also said he wants to “protect” education funding to the “greatest extent “possible” as the state wrestles with a multi-billion-dollar shortfall. But he did not say it would be immune to cuts.

“We will continue to invest in education as it is one of the highest priorities of this state,” said Walker. “But not at the rate we could have when oil was over $100 per barrel.”

The response from the Legislature was cordial. As a governor who ran for office outside of the primary system, Walker does not have party ties to the Legislature’s Republican majorities. But lines about lowering energy prices and developing the state’s workforce triggered applause that spanned party lines. When talking about the state’s economy, mentions of the Alaskan Brewery and the Mat-Su’s carrots even prompted a couple of thumbs-up gestures.

But after the speech, Republican leaders said the speech was too general.

“We will not fix our problems on beer and carrots,” said House Rules Chair Craig Johnson.

The Anchorage Republican said he “liked the optimism,” but he wanted more details from Walker.

“He said we need to make a plan, and I kept waiting for it and waiting for it,” said Johnson, “Megaprojects, and it’s not there. Low cost energy. No plan there. Value added resources. No plan.”

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill thought Walker might be too optimistic about some of his priorities, like Medicaid expansion.

“I think he’s just going to find that’s going to be a very difficult thing to do,” said Coghill. “It does cost the State of Alaska money. It’s going to cost us new employees.”

But House Speaker Mike Chenault softened some of the criticism by noting that Walker is new to the office.

“We do have to give him a pass on some issues that we may feel is important, because we know the issue and it’s an issue that he doesn’t,” said Chenault.

Meanwhile, Democrats were more complimentary. Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner described the speech as “inspirational,” and appreciated the call for Alaskans to come together regardless of party.

“What I heard was a lot of confirmation of things we believed of him,” said Gardner.

Walker will give a second speech devoted exclusively to the budget on Thursday night.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Advisory Council Meeting In Juneau

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:11

The Tongass Advisory Committee is meeting for the fifth time in Juneau this week. The committee is tasked with hammering out how the Forest Service should handle the Obama Administration’s transition away from old-growth logging and to a new focus on younger trees.

But, for some people the most important questions are the ones the committee isn’t supposed to address.

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Categories: Alaska News

APU Set To Develop 65 Acres Of Endowment Lands

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:10

Alaska Pacific University has entered into an agreement to develop 65 acres of endowment lands over the next several years.

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The first parcels of land under development will be on the south side of the campus, along University Lake Drive. Ideally, APU President Don Bantz says the development will bring in organizations that connect with the University’s curriculum, but it’s still open for discussion.

(Image via Alaska Pacific University)

“We’re obviously looking for highest and best use in terms of commercial development, but we’re amenable to things like restaurants or mixed use commercial, so that’s all just part of the plan,” Bantz said. “I wanna stress first, though, that we’re gonna develop this for a campus feel; in other words, everything’s gonna be aesthetically consistent and it will look like a campus. So it won’t be just a mish-mash of buildings here and there.”

Because APU doesn’t receive state funding, Bantz says agreements like this help to develop the university’s financial future and long-term sustainability.

“It’s really a way to make a private quality education available to all Alaskans,” he said. “So, this is how we discount our tuition for the income that’s will be generated from these properties.”

At the beginning of the 2014 school year, APU cut tuition costs by about a third, to around $19,500 per year. Bantz says aside from allowing for lower tuition rates, the development will help the university sustain a robust scholarship program – which he says the majority of the school’s 600 students benefit from.

APU’s plan has been developed independently of the controversial Northern Access Project, which would connect Elmore Road and Bragaw Street, by cutting through a swath of the U-Med district’s woods and wetlands between APU and the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The Northern Access Project has been widely criticized by surrounding communities. Carolyn Ramsey is an area resident and APU alum. She says, much like the road extension, this development would be detrimental to the university’s students.

“Many of the students use the APU campus as their giant petri dish; where they go to get their data, to get their information; to count the flora and fauna, to do what they need to do as an environmental teaching school,” she said.

Though Ramsey understands that it’s APU’s land to make use of, she’s still disappointed in the university’s decision.

“APU did not come to the council or come to the community as at large and say, ‘hey, you know, we have a lot of land here, we need to do something with it. We need to generate some money. Is there any way that you can help us?’” Ramsey said.

Bantz says the university recognizes the community’s concern over how both of these projects will affect the surrounding green space and trail system.

“We’re committed to the trail system and if development impacts the trail system, which the road may do a little, we’re committed to replace the trail,” Bantz said.

If the Northern Access Project goes through, Bantz says it could affect development plans on the west side of the APU campus.

Categories: Alaska News

Rain Causes Flooding, Evacuations in Ketchikan

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:09

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Post by KRBD FM Rainbird Community Radio.

Buckets of rain blew into Ketchikan Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to power outages, overflowing creeks, flooded streets and evacuations.

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The National Weather Service warned us, and they weren’t kidding. Heavy rain combined with strong wind gusts created some problems in Ketchikan.

On Park Avenue, Police Chief Alan Bengaard was checking out the raging Ketchikan Creek, and he summed up the issue.

“It’s raining really heavy and there’s a lot of water,” he said.

Officials closed the Harris Street Bridge off Park Avenue because of all that water, and because a large tree had fallen into the creek and was wedged under the bridge. Bengaard said the Creek Street pedestrian bridge further downstream also was closed because of logs tangled in the underpinnings.

Overall, though, he reported that damage to public property so far had been minimal.

“There’s been a couple stays off utility poles knocked down,” Bengaard said. “Looks like the Harris Street Bridge may have been damaged somewhat by the log impact.”

Bengaard notes that some residents of low-lying areas were asked to voluntarily evacuate until the creek recedes.

“Ketchikan Apartments has been asked to evacuate, residents of Freeman Street have been asked to evacuate, we’ve been to most of the businesses on Creek Street, requested that they also evacuate,” Bengaard said.

Creek Street is a historic boardwalk street built on pilings, right next to Ketchikan Creek. Now, Ketchikan residents are used to a lot of rain, and the creek has flooded out some areas before, but long-time residents agreed that this is the highest they’ve ever seen it.

Here’s Sheila Miller, who has lived in Ketchikan all her life, and was working at Parnassus bookstore close to Ketchikan Creek.

“I have never seen it out of the banks like it was on Park Avenue, and touching the Eagles Club there, I’ve never seen it that high,” Miller  said. “They’ve closed the bridge and the boardwalk, anything on pilings, and evacuated the buildings behind us. I’ve never or heard of that being done before.”

One of those people is Ray Troll, who owns Soho Coho, an art gallery on Creek Street. He was anxiously watching the creek water as the current raged against the boardwalk in front of his store.

“Totally freaked out, but I kinda knew this day would come when the creek shall rise. And it is risen. Big storm, big tide, bad combo,” Troll said.

Oh, yeah. Part of the problem was a 19-foot high tide, which was cresting as Troll watched.

“I’ve never seen it this high. I’ve been here 30-plus years. Like I said, I’ve been watching it – we’ve had our gallery down here for 20-plus years. (Flood insurance?) There’s still half an hour to buy some, isn’t there?” he said.

Troll later reported that his store survived high tide.

Ketchikan’s Assistant City Manager David Martin also was down by the creek at high tide – along with about half the town, it seemed. Martin says city crews were pretty busy keeping up.

“We are, at the moment, just trying to keep our heads above water, so to speak,” Martin said.

Martin added that Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division crews also were working hard to keep the lights on for KPU customers.

“We’ve had at least four outages on the north end today. Most of those have been trees (on the lines). I haven’t heard of any landslides,” Martin said.

The city’s Port and Harbors Department reported no damage at any of its facilities and no boats appeared to be in trouble, but Dan Burg of the Harbormaster’s office did strongly recommend that boat owners check their vessels as soon as possible.

At deadline, the National Weather Service had issued a statement that heavy rains created increased flow in the spillways of Ketchikan Lakes Dam, resulting in the high flows into Ketchikan Creek. According to the National Weather Service report, the dam is working as designed and there is no threat of failure at this time. City of Ketchikan Assistant Fire Chief Jon Dorman confirms that the dam is not in danger of failure.

Categories: Alaska News

Park Service Considers Banning Some Pack Animals

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:08

Phillip Nuechterlein of Eagle River llama packing in Wrangle St. Elias National Park. (Credit Linda Nuechterlein)

The National Park Service is out with an annual list of temporary restrictions and rules, and one of the proposed regulations would ban certain types of pack animals from parks.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Play Explores Homelessness In Juneau

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:07

MK MacNaughton as Merry in the play “A Lifetime to Master,” about homelessness in Juneau. Playwright Merry Ellefson (background) interviewed nearly 60 people as research for the play. (Photo courtesy Flordelino Lagundino/Generator Theater Company)

A local playwright has spent the past few years exploring the lives of Juneau’s homeless population and the people who work with them. The result is the new play “A Lifetime to Master,” which debuted this week.

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About three years ago, Merry Ellefson was driving home from cross-country skiing with her son near the Mendenhall Glacier, when she turned onto Back Loop Road and noticed a young man staggering down the street. She stopped to help, and found out he was homeless.

“He was maybe 19 or 18, and I just remember he was really intoxicated. He had nowhere to go,” she says. “It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to do something. I’m on a plan.’ It was just like, ‘I don’t know anything about this.’”

That incident inspired Ellefson to learn more about homelessness in Juneau. Since moving to the city 24 years ago, she’s worked on and written several plays for Perseverance Theatre. “A Lifetime to Master” is based on nearly 60 interviews she did with people about Juneau’s homeless situation.

“People who are or have been homeless,” she says. “People whose lives or jobs intersect with the homeless. A lot of members of our Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. People in the school district. Friends. I’ve overheard people at coffee shops or on the streets.”

MK MacNaughton and Jeff Hedges rehearse a scene from “A Lifetime to Master,” a play about homelessness in Juneau. (Photo courtesy Flordelino Lagundino/Generator Theater Company)

While the play is about Juneau, Ellefson says its themes resonate beyond.

The title comes from the tagline for the board game Othello: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Ellefson says a pastor she interviewed connected that phrase to the great commandment from the Bible: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” As she went about trying to understand homelessness in Juneau, she says she kept those two ideas in mind.

“I learned that there’s as many reasons for being homeless as there are people who are homeless,” Ellefson says. “That the issues range from poverty and economics, to family, to community responsibility, to substance abuse, to I think a third of Americans are one paycheck away from homelessness, to domestic violence. There’s a lot of issues that overlap.”

The main character in the play has Ellefson’s name and guides the audience through her interviews.

“It’s really a lot of listening to a lot of stories that are rarely heard in our community, are very hard to hear, as well as some quite uplifting stories of those people whose lives are dedicated to helping people who don’t have homes,” she says.

On a recent evening, the cast of “A Lifetime to Master” runs through lines at rehearsal in McPhetres Hall at the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Juneau. The walls are covered with tarps, and actors pop up from lumpy mattresses to say their lines.

Director Shona Strauser has been involved with “A Lifetime to Master” for two years, ever since she read an early draft of the play. She says it’s the most powerful production she’s ever been part of.

“It’s touching and it’s people we know and see,” Strauser says. “You know, you’re going to see people in this play that you would see on the street or at their job.”

The Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness estimates more than 500 residents of the city don’t have a permanent roof over their heads. Strauser says the cast and crew hope the play sparks community discussions about homelessness, and even inspires people to act.

“It’s in your face, this play is in your face,” she says. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s the idea that you are in this community, and that everybody is around you, and you’ve got to do something, otherwise you’re turning your back on people.”

MK MacNaughton, who plays Merry, says it’s sometimes easier to start conversations about issues like homelessness through art.

“We mostly don’t walk up to people on the street and launch into deep personal stories or ask intimate questions. So art provides that opportunity,” she says.

Michael Patterson lived on the streets from age 9 to 37, and was interviewed by Ellefson during her research. He says the play is just the “tip of the iceberg” for what homeless people go through every day, but it’s full of truth nonetheless.

“I think if we can allow this to really touch all of our hearts and come together closer as a community, you know, then we have a better chance of maybe finding a real working solution to finally do something about this problem,” Patterson says.

Generator Theater Company is producing “A Lifetime to Master.” Ellefson also received support from the Rasmuson Foundation, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, the Juneau Community Foundation and several other local businesses and nonprofits.

The play runs through Jan. 25 at McPhetres Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 21, 2015

Wed, 2015-01-21 17:06

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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Obama Issues Executive Order on Arctic Coordination

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Barack Obama today issued an executive order aimed at coordinating federal action on the Arctic. The order establishes a new Arctic executive steering committee. It will have some two dozen members, including deputy secretaries from the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior. Among the stated goals is better collaboration with the State of Alaska and Alaska tribes.

Gov. Walker To Deliver State of the State Tonight

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker is set to deliver his first State of the State address Wednesday night. It’s the first of two back-to-back speeches he’ll give this week on his legislative priorities, with Thrudsay’s focus purely on the budget.

Board of Fisheries Chairman Resigns

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

Alaska Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone resigned Tuesday after Governor Bill Walker said he wouldn’t submit his name to the legislature for reappointment.

Bering Sea Pollock Fishery Casts Off

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Bering Sea’s largest fishery kicked off yesterday. Pollock crews are gearing up for a potential increase in their harvest – while still keeping an open mind about what the winter has in store.

Tongass Advisory Council Meeting In Juneau

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Tongass Advisory Committee is meeting for the fifth time in Juneau this week. The committee is tasked with hammering out how the Forest Service should handle the Obama Administration’s transition away from old-growth logging and to a new focus on younger trees.

But, for some people the most important questions are the ones the committee isn’t supposed to address.

APU Set To Develop 65 Acres Of Endowment Lands

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska Pacific University has entered into an agreement to develop 65 acres of endowment lands over the next several years.

Rain Causes Flooding, Evacuations in Ketchikan

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Buckets of rain blew into Ketchikan yesterday and today, leading to power outages, flooded streets and evacuations.

Park Service Considers Banning Some Pack Animals

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Park Service is out with an annual list of temporary restrictions and rules, and one of the proposed regulations would ban certain types of pack animals from parks.

New Play Explores Homelessness In Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A playwright has spent the past few years exploring the lives of Juneau’s homeless population and the people who work with them. The result is the new play “A Lifetime to Master.”


Categories: Alaska News

Obama Issues Executive Order on Arctic Co-ordination

Wed, 2015-01-21 14:57

President Barak Obama today issued an executive order aimed at coordinating federal action on the Arctic. The order establishes a new Arctic executive steering committee. It will have some two dozen members, including deputy secretaries from the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior. Among the stated goals is to better collaborate with the State of Alaska and Alaska tribes.

“You’d be amazed at how many people work and how many agencies work on the Arctic,”  said Marilyn Heiman, a former Alaska policy advisor to the Interior secretary in the Clinton administration. ”And having one place where all the issues are addressed and the agencies are convened to discuss the issues I think will help.”

The order, which  emphasizes the impact of climate change,  is part of the federal government’s preparations for assuming chairmanship of the international Arctic Council this spring. Heiman says the effort will only be successful if the U.S. develops good standards for things like Arctic drilling and shipping.

“Other countries look to the United States for leadership and the stronger we are on our policies in Alaska the stronger we can be in leading the Arctic Council,” said Heiman, who  now works on Arctic conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski faintly praises the executive order’s promise of consultation with Alaskans. But she says Washington-based environmental groups have too much sway while priorities of Alaskans are neglected.

“Science-based decision making is essential as we move forward, but we cannot ‘study’ ourselves into inaction,” she said in a written statement. “Investment and vision are needed – in infrastructure, ice breakers, and a predictable federal oil and gas permitting process – to craft an Arctic economy.”


Murkowski says president Obama’s Arctic policy boils down to two words: “Hands Off.”


Categories: Alaska News

Big Lake Shooting Range On Hold

Wed, 2015-01-21 13:57

A contentious shooting range issue dominated last [tuesday] night’s Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly meeting, and the debate over the range’s location affects a Valley youth program.  

Tuesday night’s crowd at the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly chambers in Palmer was there for one reason : to support or oppose a Borough ordinance that would allow the Borough to sell, at far less than market value, 80 acres near Big Lake, to be used specifically for a youth rifle range. The sale price at ten percent of fair market value is 17 thousand 720 dollars for the land.   There was no shortage of support for the idea during the public hearing that preceded Assembly debate. Neil Moss, president of the Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program, told the Assembly, “This piece of property….I’ve walked the entire eighty acres.. is absolutely perfect for a shotgun facility. It could not be designed better.”

Moss held up a map before the Assembly, showing the range acreage, and the surrounding Borough-owned land. He said the range would be only a small portion of the area located at Susitna Parkway and Puritan Parkway.  

 ”That’s what the skeet range area looks like ” he said, pointing to a tiny white dot surrounded by a red area depicting Borough land. Moss said shot would not escape a 300 yard limit and would be contained by a natural land formation.

 ASCTP had made the request for land from the Borough. Supporters of the bid, mostly parents and firearms instructors and a dozen young marksmen themselves, packed the house. They wanted a shooting range that would be located in an area that kids can drive to within a reasonable time. One Willow teen marksman said it takes him more than an hour one way to reach the Birchwood shooting range.

 But Big Lake homeowners balked at the idea. Kybie Lucas works in real estate.

“I am against this for obvious reasons. They are not compatible with residential neighborhoods. If people have a choice, they will not live next to a shooting range, and the sound will carry to these residential areas dramatically.”

Lucas also said that nesting loons, eagles and other wildlife would be disturbed by the shooting noise. Most of those opposed to the sale of the Borough land made it clear they were not against a shooting range for youth, they were against the location of the proposed range. John Yancey, a former hunter education instructor, said he’s in favor of the youth program, but the location is “terribly wrong.”

And the  land plan had inadvertently tripped a political trigger.

Jim Faikes told the Assembly he was “dismayed” that the Assembly had not contacted the Big Lake Community Council on the issue. The land in question lies within Big Lake’s Comprehensive Plan.. and Big Lake is considering incorporation as a city.

“Puritan Parkway is slated to be a four lane arterial connecting the Port (MacKenzie) to the Parks Highway. This (property) is a half mile on the frontage of that road. Big Lake has a comprehensive plan, the Borough is familiar with it. And that particular piece of property, that stretch, that corridor, is designated to be commercial or industrial along that route. To take it away for that (shooting range ) purpose would be inappropriate.”

In the end, Assemblyman Dan Mayfield, who represents the Big Lake area on the Assembly, moved to postpone action on the land sale until June, so that Borough staff can find a suitable alternative lands within the Borough. With arguments in opposition by Assemblymen Ron Arvin and Steve Colligan, the Assembly postponed action on the issue until June.

Categories: Alaska News

Heavy Rains Prompt Landslide Warning

Wed, 2015-01-21 13:53

While it’s raining in most of Southeast today, there’s another large, warm and wet weather system just offshore, waiting to plow into the region. It’s expected to bring heavy rainfall and high winds through the week.

With already unusually warm temperatures and above average rainfall in recent months, forecasters are warning this latest system is going to increase the chance for landslides and mudslides throughout the region, says warning coordination meteorologist Joel Curtis in with the National Weather Service in Juneau.

“We’ve had a moist flow aimed at us for most of the winter so far and then this thing is just putting more rain on top of that. We just have a real ‘watch out’ condition,” Curtis says.

He issued the first warning for landslides on Monday night. He is forecasting most areas of Southeast will get up to an inch and half of rain Tuesday followed by up to two inches overnight and more on Wednesday. The system will also bring high winds, expected to reach 40 to 50 miles per hour in many areas.

Curtis says with soils already saturated and high winds forecasted conditions are ripe for landslides.

“If you combine a lot of precipitation with wind, you’re trunks are moving therefore your root systems are moving and it’s much easier to get a blow down in these extremely moist conditions like we have right now,” he says. “So, when you start moving those root systems around and then you put some good gusts of wind on it, that’s one of the ways we try to look out for landslides and mudslides.”

He says with such a large system, it’s difficult to be precise about what areas are most susceptible to landslides.

“We don’t have the detailed knowledge of saying ‘OK, it’s going to happen along a certain road or certain clear-cut.’ We don’t have that knowledge. So we have to be very, very general when we put that in our special weather statement.”

Curtis says the alerts will be updated as the impending weather system moves over the panhandle.  He says the only region of Southeast not included in the landslide warning at this time the Yakutak area.

On Tuesday, the Haines and Skagway area was also forecasted to get several inches of snow along the Haines Highway and up to a foot and a half of snow was expected along the Klondike highway.

For the most up-to-date weather information, visit the National Weather Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fisheries Chairman Resigns

Wed, 2015-01-21 13:49

Alaska Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone resigned Tuesday after Gov. Bill Walker said he would not submit his name to the legislature for reappointment.

Rather than wait for his term to expire in June, Johnstone resigned immediately.

His resignation came after the Board of Fisheries blocked a candidate for Fish and Game commissioner from being interviewed for the position.

Gov. Walker’s press secretary, Grace Jang, said only one of four job candidates was interviewed by the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game.

“Well, Governor Walker was very disappointed that the process wasn’t allowed to play out and that only one name was advanced to him,” Jang said. “While he’s very confident that Sam Cotten will make an excellent commissioner and has been doing an excellent job in the past couple of months, he wanted to make sure that the public process was respected.”

Gov. Walker’s office also announced Tuesday that it appointed Cotten as Department of Fish and Game commissioner.

Jang said the governor wants to make sure the public is involved in all processes.

“Gov. Walker thanks Mr. Johnstone for his service. He wants new ideas on the board, essentially,” Jang said.

Johnstone could not be reached for comment.

His resignation is effective Jan. 27, after the Board of Fisheries finishes a meeting in Wrangell to consider Southeast shellfish proposals.

Governor Walker nominated Roland Maw, the candidate rejected by the Board of Fisheries, to fill the vacancy left by Johnstone. Maw’s appointment must be approved by the state legislature.

Johnstone has served on the Board of Fisheries since 2008.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Sea Pollock Fishery Casts Off

Wed, 2015-01-21 13:47

Ron Mitchell drops nets onto the deck of the F/V Seadawn. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

The Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened up on Tuesday afternoon. Pollock crews are gearing up for a potential increase in their harvest — while still keeping an open mind about what the winter has in store.

Within hours of arriving in Unalaska on Tuesday morning, the crew of the Seadawn was back to work.

“We’ll just get everything on the boat and then we can start organizing it,” Ron Mitchell yelled as he stacked extra nets on deck using a crane.

Once they start fishing, the Seadawn and the other vessels in the UniSea cooperative will have a little extra pollock to work with, too.The catch limit increased about 3 percent this year to 1.3 million metric tons.

But one of the fleet’s biggest expenses has been getting cheaper.

“We were hoping to make a little more money since fuel prices are down,” Mitchell says. “But then we heard the fish prices are down, too.”

Up in the wheelhouse, captain Richard Wyatt is a little more optimistic.

“Initial reports on prices aren’t so exciting to us,” Wyatt says. “But you can make up a little bit of that if fishing’s good, so we’ll just see where it goes.”

According to studies from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea is on the rise. That’s part of the reason why this year’s catch limit went up.

But other fish aren’t faring so well. Halibut have been getting smaller and harder to find. And the harvests have been shrinking, too.

That’s prompted some Alaska’s acting fish and game commissioner and others to file an emergency petition. They want a stricter limit on the amount of halibut that trawlers are allowed to take on accident — while they’re pursuing other fish, including pollock.

NMFS is still considering that request. But in the meantime, biologist Krista Milani says the same bycatch limits will apply.

“Everything’s managed by sectors and coops,” Milani says. “And so they kind of self-manage their caps. We definitely are looking at any kind of incidental catch that they’re coming across — prohibited species that they’re catching. And we’ll be watching their reports when they come in.”

The first round — and the first deliveries of pollock — are expected early next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Kink Community Readies its New Home After Years of Unique Hurdles

Wed, 2015-01-21 10:51

Sahra Shaubach in the room she and volunteers extensively rehabbed inside the basement of the 225 E. 5th Ave property, holding a poster from the The Eagle, a renown Baltimore leather bar. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

Alaska has a tightening kink community made up of people living alternative lifestyles that range from discomfort with mainstream society to unconventional sex practices. But they have struggled to find spaces in which to gather. Now, after a lengthy tenant dispute and thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles–ACAL– is ready to open it’s doors.


“Our stairwell, when we finish staging, will be full of pride-flags from across the lower-48,” explains Sahra Shaubach as she shows off the staircase leading into the 2000 square-foot basement she rents in downtown Anchorage, formerly the site of the Kodiak bar. ”Those will include Bear pride-flags, and GBLT pride flags, of course the Leather pride flag, the Trans pride flag and so on and so forth.”

ACAL is meant to solve a years-long problem of where people interested in unconventional sex can get together for events.

 ”You name it, we’ve rented it,” Shaubach explains.  ”We’ve done this out of restaurants after they’ve closed, we’ve done this out of convention halls, we’ve done this out of hotels–we’ve rented entire floors of hotels and done theme rooms. We’ve rented basements, we’ve rented empty houses. And we’ve been doing it with the respect of the greater community in Anchorage, I believe. We haven’t had anyone call the cops and say ‘Oh my god the perverts are screaming next door.’”

“Kink community” is the umbrella term covering everything from bondage and leather aficionados to erotic artists and exotic hoola-hoopers. Though Alaska’s kink community is dwarfed by cities in the Lower-48, it is far more widespread than the uninitiated may realize. In the last two decades, different groups like The Norther Lights Dungeon Society and Alaska Dark Realms organized coffee meet-ups and dinners nicknamed “munches.”

“It was just amazing to realize that people across the board–young, old, fat, ugly, educated, not, your doctors, your lawyers, your school teachers, your single mothers, your college students–everybody shows up to those munches,” Shaubach recalls from when she began getting involved eight years ago.  ”If you saw us sitting at a restaurant–20, 25, 30, 40 of us–you would have no idea we are Alaska’s alternative community. We look like the people you’d see at Fred Myers.”

Shaubach pounced on the opportunity to rent out the basement in the old Kodiak, even though it meant cleaning up years of broken furniture, trash, and remnants of people crashing when they had nowhere else to go. Upon seeing the space for the first time in two years, the landlord wept. Shaubach and volunteers organized “work frollicks”–a borrowed Amish term–to haul trash, paint, clean, and disinfect the industrial kitchen on the top floor. It took months, but the results are impressive. The rambling chambers of the basement are primed for activities: a tiny stage surrounded by tables, studded leather straps to hang donated art, and “playrooms” holding a few daunting apparatuses.

“There’ll also be a large padded table here that also has a cage that goes underneath it,” Shaubach explained, pointing inside her favorite room. It was filled with supplies and equipment, including an X-shaped St. Andrew’s Cross and wooden stocks affixed to a spanking bench.

“Forgive me if this is a little bit Suburban,” I asked, “but what is the table and what are the cage for?”

“Umm,” Shaubach paused, a smile spreading over her face, ‘there’s so many options for a table and a cage!” 

Alaska’s kink community numbers in the hundreds, and is committed enough that Shaubach can finance the costs of rent and upkeep by collecting membership fees.

“It’s like having a Sam’s Club Card,” said Shaubach, “you don’t get the groceries for free, but you definitely get a discounted rate for being a member.”

$120 s a year buys access to the space, along with priority rates on workshops and educational events on eclectic topics like knot-tying.

Shaubach stands in a corner of the industrial kitchen she says had been left in a state of disarray by the time she returned to the space for the first time since December. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

ACAL was set to open in December, but a high-profile tenant dispute disrupted those plans. The top-floor was leased to Charlene Egbe, who runs the Alaska Cannabis Club, and was evicted last week. By the time Egbe and her business partners vacated the premise the top floor was a mess, documented extensively by a local blogger with an interest in the case, who has since publicly archived photographs documenting the state of the property. The kitchen was filled with trash and flat-screen TVs, fixtures, and furniture were gone.

Egbe says that she and associates poured money and time into improving the space beyond its condition from when she first  signed the lease.

“We’re disappointed that our former landlord continues to attempt to assassinate the character of the Alaska Cannabis Club,” Egbe said by phone. “We are taking legal action against our former landlord, and other parties involved, for defamation of character, amongst other things.”

Shaubach is not eager to dwell on what happened, or on the pending civil case. Instead, she is planning more work frollicks to get the ACAL space ready in the weeks ahead. She knows where she’ll put a small library and has already picked a name (The Back Door) for the modest boutique that will sell leather accouterments. Mostly, she’s ready for the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles to finally become a gathering place.

“We’ve built this center, and created it with a vision of our community having a place to foster our foundations and elevate our education past what we’ve already done. And we just need a home,” Shaubach said, a sad note creeping into her voice. “We need a place that’s safe, sane, secure so that we can practice what it is that we do.”

The Center’s public premier is slated for the first Friday in February.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 20, 2015

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:38

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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Alaska’s 29th Legislature Gavels In

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The state legislature began the 29th session this afternoon. House Speaker Mike Chenault gaveled in at 1 p.m. The State Senate followed an hour later. Senate President Kevin Meyer is a Republican from Anchorage. He says the caucus has several priorities this year – the gas line, education, arctic policy and development and federal overreach, but he says the state budget will – of course – need the most attention.

Walker Adds More Commissioners To Cabinet

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has decided to keep two acting commissioners, and appoint one new one.

Senate Finance Considering Bringing On Former Commissioners As Consultants

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Senate Finance Committee is considering hiring two former state commissioners to help lawmakers review state spending and address massive budget deficits.

Sen. Sullivan Weighs In On Potential State of the Union Topics

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress was Tuesday night, but the White House has been offering previews of his main proposals for weeks. Alaska’s new Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, said before it began he was expecting to hear an overly rosy depiction of unemployment.

Murkowski Named Chairman Of Interior Subcommittee Of Appropriations Panel

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Lisa Murkowski already chairs a full committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But today she was also named chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Appropriations panel. That subcommittee essentially sets the budget for the Interior Department, as well as the Forest Service and the Indian Health Service.

Bill Would Set Up Compensation Program For Wrongfully Convicted

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks Democratic State Representative Scott Kawasaki has pre-filed a bill that would set up a system for compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles Prepares To Open Its Doors

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska has a kink community made up of people living alternative lifestyles that range from discomfort with mainstream society to unconventional sex practices. But they’ve struggled to find a space to gather. Now, after the group has weathered a lengthy tenant dispute and thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles, or ACAL is ready to open its doors in Anchorage.

Walker Halts Demolition In Anchorage Neighborhood

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Walker has put the demolition of an Anchorage property on hold. Walker told reporters on Monday that he was halting further action on the demolition of a building that houses a Subway sandwich shop in the city’s Government Hill neighborhood because the demolition is part of the Knik Arm Bridge project.

Lack Of Snow Could Again Send Iditarod Start To Fairbanks

The Associated Press

Southcentral Alaska’s lack of snow and uncertain weather is again pushing organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to ponder moving the start of the race from Willow to Fairbanks.

Eaglecrest Suspends Lift Operations Due To Lack Of Snow

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area is halting lift operations until it receives enough snow to open at least part of the upper mountain.

People With Disabilities Find Independence Through Skiing

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Earlier this month, Juneau did get some snow and Eaglecrest had its smallest chairlift going. This allowed ORCA to run its Adaptive Ski and Snowboard program, which has been teaching people with disabilities how to ski for 18 years.

Categories: Alaska News

State Prosecutors Target Range of Child Sex Abuse Offenses in Round of Convictions

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:20

The Department of Law closed four child sex abuse cases last week. The charges are part of the state’s efforts to go after more offenders for a wider range of abuses.

Two of the cases were brought against a Sand Point resident sentenced to a total of 23 years, with 15 more on probation.

“James Griffith was sentenced on two different cases involving sexual abuse of a minor,” said Adam Alexander, assistant district attorney in the office of special prosecutions. “In the older of the two cases, Griffith was sentenced for sexually abusing a developmentally developed child.”

The other two convictions involve Anchorage residents possessing and distributing sexually exploitative images and videos. Alexander believes many people think of viewing child pornography as a lesser offense than direct abuse, but the Department of Law and the state Legislature are aggressively prosecuting those they see as driving the illegal market.

“In situations where those images of the child being victimized are trafficked on the Internet, it’s important to note that first and foremost these aren’t victimless crimes,” said Alexander.  ”When somebody possesses, downloads, or distributes child pornography in Alaska they’re directly contributing to that victimization, and creating a market which drives the creation of those images.”

The state has strict sentencing guidelines as part of its deterrence strategy. Conviction in a first-time offense carries a minimum of 2 years in prison with two more on probation.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s 29th Legislature Gavels In

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:10

The state legislature began the 29th session this afternoon. House Speaker Mike Chenault gaveled in at 1 pm.

The State Senate followed an hour later.

Senate President Kevin Meyer is a Republican from Anchorage. He says the caucus has several priorities this year,-the gas line, education, Arctic policy and development and federal over-reach. But he says the state budget will – of course – need the most attention.

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Categories: Alaska News

Walker Adds More Commissioners To Cabinet

Tue, 2015-01-20 17:09

Gov. Bill Walker has decided to keep on two acting commissioners, and appoint one new one.

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The newest face is Chris Hladick, who will direct the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Hladick *has* served as Unalaska’s city manager since 2001, and before that he worked in Dillingham and Galena.

The governor will also submit Sam Cotten’s name to the Legislature for confirmation as head of the Department of Fish and Game. Cotten is a former Speaker of the House, and served in the Alaska State Legislature as a Democrat for 16 years. Cotten has led Fish and Game on an acting basis since Walker’s inauguration, and the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game approved his nomination last week.

Walker also intends to keep acting Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor in the position on a permanent basis. Taylor was previously a deputy commissioner in the department, and focused on prisoners’ re-entry to society.

Walker’s Cabinet appointments must be confirmed by the Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News