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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 59 min 50 sec ago

Earth Day Celebration Helps Mark Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

Mon, 2014-04-21 17:21

Earth Day will be celebrated with a concert in Fairbanks on Tuesday. It’s part of a summer long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 21, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-21 17:12

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Lawmakers Search For Education Bill Solution

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last night, the Alaska State Legislature failed to meet their 90-day deadline after the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement on a major education bill. Lawmakers stayed on the floor until 4am trying to wrap up their work, but it was not enough. Now, they’re back at the Capitol for a 91st day of session trying to hammer out a deal.

Missed Deadline Pushes Initiatives To General Election

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Because the Legislature did not meet its midnight deadline, three citizen’s initiatives are expected to be moved from the August primary to the November general election.

Alaska Becomes The Second State To Officially Recognize Indigenous Languages

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Supporters of a bill to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages organized a 15 hour sit-in protest at the Capitol on Sunday. Their dedication paid off early Monday morning, when the Alaska Senate passed the measure on an 18-2 vote.

It now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

‘Demo Dose’ Lab Tests Find Bacteria

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Lab testing of a synthetic saline solution wrongly used in a University of Alaska Fairbanks medical class shows bacteria.  A Houston based laboratory was hired by the university to analyze samples of  “Demo Dose.”  The solution, which is not intended for humans, was used by UAF Community and Technical College Clinical Procedures Class students to practice injections on themselves and one another.

Gasline Official Says In-State Project Is No Pipedream

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

With an oversupply of natural gas in the country, Alaska is exploring the construction of a relatively small, low-pressure gasline within the state’s borders – while still holding out hope for a much larger project should prices improve.

Dan Fauske is the president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation – or AGDC. He spoke to Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce last week about when and where Alaskans may see gas.

Delta vs. Alaska: Dueling Airlines Benefit Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

In preparation for daily flights between Juneau and Seattle starting May 29, Delta Air Lines performed test flights in the capital city on Wednesday. For a long time, Alaska Airlines has been the only one flying that route.

Juneau is set to benefit from the competing partner airlines.

Earth Day Celebration Helps Mark Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Earth Day will be celebrated with a concert in Fairbanks on Tuesday. It’s part of a summer long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Becomes The Second State To Officially Recognize Indigenous Languages

Mon, 2014-04-21 12:33

In the Senate gallery, an emotional Rep. Charisse Millett holds hands with Liz Medicine Crow while Senators debate the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Supporters of a bill to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages organized a 15 hour sit-in protest at the Capitol on Sunday. Their dedication paid off early this morning, when the measure passed the Alaska Senate on an 18-2 vote.

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House Bill 216 passed the Alaska House of Representatives last week, 38-0.

It now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

Dozens of people of all ages and races, many wearing their Easter finest,  gathered in the hall outside Sen. Lesil McGuire’s office. The Anchorage Republican and chair of the Senate Rules Committee had the power to put House Bill 216 on the Senate’s calendar. But with end of the legislative session looming, the bill’s supporters worried it was getting caught up in last-minute, behind-the-scenes politics.

The group started their vigil just after noon, singing, dancing, and playing drums, and talking about why Alaska Native languages are so important.

“Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins,” said Lance Twitchell, a professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast.

HB 216 would add the state’s indigenous languages to a statute created by a 1998 voter initiative, which made English the official language of Alaska. While the bill is largely symbolic, Twitchell said it’s important to recognize all languages as equal.

“That’s all we want is equal value,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying that. It takes a lot of courage to do that. And it takes a lot of something else to try and go against that.”

Many elders who attended the sit-in recalled being punished as children for speaking their first languages. Irene Cadiente of Juneau said her teachers would hit her with a ruler when they caught her speaking Tlingit.

“Sometimes I wonder when my hand hurts, is it on account of me speaking Tlingit?” Cadiente asked. “My hands were rulered. Is that why it hurts? I never forget that.”

Cadiente said she’s proud that her great grandchildren are now learning to speak the language.

Heather Burge, a student in the Native Languages program at UAS, said she didn’t understand how HB 216 could become controversial.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompins (center) celebrates by posing for a “selfie” with supporters of House Bill 216, his legislation making 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. The bill had passed the Senate only moments earlier at 3 a.m., April 21, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

“We should be at the point where this should be a non-issue,” Burge said. “But it’s still scary to some people, which is a little disheartening. But hopefully we can get past this.”

After the group had been outside McGuire’s office for about 30 minutes, the senator’s Chief of Staff Brett Huber announced the bill would be scheduled for a floor vote. McGuire later made an appearance of her own.

“We just got the bill, so we’re going as fast as we can,” McGuire said. “But it’s nice to see all of you. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your passion. I know you have support.”

It was 3 a.m. by the time the measure finally reached the floor.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, who’s Inupiaq, said the bill would not have made it through the legislature without a groundswell of support.

“The elders, the youth, Native and non-Native,” Olson said.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, took responsibility for the delay in getting the bill to the floor. Coghill tried to explain what he hoped to achieve last week when he proposed amending the bill to create a new category in statute for “ceremonial languages.”

“I thought if you had them in that place of honor you would aspire to them and honor them,” Coghill said. “Where if you put them in this place, they’re more likely to be under tension that I think would be harder to get to the honor and easy to get to divisiveness.”

Coghill said he was an apologetic no vote. He added that he would be willing to own up to it if he ends up being proven wrong. Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, was the other Senator to vote against the bill.

After the bill passed, supporters gathered outside Senate chambers to embrace each other and shed tears of joy. Twitchell summed up the feeling with a Tlingit phrase.

“We succeeded. We obtained,” Twitchell said after first saying it in Tlingit.

The bill explicitly says the official language designation does not require the state or local governments to conduct business in languages other than English. But Twitchell said putting them in the same part of the law builds momentum for future generations of Native language speakers.

If Gov. Sean Parnell signs the bill into law, Alaska will become just the second state after Hawaii to officially recognize indigenous languages.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Passes Gov. Parnell’s LNG Pipeline Plan

Mon, 2014-04-21 09:24

The Legislature did pass the Governor’s liquefied natural gas pipeline participation plan.

The House voted 36-4 on the measure Sunday. The Senate later voted 16-4 to agree to the House changes. Senate Bill 138 would set state participation at about 25 percent in a project also being pursued TransCanada, the Alaska Gas-line Development Corp., and the North Slope’s major players. It would allow the project to move to a stage of preliminary engineering and design and cost refinement.

It also would allow the state to negotiate project-enabling contracts but they would have to come back to lawmakers for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Missed Deadline Pushes Initiatives To General Election

Mon, 2014-04-21 08:38

Because the Legislature did not meet its midnight deadline, three citizen’s initiatives are expected to be moved from the August primary to the November general election.

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The switch would happen because of a constitutional rule requiring a 120-day waiting period after a legislative session before an initiative can be put to a vote. It would affect ballot questions to slow down the proposed Pebble Mine, to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and to hike the minimum wage. The rule does not apply to referenda, so a measure to repeal the new oil tax law would stay on the August ballot.

The rescheduling of initiatives is expected to help the anti-repeal effort, which the oil industry has sunk millions of dollars into. That’s because the initiatives are expected to bring more liberal-leaning voters to the polls, and that increased turnout will no longer affect the primary.

This dynamic also triggered an ugly political fight in the Legislature, when a bloc of House Republicans passed a minimum wage bill earlier this month to preempt the initiative entirely. Republicans and Democrats accused each other of trying to game the elections, and initiative sponsors came out against the bill out of concern that the Legislature would quickly gut it.

While the House majority pushed their Senate counterparts to move the minimum wage bill through, they were met with resistance. The two bodies then engaged in a standoff, with each chamber holding unrelated pieces of legislation hostage to get leverage. But ultimately, the Senate did not back down.

Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said early Monday morning that the minimum wage bill is officially dead.

“The votes aren’t there. The votes haven’t been there all year.”

McGuire says some members of the Senate Majority oppose the bill because they see it as meddling with elections, while others simply are not in favor of the policy and believe it could have negative economic consequences.

With the addition of the initiatives, the November ballot will be especially packed because of the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race.

Categories: Alaska News

With Education Standoff, Legislature Misses Deadline

Mon, 2014-04-21 08:26

All session, legislative leadership had promised to gavel out early, to be home in time for the Easter holiday. That didn’t happen. In fact, the Legislature did not gavel out at all. With the House and Senate struggling to make a deal on education, lawmakers are forced into extra innings.

By 1 a.m., the second floor of the state capitol had erupted into chaos. The Legislature had blown its midnight deadline, with the capital budget still in committee and debate yet to begin on a sprawling education bill.

The halls were crowded with lobbyists trading gossip, staffers pumping out amendments from copy machines, and dozens of advocates chanting and beating drums after the Native languages bill they were supporting had been held up in the political crossfire (it later passed).

Unless you were part of the Republican leadership team huddled in a closed-door strategy meeting, you were left guessing as to what was going to happen and when you were going to leave the building.

And that applies to lawmakers, too, like Democratic Reps. Chris Tuck and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.

TUCK: Tonight? Well, tonight’s over, you know that? It’s morning. Depends on how many people speak under special orders. *laughter*
KREISS-TOMKINS: That’s what you call 1am humor.

When political leadership finally did emerge, details were scarce. Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill had blown up because of a disagreement over education funding. The House had put extra money – about $75 million per year –  into the base student allocation, which enshrines it in the formula. The Senate’s version increased the number to $100 million. But the boost comes outside the BSA and is only guaranteed for three years, which has disappointed education advocates.

Sen. Charlie Huggins speaks to reporters during a Senate Majority press availability, March, 4, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

When Senate President Charlie Huggins emerged from the meeting, he ran straight to the bathroom before reporters could surround him. And when he emerged, details on the education plan were scarce.

BOB TKACZ: What’s the problem? Why are you guys hung up so much?
CHARLIE HUGGINS: There is no problem.
TKACZ: Well, it’s past midnight. You’re not done. You were going to get done 48 hours ago, Mr. President.
HUGGINS: Well, we’re waiting on the House. As soon as we get them lined up, we’ll be ready to go.

The House and Senate stayed in session until dawn, tending to the logjam of bills that had built up during the stalemate between the two bodies.

The House passed a popular crime reform bill, a bill that would allow a $250 million power plant at the University Alaska Fairbanks, and a bill that would seal criminal records that did not result in a guilty verdict. The Senate passed a measure requiring more public information on state regulations, and legislation to extend the senior benefits program.

But the education issue remained unresolved. Finally, at 4am, the Senate decided it was time for everyone to go home. Senate Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said it just made more sense to give people some rest before debating one of the session’s priority bills.

“The concern that we had was it’s not good decision making when people are tired,” said McGuire. “We have older members, and you can just kind of see people’s energy levels lowering, and you’re not as sharp as you would be.”

Lawmakers will be coming back in the afternoon, on the 91st day of the legislative session, to take up the education bill again.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Passes Bill Transferring $3 Billion To Retirement System

Sat, 2014-04-19 19:56

After wrestling with how to approach the state’s massive unfunded liability for months, the Alaska Senate unanimously agreed to put $3 billion toward the public employee pension system just hours after their plan was released.

The retirement bill was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell last week, with the objective of shoring up the retirement trusts funds because the state’s unfunded liability is $12 billion. The House passed the legislation with no changes, but the Senate made two major modifications

Sen. Pete Kelly speaks on the Alaska Senate floor, March 24, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

While Parnell’s bill originally put $2 billion toward the public employee retirement system and $1 billion toward the teacher retirement system, the Senate version swaps those numbers because the teacher system is facing a proportionally larger funding gap.

The Senate also adopted a pension payment plan that involves smaller annual contributions in early years, with those contributions stretched out over a longer period of time. Parnell had proposed putting $500 million toward the retirement system each year for the next two decades. The Senate instead elected to go with funding plan that’s more responsive to how many state retirees are collecting benefits at any point in time. Under the Senate plan, the Legislature is expected to appropriate $350 million to the retirement fund next year, with those payments growing some each year as more retirees begin collecting benefits.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said the pension plan should allow investment bond raters to experience a “sigh of relief” and help the state maintain a high credit rating. The bill also earned praise from Democrats, who have previously attempted to increase payments in to the retirement system.

The bill passed 20-0.

In a release, Gov. Sean Parnell offered support for the Senate’s version of the bill. The bill will now be sent back to the House for concurrence.

Categories: Alaska News

Effort To Revive Parts Of Controversial Permitting Bill Scrapped

Sat, 2014-04-19 15:11

An effort to resurrect parts of a dead permitting bill was abandoned on Friday night.

Officials from the Department of Natural Resources had been working with Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, to attach land exchange language from House Bill 77 to a separate bill concerning land sales.

The exchange provision would have allowed the DNR to trade state land for private land, as long as the properties were of equal value or DNR determined the exchange was in the state’s best interest.

The Department of Natural Resources pitched it as an uncontroversial part of a very controversial and recently abandoned bill. When HB 77 was under consideration, the land exchange portion got scant attention compared to sections on water reservations, appeals, and general permits. But environmental advocates have now objected to the land exchange language, arguing that it removed public notice provisions and could allow for sweetheart deals for development projects.

“Rather than short-cutting the process, we should take care whenever public lands and resources are being traded away to a private entity,” says Lisa Weissler, a former assistant attorney general who opposes the language.

Rep. Muñoz had intended to offer land exchange language amendment to Senate Bill 106 either in a procedural committee or on the House floor. But when SB 106 came for a final vote on a Friday night, no amendment was offered.
Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says the amendment was scrapped because of the immediate pushback.

“We were not going to ask anyone to take heat to do this, and there was a little bit of a heat generated by certain groups. So, no harm, no foul,” says Balash. “Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity in the future to look at some of these things, and specifically the land exchange piece, in a cooler time.”

Balash expects the language to come back next year in a standalone bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Education Activists Wary of Latest School Funding Bill

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:16

Sen. Kevin Meyer (File photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

In Juneau, the latest version of the education funding bill emerged today, and it isn’t what school advocates were hoping for. Senate Finance co-chairman Kevin Meyer says it’s a comprehensive bill that would add $100 million to education, and he says the Republican majority is committed to keeping that money in the budget for each of the next three years. He distributed copies of the bill in his committee room this afternoon.

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“Some things you’re going to like, some things you may not like, but hopefully overall it’s going to be a balanced package that everyone can support,” he said.

As they studied the pages, education advocates in the front row looked grim. Alyce Galvin, an Anchorage parent and activist, left the room to study it further.

“My first reaction is Ooo, this sounds a little scary, like we’re still going to have severe cuts, now and particularly even more so in the future because if it is flat, that means it’s not keeping up with any sort of inflation costs,” she said.

Sen. Meyer says the funding amounts to a $300 increase in the BSA, referring to the per-student allocation, but Meyer says the money would not come through the BSA. The bill describes a series of special programs, for Internet upgrades and charter schools, boarding schools and vocational education. Galvin says the special programs may look good, but they are funds the Legislature can give and take.  She says the BSA provides stable funds schools can rely on.

” I think that their methodology is different than what parents want to see,” she said. “I think they’re missing the boat, that most kids are in neighborhood schools, and most parents are seeing neighborhood schools get cuts.”

Meyer says only about a quarter of the $100 million would fund special programs and the rest will go to school districts to use as they like. The bill may undergo more changes and still has to be passed by both chambers.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Enter Session’s Home Stretch

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:09

Education isn’t the only thing left on the Legislature’s plate. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is our Capitol correspondent, and she’s joining us today to walk us through what lawmakers need to do in the 60 hours before they gavel out.

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Categories: Alaska News

Series Of Quakes Rattle Northwest Alaska

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:08

A series of earthquakes rattled Northwest Alaska about 40 miles northeast of Kotzebue on Friday morning.

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The tremors began with a strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake at 10:44 Friday morning.

“It’s a very striking earthquake,” Michael West, a state seismologist and the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks, said. “I’m not aware of anything in the last 30 years in the area anywhere close in size.”

He says the initial quake was the one of the largest on record for the region, and was followed by a series of less-powerful quakes, including a 5.3 magnitude aftershock that struck just 12 minutes later.

“We’ve recorded at least ten or so aftershocks in the last couple of hours, I’m quite sure there are many more that are a lot smaller,” West said.

The quakes occurred about 20 miles northeast of Noatak – a community of 500. The massive zinc mining operation at Red Dog is also 20 miles from the center of the series of quakes.

The centers of the quakes were about 20 miles northeast of the 500-strong community of Noatak, Also 20 away, the Red Dog Mine.

Staff at the Noatak school say it shook the whole building for nearly a minute. Ice fishermen on the Noatak River say it pushed water through their fishing hole and up on top of the ice.

“We have a VHF here and people were going on that,” Amy Mitchell, a health aide in training at the Noatak clinic, said. “Our other health aide and our supervisor were telling people to go under tables and under the doorframe – interesting and scary for me.”

Despite rattling buildings, no damage or injuries have been reported.

Seismologist West says there’s no evidence suggesting the quakes are a prelude to something bigger. Dozens of aftershocks continued through Friday but West says the seismic activity should die down by next week.

“Our alarms have been going crazy all morning with each one of these sort of updating into our system, but they’ll die off into the coming days,” West said.

The Earthquake Information Center says the quake was felt as far away as Kotzebue.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Recall Lindsey Holmes’ Group Takes Petition Dismissal To Court

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:07

Representatives from the “Recall Lindsey Holmes” group and Alaska’s Division of Elections met in State Superior Court on Thursday.

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(Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage)

The two sides are arguing over the state’s rejection of a petition to recall Anchorage Representative Lindsey Holmes, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican just days before the 2013 Legislative session was set to gavel in.

Elizabeth Bakalar represents the Alaska Division of Elections. She says the recall process is aimed at dealing with issues of misconduct that arise during a representative’s time in office, and because the event took place before Holmes was sworn in, the circumstances deal more with the candidacy and primary process, which is separate.

“It’s a political discontent, not legal discontent, that’s reflected in the grievances, and the remedy lies with the voters at a regular election and not a special recall election and not with this court today,” Bakalar said.

The recall effort began shortly after Holmes made the announcement in early 2013. Over the next several months, the “Recall Lindsey Holmes” group gathered 904 signatures, turning them into the State Division of Elections in November – nearly 100 more than were necessary.

Rep. Lindsey Holmes speaks to reporters during a House Majority press availability, Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Roughly a month later, the Division of Elections rejected the petition, saying the effort to recall Holmes did not meet the requirements laid out by the state constitution.

Louis Tozzi, who represents the “Recall Lindsey Holmes” group, disagrees with that assessment, arguing a “lack of fitness” on the part of Representative Holmes’, which would allow the recall effort to move forward.

“The issue is we believe that Ms. Holmes corrupted the intent of the closed primary and that she raised money disingenuously and made misrepresentations to the voters – and that the voters, especially the contributors, feel defrauded by that,” Tozzi said.

At the close of the hearing, Judge Gregory Miller said he would take the arguments into consideration and issue a written opinion at a later date.

Categories: Alaska News

Talkeetna Guides With Everest Experience Speak About Deadly Incident

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:06

On Friday, a deadly incident claimed the lives of at least 12 people on Mount Everest.

Willi Prittie and Ellie Henke, both residents of Talkeetna, have extensive experience on Everest.

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Even with the most current gear and knowledgeable guides, mountain climbing carries inherent risk. Willi Prittie has led six expeditions on Mt. Everest, and currently works as a coordinator for a guide service on Denali. He says that major incidents remind people of the risks involved in trying to reach the world’s tallest peaks.

“It’s a roll of the dice whether you’re going to be there when something big moves or not, and people forget that,” Prittie said. “They forget that you are incurring risk any time you’re going through an area like this, just like you would when you get in your vehicle and you drive down the Parks Highway you’re incurring risk.”

“We forget that as well; we tend to have a very convenient memory as a species on these sorts of things.”

On Friday, reports conflicted regarding where the avalanche actually took place. Willi, says that the description that makes the most sense is that the “avalanche” was in the area of the Khumbu Icefall. An icefall occurs when a glacier, which is essentially a very slow river of ice, crosses steep terrain, causing stress fractures. Willi Prittie says that the Alaska Range also has a number of large icefalls, but that climbing routes avoid them because of differences in conditions.

“Something of that size and scale here in Alaska is far more active, and you’d have to have a death wish to walk into it,” Prittie said.

Speaking about Friday’s tragedy, Ellie Henke, who managed base camp for 10 seasons of Everest expeditions, says that using the word “avalanche” may be premature.

“Because it could have been something like a serac collapse,” Henke said. “It could have been ice-fall from way up on the West Ridge somewhere, coming quite a distance down.”

“At this point, I haven’t heard anything that tells exactly what this was.”

Mt. Everest is in a remote region, and even in the age of satellite phones and internet, there is still a human factor in reporting accurate information. Ellie says that one year, falling ice destroyed much of a large camp on the climbing route. Willi Prittie was the first one to reach the site, but had not reported back with accurate information. Still, Ellie says someone sent word to the outside world.

“Somebody in base camp put it out internationally, and next thing we know, BBC is carrying this story of, ‘The biggest disaster in Everest history: Dozens killed.’  Once the dust settled, nobody was killed,” Henke said. “BBC had to do a total retraction later on because it was so inaccurate.  That is really common that that kind of stuff happens.”

The story of the Everest incident resonates in Talkeetna, the launch point of nearly all expeditions on Denali. Willi Prittie says that while there are environmental hazards to contend with, the most popular route to North America’s tallest peak is very different from the climb up Mt. Everest. On much of Denali, the danger does not come as much from avalanches above climbers, but the cracks in the ice, or crevasses, below their feet.

“Generally, the majority of those crevasses will be covered over by wind and snowfall in the winter time,” Prittie said. “You’re often crossing many hundreds of those snow bridges without even knowing those crevasses are down there.”

“Quality of the snow on top of the snow bridges deteriorates as the season warms up, so hidden crevasses are probably the single biggest problem.”

Despite the dangers, Willi Prittie says that the reason stories like the Everest tragedy make news is that they are fairly uncommon.

“It’s not like climbers go up and have this death wish to kill themselves,” Prittie said. “For the most part, you can mitigate a lot of these risks, and you can stay safe in these areas.”

“Look at Everest; there has been many thousands of people up and down there in the last couple of decades or so, and this is the first one of these incidents that’s happened in a very long time, there.”

Conditions and the lack of an official agency, like the National Park Service in the U.S., mean that it could be awhile before the full details emerge of exactly what happened to claim the lives of the 12 or more Sherpas on the world’s highest mountain.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Fatal Hageland Crash

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:06

The National Transportation Safety Board has published a preliminary report about the crash that killed two pilots near Three Step Mountain.

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Investigators still don’t know what caused the Cessna 208 to crash, but they are digging through data sent from the aircraft that could give some clues. The data show that plane was flying at about 3,400 feet when its altitude changed.

Clint Johnson is the NTSB Regional Office Chief.

Wreckage of the Cessna 208. (Photo courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

“It would appear there was a deviation in altitude, probably two different deviations, immediately after that the plane went into a very, very steep dive, a very rapid dive and continued all the way until ground impact,” Johnson said.

Investigators on the ground found that the wreckage travelled about 180 feet before stopping in an area of heavy brush. A post-crash fire burned much of the fuselage.

The NTSB is investigating other crashes among the Ravn, formerly Era, family of companies. Johnson says they are individual investigations at this point, but they are looking for similarities between the accidents.

“But at this point right now, especially for this most recent accident we need to be able to center in on the on the facts that surround this accident. But that may come a little later on where we start connecting the dots and see if there is similarities throughout the accidents,” Johnson said. “Whereas, training, FAA oversight, maintenance procedures, there’s a whole litany of things. It’s a process of elimination. At this point, nothing has been eliminated.”

The plane was not equipped with cockpit voice or data recorders and was not required to have them. The plane’s wreckage is in Bethel and will be sent to Anchorage.

A full report from the NTSB is expected in about a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 18, 2014

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:05

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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School Advocates Unhappy With Education Bill’s Latest Rendering

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Juneau, the latest version of the education funding bill emerged today, and it isn’t what school advocates were hoping for. Senate Finance co-chairman Kevin Meyer says it’s a comprehensive bill that would add $100 million to education, and he says the majority is committed to keeping those funds in the budget for each of the next three years.

Legislators Enter Session’s Home Stretch

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Education isn’t the only thing left on the Legislature’s plate. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is our Capitol correspondent, and she’s joining us today to walk us through what lawmakers need to do in the 60 hours before they gavel out.

Series Of Quakes Rattle Northwest Alaska

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A series of earthquakes rattled Northwest Alaska about 40 miles northeast of Kotzebue Friday morning.

The tremors began with a strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake at 10:44 on Friday morning.

‘Recall Lindsey Holmes’ Group Takes Petition Dismissal To Court

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Representatives from the “Recall Lindsey Holmes” group and Alaska’s Division of Elections met in State Superior Court on Thursday.

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Fatal Hageland Crash

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The National Transportation Safety Board has published a preliminary report about the crash that killed two pilots near Three Step Mountain.

Talkeetna Guides With Everest Experience Speak About Deadly Incident

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

A deadly incident claimed the lives of at least twelve Sherpas today on Mount Everest. Willi Prittie and Ellie Henke, both residents of Talkeetna, have extensive experience on Everest.

AK: Hazing Birds

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

At most major airports someone is paid to chase birds off the runway. But at Sitka’s airport, that job is especially challenging. That’s because 3/4 of Sitka’s runway is surrounded by water. Fish spawn along its banks, attracting hungry birds. That problem was highlighted four years ago when two Alaska Airline jets collided with eagles on takeoff.

300 Villages: Akiachak

This week, we’re heading to Akiachak, in Southwest Alaska. The village is the first in the state to formally decide to dissolve its local government in favor of traditional tribal representation. Jonathan Lomack is the executive director for Akiachak Native Community Tribal Government.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Akiachak

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:05

This week, we’re heading to Akiachak, in Southwest Alaska. The village is the first in the state to formally decide to dissolve its local government in favor of traditional tribal representation. Jonathan Lomack is the executive director for Akiachak Native Community Tribal Government.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Hazing Birds

Fri, 2014-04-18 15:11

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

At most major airports someone is paid to chase birds off the runway, but at Sitka’s airport that job is especially challenging.

That’s because 3/4 of Sitka’s runway is surrounded by water. Fish spawn along its banks, attracting hungry birds. That problem was highlighted four years ago when two Alaska Airline jets collided with eagles on takeoff. KCAW’s Emily Forman spoke with the expert who came in afterwards to make sure the runway is safe.

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Snarge. That’s the technical term Dave Tresham uses to describe unidentifiable bird debris. Avoiding snarge is the goal. It’s also the reason he’s speeding up and down Sitka’s runway 30 minutes before the noon flight departs for Ketchikan. He spots some loafing eagles at the end of the runway and stops the truck.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“So now we have two eagles,” Tresham said. “So, the more you leave the birds alone the more they will show up.”

Tresham chooses a small hand pistol loaded with pyrotechnic shells aptly called screamers. Screamers tend to work best on eagles – who don’t fear much at the top of the food chain. Because when triggered, the screamers spiral wildly and shoot sparks. That’s what it takes to rattle an eagle.

Tresham is a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist stationed at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. He notices patterns in bird activity at a very micro level. He has his eyes on every tuft of grass, puddle, and critter.

Tresham: “Many times I’ll spend an hour, two hours picking up bugs and worms up off of the runway.”
Forman: “Really you’ll go to that level of detail?”
Tresham: “I have pictures of night crawlers. There’s an isopod it’s called a rock loas. That is supposed to stay within a few feet of the shore line. And I’ve picked up literally hundreds of them out towards the center of the runway.”

Tresham has been modifying Sitka’s causeway since 2010. In August that year, an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to abort takeoff when a bald eagle was sucked into its left engine. That same week the replacement plane also hit an eagle on takeoff. No people were injured, only fowls, but after that, Tresham was hired to come up with a long term plan for deterring wildlife from making the Sitka runway home. That includes things like filling in still water with gravel or trimming down tall patches of grass.

Forman: “So, is there basically a Dave Tresham at every airport?”
Tresham: “There’s many. Yes. We probably have close to 30 USDA wildlife specialists working the state of Alaska alone…”

Tresham’s career path started with the Aleutian cackling goose. His first wildlife management job was removing an invasive species of fox that was preying on the cackling goose to the point of endangerment. He’s devoted a lot of time to kicking animals out of places where they shouldn’t be, but he loves wildlife. It’s tough love.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“I just show up for work even when I’m not working because it’s nice to see the birds the populations,” Tresham said. “Just look at the scenery you have whales and sea lions. Where else can you do it?”

Tresham says the job has turned him into an avid bird watcher. Makes sense, that’s what the job requires. But he’s also become a really tense airplane passenger. His seasonal assistant Heather Bauscher agrees.

“You’re like where is the wildlife person! I see birds!” Bauscher said. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that!? Hahaha!”

They are both much more comfortable on the ground – a stone’s throw away from a 737 as it’s taking off. Because that’s where they have the most control.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“We have to the south 3 to 4 maybe 5 eagles flying through those trees. From this distance those birds have felt that bangers going off…”

A banger is used with a 24 gauge shot gun. It’s a longer range shell than the screamer. Loud and resonant.

“…and if anything starts coming in this route I’ll be talking to the pilot to let them know where the birds are at.”

Tresham can literally change the course of a speeding plane minutes before it lands.

“So we have eagles above him eagles below him eagles in front of him,” Tresham said. “So we’ll be talking to the pilot 5-7 miles from the airport if we can see them saying, ‘Hey you’ve got eagles.’”

Categories: Alaska News

Congressional Issues: U.S. Representative Don Young

Fri, 2014-04-18 12:00

Alaska Congressman Don Young.

Taking phone calls from all over the largest congressional district in the nation can be a challenge, but it also makes for quite a radio show. Alaska Congressman Don Young is back in his district for the spring recess, and ready to talk with you on the next Talk of Alaska.

Do you have a question for Alaska’s lone congressman? Leave a comment below, email us, or call in during the live show on Tuesday.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • U.S. Representative Don Young
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

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

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Lawmakers Vote To Allow Medevac Membership Programs

Fri, 2014-04-18 09:17

Legislation allowing medevac membership programs to continue is on its way to Gov. Sean Parnell for his signature.

The Alaska House unanimously approved Senate Bill 159 on Tuesday. It sailed through the Senate in late February.

An Airlift Northwest Lear Jet waits for a medevac call at Juneau’s airport. Airlift is ending its medevac insurance program in Alaska after losing a regulatory exemption.

The programs operated in Alaska for several years under an exemption, but Airlift Northwest’s AirCare was discontinued last year when the Division of Insurance said it no longer met state standards.

That resulted in lots of complaints from Southeast Alaskans, where AirCare had more than 3,000 members.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, started working with the insurance division to come up with a fix and shared the resulting legislation with her Southeast colleagues. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, introduced it in the Senate.

“It basically just exempts these types of membership programs from the Division of Insurance requirements and it sets into law a reasonable regulatory regime within the division that allows this program to continue,” Muñoz says.

She says the bill had a lot of support from retirees, the commercial fishing industry, and people who work in remote sites such as mining and timber.

An emergency medical flight to Seattle or Anchorage can cost $100,000 or more. Membership programs are a supplement to other health care insurance to cover the patient’s co-pay.

“The primary insurance will pick up generally about two-thirds of a medical transport and the membership involvement would allow that extra charge to be waived if that was the only extra coverage the individual had,” she says.

Once the governor signs the bill into law, Airlift Northwest and other medevac companies will be able again to provide their membership programs to individuals who also carry medical insurance.

In a previous interview with KTOO, Airlift Northwest executive director Chris Martin said the company has always been clear that AirCare is not an insurance program.

“What an AirCare membership guarantees you is that you have no out-of-pocket expenses or no co-pay. So we bill the insurance, we take what the insurance reimburses us and you as our AirCare member do not see a bill for any further services,” she explained.

Categories: Alaska News

Carnival Miracle Cancels 15 Ketchikan Port Calls

Fri, 2014-04-18 09:15

Citing mechanical issues that affect the Carnival Miracle’s maximum cruising speed, Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled 15 of that ship’s port calls in Ketchikan this summer.

According to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, the cancellations affect scheduled Sunday port calls beginning May 25th, and include all sailings during the months of June, July and August.

The first three calls, on May 4th, May 11th and May 18th, will remain as scheduled, KVB reports. In addition, the last two calls in September have not been cancelled, but will experience a slight change in arrival and departure times.

The ship carries 2,124 passengers and the cancellations will reduce the number of passengers arriving in Alaska’s First City by about 30,000, based on pre-season estimates.

That brings the total expected cruise passengers coming through Ketchikan down to about 850,000.

Categories: Alaska News
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