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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: 40 min 4 sec ago

Leaner Times In Store For Alaska’s Budget

Fri, 2015-01-23 16:06

Governor Bill Walker’s State of the Budget speech made clear that leaner times are ahead for Alaska. His address was a somber departure from the optimistic state of the state address. He noted almost right away that managing the state’s finances into better standing will not be easy.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Bill Popp, executive director, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation
  • Alyssa Shanks-Rodriquez, economist, State Department of Labor and Workforce Development

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski to Deliver GOP Weekly Address

Fri, 2015-01-23 15:20

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski will deliver the next Republican weekly national speech on Saturday. It’s the party’s response to the president’s weekly radio address.

Murkowski is in the spotlight these days because she’s managing the floor debate for the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. Her office says she plans to focus on the energy potential of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The tradition of the president’s weekly radio address dates back to Franklin Roosevelt. President Obama airs his as a YouTube video.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Sullivan Agree Climate is Changing but Split on Naming Cause

Fri, 2015-01-23 15:02

The U.S. Senate spent the week voting on a raft of amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Democrats took the opportunity to force votes on climate change. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is leading the Republican push for Keystone, acknowledged  it put some senators in a bind.

“Some may suggest these are … hard votes to take,” she said on the Senate floor. “Nobody ever said voting should be easy here in the United States Senate.”

Both Alaska senators voted for an amendment saying climate change is real and not a hoax. The vote was nearly unanimous: 98 to 1.  The rub came on amendments declaring a cause. Murkowski voted for an amendment saying “human activity contributes to climate change.” Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, voted against it. Sullivan believes “the verdict is still out on the human contribution to climate change” and that there’s no scientific consensus, Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson said in an email.

The amendment fell one vote shy of the 60 needed for passage.

Both Alaska senators voted no on a slightly different amendment. It declared that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change. That was one adverb too far for Murkowski.

“I would suggest to colleagues that that inclusion of that word is sufficient to merit a ‘no’ vote at this time,” Murkowski said ahead of the vote.

The amendment failed. Murkowski said later the word “significantly” was unclear, because it could mean 5% or 90 percent.

“Why would we even get into a matter of degrees? Let’s just acknowledge that human activity causes impact,” she said.

In the end, though, the only climate amendment to pass was the one recognizing that change is real. Debate on the Keystone bill continues next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Independent Generation of Electricity

Fri, 2015-01-23 12:00

It’s power politics of an electrifying kind.  What should the rules be for selling independently generated power to utilities, who have borrowed money and invested heavily to assure reliability for their customers?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

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, January 27, 2015 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

Three Defendants Facing Criminal Charges for Mining Violations No-Shows in Court

Fri, 2015-01-23 09:51

(Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service)

An arraignment was held Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for the five XS Platinum Inc. corporate officials indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and making false statements to federal officials.

Two individuals appeared in court, but Kevin Feldis, a first assistant US Attorney, and Chief of the criminal division, says three company officials did not.

“Although their registered agent in Delaware was served and accepted service of the summons ordering them to appear, they did not appear in court. The United States in response filed a motion seeking an order that they appear in court and if they don’t appear, we may be seeking sanctions or other penalties,” said Feldis.

The judge has a range of penalties, including charges of hundreds or thousand of dollars per day. The three men are Canadian and Australian, and are not currently in the country.

XS Platinum owned and operated the Platinum Creek mine from 2008 to 2012. The company and its leadership are accused of polluting the Salmon River with mine discharge, which was documented on aerial surveys flown by Togiak Refuge staff in 2011. Located near Goodnews Bay, the area has a history of platinum mining throughout last century.

The indictment says the company used wastewater ponds that leaked into the river and dug a ditch to direct wastewater into nearby Squirrel Creek. The company never bought a clarifier, used to recycle water, despite telling regulators it would do so.

This is the first federal criminal case involving environmental crimes in Alaska. Feldis says there is a strong federal component, as the mine was on Bureau of Land Management land and affected a waterway.

“The indictment alleges that the conduct that occurred, the types of discharges, and the nature of those, are are violations of federal law,” said Feldis.

Two of the accused, Robert Pate and James Staehli, both residents of Washington state, were in court and entered not guilty pleas. A trial date is set for March 9th.

KDLG’s Dave Bendinger contributed to this story. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner first reported this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Body of Second Missing Kuskokwim Traveler Recovered

Fri, 2015-01-23 09:47

Bethel Search and Rescue reports they’ve found a body of a man that went missing in December near Kwethluk. The body is believed to be that of 26-year-old George Evan of Akiak. Evan was one of three people that went missing while traveling on a four-wheeler during a storm on December 12th.

Search and rescue crews used chainsaws to cut the ice open during their search. (Photo courtesy of BSAR)

Searchers say they found Evan’s remains Wednesday afternoon. They say his body was found about 46-feet underwater on the riverbed and under the ice about a quarter mile down Kuskokwak Slough from where another body was recovered last month.

The body of 51-year-old Ralph ‘Jimmy’ Demantle was found on December 15thnear an open hole where the 4-wheeler was recovered just after the group went missing. The third traveler, 27-year-old Sally Stone is still missing.

Evan’s remains were located by using a remote operated vehicle owned and operated by Tom Crossmon of Deluth, Missouri who volunteered for the recovery.

Charles Enoch contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Ash from Russian Volcano Diverts Nightly Flight into Nome

Fri, 2015-01-23 09:15

The Shiveluch volcano as seen from the International Space Station in July 2007. (Photo: NASA via public domain)

Ash from a Russian volcano diverted the nightly flight into Nome Thursday.

The Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institution tracked “powerful explosions” last week and into this week from the Shiveluch volcano, considered one of the most active volcanos on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, that sent plumes of ash up 32,800 feet in the air.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Nome said Thursday that the ash cloud went to the mid level and lower level of the jet stream, sending it east toward Alaska. The plume then combined with a high pressure mid-level system over the Bering Sea, suspending the ash cloud over the central and eastern Norton Sound by Thursday.

“As it came across on the mid-level and upper-level jet stream, the ash kind of got sucked in with those winds,” said Christopher Clarke with the National Weather Service in Nome. “It went almost clear over the Chukotsk Peninsula, and was directed down around the backside of the high, and it’s come right over the top of Nome [as of Thursday night].”

Alaska Airlines confirmed the flight overflew Nome due to the volcanic ash in the area.

The Shiveluch volcano’s approximate location. (Image: Google Maps)

Halley Knigge, a spokesperson with Alaska Airlines, said the nightly flight made it from Anchorage to Kotzebue without incident. The plane left Kotzebue at 7:03 p.m. and “observed a haze in the area” around Nome. Following the airline’s policy of “never flying through areas of known ash,” the crew diverted the plane to Anchorage (the flight’s ultimate destination) and landed at 8:33 p.m. Knigge said the airline expects the ash cloud to dissipate, and to resume regular flights, by Friday morning.

It was unknown Thursday if smaller planes, which typically fly lower than larger commercial jets, were affected by the ash cloud.

Forecasters say the plume is moving down the Norton Sound coast and could move over the Yukon Delta before likely dissipating within the next day or so.

Volcano watchers with Russia’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, who are continuing to monitor the Shiveluch volcano, reported Friday that “explosive … eruption of the volcano continues” with “ash explosions up to 32,800 feet [that] could occur at any time.” The volcanologists and other observers caution that “ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft.”

You can see webcam videos of the volcano and its eruptions atthe Volcano Discovery website.

Categories: Alaska News

Case Dismissed Against Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle

Fri, 2015-01-23 09:12

Kathleen Adair says she feels relieved with the court’s decision to dismiss the case against her. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The State of Alaska dropped its case against a Juneau woman who was cited for springing legal traps and freeing a bald eagle.

At Kathleen Adair’s arraignment Thursday, the district attorney asked the judge to dismiss the case and encouraged Adair to continue freeing eagles.

District Attorney James Scott says Kathleen Adair did violate the law when she triggered the traps on her way out of the Davies Creek trail. But he says he used his prosecutorial discretion.

“There is space between the technical violation of a law and whether or not a case should be brought, and sometimes cases fall within that space, and I think Ms. Adair’s case is a perfect example,” Scott says.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited Adair on Jan. 10 for intentionally hindering lawful traps on Dec. 24. Adair says she sprang a total of three traps out of concern for the safety of dogs and hikers. She also freed an eagle that was caught in two traps. Despite her efforts to save the eagle, it was euthanized later that day.

Scott reminds the public that tampering with lawfully set traps is treated like a criminal offense. Anyone caught doing it could face jail time.

District Attorney James Scott (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

But, as Scott said in the courtroom, he considers what Adair did for the eagle admirable.

“If she finds herself in the same situation I hope she does the same thing again. However, before she takes it upon herself to trip traps generally, I really encourage her to meet with and talk to the other folks with an interest in this to keep us from having to go to court at all. That’s really my goal here,” Scott says.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office had a valid case and stands by the decision to charge Adair.

“If the law is violated we have the duty for both the victim in this case, as we would with any case, to bring charges forward on an individual. It was clearly violated so we felt like the charges were appropriate,” Frenzel says.

He stresses Adair was not given the citation for freeing the eagle or springing a trap in the immediate area; she was cited for tampering with another trap twice over a span of four days. Frenzel says the complainant, called “J.F.” in official paperwork, had said even more of his lawful traps were sprung during that time period.

“To say who, if maybe something else set off other traps, who knows? We know what she had advised us of and what he had advised us of, and was there more? I don’t know,” he says.

Adair says she feels relieved with the court’s decision. She says in hindsight, she may have acted differently.

“I probably would’ve left the eagle there. I mean, it saved the eagle from some suffering but they ended up having to put the eagle down anyway and all of this hassle just – I don’t know whether it was worth it or not,” Adair says.

Then again, “It’s hard to say if I would or not. When the eagle is staring at you the way that one was, it’s really hard to say what you’d really do,” she says.

Adair says she might pursue the official steps to limit trapping on Davies Creek Trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Outlines Plans For Budget Cuts

Thu, 2015-01-22 22:42

(Skip Gray/KTOO Public Media)

With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, Gov. Bill Walker is proposing 5 percent cuts to agency funding. He described his fiscal plan in his State of the Budget address on Thursday night — a speech that has not been given since 2006. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

There was no mention of Alaskan Brewery beer or Mat-Su carrots — no applause lines or jokes. Compared to Wednesday’s State of the State speech delivered, Gov. Bill Walker’s State of the Budget address was a sober event.

“Alaska’s state government funding has two drivers: oil price and oil production,” said Walker. “Unfortunately, neither is going in our favor right now.”

For half an hour, Walker described the budget he planned to submit. He has until February 18 to turn in his own budget, and he’s been using former Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan as a placeholder in the meantime.

Walker said cuts would be spread across the board. He intends to shrink agency expenditures that are not dictated by formulas by 5 percent from the draft he was given by Parnell. Walker said that amount would be doubled for his own office. By the end of his term, agency budgets could be reduced by as much as 25 percent.

Walker also said that even the sacred cows of the Alaska budget would not be off limits.

“In my endorsed budget, the K-12 formula funding remains intact, but I’ve eliminated the one-time funding added last year,” said Walker. “This equates to a 2.5 percent funding reduction.”

Walker noted that the school funding formula would be reviewed over the next year, and that education would be forward funded at 90 percent instead of in its entirety.

Community revenue sharing — the money the state provides to municipalities to bolster their own budgets — was described as vulnerable and at risk of being phased out, though Walker plans to keep the program mostly intact this year.

“Municipalities will receive $57 million dollars in revenue sharing. That is $3 million less than last year,” said Walker.

While cuts were the general rule, Walker mentioned a few additions to his budget. He bumped his capital request up to $150 million in state spending to include some projects that are currently under construction, but not yet complete. And he again asked for the Legislature’s support in seeking $450 million in Medicaid funding from the federal government.

“Investing in the health of Alaskans is sound, prudent fiscal policy,” said Walker. “We all want Alaskans to be as productive as possible, but people cannot work, hunt or fish unless they are healthy.”

Walker said that with a leaner budget, the state should be able to deal with a shortfall so long as oil prices bounce back next year. But if they do not, Walker suggested that the state may have to look at finding new forms of revenue next year, which could mean taxes or repeals of credits and subsidies.

“If prices stay low next legislative session, we will need to discuss more traditional revenue options,” said Walker.

At the end of his speech, Walker’s staff distributed a slim budget handout to legislators. With his official operating and capital budgets still outstanding, the packet gave agency spending totals with itemizing how the money was being used.

It showed that the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Law face the deepest cuts, while the Departments of Natural Resources and Public Safety as well as the university system survive mostly intact.

The budget summary also showed that even after all the reductions Walker described, Alaska was still facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion. And while every agency but one was seeing its funding cut, Walker’s budget was still technically larger than the one than Parnell handed to him because Walker does not plan to use bonds to cover a $257 million appropriation to the state’s pension fund.

After skimming the freshly released budget documents, legislators responded mostly favorably to Walker’s State of the Budget address.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who co-chairs the finance committee, said she was encouraged by Walker’s direction.

“I think the governor took a courageous first step in putting things on the table that are going to be hard to talk about,” said MacKinnon.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, said he was “lockstep” with the governor in trying to address the state’s shortfall, but was disappointed to hear that education cuts were possible.

“We’ll certainly look at that, and talk to our local school districts, and just see what kind of impact that will have to our schools,” said Meyer.

In addressing Walker’s budget speech, House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson noted that the state may have to consider taxes as well as cuts to address the deficit.

“We’re going to have to realize that even with this reduction and probably another reduction next year that we’re still going to run out of money here in a very short time,” said Thompson. “I think we need to start the discussion about reducing the budget. We’re doing our side of the job, but that’s not going to complete the job. We’re going to have to look at other revenues.”

Meanwhile, Democrats responded positively toward the speech, but acknowledged the way education and labor spending were treated gives them pause.

“We applaud that he wants to stay focused on the long game,” said Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, of Anchorage. “That’s what we have to do, and one of the problems with the legislative process is we get bogged down and we have to plan for tomorrow, and not overreact today.”

While lawmakers do not yet have Walker’s budget before them, the Legislature finance committees are already meeting to do work on the document.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan to Chair Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries

Thu, 2015-01-22 19:24

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of  the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, wetlands, the Endangered Species Act, invasive species and National Wildlife Refuges. (It is not responsible for writing the update to the Magnuson Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law. That’s a function of the Commerce Committee.) The Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to be lively this Congress. Its new chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., calls the scientific consensus that humans are a major cause of climate change a hoax. The committee’s top Democrat is Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate’s most forceful voices calling for action on climate change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 22, 2015

Thu, 2015-01-22 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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Walker Names National Guard Special Investigator

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has named a retired judge as his special investigator into the Alaska National Guard.

Sen. Sullivan Starts Committee Work

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of a subcommittee. It’s the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and wildlife refuges.

Just this week, the Senate got started with committee work. All four of Dan Sullivan’s committees met Wednesday, with three colliding in a scheduling pile-up that’s typical in Congress.

Bill Streur Hired As Medicaid Budget, Expansion Consultant

Annie Feidt APRN – Anchorage

The Senate Finance Committee approved hiring former health commissioner Bill Streur Thursday, as a consultant on the Medicaid budget and Medicaid expansion. Expanding the program is a priority of Governor Bill Walker. But many Republican lawmakers aren’t in favor of the idea.

Healthcare.gov Navigators See Steady Enrollment As Deadline Approaches

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Nearly 17 thousand 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.

Juneau Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle Due In Court Today

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau woman who faced a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for hindering lawful trapping had the case against her dismissed today. Kathleeen Adair freed a bald eagle caught in a trap near a hiking trail last month. She sprung other traps nearby and was then cited by wildlife troopers.

Faced With Marijuana Money Puzzle, Legislators Curious About A State-Run Bank

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When Alaskans voted for an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana, they approved a system where the drug can be bought and sold by retailers operating in the open. But with federal regulations prohibiting bank deposits of drug money, the marijuana sellers can end up holding large amounts of cash.

Mat-Su Borough Establishes Marijuana Advisory Committee

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The  Matanuska-Susitna Borough passed a resolution  this week establishing a Borough Marijuana Advisory Committee.

Experiment Looks for Slow Earthquakes Under Unalaska

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Earthquakes are an almost hourly occurrence in the Aleutian Islands. Most are too tiny to feel, and even the bigger ones are usually over in seconds.

But there’s another type of earthquake that runs deeper than those daily events- a slow earthquake. It’s what scientists are now looking for underneath the Aleutians.

Scientists, Fishermen Test Strategies To Reduce Trawl Bycatch

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Names National Guard Special Investigator

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:07

Gov. Bill Walker has named a retired judge as his federal investigator into the Alaska National Guard.

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Patricia Collins, a former Superior Court judge for Juneau, will conduct the investigation into the Alaska National Guard. Her hiring was announced at a Thursday press conference, where Attorney General Craig Richards laid out the parameters of her assignment.

Retired Judge Patricia Collins. (Photo courtesy Governor’s Office)

“She is going to look at each allegation that has been made about either inappropriate sexual conduct in the Guard, to Guard members by other Guard members, or by Guard members to non-guard members,” Richards said.

The contract with the state requires Collins look at how law enforcement and the executive branch has handled sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard since September of 2010. Around that time, members of the National Guard approached the Parnell administration with criminal allegations and concerns about their leadership. While a number of federal investigations since that time found nothing amiss, a 2014 probe by the National Guard Bureau found that the Alaska force struggled with favoritism and fraud, and that there was a level of mistrust around sexual assault reporting.

That federal report was released shortly before the election, and became a major campaign issue for now-Gov. Bill Walker.

At the press conference, Walker emphasized that Collins would be given the tools needed to complete the investigation, including the authority to review full National Guard records.

“Our assurance is she would have access to that data,” Walker said.

Attorney General Richards says that Collins will complete two reports into the National Guard, the first of which is due in April. That report that will not be released to the public, as it will contain details on all the players involved.

“The confidentiality of victims in any police investigation is a top priority,” Richards said. “That’s not going to change here.”

In May, a public version of the report will be released that will describe the findings without identifying information.

Collins will also advise whether it’s proper to move forward with prosecutions or further police investigations.

Collins will be paid $160 an hour for the work, with the contract currently capped at $50,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan Starts Committee Work

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:06

Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of a subcommittee. It’s the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and wildlife refuges.

Just this week, the Senate got started with committee work. All four of Dan Sullivan’s committees met Wednesday, with three colliding in a scheduling pile-up that’s typical in Congress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bill Streur Hired As Medicaid Budget, Expansion Consultant

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:05

The Senate Finance Committee approved hiring former-health commissioner Bill Streur today as a consultant on the Medicaid budget and Medicaid expansion. Expanding the program as part of the Affordable Care Act is a priority of Governor Bill Walker, but many Republican lawmakers say the state can’t afford any new spending.

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Senator Pete Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, made the case for hiring Streur. He said he would keep an open mind on Medicaid expansion but was against the idea.

“That’s not the path we’re on, we’re not headed for a Medicaid expansion,” Kelly said. ”Actually, right now, if you had to ask me for a vote, I’d vote no, but my mind is completely open.”

Streur was commissioner under former Governor Sean Parnell, who was resisted expanding Medicaid, saying he didn’t want to accept federal dollars that would increase the national debt.

Senator Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel, made sure the committee wasn’t hiring Streur to advocate against expansion.

Hoffman: “I wanted it on the record that the purpose of hiring Mr. Streur and his contract is not specifically find ways to give us justification not to expand Medicare.”

Kelly: “That’s correct.”

Hoffman: “Or Medicaid.”

Kelly said Streur may have ideas that would convince lawmakers that Medicaid expansion could save the state money. As health commissioner, Streur explored options for expanding Medicaid.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle Due In Court

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:03

Kathleen Adair encountered an eagle stuck in two traps Dec. 24. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Adair)

A bald eagle was lying on the ground, each leg shut inside traps. When Juneau resident Kathleen Adair came across it scouting a trail for a group hike, the eagle was alive and looking at her. She spent an hour freeing it.

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But there’s more to the story. Two and a half weeks later, Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited her for the hindrance of lawful trapping. She now faces a potential $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

On Dec. 24, Kathleen Adair was on Davies Creek Trail when she saw the eagle in her path. She’s familiar with the Juneau Raptor Center and knew the bird rescue nonprofit would be concerned, so she took photos of what she saw and recorded the GPS coordinates.

Kathleen Adair (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“I wanted to go back and tell the Raptor Center where it was. I knew that would be the best thing to do, but I also knew that it would be getting dark soon. It was 2 miles from the road and it was all the way at the end of the road, so I knew that they wouldn’t be able to get out there that day to it,” Adair says.

So she took the matter into her own hands. Before untangling the eagle from what she describes as two large long spring traps, she noticed a smaller trap on the other side of the trail. Out of concern for the three dogs with her, she sprang it. She then tied the dogs up so she could deal with the eagle.

Adair says the eagle’s legs were wrapped up in the trap chains. Before she did anything, she covered the eagle’s head to keep it docile, something she’s learned from her time around raptors. She says it took an hour to get the eagle out of two traps.

“I knew at the time that the eagle didn’t have a very good chance. I knew if I left it there all night, it would have had a worse chance of surviving,” Adair says. “But even as it was, I could tell one of the legs was just dangling, just completely broken and I knew they wouldn’t be able to fix that, but I was hoping they could at least fix the other and keep it as an educational bird.”

She placed the eagle in a large pack and hiked it out. When she got to what she estimates to be a half mile from the highway, she spotted another large trap near the trail. She sprung that one as well, worried for the hikers that would be on the trail in the coming days.

Adair is no stranger to the outdoors. She spent the early part of her life in Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. She moved to Juneau when she was 9 and has lived here for almost 30 years. She grew up fishing and hunting and shot a bear at age 16. She raises rabbits for food. As an avid outdoors person, she often sees traps, but had never tampered with any before this. She saw one earlier that day, but it had been hanging from a tree and off the trail.

“I’m not against trapping per se. I am concerned about the traps when they’re on the trail in such a way as these were,” Adair says.

As soon as she drove into cell phone range, Adair called the Raptor Center. She brought the eagle to a volunteer’s house and sent photos. She was told the Raptor Center would call U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to report the incident. At that point, she thought her involvement was done.

A beaver carcass hung on a nearby tree. About a foot above the carcass, Adair says she saw a covering made of branches. This may have been meant to visually block the bait from birds flying above. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Adair)

The eagle was immediately brought to a vet in Juneau where it was later euthanized.

Three days later, Adair led nine people on an 8-hour hike on Davies Creek Trail to the Thiel Glacier. It was dark as the group was finishing. Adair again saw a large trap near the trail head and sprung it. She says she was concerned for the hikers’ safety. Adair knows it’s illegal to mess with lawfully set traps. She wasn’t sure about this one because it was so close to the trail.

State and municipal codes say it’s illegal to trap within a half mile of any road and within a quarter mile of a designated list of trails. Davies Creek Trail is not on that list, but it is in the popular book, “90 Short Walks Around Juneau.” Adair says there was another group on the trail that same day.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office received a complaint from a trapper on Dec. 30 regarding someone tampering with several of his traps. On Jan. 10, Adair was cited. The paperwork only identifies the trapper as “J.F.”

Frenzel says he doesn’t know how many traps had been tampered with. To his knowledge, no photos are part of the investigation. Since the complaint, he says no troopers have gone to the site to look at the traps.

“We got out and do routine checks of trap lines throughout the Juneau area so we had already been on this trap line once before and there was really no reason to go back in since there was nothing to investigate at that point,” he says.

At the start of the Trooper investigation, Frenzel says he didn’t know about a trapped eagle. He says that information got to him sometime after Jan. 1 via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“What we expect from the public is if they come upon an eagle in a trap, to notify us as soon as possible. That way we can go out there and see what’s going on,” Frenzel says.

He says hindering lawful traps is illegal, but freeing an eagle from traps isn’t.

“If a trap’s already sprung on a animal, you cannot hinder it because that trap can no longer be caught, so whatever you do to that trap, you’re really not hindering at that point. That would not be something we would cite for, if a person came in and was freeing an eagle from a trap the eagle was in,” Frenzel says.

There is no regulation against accidentally trapping bald eagles. Frenzel says in the eight years he’s been in Juneau, he hasn’t heard of any other cases of trapped eagles and troopers haven’t cited anyone for hindering traps.

Jesse Ross is a trapper in Juneau and a member of the Alaska Trappers Association. He says he sympathizes with Adair. He’s seen wounded animals in nature and he’s accidentally trapped animals he wasn’t targeting.

“It’s unfortunate. You feel bad that you caught something that is now wasted and hopefully you learn, say, ‘Hey, maybe what could I have done different?’ That’s what I tell myself when I see that,” Ross says.

But he says Adair broke the law.

Ross says trappers follow a code of ethics and go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of trapping nontarget animals, but he says they’re guidelines. Trapping is ultimately about good judgment.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do,” Ross says.

Adair is being arraigned in court this afternoon at 1 p.m. As of last night, she didn’t have a lawyer.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Establishes Marijuana Advisory Committee

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:01

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough passed a resolution this week establishing a Borough Marijuana Advisory Committee.

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Ronda Marcie is a valley paralegal who is a member of the Hemp Industries Association. Marcie spoke up at a public forum in Palmer this month in favor of a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Sykes that would create a Borough marijuana advisory committee

“Any time the government asks for comments from people before they move and act on things is a better situation than insisting people do things when they don’t really understand why.”

The committee would consist of seventeen members, drawn from various community sectors: health, law enforcement, education, business and the like. Three seats are open for citizens at large.

Committee members would be appointed by the Borough mayor, with approval by the Borough Assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

Experiment Looks for Slow Earthquakes Under Unalaska

Thu, 2015-01-22 17:00

Researcher Abhijit Ghosh with one of his seismometers last summer. (Courtesy: University of California Riverside)

Earthquakes are an almost hourly occurrence in the Aleutian Islands. But most are too tiny to feel, and even the bigger ones are usually over in seconds. Just last week, a 4.7M quake went all but unnoticed in Unalaska.

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But there’s another type of earthquake that runs deeper than those daily events: a slow earthquake. That’s what scientists are now looking for underneath the Aleutians.

Abhijit Ghosh is a geophysicist at the University of California Riverside. He says slow earthquakes are deep, drawn-out tremors that can last for weeks, months or even years.

“So it releases that energy — magnitude seven or eight, however large it is — but over a long period of time, so we don’t really feel the ground shaking,” he says.

Ghosh wants to know if all that energy is loading up a different part of fault — maybe precipitating more destructive events, like Alaska’s 1964 Good Friday quake. To find out, Ghosh worked with the Alaska Volcano Observatory to set up an array of seismometers on Unalaska. (He wouldn’t say where, specifically, to keep the equipment safe from tampering.) He’ll install two more this summer, and they’ll all run until 2016.

Ghosh hopes the “array of arrays” will shed light on how slow quakes affect the ones we feel.

“It seems like they do interact, they do interplay,” he says. “The mode of communication might be different in different places. But to be honest, we just started understanding this phenomenon.”

The idea of slow quakes only dates back about a decade — but Ghosh says there’s evidence that one happened in Japan, just before the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The next year, Ghosh saw the tell-tale tremor of a slow quake under Unalaska while running tests on neighboring Akutan Island.

“In Akutan, we were able to record data for two months,” he says, “and in that two months, we recorded tremor activity, a signature of slow earthquakes, almost every day.”

That means he can’t be sure how long the quake went on. He’s hoping for a better picture this summer, when he returns to Unalaska to retrieve the first year’s seismic data from his array.

Categories: Alaska News

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

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