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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: 30 min 34 sec ago

Anchorage Museum Stays Up Late to Reach New Members

Tue, 2014-11-18 23:30

A couple takes in Sydney Laurence’s “Mt. McKinley” on Friday night in the Gallery of the Far North. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

As cultural institutions across the country struggle to stay relevant in a changing financial landscape, many are testing new ways to raise funds and expand membership.  And the Anchorage Museum is trying to recruit the next wave of museum buffs in some unconventional ways.

In a brightly lit gallery, Kim Kloecker stood in front of a giant framed painting of Denali. She wasn’t there just to enjoy the picture: she was marrying it.

“Do you Kim take this painting to love it, comfort it, honor it and keep it in health and in sickness, forsaking all others, be faithful to it, as long as you both shall exist?” asked Rayette Sterling, who presided over more than 20 such ceremonies during Friday’s second annual Lights Out!, described as a “late night creative blow-out.”

“I do,” Kloecker replied ahead of a round of applause.

Sterling, a volunteer, was beaming, hopeful that the faux marriages to sculptures and canvases could turn party-goers into card-carrying museum members.

Lights Out! opened up permanent galleries as well as visiting exhibits like the popular “Brick by Brick” on the Museum’s third floor. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

“The art is so important and the idea that people can actually kind of have a silly symbol of something they love, and to bring that art into their heart and into their lives is just sort of special and fun,” Sterling explained.

That was certainly true for Kloecker, the bride, who renewed her museum membership that night shortly before exchanging vows with the 13-foot wide Sydney Lawrence landscape. The piece is her favorite in the museum’s permanent collection.

“It’s not often that you see canvases of this size, and so you’re drawn into the picture, it’s like you’re part of it rather than observing art,” Kloecker said, looking over her shoulder at the splashes of purple, blue and gray. “I’m a traditionalist at heart, and in the Anchorage museum it’s doesn’t get any more traditional than Sydney Lawrence.”

Kloecker herself is closer to the museum’s traditional target for fundraising: she has a stable career, disposable income, and is enthusiastic about  familiar models of fine arts, like oil-on-canvas landscapes in a curated gallery.

By contrast, 20-something Tamra Cornfield is closer to who the Lights Out! event aims to pull in.

“There’s older people,” Cornfield said on a balcony overlooking the dance floor, “but there’s also [people] all the way down to 21, who I wouldn’t normally think would want to go to the museum on a Friday night. But everyone’s here, and there’s dancing, upstairs a band, and then this DJ’s killing it.”

The dance floor was crowded until the event ended at midnight. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA

Nearby was a photo-booth between art installations for party-goers to take pictures, and maybe post them to social media. Tickets for Lights Out! were $30 at the door, but Cornfield says the open access to galleries, music, and such an excited crowd made the price worth it.

“This is really fun, so I would pay to come back,” said Cornfield. “And I’d bring friends.

That’s exactly what Lindsay Garette wants to hear. She works on visitor engagement for the Museum, and came up with a lot of the ideas spread across all four floors of the building. Including a live, loud concert by The Sweeteners, a rock band on the fourth floor Chugach Gallery.

Rock bands, DJ’s, and novelty weddings are a far cry from the formal affairs people think of when it comes to museum fundraising parties–if they think parties at all. And that’s exactly what Garette is going for.

“I think one of the things that we’re really hoping to do is find different ways to engage people that might not necessarily think of themselves as museum people,” Garette said in her office, away from most of the night’s hubbub. “And I think we’re trying to change people’s ideas of what goes on here.”

The Sweeteners played, while on the sides of the gallery attendees competed in Wii videogame tournaments. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

That doesn’t mean the museum can afford, or has an interest, in moving away from the wealthy individual and corporation donations that make up the lion’s share of it’s funding base. But testing unconventional programming like nimble pop-up exhibits, and late-night parties that bring new patrons into the galleries is an effort to keep the museum relevant and truly contemporary.

Gain that support, Garette believes, and dollars will follow.

 

Categories: Alaska News

American Indian, Alaska Native Children Suffering High Rates Of PTSD

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:10

American Indian and Alaska Native children see so much violence in their homes and communities that they suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at triple the rate of the general population, akin to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s one of the starting points of a new federal task force report on indigenous children and their exposure to violence.

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Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Drafting Environmental Impact Statement For Proposed Cook Inlet Oil, Gas Lease Sale

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:09

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is in the process of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed Cook Inlet Oil and Gas Lease Sale. It’s could open up the federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet to oil and gas exploration. BOEM held a series of public scoping meetings on the Kenai Peninsula last week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Heavy Lift Ship Prepares To Tow Drilling Rig Endeavour To South Africa

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:08

A heavy lift ship dropped anchor in Kachemak Bay last Tuesday. The Zen Hua 15 is making preparations to tow offshore drilling rig Endeavour Spirit of Independence to South Africa.

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The rig has been parked in storage in Port Graham since last winter. Homer Harbor master Bryan Hawkins says the Zen Hua will begin loading the Endeavour could head to sea as soon as Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of components that have to be completed before they can load it. A lot of work on the ship getting the deck prepared. If everything goes as planned and the weather cooperates then they’ll bring it in,” Hawkins said.

The Endeavour was leased by Buccaneer Energy before the company filed for bankruptcy.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 18, 2014

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:08

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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American Indian, Alaska Native Children Suffering High Rates Of PTSD

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

American Indian and Alaska Native children see so much violence in their homes and communities that they suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at triple the rate of the general population, akin to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s one of the starting points of a new federal task force report on indigenous children and their exposure to violence.

BOEM Drafting Environmental Impact Statement For Proposed Cook Inlet Oil, Gas Lease Sale

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is in the process of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed Cook Inlet Oil and Gas Lease Sale. It’s could open up the federally-managed waters of Cook Inlet to oil and gas exploration. BOEM held a series of public scoping meetings on the Kenai Peninsula last week.

Heavy Lift Ship Prepares To Tow Drilling Rig Endeavour To South Africa

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

A heavy lift ship dropped anchor in Kachemak Bay last Tuesday. The Zen Hua 15 is making preparations to tow offshore drilling rig Endeavour Spirit of Independence to South Africa.

State Releases Plan To Improve Fairbanks Air Quality

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state has released a long in the works plan for improving Fairbanks air quality. The community regularly falls short of federal fine particulate pollution standards in the winter, but many residents rely on wood burning for heat. There’s opposition to any sort of burn ban, and that’s not part of the plan.

Employee Complaints, Tests Flag Air Quality In State-Leased Office Building

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Air quality testing shows high levels of carbon dioxide and dust in Juneau’s Bill Ray Center, an office building the state is leasing for about 160 employees. For more than a month, the state has fielded complaints from employees about headaches and diesel fumes.

Mine Critics Target Investors, Government Officials

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Transboundary mine opponents are trying a new tactic in their opposition to a project northwest of Ketchikan. They’re telling investors, and anyone else who will listen, that the KSM mine is a bad place to put their money.

Kuskokwim 300 to Run as 12-Dog Race

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Kuskowkim 300 Sled Dog race is now a 12-dog event.  The race committee decided this fall to lower the dog limit from 14 to 12.

Anchorage Museum Trying New Ways To Recruit New Museum Buffs

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

As cultural institutions across the country struggle to stay relevant in a changing financial landscape, many are testing new ways to raise funds and expand membership. The Anchorage museum is trying to recruit the next wave of museum buffs in some unconventional ways.

 

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Plan To Improve Fairbanks Air Quality

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:07

The state has released a long in the works plan for improving Fairbanks air quality. The community regularly falls short of federal fine particulate pollution standards in the winter, but many residents rely on wood burning for heat. There’s opposition to any sort of burn ban, and that’s not part of the plan.

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Categories: Alaska News

Employee Complaints, Tests Flag Air Quality In State-Leased Office Building

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:06

The Bill Ray Center houses up to 160 state employees from the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Corrections.

Air quality test results show high levels of carbon dioxide and dust in Juneau’s Bill Ray Center, an office building the state is leasing for about 160 employees.

For more than a month, the state has fielded complaints from employees about headaches and diesel fumes.

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Julie Bednarski’s desk is at the Bill Ray Center, but she hasn’t been there for more than a week. Her supervisor gave her permission to work from home due to the air quality at the office.

Bednarski is a research biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. In mid-October, she says she started smelling diesel exhaust fumes in the office.

“One day it was pretty heavy and I was starting to feel sick,” Bednarski says.

First National Bank Alaska bought the Bill Ray Center from University of Alaska Southeast in September 2013. Since March, the state has been leasing it for $49,500 a month while the Douglas Island state office building is being renovated. Employees of Fish and Game and the Department of Corrections started moving into the Bill Ray Center last April.

Sunny Haight, administrative director of Fish and Game, started hearing about air quality issues in September.

“Our employees were complaining for quite a while about headaches and other physical symptoms and difficulty in their work environment,” Haight says.

Complaints varied.

“Sometimes they’d say it was fumes and sometimes it smelled like there was something burnt. Sometimes they’d say it was a chemical smell,” Haight says.

She reached out to the State Department of Administration, which handles leasing and facilities. The state first contacted First National Bank Sept. 15 about potential problems with the Bill Ray Center’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. It asked the bank to conduct an air quality test, which the bank didn’t do.

Cheri Gillian, the bank’s communications senior vice president, says the bank has responded in good faith.

“When we started getting the complaints, we engaged with various contractors to ensure that all the equipment in the building was operating at peak efficiency to ensure that all equipment was working and those contractors reported they did not recognize any smells inside the building. Conducting an air quality survey was not off the table; we just hadn’t arrived at that point,” Gillian says.

The state hired environmental engineering firm NORTECH to perform an air quality test in the building in mid-October. Haight says it cost around $8,000. Results came back Nov. 5.

The NORTECH report shows higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide associated with “headaches, sleepiness and stagnant, stale, stuffy air.” Those levels could also lead to increased heart rate, slight nausea, poor concentration and loss of attention. But, they fall below what islegally acceptable.

“What has people concerned is the level that it’s at is very close to unacceptable,” Haight says.

Results also show elevated levels of dust in a part of the Bill Ray Center. First National Bank is constructing a new branch in an adjacent lot. Forklifts, cranes and other heavy machinery have been operating near the building’s fresh air intake.

The NORTECH report indicates inadequate ventilation for the 160 employees. It recommends improving the old HVAC system.

Department of Administration spokesman Andy Mills says the air quality test was done as quickly as possible.

“Unfortunately that was delayed by the owner of the building not acting faster, but the state does not want employees working in areas where they don’t feel that they’re most productive or that there may be any associated health concerns on the employees’ part,” Mills says.

He adds, to speed things up, the state requested NORTECH skip its normal routine of interviewing employees in the building.

On Nov. 10, the state sent a letter to First National Bank stating it was out of compliance with the lease. The state requested a written plan of action by Nov. 14. The bank’s reply reached the state on the 17th.

Gillian says the bank has hired its own consultant, Modern Mechanical, to evaluate the Bill Ray Center this week and doesn’t plan to act until reviewing the consultant’s work.

In the meantime, the state has offered space at the downtown State Office Building to Bill Ray Center employees affected by the air quality.

The state plans to move employees back into the Douglas Island Building this summer.

Full disclosure: The reporter’s husband works in the Bill Ray Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Mine Critics Target Investors, Government Officials

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:05

The KSM project’s mine site layout during the operation phase, from its environmental assessment certificate application. (Image courtesy Seabridge Gold)

Transboundary mine opponents are trying a new tactic in their opposition to a project northeastof Ketchikan. They’re telling investors, and anyone else who will listen, that the KSM mine is a bad place to put their money.

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The group Salmon Beyond Borders just released a study detailing its opposition to the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, or KSM, mine.

It’s a copper, gold and a silver deposit upstream of two rivers that enter the ocean within about 50 miles of Ketchikan.

The report claims the mine is too remote, too expensive and too dangerous to the environment.

“We’re trying to make sure people understand the risks and uncertainty of KSM,” says Chris Zimmer, who works with Salmon Beyond Borders, a coalition of environmental, tribal and fisheries organizations.

“The company’s put out a very rosy prospectus and environmental assessment and is probably going to be starting looking for major investors and development money … And part of our task here is to make sure that observers and folks interested in the KSM project understand the risk,” he says.

That’s not how mine developers see it.

“We’re confident that the risks are actually decreasing, not increasing,” says Brent Murphy, vice president for environmental affairs for Seabridge Gold, the KSM’s parent corporation.

He says Seabridge won’t build or operate the proposed $5.3 billion mine on its own. And it’s already talking to investors, which he wouldn’t name.

“We have confidentiality agreements with major mining companies and discussions are ongoing. We have people who are going through our files,” he says.

The Salmon Beyond Borders report mostly repeats earlier statements made by mine opponents. But it cites more sources and includes more details. And its impact could be different because the press release about the report was distributed on MarketWired, a business-oriented public relations website.

Zimmer says it targets government officials and the general public. But he hopes it will also be read by potential investors.

“People need to take a second look at this thing and hopefully look at information not just from the company,” he says.

Among his group’s claims: KSM is not economically feasible.

“Several analysts have looked at this and said, ‘Boy, the price of gold needs to be quite a bit higher to make a project like this economical,’ given the low grade of the ore and the overall expense here,” he says.

KSM’s Murphy says that’s not the case. The numbers are getting better and continued drilling has found more and better deposits at two of its four proposed mining sites.

“We’ve extended the Deep Kerr to both the north and south. And we’ve also identified a higher-grade core at depths associated with the Iron Cap,” he says.

KSM’s ore will be extracted from one valley, then transported through tunnels to another, about 15 miles away. That’s where it will be processed and leftover rock stored.

Salmon Beyond Borders’ report points to others with competing claims in the tunnel area.

“These companies, American Creek and Teuton Resources, have said very clearly and very publicly that Seabridge does not yet have the rights to be granted access to claims. And therefore (it) doesn’t have the right to begin to construct that tunnel,” he says.

Murphy says British Columbia officials issued a permit in October allowing a transportation corridor through the tunnel area.

“The province, when they granted that, was well aware of the fact that there were other land tenure-holders and they have rights to the minerals. And it doesn’t prevent access by other parties to their properties,” he says.

The world economy could have more impact on mine investments than the critics’ PR effort.

British Columbia Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says that includes the value of minerals.

“I think commodity prices are dampening the spirits of investors. Companies that would typically invest in mining projects are investing in other things. And I don’t think it’s just B.C. I think it’s everywhere,” he says.

Bennett says the provincial government hopes mine owners find investors. But they face many other hurdles.

“We support mining in the province. It brings good jobs to the people in B.C. But they have a lot of government process to go through yet before they’ll ever be digging a hole in the ground,” he says.

The British Columbia government OK’d KSM’s environmental-protection plan last summer. The next major step is similar approval from Canada’s federal government.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim 300 to Run as 12-Dog Race

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:04

The Kuskowkim 300 Sled Dog race is now a 12-dog event. The race committee decided this fall to lower the dog limit from 14 to 12.

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Zach Fansler, the K300 Race Manager says a driving idea behind the change was to encourage more local mushing teams to run the full 300.

“Some of our teams with mid-size kennels, that have maybe participated in the K300 in the past, or have looked to do those kinds of things, don’t always have 14 dogs ready to go. Or they might have 11 so, and might feel discouraged and not participate in the 300,” said Fansler.

2014 K300 champion Rohn Buser congratulates his lead dogs after his 2nd Kuskokwim 300 win.

Many large teams, however, use the K300 to test out dogs in a race scenario prior to the Iditarod in March.

“It does kind of give them two less dogs to look at, and that was something I think weighed very heavily on the minds of the board as they were making that decision. And I think the push behind it is that it came up at last year’s musher’s meeting,” said Fansler.

The YK Delta’s muddy trails may not be race ready now, but with a higher purse and no entry fees, Fansler says he’s seeing a lot of interest from big time mushers like DeeDee Jonrowe, the Busers, and Joar Ulsom.

“We’ve heard from Brent Sass and Hugh Neff, we’ve heard from Lance Mackey. And right now we feel like we could have a field larger than we’ve had since the early ‘90s, late ‘80s,” said Fansler.

Fansler expects local mushers to be at the starting line, but says he doesn’t have the official word yet from 9-time champion Jeff King. The race keeps the rest of the rules from 2014, which allow for 6 hours of flexible rest time. Kwethluk will be the first official checkpoint, although mushers are not required to sign in or out.

The YK racing season kicks off December 20th with the Holiday Classic, a 40-mile race out of Bethel. The season continues with the 100 Mile Challenge a week later. The 2015 Kuskokwim 300 is scheduled for January 16th.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Museum Trying New Ways To Recruit New Museum Buffs

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:03

As cultural institutions across the country struggle to stay relevant in a changing financial landscape, many are testing new ways to raise funds and expand membership. The Anchorage museum is trying to recruit the next wave of museum buffs in some unconventional ways.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 17, 2014

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:47

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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Begich Concedes Senate Race to Sullivan

The Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has conceded the Alaska Senate race to Republican Dan Sullivan.  Begich called Sullivan to congratulate him Monday. He said he urged Sullivan “to adopt a bipartisan resolve in the Senate.”

After Parnell Concession, Walker Transition Formally Begins

Alexandra Guiterrez, APRN – Juneau

With the governor’s race called in favor of unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker and conceded over the weekend, the transition process is formally underway.

Marijuana Entrepreneurs Face Special Business Burdens

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washingon, DC

Alaskans who hope to operate marijuana businesses will have to defy U.S. drug law, of course. But they’ll also face other federal rules they’re likely to find severely inconvenient and perhaps crippling to their enterprise.

Lights Back on in Tuluksak

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

After a week without power, the lights in Tuluksak came back on Friday evening. Some families lost hundreds of pounds of meat and fish due to the extended outage during unseasonably warm weather.  The community of more than 400 located upriver from Bethel lost power earlier this month.

Scientists Report Steep Decline in Number of Polar Bears

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are reporting a steep decline in the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea. In a study published Monday, they show the population dropped 40 percent in the first ten years of this century. Between 2004 and 2007 – out of 80 cubs the researchers observed – researchers only know of two that survived.

Virus Could be Killing Pacific Starfish

Monica Gokey, KSKA-Anchorage

A mysterious illness causing mass die-offs of Pacific starfish has baffled scientists since the epidemic first started in the summer of 2013. But scientists now think they may be one step closer to an answer. A new study points to a virus as the likely cause of dwindling sea star numbers from Mexico to Alaska.

Military Training Becoming More Difficult in Alaska

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Army’s highest-ranking soldier in Alaska says the military trains here so it can operate in the Arctic, which he calls one of the world’s most difficult environments. Major General Mike Shields says it’s becoming more complex with climate change.

Feds Upholding Decision to Renew Permits for Usibelli Coal

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The federal Office of Surface Mining is criticizing a state agency’s handling of permit extensions and renewals for the Wishbone Hill coal project near Palmer. The office is upholding a decision by the Department of Natural Resources to renew project permits for the operator, Usibelli Coal. But the federal agency says the state erred in never officially terminating the permits due to inaction by an earlier owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

After Parnell Concession, Walker Transition Formally Begins

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:08

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With the governor’s race called in favor of unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker and conceded over the weekend, the transition process is formally underway.

The concession came without ceremony. There was no press conference from the defeated Republican incumbent, Sean Parnell. There also wasn’t a victory event from Walker, who is currently on a brief vacation in Hawaii.

Instead, Parnell sent out an e-mail to his supporters titled “Honor of a lifetime” on Saturday evening. With nearly a 5,000-vote gap between him and Walker and just 10,000 absentee votes left to count, Parnell stated that his reelection was “numerically possible” but “highly improbable.”

The transition for a Walker administration began the same day. Walker’s team now has access to state office space in Juneau and Anchorage, and is beginning to form policy working groups on over a dozen issues. Those working groups won’t be in charge of personnel decisions.

The logistical aspects of the transition are being handled by small circle of advisors, which includes at least one member of Walker’s incoming staff.

“That effort is largely being led by Jim Whitaker, who is the designated incoming chief of staff,” says campaign advisor Bruce Botelho.

Whitaker, a moderate Republican, served as mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough for six years. He also served four years in the Legislature.

When asked about the Whitaker hire, a Walker spokesperson said the campaign is reserving comment on appointments until later this week.

The inauguration is scheduled for December 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Report Steep Decline in Number of Polar Bears

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:04
Download Audio Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are reporting a steep decline in the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea. In a study published on Monday, they show the population dropped 40 percent in the first 10 years of this century. Between 2004 and 2007- out of 80 cubs the researchers observed, they only know of two that survived. Jeff Bromaghin is a USGS researcher and lead author of the study. He says more cubs from that group may have survived, but the scientists didn’t see them.
Categories: Alaska News

Military Training Becoming More Difficult in Alaska

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:02

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The Army’s highest-ranking soldier in Alaska says the military trains here so it can operate in the Arctic, which he calls one of the world’s most difficult environments. Major General Mike Shields says it’s becoming more complex with climate change.

 

Categories: Alaska News

East Anchorage Drug Bust Part of State-Wide Rise in Heroin, Cocaine, Meth

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:23

The operation was led by the Special Assignment Unit, which focuses on supply-level drug interdiction.

Anchorage police seized a large supply of illegal drugs at an East Anchorage residence over the weekend. 

Officers with the police department’s Special Assignment Unit received information that drugs were coming in and out of a house on Rocky Mountain Court near Russian Jack Park. Department spokesperson Jennifer Castro said the tip allowed officers to obtain search warrants that led to the cache of drugs–estimated by APD to be worth $111,000 at the street level. Intercepting drugs before they get that far is exactly where the Special Assignment Unit focuses its efforts.

“You kind of have to think of it as a large retail store,” Castro explained. “You’re shutting down the retail store and so therefore they’re not able to supply those goods and services that the dealers are trying to provide to their clientele. So, when we’re able to make busts at this level we know that it’s going to have an impact all the way down to the street level.”

Castro says a seizure the size of last Friday night’s is a big deal for the department’s drug interdiction efforts. Besides the value, the department believes they halted the supply of drugs to more than a hundred dealers and users.

But more unusual was the discovery of three different hard drugs all in significant quantity: 24 grams of heroin, 101 grams of cocaine, and 683 grams of methamphetamine. All three drugs are on the rise in Alaska, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“Across the state we’re seeing an increase from all law enforcement of seizures of heroin, cocaine and meth, as well,” said Castro. “So when we look at those trends we are seeing increases in those. Especially a dramatic increase in seizures of heroin.”

Both suspects were charged with two felony counts for misconduct involving a controlled substance, one connected to the sale of methamphetamines, and the other related to intent to distribute near a recreation area.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Concedes Senate Race to Sullivan

Mon, 2014-11-17 15:59

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has conceded the Alaska Senate race to Republican Dan Sullivan.

Begich called Sullivan to congratulate him Monday. He said he urged Sullivan “to adopt a bipartisan resolve in the Senate.”

Sullivan led the one-term incumbent Begich by about 8,100 votes on election night Nov. 4, and maintained an edge as ballot counting continued.

In a statement, Begich said he was proud of the work he accomplished, in areas including energy development, veterans’ health care and protecting postal service in Alaska.

He said the state deserves a bright future with expanded economic opportunity and a strong, prosperous rural Alaska. He also said he supports equality for all Alaskans and the results of an election have never diminished his desire to achieve those goals.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Tribe Drops Funding for City Transit

Mon, 2014-11-17 15:29

Bethel’s tribe, ONC announced Monday that they will no longer provide funding for the city’s transit system. The announcement came at a joint meeting of the tribe and the city council at ONC’s offices. Gloria Simeon, President of the ONC Council, says uncertainty of federal funding is a big reason they’re pulling the money.

“The sequestration and what’s happening on the national level leaves us in a quandary because we don’t know what the funding is going to be in the next few years,” Simeon said.

“We have a new administration coming so we need to kind of close in our funding until we know what’s happening and being basically two years paid in advance in our agreement with the city, we cannot advance any more money in in-kind contributions.”

The city has been managing the transit system with contributions from ONC and matching state and federal grants since 2008. Simeon says ONC has contributed about three quarters of a million dollars to date and the council voted unanimously at their regular meeting last week to stop funding it. She says ONC needs to devote more resources to their low-income housing project.

The city council in their Tuesday regular meeting showed strong, but cautious interest in stepping in to fund the system. They would have to commit nearly $100,000 from their 2016 budget, which won’t be done until June.

John Sargent who manages the city’s grants said Monday ONC cut comes as the city is poised to secure significant transit funding.

“We have four buses right now,” he said. “We just got a brand new bus for $63,000 on last year’s grant and we have a bus in the current budget for next year. That would be another $63,000 bus, which we could get delivered and we were hoping to apply for a third bus. So within two years we would have had three new buses.”

Shannon Sumner says her decision to move to Bethel from Seattle to work for the Kuskokwim Campus of UAF was partially due to the city’s transit system. She says she rides the bus to work every day and her budget will feel a pinch if it goes away.

“I buy a bus pass. It pretty much costs me $3 a day to get to and from work,” Sumner said. “If I take a cab it’s going to cost me $12 a day to get to and from work, and that is a big huge budget difference.”

Bethel will have to find another source of funding quickly as a grant requiring matching funds is due in December. If they don’t, Bethel’s bus service could end June 30th.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Entrepreneurs Face Special Business Burdens

Mon, 2014-11-17 15:06

With the passage of Prop. 2 this month, Alaska joins Colorado, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana. While the state figures out how to regulate marijuana commerce, several federal laws sit as roadblocks to the business of cannabis.

Alaskans who hope to operate marijuana businesses will have to defy U.S. drug law, of course. But they’ll also face other federal rules they’re likely to find severely inconvenient and perhaps crippling to their enterprise.

One problem is a bit of tax code called 280E. This provision, enacted in the 1980s, prevents narco-traffickers from deducting business expenses, and the IRS enforces it against state-licensed pot businesses, too. Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association, says it means marijuana businesses can’t deduct costs like rent and payroll when they file their tax returns.

“What that results in is businesses paying an effective tax rate or somewhere around 70-75 even 80 percent on their net profit,” she said.

It’s crushing to small businesses, West says, even though a few legitimate deductions remain.

“So oddly enough,” she said, “one of the things that a cannabis dispensary, for instance, can deduct is the cost of buying the marijuana.”

Another big impediment for pot entrepreneurs is the banking rules.  Banks typically refuse to allow marijuana businesses to open accounts, out of fear that they’ll be implicated in money laundering or other federal crimes. West says some members of her industry trade association have found ways around it.

“But the majority at this point are still having to operate entirely in cash, without the benefit of any sort of safety or accounting ease that comes from having a checking account,”she said.

Earl Blumenauer, a congressman from Oregon says, regardless of how you feel about legalizing marijuana, it’s not a good idea to force these businesses out of the banking system.

“Restricting them from having bank accounts, is absolutely insane, unfair and unwise if you care about money laundering, tax evasion or just theft,” he said at a press conference last week at the Capitol.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., one of the most outspoken Republicans for federal marijuana reform.

Blumenauer, who represents part of Portland and its eastern suburbs, is pressing for a raft of bills that would ease federal restrictions on marijuana, but the most pressing are the tax code and the banking rules.

“We need congress to act on two serious problems, not just for those states that have legalized adult use but for 23 states and counting that have legalized medical marijuana,” he said.

Blumenauer says a coalition of about 180 House Democrats and 50 Republicans supports liberalizing federal marijuana law. One of the visible Republicans is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California.

“My message to my fellow Republicans is ‘Wake up and see where the American people are,’” Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher, from conservative Orange County, says Republicans should join him to support principles like personal liberty and limited government, or just raw politics.

Alaska Congressman Don Young is already on board. He co-sponsored a Rohrabacher bill to block federal prosecution of people who buy or sell marijuana in compliance with state laws. Spokesman Matt Shuckerow says Young supports a state’s right to determine the nature of criminal activity within its borders. But one of the biggest impediments to marijuana commerce may be congressional indifference. The leaders of both parties, in the House and the Senate, haven’t made federal marijuana reform a big priority.

Categories: Alaska News

Virus Implicated in Sea Star Wasting Disease Epidemic

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

A mysterious illness causing mass die-offs of Pacific starfish has baffled scientists since the epidemic first started in the summer of 2013. But scientists think they may now have an answer. A new study points to a virus as the likely cause of dwindling sea star numbers from Mexico to Alaska.

Sea star wasting disease is affecting starfish populations throughout the Pacific, from Baja California to Mexico. Photo credit: Kit Harma, pacificrockyintertidal.org.

If you’re a starfish in the Pacific, sea star wasting disease is pretty much your zombie apocalypse. Marine microbiologist Dr. Ian Hewson has witnessed the gruesome effects of wasting disease first-hand.

The first symptom is arm curling.

“The ends of their arms start to flex upwards and they start to detach from the rock’s surface,” Hewson says.

Then they undergo a process called pretzeling.

“So they basically fold themselves into a pretzel, their arms cross over each other, they’re almost as though they’re tying themselves into a knot.”’

Next the starfish lose some of their internal pressure and deflate. And then lesions start to form.

Tube feet and underside of a giant star (Pisaster giganteus) collected from Monterey Bay, Calif. The mouth of the animal is located at the center of the arms. A lesion between the top arms is characteristic of early sea star wasting disease. Photo courtesy Cornell University.

“Once the lesions appear the animal almost certainly starts to die.”

The sea star’s arms begin to fall off.

“And then they undergo this process of melting. It’s often reported that they just start to dissolve.”

Up until recently, scientists didn’t know what was causing mass sea star die-offs in the Pacific.

Hewson is the lead author on a new study that identifies a particular virus as the cause of the current wasting disease outbreak.

After observing how it spread in aquariums, Hewson and his team isolated the common thread: a virus they’re calling sea star associated densovirus.

Sea star wasting disease epidemics are nothing new. But past incidences have been directly related to El Nino events — warmer seawater. The current outbreak in the Pacific is different. It’s startling for both its severity and its range — from Baja California all the way up to Alaska.

Hewson guesses it’s the largest marine epidemic biologists have ever seen. And it’s still spreading; farther south into Mexico — and farther north.

“The sea stars in Alaska have started to become really affected by this disease,” Hewson says.

Earlier this year there were just a handful of isolated reports of sea star wasting disease around Juneau and Sitka. Since then it’s been observed in Glacier Bay and as far north as Homer.

“It is, you know, spreading. It seems not to be affected too much by the waters getting cooler,” Hewson says. “I have every expectation it will move into sea star populations further along the Alaska coast — probably out into the Aleutians.”

Apart from its geographical breadth, what’s also unique about this outbreak is how many different species of starfish are affected — at least 20, possibly more.

“Indeed it is very peculiar to find a virus that is capable of infecting across such large numbers of species.”

Most viruses are host-specific — meaning they can only survive and proliferate in one kind of animal. But the virus Hewson identified, sea star associated densovirus — or SSaDV — is a remarkable generalist; it’s even found across different groups of echinoderms, like urchins and brittle sea stars.

And the story gets even weirder.

Size matters. Smaller, juvenile sea stars, for example, can tolerate high viral loads without showing symptoms of wasting disease.

“Whereas the adult sea stars, when they don’t have the virus present they’re perfectly fine and healthy, but when the larger sea stars have a much smaller number of viruses than the juveniles, but when they have the virus present, they die.”

Hewson says they have no idea why smaller sea stars seem to be immune, or protected, from the virus.

So what’s the prognosis?

“You know, it’s probably going to continue until it reaches a point where it can no longer move around.”

Hewson says viruses play an important ecological role in marine environments. The current epidemic of wasting disease is severe, true, but Hewson says this kind of die-off is cyclical.

“No virus wipes out its host population entirely. There’s never been an extinction as a result of a virus.”

It’s too early to tell how Pacific marine environments will change as a result of the outbreak, Hewson says. Sea stars are major predators, and in places where they’ve been wiped out scientists are already seeing changes, notably in prey abundance, which has a ripple effect. What those changes will look like long-term is unclear.

In the meantime, scientists like Hewson will rely on public sightings of sea star wasting disease to track how far the epidemic is spreading and which species of starfish are affected.

If you live in a coastal area and have seen wasting disease, scientists ask that you log your findings at pacificrockyintertidal.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Healthcare.gov Has Smooth Launch in Alaska

Sun, 2014-11-16 14:51

Healthcare.gov was working smoothly in Alaska this weekend for the start of open enrollment. Enroll Alaska reported Friday that the site was miscalculating the subsidy amounts for Alaskans looking for health insurance in “window shopping” mode. But the company said it had signed up 40 people on Saturday- the first day the site was live- with no apparent problems.

The open enrollment period lasts three months until February 15th.
Categories: Alaska News

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