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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: 16 min 56 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: June 19, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:43

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

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Former Haines Police Dispatcher Speaks Out On Alleged Harasser

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Governor Sean Parnell wants his staff to examine the hiring process for state employees after APRN reported a former police officer hired with the ferry system has a checkered past. Several people who talked about Joel’s job performance for a previous story did not want to share their identity, including a former Haines Police Dispatcher who alleges Joel harassed her on the job. Now she is speaking out.

U.S. Senators Work to Allow Foreign Students Back in Fish Plants

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Congress today, a bill that would allow foreign students to work in Alaska fish processing plants cleared a major committee. The provision is part of a spending bill now headed to the Senate floor. Both Alaska senators say they pressed for the return of the J-1 visa program to help meet demand for seasonal seafood processors. But, the program is controversial.

Remains of 17 Servicemen Identified from 1952 Crash

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The remains of 17 service members who died in a 1952 plane crash near Mount Gannett have been identified by the Department of Defense. An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crew discovered the crash site two summers ago on Colony Glacier during a training exercise. A team went back to the site to recover what they could later that month. The identified remains will be returned to families all over the country and given burials with full military honors.

Army Changes Training Procedures In Wake Of Stuart Creek 2 Fire

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

It’s been one year since the Stuart Creek 2 Wildfire was reported burning in the Yukon Training area northeast of Fairbanks.  The blaze, ignited during an army artillery training exercise, burned more than 87,000 acres. Later, military officials conducted multiple investigations to find out why Army leaders signed off on the use of high explosive ammunition at a time when the National Weather Service had issued Red Flag Warnings. In response, training procedures have been rewritten.

New Oil Tax Proponents Argue In Favor Of Law

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A handful of leading advocates for the new oil tax regime made the case for keeping the law Wednesday night. The forum was hosted by the Anchorage Young Republicans, and panelists included economist Scott Goldsmith and State Sen. Cathy Giessel. They argued that if voters repealed the new tax law in August, the oil companies could abandon development of a natural gas pipeline.

ADF&G Shuts Down Little Su Kings for the Season

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Days after lifting restrictions on one river in the Susitna drainage, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is shutting down king salmon fishing entirely on another. A Fish and Game emergency order will close fishing for Kings at 12:01 am on Friday on the Little Susitna River south of the Parks Highway bridge.

Learning Language Through Alutiiq Culture and Tradition

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

The Alutiiq Museum held a language immersion retreat this week in Kodiak. More than 30 participants gathered to learn traditional games and practice their language skills with speakers of all different generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Remains of 17 servicemen identified from 1952 crash

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:42

The remains of 17 service members who died in a 1952 plane crash near Mount Gannett have been identified by the Department of Defense. An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crew discovered the crash site two summers ago on Colony Glacier during a training exercise. A team went back to the site to recover what they could later that month.

The identified remains will be returned to families all over the country and given burials with full military honors.  Some of the family members reflected on the experience.

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Mary May and her younger brother Bill Turner were the middle siblings in a pack of six kids growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1930s.

“We lived on a tiny little valley. We knew nothing about the outside world. So your family was all you had,” she recalled.

Search teams retrieving debris from the crash in 2012.
DoD photo by Cpt. Jamie D. Dobson, U.S. Army

May said her brother loved airplanes and joined the Air Force when he finished school. He was 22 and headed to Korea when the C-124 Globemaster he was navigating crashed with 52 people on board.

“It was a kid trying to realize his dream, you know? And it was cut short, I guess.”

Bad weather made it impossible for search parties to recover the remains of the plane in the last months of 1952. May said she never had closure from his death. “You never give up totally. You always think that he would be found or he would come home somehow.”

When some of the wreckage was spotted in 2012, May said she began to hope. Like other relatives of the victims, she gave a sample of her DNA to the Department of Defense forensic labs. The scientists there managed to match it with the bones of her brother’s leg.

May said she was shocked when she learned they found her brother. She recalled she shouting the news to her daughter over the phone, but then she didn’t know what to say.

RELATED: Specialists Survey Old Plane Crash Near Knik Glacier

“It’s very hard—you didn’t want to accept it before and now you still don’t want to accept it. I don’t know,” she paused. “It’s just a hard thing to live through.”

May said she thinks burying the remains alongside her mother will help. All of her other siblings have already passed.

For Michael Williams, the death of his brother-in-law Howard Martin in the 60 year-old crash was something his wife’s family would never discuss.

“When it was brought up, it immediately brought tears. So I basically did all my research in secret, so to not upset anybody. I just wanted to find out a little more detail than what the family revealed.”

RELATED: Recovery Efforts Continue For Old Plane Crash Near Knik Glacier

Williams said his research connected him with other families around the country who were also seeking closure on the issue. They formed relationships through email and Facebook and remembered even when others forgot.

“It’s kind of disappeared in the fog of time,” he said.  “And fortunately the Alaska National Guard noticed something and decided to take a look down on Colony Glacier.  They could have easily flown over and said ‘ah that’s nothing’ and not went down there and investigated. But they got curious. And really, the families do appreciate it.”

But other families will continue to wait. The remains of 35 of the 52 victims are still lost on the mountain, though the Department of Defense said they will keep looking. In memory of those who died, the mountain where they perished was recently named Globemaster Peak.

Categories: Alaska News

Army Changes Training Procedures In Wake Of Stuart Creek 2 Fire

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:41

It’s been one year since the Stuart Creek 2 Wildfire was reported burning in the Yukon Training area northeast of Fairbanks.  The blaze, ignited during an Army artillery training exercise, burned more than 87,000 acres.  It was one of the largest wildfires in the United States in 2013.

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Later, military officials conducted multiple investigations to find out why Army leaders signed off on the use of high explosive ammunition at a time when the National Weather Service had issued Red Flag Warnings. In response, training procedures have since been rewritten.

Smoke from the Stuart Creek 2 Fire in 2013 filled the Goldstream Valley Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Deputy Commanding Officer, Colonel Adam Lange signs off on training that takes place at Fort Wainwright.

“We’re certainly putting a lot more rigor into it.  Based on experiences last year, we certainly don’t want anything like that to repeat again,” he said.

But Lange hasn’t always been the guy in charge of decisions when it comes to training exercises that take place during the wildfire season. Last June, a field artillery unit trained with live fire when the Fire Weather Index indicated high or extreme conditions.

Fort Wainwright’s Fire Chief did not approve live fire that week, but was repeatedly overridden by an Installation Range Officer based more than 300 miles away at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The overrides prompted the Director of Emergency Services to email then Deputy Commanding Officer, Colonel Ron Johnson. He has since retired. In response, Johnson emailed Colonel Mark Kneram, at JBER, who oversees training and operations for US Army Alaska.

“Our fire situation is critical,” wrote Johnson. “Please make sure your people have a very clear picture of the situation here before they decide to override the fire recommendations from the fire professionals. I can tell you that it isn’t based on a bunch of civilians trying to keep soldiers from conducting training.”

The email was sent only a day before the Stuart Creek 2 fire was reported. It was ignited by artillery used during the training. Two weeks later, the blaze had grown beyond 80,000 acres.  Residents in Two Rivers as well as their sled dogs and livestock were evacuated as the fire approached the small community, 20 miles from Fairbanks.

“My sense is the community is a little raw about last year. There was a lot of emotion surrounding the Stuart Creek Fire,”  Colonel Lange said. Lange replaced Colonel Johnson. He says the army has since adopted a new approach to live fire training at times when fire danger is high. “It’s OK under these conditions now, because many of our train-ups now are not tied to a unit getting ready to go out the door to say ‘Well, do we really have to do that, can we do it another way?’ And if there’s an answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then maybe we do it another way or we do it another day.”

This year, Lange has the authority to approve waiver requests for training when there are Red Flag warnings.  Earlier this spring, Lange says he signed off on just such a waiver.

“So, we have some ranges where you can shoot into an old ribbon of a river, where there’s nothing but rock and gravel with no fuels in it whatsoever, and there’s still standing water and ice left over from winter,” he said. “That would be a great place to shoot high explosive artillery right now.”

But some of the changes to procedures won’t come easy. A report that came from one investigation suggests the acquisition of artillery rounds that are less likely to set fire to the forest. Colonel Lange says that’s easier said than done.

“It turns out the Army has some, but it’s very little stockage of it and so U.S. Army Alaska has requested to receive a bunch and we have not been able to get the army to grant us permission to use that. The Army has very large stocks of traditional 155 high explosive ammunition and they want us to use that before it becomes no good any longer,” he said.

Lange says the recommended ammunition might be available for training at Fort Wainwright in fiscal year 2016.

A final report on what happened with Stuart Creek 2 also calls for more coordination and training with the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service. Those meetings do take place. The report also recommends AFS acquire thermal sight equipment to pinpoint hot spots during monitoring missions.  According to a spokesman at AFS, fire managers already use infrared technology when they fly over fires.  A final suggestion calls for a review of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Army and the Alaska Fire Service.  That effort is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

ADF&G shuts down Little Su kings for the season

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:39

Days after lifting restrictions on one river in the Susitna drainage, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is shutting down king salmon fishing entirely on another.  On Wednesday, a Fish and Game emergency order states that, starting at 12:01 am on Friday, the Little Susitna River south of the Parks Highway bridge will be completely closed for kings.

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According to Fish and Game, only nineteen king salmon have passed the counting weir, and about 200 kings have been harvested.  Fish and Game says that low water levels are causing the fish to stay further downriver, which makes them more vulnerable to being caught.  The low end of the escapement goal for the Little Su is 900 kings.

A complete list of fishing restrictions can be found on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

Categories: Alaska News

Learning Language Through Alutiiq Culture and Tradition

Thu, 2014-06-19 16:38

The Alutiiq Museum held a language immersion retreat this week in Kodiak. More than 30 participants gathered to learn traditional games and practice their language skills with speakers of all different generations.

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Categories: Alaska News

High Chinook Restrictions Increase Chum Harvests, ADF&G Working to Sustain Fishery

Thu, 2014-06-19 10:44

Chum Salmon. (Photo: NOAA)

With Chinook harvests shut down on the Yukon, summer Chum harvests are on the rise, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to make sure Chum stocks are managed sustainably.

Stephanie Schmidt is a Fisheries Biologist with ADF&G and said this trend of tighter Chinook restrictions elevating levels of Chum harvests has been growing over several years. With Chinook runs not expected to significantly increase in the next few years, the growing demand on summer Chum will likely continue.

To prepare for this demand, ADF&G is researching Chum migration through a tagging program called the Summer Chum Salmon Radio Telemetry Project.

Outlining the goals of the project, Schmidt said, “The tagging would be to estimate stocks specific run timing. When do certain stocks enter the river? How fast do they move upstream? Do certain stocks migrate together? We’re also looking to identify important spawning tributaries. So we don’t know where all the summer Chum salmon go. We’re also hoping to use the data to get an estimate for drainage-wide escapement.”

This information will be used to manage summer Chums as fishing pressure on the runs increases.

Locals working with ADF&G are attaching the tags about 18 miles upriver from Russian Mission at Dog Fish Camp. The project began last week on June 12 and will continue through July 18. That is the amount of time estimated for the entire stock to pass by the camp. In all, the project plans to tag 1,200 Chum by mid-July.

ADF&G asks fishermen who harvest tagged Chum to note the date, time, and location of the catch and to mail the tag to the address listed on the outside of the device.

“The tags look like a little capsule, actually, almost like a little pill,” Schmidt explained. “And then they have a wire sticking out of them, and you’ll be able to see that wire sticking out of the mouth of the summer Chum salmon. If a wire is missing my some chance, we do an external tag as well, so we just insert a white spaghetti tag in the dorsal fin of the summer Chum salmon.”

Schmidt said mailing tags back helps keep ADF&G costs down. Individuals who return tags will receive a “summer Chum radio telemetry research project hat” and get entered into a lottery to receive $500 in cash.

Schmidt says the bulk of the summer Chum run is expected to hit Russian Mission tomorrow, Friday June 20. At that point, 80,000 to 90,000 Chum per day should begin passing through that section of the river. Based on historical data, these rates should continue for the next 11 days.

Categories: Alaska News

ONC Cancels ‘Cultural and Social Harvest’

Thu, 2014-06-19 10:38

The social and cultural harvest of king salmon for Bethel and a subsequent community dinner have been cancelled.

The events are sponsored by Bethel’s tribe, Orutsararmiut Native Council, and supported by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

This year, directed king salmon fishing is prohibited on the Kuskokwim River due to low returns. But Federal Managers have authorized 32 villages along the Kuskokwim and coastal areas to participate in the special harvest of less than 1,000 king salmon.

Under the system tribal councils administer the permit.  Zack Brink, ONC Executive Director, says the harvest and dinner were cancelled because a key staff member has had an unforeseen circumstance that has taken them away from Bethel.

The community dinner was set for June 20th. ONC was allowed to harvest up to 100 king salmon.  It’s unclear whether ONC will reschedule their social and cultural harvest and dinner.

Some tribes are refusing to participate in the social and cultural harvest because they say they’re not allowed to harvest what they need.

The special permits allows for fishing, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am to 9pm and expires on June 30, or when the quota for the village is met.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials Hope Expanded Juneau Baggage Screening System Reduces Airline Delays

Thu, 2014-06-19 10:06

TSA and Juneau airport officials hope the recently expanded baggage screening system will reduce airline departure delays.

After numerous requests, federal funding was finally realized for the second machine at the Juneau International Airport, just in time for the arrival of Delta Airlines.

Delta’s daily summer flight between Juneau and Seattle adds another aircraft at the busiest time of the day.

“There’s four aircraft in the morning from 6 o’clock to about 8 o’clock. That’s a two-hour window for four aircraft,” Marc Cheatham, the deputy manager at the airport, said. “And adding on Delta’s aircraft, that’s five aircraft now. That’s a lot of bags to be going through one machine.”

TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says the machine cost about $330,000. Both screeners use CT-Scan technology to detect explosives and produce a 3D image.

“We know not only today, but for several years, that explosives remain the number one threat against aviation security,” Dankers said. “So all checked baggage must be screened.”

If a piece of luggage sends off an alarm, a TSA officer, like Noah Teshner, pulls it aside for additional screening.

“When the bag alarms, we’re going to take the bag to a search table and at that search table we’re going to open the bag . We’re going to go inside the bag and look specifically for an item that alarmed the machine,” Teshner said. “Once we’ve located that item, we’re going to run a test on it and ensure the item is permitted to go. And then we’re going to repack the back and send it on its way.”

Teshner says TSA does not open luggage unless the alarm has gone off.

Before the new screening machine was added, bags bound for Alaska Airlines were getting jugged up on busy days, Cheatham says.

At least Alaska Airlines has a conveyor belt from check-in desks. Delta does not.

“Delta employees actually cart them in and put them up the rail and into the new CT. and then Alaska airlines can also utilize the second machine,” Cheatham said. “They can use the bag belt system, especially in the morning; they have four aircraft in the morning.  They can have an employee here that sends it from the bag belt system to the new CT 80 and through that so they can do a lot more bags much faster.”

Delta’s seasonal service ends in September. Cheatham says Delta will likely not get its own conveyor belt system until the carrier comes back to Juneau next summer.

Even without it, he says, the new baggage screening equipment is expected to end the morning bottleneck and hopefully, “the delays for the aircrafts will be limited, hopefully.”

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Marketplace Competition Aims to Spur Innovation

Thu, 2014-06-19 09:55

Two groups in the Aleutian Islands are looking for the region’s next great start-up business.

The inaugural Aleutian Marketplace Competition opened last week, in search of innovative ideas from residents of the region’s 12 main communities.

The contest comes from the Aleut Corporation and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or “APICDA.” Larry Cotter is executive director there. He says they want sustainable businesses that will create jobs and make some kind of social impact.

“It can be anything,” he says. “We’re encouraging people to think outside the box, take a look at the resources that exist around them and to put those resources to work.”

Cotter says they’re basing the program on Alaska Federation of Natives’ marketplace. But in the Aleutians, the landscape isn’t the easiest for entrepreneurship. Cotter recognizes that towns here are spread out across the Bering Sea, with small populations and limited connectivity.

“It’s certainly challenging,” he says. “But I don’t think we’ve thought of all the good ideas that are out there, in terms of business opportunities. And we’re hoping to stimulate people.”

The contest will run over the next five years. This year and next, it’s geared toward business ideas, trying to give people an incentive to start new ventures. The top three proposals win cash prizes — a thousand dollars or less apiece. Winners will also present their concepts to APICDA’s board.

In year three, Cotter says, the Marketplace switches gears to business development. They’ll offer a $20,000 prize and other assistance to try and make the winning ideas into reality.

“I imagine that both TAC and APICDA would be willing to participate, provide guidance and mentoring and that type of thing,” he says — but that’s only if they like what they see in the first couple of rounds.

This year, submissions are due by Aug. 31. All the details are available on APICDA’s website.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Advocates Spell Out Their Case Against Referendum

Wed, 2014-06-18 22:45

A handful of leading advocates for the new oil tax regime made the case for keeping the law to a friendly audience on Wednesday.

The forum was hosted by the Anchorage Young Republicans, and panelists included economist Scott Goldsmith and State Sen. Cathy Giessel. They argued that if voters repealed the new tax law in August, the oil companies could abandon development of a natural gas pipeline. They also credited the law, which caps the production tax at 35 percent, for adding more drill rigs to the North Slope.

The event wasn’t a debate, and the invited panelists all spoke against returning to a system where the tax rate increases along with the price of oil. The 60-person audience also included plenty of people who had already made their minds up on the issue. Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro moderated the event, and many of the questions he took from the floor expressed support for the tax law.

“Uh, ‘With this much data seemingly in favor of SB21, how could anyone disagree?’” Halcro read from a notecard. “Not a loaded question …”

Proponents of the referendum were not invited to speak, but they were allowed to rent a table outside the forum. Ray Metcalfe, who served in the Legislature in the 1980s, was on his own manning the booth, offering bumper stickers to a crowd that seemed less than eager to take them.

“How are you going to convert anybody if you don’t go into the lion’s den?” asked Metcalfe.

Metcalfe thinks he persuaded two of the attendees to vote for the referendum by showing them that other oil-producing nations tax at a higher rate than Alaska.

The referendum will appear on the August 19 primary ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 18, 2014

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:34

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

Listen now:

Seismic Flare-Ups Leave Scientists Searching for Answers

Annie Ropiek, KUCB – Unalaska

In the past few months, Alaska’s seen a flurry of volcanic eruptions and sizable earthquakes. It’s disrupted life in the Aleutian Islands and the far western Brooks Range — and it’s got scientists wondering how all the activity might be connected.

Anxiety and Threats on the Kuskokwim as First Salmon Gillnet Opening Nears

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Four weeks into salmon fishing restrictions, the atmosphere along the Kuskokwim River is tense. At a meeting Tuesday the stress of the closures are causing was obvious as gillnet openings loom on the horizon.

Parnell Announces New Agreement With TransCanada

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state and Transcanada Corp. have formally ended their relationship under terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. Governor Sean Parnell shared the news in an address to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

B.C. Developers Defend Near-Border Mines

Ed Schoenfeld, KRBD – Juneau

Plans for mines in northwest British Columbia, just across Alaska’s border, are being blasted by tribal, fishing and environmental groups in Southeast Alaska. Critics say they’ll pollute rivers that cross the border, damaging or destroying salmon and other fish runs. But what do we hear from the mining side of the story? 

DEC Works To Contain Fuel Spill on Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Water is being used to flush fuel out of the tundra, where a tanker truck rolled off the Dalton Highway earlier this month. The Nana Corporation truck is estimated to have leaked in excess of 2,500 gallons of fuel near milepost 299, about 110 miles south of Deadhorse.

Stolen Dance Paddle Recovered in Juneau

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau Police are reporting the recovery of an 8-foot dance paddle that was stolen Saturday after the end of Celebration, the big biennial cultural event in the Capital City.

Front Street Clinic Opens Its Services to All

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is now providing service to the general public while also continuing care for the homeless.

Three Sitka Artists, Three Grants — One Last Name

Greta Mart, KCAW – Sitka

Last month, the Rasmuson Foundation announced the recipients of this year’s individual artist awards and grants. Several Sitka artists were on that list, and three of them share the same last name.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismic Flare-Ups Leave Scientists Searching For Answers

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:30

Pavlof Volcano’s eruption as seen from Cold Bay on June 2, 2014 / Credit: Robert Stacy

In the past few months, Alaska’s seen a flurry of volcanic eruptions and sizable earthquakes. It’s disrupted life in the Aleutian Islands and the far western Brooks Range — and it’s got scientists wondering how all the activity might be connected.

Listen now:

Right now, five volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands are on alert. John Power of the Alaska Volcano Observatory says it’s the most activity they’ve seen at once in their 26-year history.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in terms of the number of volcanoes that are active in the state,” Power says.

Only one of those has caused major disruptions so far — Pavlof Volcano sent up an ash plume and prompted days of local flight cancellations earlier this month.

But volcanoes seem to be waking up all across the chain. Shishaldin, Cleveland and Veniaminoff in the eastern and central Aleutians have been on alert for months now. In the western Aleutians, the AVO put Semisopochnoi on watch just last week.

But does it mean there’s something causing all these flare-ups? Power says, not necessarily.

“At this point, you know, we have to say it’s coincidental,” he says. “It could be that there is a larger process at work, but we’re not able to say what that is at this point in time, or if there is such a process. You know, perhaps the answer is we haven’t been looking long enough to know.”

Scientific understanding of plate tectonics began evolving in Alaska with the 1964 Good Friday quake, and Power says it’s still a work in progress. If there is something bigger going on, they can’t identify it — at least not yet.

That’s also true a thousand miles north of the Aleutians, where another seismic mystery has stretched across two months. Outside Noatak in the far western Brooks Range, there’s been a series of five earthquakes, each with a magnitude 5.7. The latest was on Monday.

Mike West of the Alaska Earthquake Center says the Noatak quakes are too far away to impact volcanoes in the Aleutians.

“Some of this is just a confluence of what really is day-to-day activity in Alaska,” he says.

But West also says their grasp on that activity is, well, shaky. They know the basics: a tectonic plate in the region seems to be slowly pulling away from the continent. Normally, that would cause one large quake. Here, West says it’s caused five smaller quakes instead.

“You can think of this as the earth sort of inching along instead of doing it in one big movement,” he says.

Still, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake is nothing to scoff at. It shows up on seismic monitors around the world, including the 400 stations in Alaska. For West, that’s a good thing. Even with two new short-term monitors in Noatak and Kotzebue, he doesn’t get enough information from the Noatak-area network alone.

“We have never had a focus on Western and Northern Alaska, and I personally feel that’s a bit of a liability for the state,” West says. “This sequence certainly indicates that there’s plenty of opportunity in these areas for earthquakes to intersect with populations.”

That’s his takeaway from this period of heightened activity — Alaskans live on volatile land. Quakes and volcanoes can damage property in the interior and interrupt air travel or set off tsunamis at sea. Even in remote towns, West says more monitors are always a good thing.

Back in the Aleutians, the AVO’s John Power is getting ready for some new monitoring of his own — on active Cleveland Volcano, located in the uninhabited Islands of the Four Mountains. This summer, the AVO will tag along with an archaeological expeditionto put seismic monitors on Cleveland for the first time.

It’s a step forward, but there’s still a long way to go. Four of AVO’s on-alert volcanoes are repeat offenders with a long baseline of data. The fifth is more of an outlier. Semisopochnoi had been quiet since 1987 — the year before the AVO was formed – before it rumbled to life with a swarm of little earthquakes last week.

Since the island is so remote, Power says they don’t know much about it.

“It’s a volcano with a fairly violent past — it’s had a whole number of eruptions…. It’s actually a large caldera with a whole number of vents and very large lava flows that our geological investigations suggest are not that old,” he says. “And we are currently watching it very, very closely, because the type of activity it’s experiencing is what you might see or might expect at a reawakening volcano.”

Like the scientists near Noatak, Power says the AVO focuses on what they can address in the short term. They might not fully understand the science of what’s happening — but they can do their best to keep tabs on it.

Categories: Alaska News

Anxiety and Threats on the Kuskokwim as First Salmon Gillnet Openings Near

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:29

Four weeks into salmon fishing restrictions, the atmosphere along the Kuskokwim River is tense. At a meeting Tuesday the stress the closures are causing was obvious. But gillnet fishing for salmon is near.

Listen now:

The Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group discusses the first 6″ gillnet openings. Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK.

The Bethel Test fishery numbers are showing many more chum and sockeye salmon than kings in the river. That’s one signal that fishing could begin soon. At a Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting Tuesday, subsistence fishers met with managers to figure out when the gillnet restrictions can be relaxed.

Reports of stress along the river in some cases were extreme. Working group member Fritz Charles reported on what he’s hearing about possible violence on the river.

“They’re starting an organization as we speak. If we keep going on like this, what we’re going on, lives could be lost,” said Charles.

Working Group Co-Chair Bev Hoffman told the group that they all have a part in making the summer a success.

“We’re all in it together. And so it’s up to us to calm…when we hear the kind of volatile remarks like that, it’s up to us to calm people, and I’m serious about that,” said Hoffman.

The group did not want to draw more attention to incendiary ideas, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Warden Robert Sundown told the assembled fishermen and community leaders how the enforcement works.

“The reasons we make our decisions to open or not to open is not going be because of armed resistance, it’s going to be based on the biology of the numbers. The surest way to get from 12 game wardens that we have on the river to 350 wardens, the entire fleet in the nation is to have a gun threat. If you want to see you see 350 wardens on the river, that’s the surest way to do it,” said Sundown.

Tim Andrew from the Association of Village Council Presidents said empty racks have people worried.

“That rainy season is approaching upon us, so people are feeling anxiety about being food insecure. Salmon is extremely important to people in the villages. There needs to be accommodation at some point or some level of assurance from this body or from managers that something there is going to be something positive on the horizon coming up,” said Andrew.

So how close is the first opening? Federal manager Brian McCaffery laid out his plan for the next few days.

“We’re still hopefully looking forward to a first opening, at least downriver, sometime at the end of this week, I’ve not made a decision what day that would be, we want to take a look at least one more day of data,” said McCaffery.

The opening will target chum and red salmon, although some incidental king salmon catch is expected. McCaffery says the first opening may be below the Johnson River and run a few hours with 6” gillnets. The openings would likely move up the river in three day intervals.

After 2013 showed the weakest run on record and not having made escapement in two of the past four years, managers’ top priority is getting enough king salmon to spawning grounds. This year’s run is early and past data shows that early runs can end very quickly.

After nearly a month of closures, McCaffery reassured people that salmon fishing is not far off.

“I think there is a glimmer there, I certainly know that it has been a difficult season for everyone, but we see openings on the horizon, so we’re hoping people can be patient,” said McCaffery.

Working Group Member Fritz Charles say he’ll be passing on the word of potential openings and hopes too that people will be patient.

“I’d rather lose king salmon than lose a life,” said Charles.

The Working Group voted to support managers’ decision to study the numbers this week in anticipation of the first opening.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Announces New Agreement With TransCanada

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:28

The State and TransCanada Corp. have formally ended their relationship under terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. Governor Sean Parnell shared the news in an address to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. ”I’m pleased to announce here today that we have terminated the license with TransCanada under AGIA and have now completed a traditional precedent agreement,” he said.

Listen now:

Governor Sean Parnell signed in-state gasline legislation at the Pipeline Training Center in Fairbanks on May 8. Pictured: Representative Jay Ramras, Representative Mike Chenault, Governor Sean Parnell, Senator Lesil McGuire, and Scott Heyworth (Photo from Governor’s Office press release)

TransCanada had state support under AGIA to pursue a gasline to serve North American customers, but the project has shifted focus to overseas markets. State lawmakers approved state participation in the new North Slope to Nikiski gasline this spring, setting the stage for the updated agreement with TransCanada. Governor Parnell says the new arrangement, which also includes North Slope producers, puts the project on a more standard track.

“It’s a more traditional structure then what we had before. It’s a structure that banks and financial institutions are used to providing financing for and that markets are used to seeing,” he said.

Parnell says joint venture agreements between the state and the companies are the next step to move the gasline project forward.

Governor Parnell signed several bills into law while in Fairbanks, including one authorizing $157.5 million in bonding authority for University of Alaska Fairbanks to finance replacement of its aged-out coal fired power plant. State funding will fill out the rest of the tab for the $232 million project.

Parnell also signed a bill that adds “Big Bull Moose” derbies to a list of charitable games the state can license. The derby allows hunters to buy tickets and win a cash prize if they kill the biggest moose. It was forwarded by Representative Tammie Wilson of North Pole on behalf of the Tanana Valley Sportsman’s Association and the UAF Rifle Team, which want to use a moose derby to raise money for their programs.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Developers Defend Near-Border Mines

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:27

We’ve heard a lot about mines planned for northwest British Columbia, just across Alaska’s border.

Southeast tribal, fishing and environmental groups have blasted those plans. Critics say they’ll pollute rivers that cross the border, damaging or destroying salmon and other fish runs.

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But we haven’t heard a lot from mine advocates. Now, we have.

The KSM Prospect is inland from Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy SEACC)

Much of the recent focus has been on what’s called the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM Project, being developed by Seabridge Gold.

The site, which also includes copper, is roughly 80 miles east of Wrangell.

Critics say it could damage the Unuk River, which flows into the ocean northeast of Ketchikan.

Seabridge says that’s not the case. Brent Murphy is the corporation’s vice president of environmental affairs

“The concern with minimizing downstream environmental impacts has been the guiding principal behind the whole design of the mining project,” Murphy says.

Critics say the KSM could be about the same size as the proposed Pebble Prospect, a controversial mine proposed for Southwest Alaska.

They worry about plans for huge, dammed tailing lakes that could leak or break, sending acidic water into nearby streams and rivers.

Murphy says they’ll be built in a valley that drains into Canadian, not Alaskan, waters.

“The dams will be of a design which has been utilized worldwide. And these dams are extremely stable over the long term,” he says.

And what is the estimated life of those dams?

“They have to last for the 52 years of operations. And then we will reclaim that and they will last into perpetuity.”

Seabridge Gold has been working on the project since 2008. Murphy says even if everything goes its way, operations won’t begin until the 2020.

“You don’t build a mine overnight,” says Karina Brino, president of the Mining Association of British Columbia.

“There are a series of authorizations and permits from different levels of government that are required. And other than the Red Chris Mine, in the northwest, all the other projects are in exploration stages,” she says.

The Red Chris Mine is in the upper watershed of the Stikine River, which ends near Petersburg and Wrangell. It’s owned by Imperial Metals.

Another project of concern is the long-closed Tulsequah Chief Mine, which Chieftain Metals Corp is trying to reopen. It’s on a tributary of the Taku River, which ends near Juneau.

Critics, including the group Rivers Without Borders, are concerned about silt, acid discharge and dangerous metals.

The Mining Association’s Brino says the same is true for her industry.

“Our objective is to minimize impact. Our objective is to be stewards of the environment as much as anybody else would want us to be,” she says.

So, does the industry care about concerns from this side of the border?

“Absolutely,” Brino says. “My expectation would be that there is participation, hopefully meaningful participation, from your side of the border in the review of these projects.”

Seabridge Gold official Murphy says his company has consulted with Alaska officials once or twice a year since the project began. They’ve also been brought to the KSM mine site.

He says the project needs about 150 permits from the provincial and federal governments.

“We will have to do a lot of work in order to gather the information that will be needed to satisfy the … questions from our regulatory authorities,” Murphy says.

Seabridge just began a season of exploratory drilling at the site. That will help better define where the minerals are, and how much may be there.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC Works To Contain Fuel Spill on Dalton Highway

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:26

Water is being used to flush fuel out of the tundra, where a tanker truck rolled off the Dalton Highway earlier this month.  The Nana Corporation truck is estimated to have leaked in excess of 2,500 gallons of fuel near milepost 299, about 110 miles south of Deadhorse.  Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on scene coordinator Tom DeRuyter says the sloped spill area is being flooded with water.

Listen now:

DeRuyter says the 2.7 acre spill zone is being treated one section at a time and that the lighter-than-water fuel floats to the surface and is mopped up with absorbent material. Over 300 bags of oiled sorbents had been collected as of Monday. DeRuyter says tundra samples are tested to determine the remaining level of fuel contamination.

DeRuyter says about a fifth of the spill area had been treated as of Tuesday, and could not estimate how much longer the cleanup would take. He adds that bear, fox, squirrels and birds have been spotted in the area, but have been kept out of the spill zone.

Categories: Alaska News

Stolen Dance Paddle Recovered in Juneau

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:25

Juneau Police are reporting the recovery of an eight-foot dance paddle that was stolen Saturday after the end of Celebration, the big biennial cultural event in the Capital City.

Wilbur Brown of Sitka poses with his dance paddle in this photo on Facebook’s Juneau Buy ~ Sell ~ Trade page. The paddle was among items stolen from vehicles parked at Glacier Cinemas on June 14, 2014. (Photo used by permission)

Listen now:

Lieutenant Kris Sell says a homeowner who lives near a Juneau theater reported finding the paddle. It may have been dropped or dumped by thieves on the run.

The homeowner called police Monday evening after seeing a picture on Facebook about its theft from the theater parking lot.

At least five vehicles were rifled and various items stolen during Saturday night’s late show.

Sell says the red and black paddle is still in one piece and appears to be undamaged. It’s safely stored in the police station’s evidence room.

The paddle was crafted by carver Doug Chilton and Sitka dancer Wilbur Brown and his family, and it was first used at Celebration this year. Brown is a member of the Kake dance group Keex’ Kwaan.

Brown was unavailable for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Front Street Clinic Opens Its Services to All

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:24

Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is now providing service to the general public while also continuing care for the homeless.

Listen now:

Renamed the Front Street Community Health Center, it’s operating under a new business model after Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corporation severed ties at the end of April.

When SEARHC first announced the closure of Front Street Clinic last fall due to budgetary constraints, Front Street’s behavioral health specialist Mary Fitzgerald says the providers were worried.

“What are these homeless people going to do? The winter is coming on. They’re vulnerable. But then the community came forward and said, ‘No, this just can’t happen. What can we do?’”

Community donations kept the downtown clinic open while a new board of directors formed to take over for SEARHC.

Front Street Community Health Center is able to continue serving the homeless with the help of two major grants – one for $162,000 through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and another for $121,000 through the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

With a $500,000 budget, the difference will be made up by opening the doors to everyone – from the uninsured to the insured; even cruise ship passengers who have an urgent need.

Front Street has been known as a homeless clinic for ten years. Manager Janna Brewster is happy to continue that work but hopes Front Street can help others as well.

“We want people that don’t have insurance to have a place to go. That’s the biggest gap in services in any community – people who are working but they don’t have insurance,” Brewster says.

Brewster says they’ve had to turn away community members for years.

“Every day we get phone calls from people who are not homeless who can’t find a doctor in town or couldn’t find medical care and now we don’t have to say, ‘No,’” she says.

Front Street’s staff includes three full-time and three part-time employees. Brewster expects the staff will grow to meet demand.

“We have a pediatrician that might come join. We hope we can do more with kids and teens and really expand to just help out overall through the community,” Brewster says.

Throughout the seven-month transition, there was no interruption in medical service to the homeless.

Dean Smith suffered four strokes in 2010. He’s been going to Front Street for a couple of years for medical and behavioral health services.

“I’m not as nervous about my own health as I was prior to seeing them. Being diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in your head, that’s kind of an unnerving feeling. Basically that means you could have six seconds, six minutes, six hours – you never know,” Smith says.

Smith is happy he can still see Fitzgerald and Brewster now that Front Street is no longer in fear of closing.

Brewster says many patients were worried, especially when the old SEARHC sign was taken down at the end of April. The new sign wasn’t yet ready.

“During that time it was kind of quiet and the word was going around that we were not going to be here. In fact, someone even heard that we weren’t here anymore,” Brewster says. “But we put the sign back up and it’s like all of a sudden, everyone has calmed down. They know we’re here and they feel very happy that we’re still going to be able to help them. That’s the most wonderful part of all of this – there are people out there that are so grateful for what we do.”

The new Front Street Community Health Center sign is in place inviting new patients.

For more information or to make an appointment at the new Front Street Community Health Center, call 586-4230.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Sitka Artists, Three Grants – One Last Name

Wed, 2014-06-18 17:23

Last month, the Rasmuson Foundation announced the recipients of this year’s individual artist awards and grants. Several Sitka artists were on that list, and three of them share the same last name.

Listen now:

Sitka artist Dave Galanin in his studio. Photo by Greta Mart.

That’s Tlingit master carver Dave Galanin. Over three decades of artistic endeavors in Sitka, Dave has received lots of recognition for his work. But this year something unusual happened. Not only did Dave receive a sizeable grant from Alaska’s Rasmuson Foundation, his two sons, Nicholas and Jerrod Galanin, also received artist grants from the same private foundation.

“This is definitely the first time we’ve had individuals from the same family receive awards in the same year.”

That’s Foundation spokesman Jason Smart.

Every year, hundreds of Alaskan artists submit grant applications to the Rasmuson foundation, which directly supports artists working and living in the state.

When the 2014 recipients were announced, it took the Galanins by surprise. Here’s Dave again:

“I didn’t know that my boys had put in for it, and they didn’t know I did. When I got the call, I was down at the beach throwing the ball for my dog…and I get a phone call and its a guy from Rasmuson and it was…it was hard to contain myself , I was pretty excited.”

They told him not to tell anyone until Foundation staff made an official announcement.

“So I didn’t say anything.Then I got a call from Jerrod, and he said, ‘hey dad. I got some good news. I got the Rasmuson.’ And I said, ‘wow, way to go. I guess I might as well tell you, I got the Rasmuson too.’ (Laughs). And then I get a call from Nick…the funny thing was Nick, he didn’t get anything , he didn’t get a call, you know, ‘I guess I didn’t get mine.’”

Nicholas got his call the next day.

“We all went up to Anchorage and that was really fun…apparently we only go on family vacations when we win awards. ha ha ha.”

Dave and Nicholas each received artist fellowships, an award of $18,000 designed to give mid-career and mature artists the time and money to create.

Jerrod won a project award, which comes with a no-strings-attached cash award up to $7500 for the creation of a specific artwork. Right now he’s figuring out what exactly that will be. Unlike his brother, Jerrod hasn’t pursued a career as an artist full time.

“Last year was the first time I had a full-time job in a long time because I’ve always bounced around so much. I was a land-surveyor. Before that I’ve worked as a shipwright, I’ve worked as a carpenter, I’ve worked as a commercial fisherman.”

Yet his jewelry is on display in Anchorage galleries. And at the Devilfish, the Sitka gallery owned and operated by the Galanin brothers.

“And I’ve always had artwork somewhat in the background. I’d be happy to make the occasional sale.”

But that is changing, says Jerrod.

“I’ve just really been focusing on the gallery and thinking about art projects and experimenting with that.”

With his fellowship grant, Dave says he’s going to increase the scale of his work and shoot for a one-man show somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’ve actually started a full-sized, life-sized chilkat robe out of copper.”

Nicholas is a conceptual artist whose work is shown in galleries and museums around the world. This month the Galanin brothers attended the opening of Nicholas’ current show at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum. After that Nick will head to Japan for another show opening. His Rasmuson award is already partly spent, he said.

“I’ll get new equipment, and I’ll get some new tools and materials and I’ve already started and even finished some new projects in anticipation of getting that…check.”

While they pursue their current projects separately, it’s clear the Galanins collaborate well together. Here’s Jerrod again,

“I work with Nick a lot..Nick’s my neighbor…late at night we’ll just stay up and brainstorm and talk about art and just do different projects…we both hunt sea otter and we both want to do the fish skin, so that really excites me, just being able to work with my brother.”

And thanks to these arts grants, the Galanins can do that more often.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Board of Education Changes School Rating for Small Districts

Wed, 2014-06-18 12:32

The state of Alaska will begin a new system for rating schools in the fall.  The new system is fairer and more realistic for alternative and small schools.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development met earlier this month in Anchorage to alter the way schools are rated.  In 2013, the state adopted the Alaska School Performance Index, which rates schools on a 100 point scale.  The points are awarded based on test scores, improvement on tests, attendance, standardized tests and graduation rates.  The schools are then given ratings on a scale of one- to five- stars, five being the best.

Information officer for the Department of Education and Early Development Eric Fry says the new board decided it wasn’t fair for small or alternative schools to be judged by the old system.

“It’s just very tough for an alternative high school to do well on the system because they weren’t earning enough points, they weren’t getting credit for what they were doing which was taking some at risk kids and working with them and improving their proficiency and getting some of them to graduate,” Fry said. ”It just wasn’t fair to make those schools look bad when they are doing what we all want to encourage.”

He says the system will not be letting these schools off the hook.

“We’ve changed the system so the schools will take three years in a row of how their graduating classes did so we have a somewhat larger number of kids to rate them on,” Fry said. ”The idea was just to be fairer to these special circumstances.”

Fry says these rating systems were put into place to improve all schools, not just point out the shortfalls of small ones.

“When a school is one star it means they have to come up with an improvement plan,” Fry said. ”Trying to target a plan that will target things that need improvement.  When you take a look at the test scores, the improvement of your kids and the graduation rates, there’s some room for improvement we are basically asking schools what do you need to improve.  So we aren’t imposing it in a top down way.”

The new school ratings will go into effect this fall but the results won’t be back until the end of the 2014/2015 school year.

Categories: Alaska News
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