A group of people from all over the U.S. traveled to the capital city this week for one reason – stand up paddle boarding.
Jan and Jeff Lipscomb, Carol Fontius, and Bob Stafford went to Auke Lake for their first Alaska stand up paddle board experience.
Fontius describes the sport which has its roots in Hawaii.
“It’s like a big long surf board that you can stand on. And if you’re really good, you can do yoga on or something. With a paddle, you stand up and you just move through the water. You know sometimes people fall in when they first start but it’s easy not to even get wet after a while.”
Sunday was North Douglas. The group took off toward Mendenhall Glacier.
“Heading straight for that glacier was like being in an IMAX movie for me. It’s only something I’ve seen in movies. And to be on the water, looking at it, it’s really surreal.”
Jan Lipscomb says the trip so far has been fun and not too strenuous.
The two couples traveled to Juneau from San Diego and Las Vegas with the help of Florida-based company SURFit. Karla Gore runs the business with her husband Aaron Pollard. One component is setting up stand up paddle boarding trips in different parts of the world.
“Almost anywhere there’s water you can paddleboard. We’re really used to warm water paddle boarding, but I thought we know that it’s beautiful here. There’s so much to see, so much water, so much place to paddle, so we thought well we’d just try it here.”
For Jeff Lipscomb, paddle boarding in Alaska is how he wanted to celebrate turning 60.
“For me, this is something that surrealistically you could only dream about and it has been, two days in a row – all I can say is, this is phenomenal. You’re paddling on the water looking at arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Lipscomb says being on the water on a paddleboard is different than being on the water in a boat.
“When you’re paddling, there’s the sound of your paddle in the water and that’s it. And then everything else you hear are things like eagles, birds, salmon thrashing around. You can hear and see everything with clarity.”
Stafford describes the schedule for the rest of their week in Juneau.
“We’ll paddleboard at least once every day, and maybe twice, and we’ll go 5-6 miles in the morning, 5-6 miles in the afternoon. And we look for wind or some texture in the water and we follow that a little bit.”
Other Juneau paddle boarding destinations include Amalga Harbor, Boy Scout Beach, Auke Rec, and Echo Cove.
The largest health insurer in Alaska is likely to get a lot bigger next year. Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of two insurance companies that will offer plans on the new federally run marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The company is expecting to serve thousands more customers in the state, but that growth will come with the kind of uncertainty the insurance industry has never had before.
Jeff Davis spends a lot of time thinking about Alaska’s health insurance Marketplace.
“This is a big, big undertaking for everyone that’s involved.”
Davis is President of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Right now, the company has 10,000 individual customers in the state. And Premera thinks that number could double by the end of next year, thanks to the new marketplace. But Davis doesn’t talk like a guy who may double a segment of his customer base. He sounds worried. He says in the long run having new customers will be great, but there will be some growing pains.
“We are fully prepared that we could lose a significant amount of money in 2014 because of just the uncertainty of who comes in and when they come in.”
That’s because for the first time, health insurers won’t be able to exclude customers with pre-existing conditions. Davis says that’s kind of like letting people buy home owners insurance while their house is on fire. The new law has provisions, like open enrollment periods, to help lessen the impact. But Davis thinks the first wave of people to sign up on the marketplace will have significant health problems. Then he expects healthier people will follow, especially those who qualify for subsidies. In Alaska, that’s anyone who makes less than $57,000 a year.
“For people who are subsidy eligible who are buying a plan today, they’re likely to see the amount they’re paying out of pocket every month actually go down because of the effect of the subsidies.”
But for those without subsidies, individual insurance could be quite costly. Premera says most rates it filed to offer on the marketplace are higher than its current plans. Davis explains the policies are required to have better benefits and smaller deductibles than the most popular plans today. He says a young family of four, earning more than $117,000 a year is likely to see the biggest out of pocket increase, because they won’t qualify for a subsidy.
“There will be winners and losers. There will be some people who [pay] significantly more out of pocket for their health insurance after January 1st, 2014 and there will be some who pay significantly less. And it’s just that upheaval and that mix that worries me.”
Adding to that upheaval is the uncertainty of what the online marketplace will actually look like. Davis says there is still a lot unknown about how it will work on October 1st, when it is supposed to be up and running. He does expect it to be functional, but says it will probably be bare bones at first, with more features added in later on. Susan Johnson, the regional administrator for the federal Health and Human Services Department, acknowledges it won’t be perfect at first.
“Let’s be clear, there will be problems, but let’s not have the news on October 2nd be Susan Johnson had to wait 45 minutes to get through the call center. Let’s have the news be Susan Johnson finally has the opportunity to have insurance that she never had before. ”
Johnson says the Marketplace will be a huge step forward for how people buy individual and small group insurance in Alaska and across the country. For Davis, that huge step will completely transform the way he does business in the state. And he’s prepared for a wild ride.
“You get on the roller coaster and there are some ups and downs and it’s pretty scary and maybe you’re in the dark at Disneyland and you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s a lot like that but as with a roller coaster ride, at the end, you get off.”
Davis expects to get off the roller coaster in two or three years and arrive at a ‘new normal’ where a lot more Alaskans have health insurance.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The military’s Red Flag Training exercise wraps up today. Representatives of branches of U.S. and several foreign forces participated in the 2 week training, which included jet fighters and bombers engaged in mock battle using live ordinance. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, some interior residents are glad it’s over.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks Faculty and Staff gathered Thursday for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Margaret Murie Life Science Building. The new building houses the Department of Biology and Wildlife alongside the Institute of Arctic Biology. KUAC’s Emily Schwing got a behind the scenes tour of the new state- of-the-art research laboratories, classrooms and offices.
The smell of new paint and a freshly waxed floor wafts through the air… and on a clear day, sunlight streams through two-story tall windows of the foyer of a brand new science facility at UAF. Brian Barnes is the Director of the Institute of Arctic Biology. He says he’s been waiting for this new building to become a reality for more than a decade. “We were teaching out students in classrooms that were built in 1965 and 1967,” says Barnes. We had kids coming from high schools that had better facilities than the University. That’s no longer true.” Barnes is standing next to Paul Layer, UAF’s Dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Layer says it’s also been many years since UAF’s Biology Department has been housed in one location. “Biology is the largest major at UAF. We have over 400 majors in Biology and Wildlife and it’s the largest graduate program as well,” says Layer. “And so for us to have a place that has the state of the art kind of facilities that we can use and students have access to is really for us way, way overdue.”
The new building is named for Margaret Murie, the first woman to graduate from the Alaska’s Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1924. The school later became UAF. Murie is better known as a naturalist and author who helped found a conservation movement in the United States. The building itself is bright, dominated by open space, large windows and lots of glass. As you walk through the hallways, you can catch a glimpse into laboratories and research space. Brian Barnes says that was the ultimate goal. “One of the driving principles was to have research and instruction and teaching labs near each other so that undergrads coming to class would walk by research labs that they could look into and see other undergrads in there and think ‘I want to do that too,’” says Barnes. “So that’s the juxtaposition and then we have faculty and graduate students thrown into the mix as well.” On the first floor, there’s a 150 seat auditorium equipped with smart-room technology for lectures and presentations. Instead of chalkboards, there are sliding glass panels at the front for instructors. Across the hallway, Paul Layer tries out one of the new chairs in a high tech classroom. They’re black, wide and round around the bottom and wheeled.
They have desktops attached and even a cup holder. Layer shows off how the desks and chairs maneuver so students can break into groups. “Biology has really embraced the idea of doing a lecture then getting together, working on small projects, small demonstrations, groups discussing problems,” he explains, “and then sharing that with a larger classroom as opposed to sort of standing up and talking for an hour.”
The building is equipped with low flow plumbing, water filters and a high tech ventilation system. Brian Barnes says, despite the wide-open space and the large windows, it’s also extremely energy efficient. “It’s supposed to be the most modern building in the state in terms of efficiencies.” He says there’s only one thing he’d change. “We would have had a fourth floor,” he laughs. ” We would have made it bigger, because we’re still are crammed for research space for faculty throughout, but within the design, actually ask us in a year, because we really want the students in here and we want to try it out some more.”
State bonding funded the 88.5 million dollar project. It came in more than 850 thousand dollars under budget. Construction was completed earlier than planned. Classes began here in May. Students will return for the fall semester next week.
Eldred Rock wind speed and wind direction sensors have not been working for a couple of weeks, frustrating both the Lynn Canal gillnet fleet and National Weather Service.
The instruments record weather conditions used on NOAA weather radio observations and in forecasts, important information for Lynn Canal mariners and pilots.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Joel Curtis says the agency wants it fixed, too, but the rock is not an easy place to reach.
“That equipment is really, really hard to service. It’s up on a rock and it’s out in the middle of Lynn Canal, away from ports and everything else,” he says. “You have to have every part in the world with you when you go there because you only have one shot at fixing it. It’s not the kind of place you’re going to say, ‘oh, I’ll just come back tomorrow.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
NOAA weather radio is often more handy, but Eldred Rock wind speed and direction are still available from the Marine Exchange website.
“Wind speed, wind direction, matter of fact the whole sensor is not reporting,” Curtis says. “That’s been off and on a big problem this summer.”
He says the weather service is responsible for equipment repair at all its stations. Eldred Rock and Lincoln Rock are on a long list of other locations with problems.
The historic Eldred Rock is home to a once-manned lighthouse, activated in 1906. The last human observer left the rock in 1973, when the beacon was automated.
Soggy skies did little to dampen enthusiasm on the first day of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Thursday.
President Barack Obama wants to tie college rankings to how affordable they are and whether students are landing in the workforce after graduation.
As APRN’s Peter Granitz reports, some Alaska education leaders welcome the plans, but worry about implementation.
Every summer, a million tourists pass through Southeast Alaska. It’s a boon to local retailers, who rely on the extra customers to make up for slower winter months. But with lots money being spent, business can get dirty. This spring, the state responded to complaints that onboard shopping experts were misleading passengers and smearing local stores by hitting these programs with a new set of rules. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez wanted to find out if the new regulations are actually working.
Just about every other store in Juneau’s shopping district sells jewelry. They advertise diamonds and tanzanite, steep discounts and free charms. But a sign on one storefront stands out: “Don’t see us on your cruise ship map??? We’d rather not give your cruise ship a kickback!!”
MEHAN: We put up that sign because a lot of people were unaware of the gimmicks that were going on the cruise lines …
Of the half dozen local business owners I talked to about these kickbacks, Mehan was the only who would agree to be quoted. Even then, he wouldn’t let me use his real name, out of fear of getting blackballed by the cruise industry.
Years ago, Mehan used to pay $25,000 plus 10 percent of sales to be part of the cruise shopping programs. The shopping programs are run by media companies, who then pay the cruise lines to have their employees — known as “port lecturers” — on board the ship. These port lecturers are supposed to work like shopping ambassadors, guiding tourists to trusted retailers. But even though Mehan was part of their program, customers were still steered to chains with stronger ties to the industry. So he stopped paying. Then Mehan started hearing troubling things from passengers.
“‘We were told to only go to certain stores because the other stores are people who sometimes don’t sell the real stuff and we are not responsible for it,’ and stuff like that,” says Mehan. “So that’s like a scare factor.
These kinds of complaints got so bad that the State of Alaska started investigating the companies who hire the port lecturers and give the cruise lines a cut of their earnings to have them on board.
Ed Sniffen handles consumer protection for the state, and he says it wasn’t just local businesses who were upset. Passengers were also saying they’d been ripped off.
“‘Hey, I bought this diamond at this shop, and they told me that it was a two-karat something, and I paid $20,000 for it. When I got it back home and had it appraised, it was really only worth $5,000.’ You know, some of those kinds of things,” says Sniffen.
Port lecturers operate on cruises across the world, but Alaska is the first place to crack down on their employers.
In February, the state agreed to a $200,000 settlement with Onboard Media, Royal Media Partners, and the PPI Group — the three Florida-based companies that put port lecturers on Alaska cruise voyages. The companies didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing, but they did have to start requiring port lecturers to disclose that they didn’t work for the cruise lines and that what they were doing was a type of advertising. They were also prohibited from disparaging stores that didn’t participate in their programs and from making misleading statements about sale prices and return policies.
None of the major cruise lines that operate in Alaska — Carnival, Princess, Holland America, and Norwegian — responded to emails asking about their relationship with port lecturers. Royal Media Partners and the PPI Group also ignored interview requests. Only Onboard Media answered questions about the settlement terms.
“[The settlement] simply formalized policies that Onboard Media has always followed,” wrote Noelle Sipos, a spokesperson for Onboard Media, in an e-mail. She added that the company is complying with all of Alaska regulations, but that they’re not applying the state’s rules to other places.
“The program in each region is tailored to support the requirements of the local authorities,” wrote Sipos.
So, are these regulations doing anything? Right now, the attorney general’s office is reviewing about 70 recordings of port lecturers in action, and it looks like filming them is helping. Sniffen says while things aren’t suddenly perfect, most of the feedback on the ground has been good.
“What we’re hearing is that generally things are better. That things have gotten a little cleaner,” says Sniffen. “Passengers aren’t saying the things that they used to say.”
Before Cindy Dollar gets off her cruise ship, she’s given a shopping map, a bunch of coupons, and a tote bag for her haul. She’s vacationing from Texas, and she says there’s serious pressure to spend.
“Yeah, it’s constant,” says Dollar. “I mean if you let yourself, you can be barraged with the whole shopping experience on the ship.”
From what she’s seen, it looks like the port lecturers are following the state’s new rules. They’re putting disclaimers on promotional materials, and reading from scripts that describe their presentations as marketing. They’re still pushy, but at least you know where they’re coming from.
And so far, their pitch doesn’t seem to be working on her. Dollar doesn’t plan on buying from the stores that are being hyped up, and she definitely isn’t thinking about making any huge purchases.
“I plan to bring back a few souvenirs for family and my petsitter,” Dollars laughs.
She thinks a local gift shop will do the trick.
The Celebrity cruise ship Millennium returned to Ketchikan Sunday night after mechanical problems. Police responded to the ship late Tuesday night following reports of unruly passengers.
Ketchikan police responded Tuesday night to several emergency calls from passengers on board the stranded Celebrity ship Millennium. Apparently, the callers thought there was going to be a riot.
Here’s police chief Alan Bengaard: “We, the police department, received three 911 calls from passengers on the MV Millennium who stated that people were getting unruly on board the ship, and they believed a riot was about to begin. Officers responded to the ship, met with ship security and advised them of the 911 calls. Ship security and officers contacted approximately 500 guests on the third floor of the vessel, and subsequently peace was restored and officers left.”
Bengaard says those 500 people were upset about Celebrity Cruise’s plans for where they would go when flown out of Ketchikan.
“The officers … were given the information that some of the passengers were unhappy with the miscommunication between them and the cruise line, and ultimately where their final destination was going to be,” he said. “Initially, evidentially, they were told they were going to be flown to Anchorage, and plans had changed and some were upset with that.”
Bengaard says he believes the passengers will instead be flown to Vancouver.
Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate communications for Celebrity, responded via email to a request for comment. She says she talked with ship security officers, who claim that local police came to the pier about midnight Tuesday in response to 911 calls, but that police did not board the ship. Martinez says that ship security considers the mood on board as “calm.”
She did not offer further comment.
The 965-foot Millennium, with a passenger capacity of about 2,000, has been stuck in Ketchikan since Sunday evening, when it was forced to return to port due to a faulty propeller.
Passengers aboard the Millennium are leaving Ketchikan via chartered flights arranged by Celebrity. They also received full refunds and vouchers toward a future cruise.
The military has signed off on an expansion plan for Alaska training operations and areas. The Alaskan Command, representing the Army and Air Force, published its formal record of decision Tuesday on changes to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, or “J-PARC”.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is taking a new approach to helping students struggling with depression and other mental health problems that can lead to suicide. U.A.F. Associate Director of Counseling Tony Rousmaniere says a $5,000 grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will pay for an on line outreach program.
A resolution to mitigate conflict between dog owners and trappers could pass easily during tonight’s Regular Borough Assembly meeting. The item is on the consent agenda and unless an assembly member disagrees, two new areas will be established for dog training within the borough. It’s a resolution that took two years’ worth of discussion between the Alaska Trapper’s Association and the Borough Trails Advisory Commission.
The resolution designates the Isberg Recreation area in northwest Fairbanks as well as an area directly south of Salcha Elementary School as places where people can free run their dogs. Resolution sponsor and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says the Borough is not creating two new dogs parks, however. Instead, he says the areas will be set up specifically for canine training. “Things like hunting dogs and search and rescue dogs,” he explains, “that need to free run to perform their duties and obviously need to be trained properly to perform their duties. To do that in an area safely, you wanna be confidents there aren’t a lot of traps where the dogs are running loose.” Kassel serves as a liason between the Assembly and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission. He says the resolution will not put an end to trapping within the Borough. “Trapping and the regulation of trapping is a Fish and Game regulation,” he says, “It’s not a borough function. We’re not trying to regulate trapping. The intention here is to not have any sport of significant or adverse effect on any sort of activity that’s already going on, and to use this as a tool to educate the public a little bit more.”
The resolution doesn’t make mention of sled dogs, but Kassel says that’s because the designated training areas aren’t large enough for those activities like mushing and skijoring. “Typically, a dog team would train longer miles and they may pass through these areas,” Kassel says, “The hundred mile loop trail goes through the Iceberg Recreation Area, so somebody may go through the area while they are training dogs, but they would be outside of these areas for more time than they would be within these areas. We still share some concerns obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably going to be people who just go and let dogs run loose.”
The resolution also doesn’t mention other popular trail systems in the borough, where both recreation and trapping take place. Melissa Head is a long time Borough resident. She lost her dog to a trap near the Goldstream Valley last winter. She supports the resolution, but she says it doesn’t go far enough.
“It represents a lot of work that has been done between the ATA and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission,” says Head, “but it’s not just enough to say that certain areas are off limits. Dog owners can encounter traps almost anywhere in the borough, often in trails, on the edge of trails, where even leashed dogs can be harmed.”
Pete Buist is a lifelong trapper and a former [president of the Alaska Trapper’s Association. He says most conflicts between dog owners and trappers are not the fault of trappers. “It will be an ongoing problem until dog owners start obeying the law,” says Buist. Borough code does prohibit running dogs off leash, but there is a section in the code that allows for off-leash training. Buist says he understands the resolution is the best option for compromise between all concerned parties. “We are willing to give up some ground where it would otherwise be legal for trapping, because we are trappers who are your friends and neighbors and the Alaska Trapper’s Association is the organized version of that,” Buist says. “We still share some concern obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably gonna people there who just let their dogs run loose.”
ATA members have agreed to voluntarily curtail trapping in the designated dog training areas. Karl Kassel says enforcement will fall under the responsibility of the Borough Administration.
Peter Nestler has been hooked on jumping rope since second grade, when he saw an exhibition at Glacier Valley Elementary School.
In third grade, he joined the Juneau Jumpers. By the time he finished high school, he had helped his team win seven world championships.
Now 33 and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nestler has come full circle. He’ll perform his world class rope and unicycle skills for a new generation at Glacier Valley on Friday.
“It’s where I learned to jump rope,” he said. “I was on the team there, pretty much my entire learning curve was at Glacier Valley. So it’s kind of neat, and I was thinking about where to do these records. And I was like, you know, it would be kind of cool to have one where I actually started.”
During the show, the Ketchikan native hopes to set a new world record for most bum skips in 30 seconds.
That’s right, bum skips. Nestler explains:
“Basically, you’re seated with your feet out in front of you, and you’re jumping while you’re sitting down,” he said. “For this particular record … you hold both handles in one hand, so the rope’s basically cut in half. And then you spin the rope so it’s making kind of like a helicopter motion, but it’s going, it’s staying on the ground and you’re jumping over that with every jump.”
The current record is 82, according to the Guinness World Records press office.
He already holds the record for most rope skips on a unicycle in one minute: 237. Nestler hopes to set a total of 11 new world records this year, three of them in Juneau in the next six days.
And yes, this is his day job. He’s been professionally unicycling, jumping rope, and spreading a kid friendly motivational message around the world since 2002.
“A lot of people look at people like me that are professional or really good at something and they just think, ‘Oh, you know, he’s just born that way,’” Nestler said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, no.’ I’m definitely one of the people, I don’t pick stuff up quickly, but I work very, very hard, and the reason I’m good at stuff is I practice more than anybody else at something.”
Separately, he performs for churches and youth ministries with a faith-based message. He said his faith and relationship with God has helped him get where he is today.
He’ll perform next Wednesday at the Hub, an after school program at the Juneau Christian Center. There, he hopes to beat the record for the most rope skips while juggling a soccer ball in one minute. That’s 31.
He’ll also try to for the speed record for running a mile on one foot while jumping rope. The time to beat is 34 minutes, 1 second.
Constant conditioning and performing hundreds of shows a year inevitably leads to aches and pains. Add the grueling travel schedule, and he’s questioned his career.
“You definitely have those moments where you’re thinking, ‘Well, is this really the kind of job you want?’”
So far, the answer has been yes.
“But at the end, when you get out and you’re performing, you just kind of see the look on these kids’ faces,” he said. “They see me out there jumpin’, and you kind of see sometimes, those light bulbs kick off behind their heads. It’s like, you know, this really is what I like to do and I love the opportunity to do it,” he said.
Wrangell will soon be featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver caught up with the photographer working on the article yesterday and sent back this report.
Does Arkansas have a health care solution that would work in Alaska? The state’s Health and Social Services Commissioner, Bill Streur, is looking into that. Arkansas wants to use federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act to enroll people in private plans on its health insurance exchange.
It’s called the “private option” for Medicaid expansion. Instead of enrolling low-income, uninsured people in Medicaid, Arkansas would buy them insurance plans on the state’s health insurance exchange. Alaska Commissioner Bill Streur thinks it makes a lot of sense:
“It’s an intriguing model. If we can get more insurance through this, we ought to at least be in open dialogue with the federal government on this.”
Streur says he hasn’t spoken with Governor Parnell about the idea. But he says Arkansas’s plan addresses Parnell’s biggest problem with the expansion- that it leaves the state vulnerable to paying huge sums for the Medicaid program down the road. Parnell spoke with APRN about the issue in January:
“My concern is really that we not expand a program that the federal government can cut its funding to, but require us to continue and take over the federal share.”
Commissioner Streur says the Arkansas plan makes it easy for states to pull out of the expansion if that happens.
The Medicaid expansion starts in January, with the federal government paying for 100% of the program for the first three years. The federal government hasn’t approved the Arkansas model, but has worked with the state to draft the necessary waiver application. The Health and Human Services department has said it will consider approving a limited number of Arkansas style plans as demonstration projects. And Alaska isn’t the only state closely watching what happens in Arkansas, according to Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors:
“A lot of states are looking at this and saying if this really works in Arkansas, we’d like to try this.”
Salo says the Medicaid expansion would bring a lot of federal money into states. But he says the decision on whether to expand the program is a delicate one for many Republican Governors:
“A significant portion of them are amenable to expanding coverage if they can find a more politically or philosophically preferable approach, something that looks more like the private sector than it does a big government expansion.”
The Medicaid expansion would offer coverage to about 50,000 uninsured, low-income Alaskans. Susan Johnson is the regional director for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. She says the government is very open to negotiating with Alaska officials about what type of Medicaid expansion would work in the state:
“It’s not just, I want an Arkansas model, it’s what is best for the state itself… So Arkansas may come up with elements that Alaska would like, but there would be particular elements for Alaska that will be different from Arkansas. It’s just that we need to start that conversation.”
Commissioner Streur says he hopes to deliver a briefing to Governor Parnell about the Medicaid expansion decision in October.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is on its annual mission in the ice pack north of Barrow. Next month a group of technology specialists will come aboard with drones and submersibles to test arctic oil spill response capabilities.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Kotzebue last week. It was the first meeting there since a general assembly in 1986. Members from Russia, Greenland and Canada joined their Alaskan counterparts to discuss ongoing concerns for indigenous people in the north. ICC formed in 1977. Jim Stotts is the ICC Alaska President. He says the regional groups have grown and are much more capable of addressing the concerns of the indigenous people they represent. ICC is also part of the eight nation Arctic Council. He says increasingly, they are being listened to on perennial issues such as climate change, subsistence and oil and gas development. Stotts says the federal government worked with them while developing the new national arctic policy.
“We feel like they are listening to us. At the Arctic Council level, where we have a right to participate in all levels of meetings including the ministerial meeting where you have folks such as Hillary Clinton or Secretary John Kerry at the meetings, very high level meetings. So I feel that we are being listened to and that we’re having an impact.”
Stotts says the rush to develop oil and gas resources in the arctic coupled with the prospect of increased vessel traffic means indigenous people need to be at the table for discussions about how to proceed as well as how to garner economic development for arctic communities. He says ICC contributed to an Arctic Council document called the Polar Code that was given to the International Maritime Organization.
“To address the special, unique nature of the arctic ocean, particularly ice and ship building codes and how to handle waste fuel and so forth. So, the arctic council is together with us and the observers which would include countries like China and the UK to come up with a plan and a way to do things safely that will benefit no only those countries but also the people that live in the north. So it’s important that this work is done before the mad rush for development.”
There is growing pressure from non arctic nations such as China to have a seat on the arctic council. ICC Greenland President Aqqaluk Lynge says there are important rules for how participants can operate within the arctic council, but he says there has to be acceptance of the interest from outside nations.
“Here the observers have a seat and if they also understand the situation of indigenous peoples of the arctic, then it’s good for us and it would help us to have more friends outside that would support indigenous peoples right to land, resources and our future culture.”
Lynge says the rapid growth of mining in Greenland is raising concerns over the community impacts from a large influx of outside workers. Concerns that both men say, will become a growing reality in Alaska and the other member countries as arctic resource development ramps up.
Over the past ten years, state education funding has more than doubled while student enrollment has stayed about the same. Still, educational outcomes haven’t seen dramatic improvement. This week, lawmakers got together to ask why that is. The information they received in these meetings could shape a fight over education funding that’s expected to play out this next legislative session.
Communities that were hit by last fall’s floods do not need to start heading for high ground, yet. Rivers are rising in the Mat-Su and Anchorage, but major flooding is not expected right now.
The Matanuska Susitna Borough is working on a plan to dry-dock the ferry Susitna in Cook Inlet. But the move would cost the borough more than one million dollars.