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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: 39 min 39 sec ago

Murkowski Votes ‘Nay’ on Icebreaker Provision in Defense Bill

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:43

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker XueLong, July 2010. Photo: Timo Palo via Wikimedia Commons.

In Congress Thursday morning, a U.S. senator proposed adding nearly a billion dollars to a Defense spending bill to acquire an icebreaker – and that senator was not from Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is normally an ardent advocate for more icebreaking capacity, but she felt compelled to vote against the icebreaker amendment.

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In the Senate Appropriations Committee, it was Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, who talked up the need for an icebreaker.

“The amendment includes $940 million to accelerate a Coast Guard icebreaker. We all know the reality of climate change is having an impact on national security. And the Arctic is a contested region, with China and Russia asserting their interest there. The U.S. is falling behind in its Arctic capabilities.”

Durbin’s amendment also would have funded other high-priority ships and aircraft, by shifting money from a war fund to the regular budget of the Defense Department. Murkowski’s on a mission to convince the Senate — and all Americans — that Arctic infrastructure is a national imperative, and icebreakers are at the top of her list. She acknowledged feeling torn.

“I am in a very difficult spot. I will be voting against your amendment.”

In fact, all Republicans on the appropriations committee voted against Durbin’s amendment, and not necessarily because they oppose the priorities. The problem, Murkowski says, is the spending caps known as sequestration.

“What in effect Sen. Durbin’s amendment does is bust the caps.”

This is part of a larger fight in Congress over how to fund government for the next fiscal year. Republican leaders are trying to pass bills that stay under the sequestration caps. But a majority of the appropriations committee – including Murkowski – voted for a non-binding amendment calling the across-the-board cuts unreasonable.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Lobbies To Offer Land Allotments For Alaska Native ‘Nam Vets

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:42

Congressman Don Young’s subcommittee on Native affairs took testimony today on a bill to re-open land allotment selections for Alaska Natives who served in the military during the Vietnam War. The right of Alaska Natives to acquire allotments of up to 160 acres comes from a 1906 law. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ended that opportunity for most in 1971. But Native leaders have said for years that many Vietnam-era vets missed out because they were serving elsewhere when the application period closed.

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Young’s been making that argument in Congress for years, too.

“I mean how many time have I introduced this bill? I think five times. Passed it twice, or some crazy thing.”

In 1998 Congress passed a bill to re-open the selection period, giving certain Vietnam vets 18 months to apply. Young says, in hindsight, that bill was too restrictive; It only covered those serving for three years of the war.

Nelson Angapak, an Army vet and long-time Native leader, testified Thursday in favor of another open period for vets, this time with more land to choose from.

“Our research indicated that 49 of our veterans living in Southeast Alaska applied for our Native allotments and every one of those applications were denied, primarily because of the existence of the Tongass National Forest.”

Ditto, Angapak says, for applicants in the Cook Inlet, Chugach and Arctic Slope regions.

Young’s bill is sure to be controversial because it would allow selections within the state’s two national forests and in wildlife refuges.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:38

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

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Legislature Verges on Gaveling Out

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Nearly two months after its regular deadline, the Alaska Legislature is poised to gavel out. Both chambers have approved a $5 billion dollar operating budget and agreed on a way to pay for the deficit.

‘Erin’s Law’ Unanimously Passes In the Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

As one of its final acts, the Legislature passed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act. After passing in the House during the regular session, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate today.

Murkowski Votes ‘Nay’ on Icebreaker Provision in Defense Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

In Congress this morning, a U.S. senator proposed adding nearly a billion dollars to a Defense spending bill to acquire an icebreaker – and that senator was not from Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is normally an ardent advocate for more icebreaking capacity, but she felt compelled to vote against the icebreaker amendment.

Rep. Young Lobbies To Offer Land Allotments For Alaska Native Vietnam Vets

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Congressman Don Young’s subcommittee on Native affairs took testimony today on a bill to re-open land allotment selections for Alaska Natives who served in the military during the Vietnam War.

ACA Subsidies For Alaskans May Be In Jeopardy

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by the end of this month whether subsidies are legal in Alaska and 33 other states that use the federal health insurance exchange.

Orthodox Cathedral Desecrated During Vandalism Spree in Kodiak

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

A 21-year-old man is under arrest for allegedly vandalizing one of Kodiak’s most historic buildings, the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and many of its contents.

Low Oil Prices Haven’t Reached Dillingham

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

The drop in oil prices has been bad news for Alaska’s state budget, but good news for some Alaskans at the pump. But the gas price has been slow to drop in some Bristol Bay communities, especially Dillingham.

Flight Service from Alaska to Russia’s Far East To Resume

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

If you’ve run out of isolated wilderness to explore in Alaska, there’s good news: flights from Anchorage to the remote interior regions of Russia are about to resume.

Feds to Investigate Groundwater Contamination in North Pole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State Study Shows 60% Wolf Decline on POW

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island and nearby islands has dropped dramatically, according to a draft report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Race To Alaska Competitors Close In On Ketchikan

Ruth Eddy, KRBD – Ketchikan

Race To Alaska organizer Jake Beattie is in Ketchikan preparing the finish line for the inaugural 750-mile engineless boat race through the Inside Passage.

Categories: Alaska News

Low Oil Prices Haven’t Reached Dillingham

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:38

The drop in oil prices has been bad news for Alaska’s state budget, but good news for some Alaskans at the pump. But the gas price has been slow to drop in some Bristol Bay communities, especially Dillingham. KDLG has been hearing from a lot of people unhappy about the gas prices.

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Photo of a pump in Dillingham from March 2015 when gas was 6.39 per gallon.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

“Here we are June, the first week, and we’re still paying top dollar. Hope we don’t get the screws put to us all summer here with the high gas price. Ok, that’s all I got,” says one caller to the station.

The current price of fuel in Dillingham is $6.15 down from about $6.33 a few weeks ago. Facility Manager of Delta Western in Dillingham Ken Reiswig says prices haven’t gone down yet because there is still a lot of left over fuel from the winter.

“Because there was no snow and warm winter we didn’t sell as much fuel as we had planned for, so we have fuel left over,” said Reiswig.

And until that fuel is used up, Reiswig says prices will probably hold steady were they’re at for now. But the cheaper fuel coming in may eventually lower prices.

“Whatever price fuel comes in we adjust our prices based on what’s in the tank,” added Reiswig.

Lawrence Sifsof spoke to KDLG at a pump in Dillingham Wednesday morning. He isn’t holding out much hope that prices will drop anytime soon.

“Because why would they go down now when they are keeping them this high this far,” questioned Sifsof.

Fuel prices in Ekwok are close to Dillingham’s at about 6.25. Koliganek and Togiak are a little cheaper at 5.75 and 5.33 respectively.

One person at the pumps in Dillingham told KDLG that there are some mysteries in life he chooses not to explore, he says the price of fuel in rural Alaska is one of them.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds to Investigate Groundwater Contamination in North Pole

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:37

A federal agency will conduct a study to determine the danger of drinking groundwater contaminated by the industrial solvent sulfolane in the North Pole area. The research was sought by the state of Alaska as it tries to set a clean up level for wells tainted by sufolane from spills at a local oil refinery. The new study will delay a determination on what constitutes safe water.

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There’s a lot riding on the clean up standard, which determines what’s entailed in addressing sulfolane groundwater contamination stemming from historic spills at the North pole refinery most recently operated by Flint Hills Resources.  Little is known about health impacts of consuming sulfolane tainted water, and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Prevention and Response Director Kristin Ryan says a federal agency has agreed to undertake a 2 year study.

Last year Flint Hills challenged a very conservative 14 parts per billion preliminary clean up level.  The state promised a response by the end of 2014, and Flint Hill spokesman Jeff Cook says the company is disappointed with DEC’s decision to delay. He cites findings of a group of toxicologists the DEC assembled last year.

There’s been no laboratory research on long term health impacts of drinking sulfolane tainted water. The DEC’s Ryan says the two-year federal study will employ animal testing.

About 1,500 people living on North Pole area properties where wells have tested positive for sulfolane contamination have been provided alternative water sources by Flint Hills.  The company stopped operating the refinery last year citing costs related to the sulfolane issue as one of the reasons. Flint Hills, former refinery owner Williams and the state are embroiled in legal wrangling over responsibility for the contamination.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Race To Alaska’ Competitors Close In On Ketchikan

Thu, 2015-06-11 17:35

Race To Alaska organizer Jake Beattie is in Ketchikan preparing the finish line for the inaugural 750-mile engineless boat race through the Inside Passage. And he better be quick about it.

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“The first-place team is going so fast, that they might beat the banner that we mailed here. So the first -place team might be faster than UPS.”

The finish line, with or without a banner, will be at the entrance to Thomas Basin. The leading team, Elsie Piddock, which is 100 miles ahead of the second-place boat, is expected to arrive in Ketchikan as early as midnight Thursday.

Beattie says that the 25-foot trimaran has a three-man crew of experienced sailors who say that during this race, they have faced the worst seas they have ever been in.

“Forty knots of wind on the nose, 5 knots of currents behind them, so the seas were confused and steep and torturous.”

Broken masts, leaking hulls and other calamities have caused many boats to drop out. As of deadline 21 boats remain of the 29 that finished the qualifying leg from Port Townsend, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia.  All the boats are tracked virtually with a live satellite tracker.

The Fish House in Thomas Basin will serve as the gathering place for teams, race coordinators and supporters as teams finish sporadically through July 4th. Beattie says he’s looking forward to reconnecting with participants as they arrive in Ketchikan.

“Real people. That have, I already kind of liked, and now they’ve had this incredible experience, some of them good, some of them bad, usually a mix of    the two. Reconnecting with that hearing how it was. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”

There is a celebration scheduled for the winners on Monday at the Fish House, although it looks as though the first-place team will arrive well before that. To see exactly when teams are arriving, you can follow the live tracker, which is posted along with this report on our website.

Categories: Alaska News

ACA Subsidies For Alaskans May Be In Jeopardy

Thu, 2015-06-11 16:58

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide by the end of this month whether Affordable Care Act subsidies are legal in Alaska and 33 other states that use the federal health insurance exchange. More than 18,000 people in Alaska could lose subsidies if the court decides in favor of the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case. The plaintiffs argue the ACA only allows for subsidies in states that set up their own exchange.

Alaska’s insurance director, Lori Wing-Heier is paying close attention to the issue as she waits for a decision:

“In the meantime we continue to work on our contingency plan, refine our contingency plan, exploring all options and what will be the most feasible for the state and we’ll be able to discuss it in more detail once the opinion is released.”

Wing-Heier says Governor Bill Walker is committed to ensuring that Alaskans who are receiving subsidies won’t lose them. The average subsidy in Alaska is more than $500 each month.

Without the subsidies, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the cost of the premiums would spike by 500 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

Orthodox Cathedral Desecrated During Vandalism Spree In Kodiak

Thu, 2015-06-11 14:40

A 21-year-old man is under arrest for allegedly vandalizing one of Kodiak’s most historic buildings, the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and many of its contents.

In a press release from the Kodiak Police Department, Arkimedes Garcia was arrested around 8:00 Wednesday night as he was exiting the church.

Northeastern side of the Holy Resurrection Church, a Russian Orthodox church in Kodiak, a city in the Kodiak Island Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska. Built in 1945, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 12 December 1977. Photo by NPS.

Thursday morning, Father Innocent Dresdow, the Dean of the Holy Resurrection Church, said many holy items were damaged.

“It’s clear from the pattern of destruction that this dear soul is deeply troubled and his anger and his rage appeared to be directed at, frankly God. And from the perspective of the Church, he knew exactly which things were holiest. And those were the things that were in absolute disarray.”

He said the most holy items have been removed from the church to an undisclosed location and are being re-blessed.

Father Innocent said Garcia broke several windows and made his way into the church’s Sanctuary behind the Nave where he not only did damaged items, but desecrated them as well.

“You can see in the hand crosses fi you look carefully – they’re bent upward. All of the crosses that he just damaged are bent upward in the same pattern, including St. Herman’s Monastic Cross, which is the most priceless damage that was done last night. The tabernacle is where the reserve sacraments, the Holy Mysteries, body, blood of Christ are kept. Well, that was on the floor, with the Holy Mysteries and all the holy items that were on the alter were on the floor on both sides. He bled on the holy table, he bled on the back wall, he bled in the church in different places, and on the alter particularly is a major desecration.” “So he injured himself?” “He injured himself, yes.”

Father Innocent said that even though the church sustained physical damage in the attack, services will go on as planned.

“Scheduled services for tonight, at 6 p.m., the Akathist to St. Herman, will be held as scheduled. We have a clean up crew coming in at 1 p.m. People are welcome to join us from the community. They don’t have to be Orthodox if they want to come and help. We’re essentially trying to go over the floor, chairs, everything to make sure all, the minutest glass shards are out of the floor and items. We have lots of children here and we want to make sure nobody gets hurt.”

According to the Kodiak Police Department press release, Garcia emerged from the church “partially unclothed,” but did not explain further. Police Chief Ronda Wallace was unavailable for comment. Garcia was booked on four felony counts of burglary and criminal mischief.

Categories: Alaska News

Launch of Independent Ferry Service Delayed In Southeast

Thu, 2015-06-11 14:32

A new independent ferry service in Southeast Alaska is delaying the start-up of service that was planned for this weekend.

The Rainforest Island Ferry was scheduled this Sunday to start round-trip, four-day-a-week connections between Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island, Wrangell and Petersburg.

The independent ferry authority’s manager Kent Miller says the ferry has not yet received a certificate of inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard for the Rainforest Islander, a converted 65-foot landing craft. Miller says the authority expects to have that in place for start up of service, now planned for Sunday June 28th. He says the North End Ferry Authority will be contacting passengers who have booked service this month, offering to rebook those trips and have those passengers travel for free.

“That is the least we can do for people who’ve been interested in traveling on the boat right away. And of course have to add a really sincere apology for having to delay the start up again.”

Miller says “dozens” of people are impacted by the delay.

“We have had really excellent interest in using the service and have made quite a few bookings for that time. So it’s very painful for us have to tell people who really wanna use the service that we’re delayed.”

The North End Ferry Authority has been trying to restart a ferry connection based in Coffman Cove for over three years. That service was once offered on a larger vessel by the Inter-Island Ferry Authority based in Hollis.

Once it starts up service, the Rainforest Islander will be landing at Shoemaker Bay south of Wrangell and Banana Point south of Petersburg, with van service to bring passengers into those towns.

Miller says the new ferry service has hired a captain and deckhand, along with an office manager. The office will open on Tuesday, June 16. To rebook, or find out more information the email address is reservations@rainforestislandsferry.com.

The toll free number is 1.844.329.2031

Categories: Alaska News

Pioneering Rough Terrain Unicycling | INDIE ALASKA

Thu, 2015-06-11 12:28

George Peck began riding unicycles around Seward, Alaska in the eighties. Eventually moving on to riding the ultimate wheel – a unicycle with no seat – on mountains and beaches, George pioneered the sport of “rough terrain unicycling” and began a family tradition carried on by his children, Kris and Katie Peck.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Operating Budget, As Special Session Moves Toward End

Thu, 2015-06-11 11:54

The Alaska House of Representatives has passed an operating budget, signaling the end of a stalemate over the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

The $5 billion budget includes changes agreed to by a conference committee on Wednesday. It funds a contractual cost-of-living increase for public employees, but offsets that directing the governor to make a $30 million reduction to agency operations. The compromise also restored some cuts that had been made to education and the ferry system.

The vote on the bill was 32 to 7, with half of the Democratic Minority voting against it, because it did not reduce the payment of oil tax credits or advance some of their other priorities like Medicaid expansion. Rep. Lora Reinbold, a conservative Eagle River Republican who was kicked out of the majority caucus earlier this year, also voted against it, but because she thought it spent too much.

However, Democrats were unanimous in their support for paying for the operating budget by making a withdrawal from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The vote was 38 to 1, well above the three-quarter threshold to access the rainy day fund. Reinbold was the lone no vote.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the budget bill, along with a sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law later today. If the two bodies successfully end their special session on Thursday, state government will no longer be at risk of shutting down on July 1.

Categories: Alaska News

State study shows 60% wolf decline on POW

Thu, 2015-06-11 11:00

The number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island and nearby islands has dropped dramatically, according to a draft report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A state official said that decline is something to watch carefully, but he’s not concerned yet about the viability of wolves in that area.

Conservationists, though, are alarmed and say that number could be too low to maintain genetic health among remaining wolves.

In 2013, the estimated population of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 was 221 animals. A similar study conducted just one year later shows that number dropped to an estimated 89.

Ryan Scott is the Southeast Region Supervisor for Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Conservation Division. He stressed that those numbers are estimates based on a small study area on the big island.

“We utilize DNA collected from wolf hair that’s captured in passive hair traps. They roll on it, and we collect the hair and use the follicles to collect the genetic information,” he said.

From that information, state biologists determine how many wolves are in the study area, and then use that to estimate the number in the entire game management unit.

Scott said it’s an imprecise tool for such a large area. Prince of Wales Island alone is slightly larger than the State of Delaware.

“We know the conditions are different, we know that the numbers of wolves are different in various places,” he said. “But we do it because by regulation, we have to set a harvest guideline based on a fall population estimate.”

The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. Scott said the population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159.

Despite the lack of precision in the methodology, he said the study does show a clear drop.

“A decline is real, it’s the magnitude of that decline that I think we have to be really careful with,” he said. “It’s going to take additional data collection and additional field work to identify what the trend is.”

State biologists have been studying wolf populations on POW for three years. The first year’s information was not useful, Scott said, because scientists weren’t able to collect enough data. That means there’s only two years’ worth to consider so far.

Scott isn’t overly concerned about the long-term viability of wolves in Game Management Unit 2, and despite the study’s lower population estimate, he anticipates there will be a trapping season this coming winter.

By regulation, the state can allow a total take of up to 20 percent of the estimated population, which in this case would be no more than 18 wolves.

“That number is not set at this point,” he said. “It’s something we are discussing and will be discussing not only internally, but it’s important to have conversations with the trappers, with the communities and subsistence users, the Forest Service. While we know the harvest guideline will be reduced based on regulation, to identify what that number is going to be, there’s a lot of road to travel there yet.”

Larry Edwards is with the Sitka-based Greenpeace office, and he is worried about Prince of Wales Island wolves. He points out that the wolf population study took place last fall, before the winter trapping season.

“The quota for that was 25 wolves. Actually, 29 were taken,” he said. “So, the number now is surely lower than what was reported.”

Edwards said the genetic health of the remaining wolves needs to be considered when determining the population’s future viability.

He gives an example of a group of wolves on an isolated island in the Midwest’s Lake Superior. That group had low numbers for many years, and people thought it was stable.

“There’s recent reports and science that’s come out on that, that the population has crashed,” he said. “There’s only three wolves left there, and those wolves are in very poor health because of inbreeding. So, once you get to a small population, you need to be concerned about inbreeding.”

Edwards said his group will review the official Alaska Department of Fish and Game study once it’s released. But, based on information available so far, he said Greenpeace likely will ask for an emergency closure of wolf trapping in Game Management Unit 2.

“And that would involve both Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board,” he said.

Subsistence hunting is managed separately by the federal government, but often in cooperation with state agencies.

Greenpeace and other groups filed a petition in 2011 to get the Alexander Archipelago wolf protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Edwards said that petition is still under review.

Conservation groups say logging and activity related to logging – such as building roads – has led to the decline of wolves on Prince of Wales Island, partly because more roads provides easier access for hunting and trapping.

Edwards said information from the state’s wolf population study likely will be used in future challenges to old-growth logging on POW.

At deadline Wednesday, the state had not yet released the official wolf population study for Game Management Unit 2. It is expected to be published within the next few days.

Categories: Alaska News

Chinook Closures Impede Summer Chum Subsistence

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:43

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

Summer chum and Chinook salmon have begun their runs along the Yukon River.

Wildlife managers and fishermen met via teleconference yesterday to discuss river conditions and the salmon’s progress upstream. Community members reported summer chum as far upriver as Huslia and Ruby, with Chinook salmon fast on their heels.

However, the much-coveted kings may not be a welcome sight to fishermen this year. Stephanie Schmidt is the Summer Season Fishery Manager along the Yukon for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. She said Chinook numbers continue to be low — mandating fishery closures once the salmon enter each upriver community.

“[This] is going to be another challenging year for us,” she said. “We’re expecting a Chinook salmon run similar to last year. Which was an okay run; we met escapement goals. But only because of the very conservative management goals that had to be taken and all of the efforts that fishermen took to conserve Chinook salmon.”

Several fishermen voiced frustration at the closures, not because they’ll miss out on the long-restricted kings, but because gear restrictions — such as on nets larger than 4 inch-wide mesh — will hinder their ability to capture the more abundant chum.

Jack from Huslia explained that the arrival of Chinook salmon typically coincides with the peak summer chum run in his community.

“That’s when the best fish go by for us. That’s when we lose our half-dried fish and our dried fish,” he said.

Because Chinook salmon can be caught in gill nets just as easily as chum, all nets wider than 4 inches will be off-limits once the kings arrive. Schmidt said fishermen will still be allowed to use nets that are 4 inches or smaller for sheefish and smaller species throughout the salmon closure.

That came as small consolation in communities where purchasing other, smaller nets may be cost prohibitive.

“We have to eat along this river; everybody has to eat. They can’t live out of the store,” said Martha, a fisherman in Ruby. “I can’t afford to get another net that’s smaller.”

Schmidt thanked fisherman for their continued efforts to conserve king salmon — and said she knows it hasn’t come without sacrifice. She also shared some positive news from ADF&G researchers monitoring Chinook in Pilot Station.

“Those researchers have been reporting phenomenal catches of juvenile Chinook salmon,” she said. “More so than last year. And I just offer that as a little bit of hope. Hopefully we are creating more baby Chinook salmon that grow up to be big Chinook salmon and come back.”

The meeting concluded with an atypical concern: Fishermen wanted to know what would happen to state-managed fisheries on the Yukon, and further North, if Alaska’s legislature is unable to reach an agreement on the state budget before July 1 — instigating a partial government shutdown.

John Linderman is regional supervisor for the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim region of commercial fisheries. He believes it’s unlikely that lawmakers will allow the budget impasse to reach that stage. However, he said wildlife managers have considered it, and there is currently enough money to keep fisheries functional until August 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

National Park Service supports Mount McKinley name change

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:34

The National Park Service is not against changing Mount McKinley’s official name to Denali, but Alaskans are still in a battle with Ohioans over the name of North America’s tallest mountain.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports a director with the park service, Victor Knox, weighed in on the issue at a Senate hearing Wednesday. Knox said the National Park Service doesn’t object to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s bill that calls for the mountain’s name to be changed to Denali.

Alaskans have filed several bills since 1975 to change the name and Ohioans have continued to block the effort.

The mountain is named after former president William McKinley, who was from Canton, Ohio.

It is still unclear whether Murkowski will be able to get the legislation through the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka man found dead in Thomsen Harbor

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:30

A 52-year-old Sitka man was found dead in Thomsen Harbor Monday morning. The Anchorage Medical Examiner today identified him as Sitka resident Kevin Climer.

Police received a report of a person floating in the harbor just before 7 a.m. Monday, and responded along with emergency medical personnel. Climer was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police say initial information indicates the cause of death was accidental drowning. But the investigation is continuing.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Bill Seen as Aviation Boon, Housing Bane

Thu, 2015-06-11 08:18

The U.S. House this week narrowly passed a transportation and housing spending bill that Alaska Congressman Don Young says includes programs important to Alaska aviation.

The bill de-funds a controversial FAA hiring test. Among its critics are graduates of UAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative, who say the test hurts their chances of getting FAA jobs.

Young says he also helped defeat an amendment to de-fund Essential Air Service. That $260 million program subsidizes airlines for transportation to 44 Alaska communities, and to scores of Lower 48 towns. Airlines serving Alaska are slated to receive $15.5 million through the program this year.

The White House says the spending bill short-changes homeless programs and transit. The administration says some 60 Alaska families would lose Housing Choice vouchers if the bill becomes law.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Strike Budget Deal

Wed, 2015-06-10 22:51

The Alaska House and Senate have reached a deal on the state’s operating budget.

For weeks, the two bodies have been at an impasse over whether to fund cost-of-living raises for public employees. House Democrats argued that the state should not go back on its contract with state workers, while Senate Republicans held that it was inappropriate to grant them a pay increase when the state faces a multi-billion-dollar deficit. The House’s Republican majority acted as a go-between.

The stalemate finally ended on Wednesday night, when a conference committee between the two bodies agreed to pay for the contracts this year, but placed limits on future increases. Their bill instructs the governor to keep salaries flat when bargaining with the public employee unions, and has a clause that allows contract negotiations to be reopened if oil goes above $95 per barrel or drops below $45 per barrel.

The committee directed Gov. Bill Walker to cut $30 million in agency operations at his own discretion as a way of offsetting the cost-of-living increases.

The compromise also adds $16 million in formula funding for schools, as well as some additional money for early education , the ferry system, senior benefits, and the Office of Children’s Services.

As the result of the deal, Democrats in the House Minority have agreed to support a withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for the $5 billion operating budget. A three-quarter vote is needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The House and Senate have floor sessions scheduled for Thursday morning, and a spokesperson for the House Majority say a vote on the budget is anticipated.

Categories: Alaska News

Key Provision Of Erin’s Law Restored

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:42

After holding the bill for three weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a new version of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act — known nationally as “Erin’s Law.” APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that some controversial riders were removed on Wednesday.

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When lawmakers last saw the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, it was in a mutant form. In a push by Mat-Su Republicans, the sexual abuse prevention bill had grown from three pages to 12, and it had picked up sections that banned schools from contracting with Planned Parenthood and that let students opt out of standardized testing. Most troublesome to the bill’s sponsors: It gutted the original legislation by making the establishment of sexual abuse prevention programs optional.

The substitute offered by the Senate Finance Committee kept the length of the last iteration. But as Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche explained, the content hewed much closer to the original bill.

<<”A lot of the changes in here are related to the initial bill, like the task force. Some of it added extra space, but it doesn’t change the effectiveness of the Erin and Bree Law sections.”>>

The new version requires adults who volunteer with children for at least four hours a week to be mandatory reporters, and it creates a task force to create age-appropriate curricula for different grades. The bill gives that task force until 2017 to develop the program before it becomes compulsory for schools. Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, gave the reason for the task force.

“There is no intention by myself or anyone I’ve been speaking with to delay anything, but only try to perfect — or at least improve — the outcomes of safety for kids in our schools,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate Finance Committee also stripped many of the additions that were not germane to the original bill. Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy was responsible for some of those riders, with the idea of turning the Alaska Safe Children’s Act into an omnibus “parental rights” bill. He asked MacKinnon if his changes had been removed.

DUNLEAVY: Just a quick clarification — the section on parental rights is totally out of this, correct?
MACKINNON: Sen. Dunleavy, that is not correct. It depends on perspective.

MacKinnon went on to say the “controversial” components had been taken out.

When the committee took testimony on the bill later in the day, most members of the public expressed support for the committee’s actions. A box of tissues sat next to the microphone, and person after person came up and told their own stories of abuse.

Butch Moore spoke of his daughter Bree Moore, the namesake of the dating violence section of the bill. Bree was murdered last year, and her boyfriend was charged. Butch Moore said it’s hard for him to argue about different kinds of parental rights when his daughter is dead.

“Our parental rights have been taken away and stripped away from us,” said Moore. “Our parental rights have been violated more than anyone’s.”

At a press conference, Gov. Bill Walker also applauded the changes, adding that it bodes well for the Legislature concluding its special session and reaching a deal on the budget in the coming days.

Categories: Alaska News

State Consolidates Two Divisions in Dept. of Labor

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:41

Gov. Bill Walker will take a modest step toward streamlining state government by combining two divisions within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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Walker at a press conference Wednesday announced the Employment Security Division would be combined with the Division of Business Partnerships.

The combined agency will be the Division of Employment and Training Services.

The projected savings of the consolidation is $600,000. Walker says that won’t balance the budget but it’s a start.

He credits Heidi Drygas Labor Commission for coming up with the plan and says other consolidations are likely.

Drygas also is declaring Alaska a “zone of underemployment” that will allow an employment preference for Alaskans on state public works contracts.

The declaration requires that Alaska residents be given a 90 percent employment preference.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawyers Say Walker Can Act On Medicaid Without the Legislature

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:40

Governor Bill Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, according to two legal opinions written last month. One opinion, from the legislature’s legal services department, says the state’s health department can “cooperate with the federal government” and accept money for things like Medicaid.

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The opinion also points out it is probably unconstitutional for lawmakers to include a line in the budget blocking Governor Walker from receiving Medicaid expansion funds. That’s because a section of the state constitution says “bills for appropriation shall be confined to appropriations.”

The memo was written in response to a question from House minority leader Chris Tuck. In a separate opinion, the state law department makes a similar argument.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Governor says Walker will evaluate whether to expand Medicaid on his own after the legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

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