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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: 25 min 53 sec ago

The Anchorage International Film Festival

Fri, 2014-11-14 12:00

In the dead of winter, film makers from far distant lands come to Alaska because we have a festival. It’s been around for 13 years, and it shows more motion pictures in a week than it is possible for any one human being to see.  A look ahead at the program for this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival is just ahead on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Jim Parker, Director of Film Programs, Anchorage International Film Festival
  • Laura Moscatello, Festival Director
  • Callers Statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Norton Sound 450 Race Ready to Run in 2015

Fri, 2014-11-14 10:37

First-place finisher Pete Kaiser arrives at the finish line in Nome at the end of the 2012 Norton Sound 450. (Photo: David Dodman, KNOM)

The Norton Sound 450, a regional sled dog race along the western coast of Alaska, will run in 2015, race officials say, committing to a race that was canceled last year and severely shortened the year before.

The mid-distance race—officially dubbed the Paul Johnson Memorial Norton Sound 450—was first run in 2012 but significantly shortened in 2013 due to severe weather, and was canceled outright this past season due to funding, local training conditions and schedule timing.

But an announcement from race organizers, and confirmed by race organizer Middy Johnson, declares the race’s return in full: mushers will run from Unalakleet to Kaltag and back before tracing the Iditarod trail through Norton Sound coastal communities from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, and White Mountain and ultimately finishing in Nome.

The race, set to start Wednesday, Feb. 11, is run in honor of Iditarod veteran and long-time Norton Sound Sled Dog Club member Paul Johnson, who died of cancer in October of 2011.

(Map via Norton Sound 450 website)

Few other details were available as to which mushers might run the race, but the purse has been set at $30,000, significantly more than the 2013 purse of $10,000 that was split between the eight finishing mushers but still a decrease from $50,000 purse offered to the top 15 mushers in 2012.

Race officials say the Norton Sound 450 will also qualify mushers for the Iditarod.

Despite drastic changes to the course due to weather in the race’s short history, it’s already attracted mushing heavyweights, like four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, as well as Iditarod finishers like DeeDee Jonrowe, Aaron Burmeister, and Ray Redington Jr. But the race has also been a chance for western Alaska mushers to shine: Bethel’s Pete Kaiser has won both of the Norton Sound 450 races, and locals like St. Michael’s Alex Otten, Unalakleet’s Mary Helwig, and Aniak’s Richie Diehl have all run the race in the past.

The Norton Sound Sled Dog Club has been supporting mushing in Unalakleet and around the Norton Sound region since 1971. In 1973 the club started the Norton Sound Portage 200 from Unalakleet to Kaltag and back.

Categories: Alaska News

As Final Ballot Count Looms, Potential Electees Plan Next Move

Fri, 2014-11-14 08:00

Alaska Edition Host Lori Townsend, left, is joined by APRN Juneau correspondent Alexandra Gutierrez, right, and APRN Washington DC correspondent Liz Ruskin, not pictured. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Division of Elections will continue counting ballots today – Friday – 8 business days after the November 4th election. As Alaskans wait for final counts in especially the Governor and U.S. Senate race, the presumptive winners, Bill Walker and Dan Sullivan, are planning their way forward. However, it’s important to note that as of today, Friday—neither Governor Sean Parnell or Senator Mark Begich have yet conceded, that of course could change later today based on ballot counting that will take place later today.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN Juneau correspondent
  • Liz Ruskin, APRN Washington DC correspondent

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, November 14 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 15 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, November 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 15 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

What Was Alaska’s Senate Race Money Spent On?

Thu, 2014-11-13 17:50

More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, which comes to about $230 per vote cast, and the campaigns aren’t done reporting their spending totals.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rare Conference Brings Russian, American Officials To Table on Arctic Oil

Thu, 2014-11-13 17:43

Subsistence hunters from Chukotka, as well as officials from government agencies and environmentalists met in Anchorage for discussions on oil spill response in the Bering Strait. Photo: A. Kochnev, Walrus Haulout Keepers

Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.

It took Nikolai Kalianto a week to fly to Anchorage from the Russian Far East, where he serves as member of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters for a meeting on oil spills.

“In the summer the most important species are whale and walrus,” said Kalianto, himself a hunter, through a translator. “And the main concern of hunters are pollution in the environment and the potential effect of oil spills on marine mammals and the ecosystem’s productivity.”

Communities on the Chukotkan Peninsula have a lot with common with their counterparts across the Bering Strait, places like Diomede, Savoonga, and Wales. They hunt the same animals for subsistence, and there is rising concern about a lack of preparation for industrial accidents as exploration and Arctic shipping increase.

Eduard Zdor directs Chukotka Marine mammal Hunters, and says he’s hoping this conference can give communities more tools for accessing information that relates to oil spills.

“In terms of the oil spill response preparedness,” Zdor explained  in Russian through the same translator, “there’s no support. This is actually a big problem and a big issue, the communities don’t get any information about industrial activity, and it’s something that’s a big part of our work: to make sure the government and companies do provide information about planned industrial activities.”

The meeting was organized by the World Wildlife Fund, which has had an interest in Arctic environmental conservation for two decades.

“Because the sea ice is changing the Bering Strait is going to experience more human activity,” said WWF’s Arctic Program Director Margaret Williams in the back of a conference room at a downtown hotel.

Though WWF is a non-governmental organization, and is currently able to maneuver around diplomatic roadblocks in order to bring together experts. “So WWF has been working with partners in Alaska and Russia to identify ways we can plan for that increased human activity, reduce risk, prevent accidents and protect the incredible biological productivity and diversity of this region.”

The United States has limited capacity for spill response in the Arctic. But Russia has less, even as they are ramping up Arctic oil and gas development faster than the U.S. And according to Alexey Knizhnikov, who tracks the extraction industry for WWF from Moscow, sanctions have halted one of the biggest benefits that international oil projects have brought to Russia in the past.

“U.S. oil companies halted activities in Russia,” Knizhnikov said in during a coffee break between presentations. “For us, for environmentalists it’s bad because many Western companies brought better standards for environmental safety.”

The worsening political climate has also halted cooperation between federal agencies on both sides, who are now barred from even engaging in dialogue. So, while the U.S. Coast Guard used to work with their Russian counterparts, this week officials were only allowed to attend the meeting as observers.

Williams, with WWF, is hoping the conference can put technical experts and regional players in contact so they can begin coordinating spill prevention and response measures.

To some extent that is already taking shape on the ground, explained Gay Sheffield, a biologist with UAF’s marine advisory program with an office in Nome. She sees coastal communities working more frequently with health officials to report the growing number of irregular wildlife incidents in recent years.

“In the Bering Strait Region in the last three years, for all the environmental anomalies that have been happening—sick seals, sick birds, unusual wildlife, and oiled wildlife—in all cases those were communicated and discovered by coast community members actively engaged in subsistence activities,” Sheffield explained.  “So when it comes to engaging and observing the environment and knowing what’s normal and not, our community members have been the first responders.

The conference wraps up Friday with one-on-one discussions. And though they live just a few hours west of Nome, the Chukotkans will be flying east for the next several days.

Categories: Alaska News

Horizon Lines to Sell Alaska Operations

Thu, 2014-11-13 17:01

Horizon Lines has operated from the Unalaska Marine Center for more than 20 years. (Annie Ngo/KUCB)

After years of financial trouble, Horizon Lines has announced plans to sell off its routes in Alaska and Hawaii.

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Horizon started moving cargo in Alaska 50 years ago. Back then, the company was still known as Sea-Land. And they hadn’t gone through the string of mergers and sales that have become common in the shipping industry.

As it’s changed hands, Horizon has been stacking up debt — now more than half a billion dollars’ worth. Chief financial officer Michael Avara says they tried refinancing and restructing, but it just wasn’t sustainable.

That’s why Horizon has decided to shut down their operations in Puerto Rico and sell the rest.

In Hawaii, a shipping line called the Pasha Group has offered $142 million to pick up Horizon’s service. And for $69.2 million, Matson will get the Alaska operations and all of Horizon’s stock.

Avara says they’re in a good position to take it on.

“Matson is a large, profitable company with roots tracing back 150 years or so to Hawaii,” Avara says. “They have an excellent balance sheet and I think they’ll be a very good steward of the Alaska service.”

Until now, Matson’s mostly been focused on shipping in Hawaii and the South Pacific. They wanted to expand north. But spokesperson Jeff Hull says there wasn’t room — until Horizon fell on hard times.

The company was part of a long investigation into price fixing in the cargo industry. In 2011, Horizon pleaded guilty to inflating their rates and agreed to pay a $15 million fine.

The Justice Department also asked Matson to produce records, but they were never charged with a crime.

Even though Horizon’s been on shaky footing, they’ve still been a major player in domestic shipping under the Jones Act. The law says that operators have to be American-owned, using domestically-built vessels and American crews, in order to move cargo between U.S. ports.

Horizon has more than a dozen vessels that meet those standards — including three in Alaska. They provide regular service between Tacoma, Anchorage, Kodiak and Unalaska.

“And basically they are carrying our fresh produce, our groceries, household goods,” says Peggy McLaughlin, Unalaska’s ports director.

Horizon has been using the same municipal dock in Unalaska for more than 20 years. For most of that time, they operated under a special contract. But since it lapsed in December, Horizon has been paying tariffs to the city government to move cargo.

For reasons beside revenue, McLaughlin says the route is important.

“We hope that Matson recognizes that that domestic line haul service is really critical to Unalaska and our supply chain — and that the service level remains at least status quo,” McLaughlin says.

While there could be some personnel changes in Alaska, Jeff Hull says Matson will leave the actual shipping services intact.

In Unalaska, that means Matson will try to step into a partnership with Maersk, the international shipping giant.

Maersk exports seafood using Horizon as its local agent, with laborers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Matson already has a contract with the union at other ports on the West Coast, according to Hull.

The one thing that could change is Horizon’s fleet. At almost 40 years old, the vessels are showing their age. And Hull says it might take some work to bring them up to speed with new air emissions regulations.

It wouldn’t happen until after the deal between Matson and Horizon is approved by federal trade regulators. The companies are expecting to hear back next year.

Categories: Alaska News

LNG Trucking Plan Might Not Hit Targeted Consumer Price Point

Thu, 2014-11-13 17:01

The latest numbers show a state plan to truck North Slope natural gas to Fairbanks may not hit a targeted consumer price point. Officials updated the public on the project Wednesday, and they‘re optimistic they can bring down the price.

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Categories: Alaska News

Warm Weather Breaks Up Kuskokwim River

Thu, 2014-11-13 17:00

A rare November Breakup on the Kuskokwim River near Napaimute. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Leary)

The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the river.

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Celina Van Breukelen is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service and the River Forecast Center in Anchorage. She says they’ve had reports of the ice moving at Napaimute and Aniak.

“There seems to be some sort of a localized breakup at some locations on the river. We don’t expect it to have a flood impact. We don’t think that the ice is thick enough or that the water levels are high enough to really create a flood event, more of just some local breaking up that’s happening,” said Van Breukelen.

The situation has thousands of residents in a transportation standstill as they wait for the Kuskokwim to freeze into a safe road for travel. Van Breukelen says the forecast calls for temperatures to begin dropping below freezing at night and that should slow down melting.

“That should help slow that process down a lot. Not expecting to see a lot of precip that’s going to add a lot of precip that’s into the river and there should not be a whole lot of snow to melt, so not expecting to see much more input into the river over the next few days,” said Van Breukelen.

Mark Leary, who lives in Napaimute, says this is the third time he’s seen a November breakup – besides this year, it’s happened in 2002 and 2010. He says it’s different than a spring one, especially how it sounds.

“It’s real hard and it sounds like rocks moving. There’s no needle ice like in the springtime to soften some of the sound. Rocks tumbling down a hillside, rocks gritting, rocks grinding. The difference now as opposed to a spring breakup, the night is long you know. You don’t know what’s happening during the night, you know it’s like 14 hours of darkness and you don’t know what’s going on – you can hear it but you don’t know and it’s a little bit scary,” said Leary.

Leary says although the National Weather Service is not calling for flooding now, if ice jams form near villages and re-freeze, it could mean trouble this spring.

“That’s what happened at Crooked Creek in 2010, it broke up in November right around Thanksgiving and then it jammed a few miles below their village and refroze and boy, that jam was hard as a rock. So the next spring, 2011 that jam couldn’t melt as fast as the regular ice. And that’s what caused the new jam in the spring of 2011 that hit Crooked Creek really hard,” said Leary.

A pilot flew the Kuskokwim River today to assess the extent of the breakup and reports an ice jam below Aniak. National Weather Service officials say some local surges of water are expected as the ice runs. They say people should move belongings and equipment away from the river, but they do not expect high enough water to impact homes or roads. Alaska State Troopers are warning people not to travel on the river.

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA Presents 25th Annual Women of Achievement Awards

Thu, 2014-11-13 16:58

Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to 10 Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 13, 2014

Thu, 2014-11-13 16:57

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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What Was Alaska’s Senate Race Money Spent On?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, which comes to about $230 per vote cast, and the campaigns aren’t done reporting their spending totals.

U.S., Russian Focus On Bering Sea Issues

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway in Anchorage this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska  to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.

Tremors and Ash Seen at Pavlof Volcano

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.

Horizon Lines to Sell Alaska Operations

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After years of financial difficulties, Horizon Lines is breaking up. The shipping company has announced to plans to shut down or sell its domestic routes — including service to Alaska.

LNG Trucking Plan May Not Hit Targeted Consumer Price Point

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The latest numbers show a state plan to truck North Slope natural gas to Fairbanks may not hit a targeted consumer price point. Officials updated the public on the project Wednesday, and they‘re optimistic they can bring down the price.

Girdwood Animal Cruelty Investigation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood.  Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.

Warm Weather Breaks Up Kuskokwim River

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the River.

YWCA Presents 25th Annual Women of Achievement Awards

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to ten Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Girdwood Animal Cruelty Investigation

Thu, 2014-11-13 14:35

Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood. Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.

Anchorage Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Laura Atwood (confirms that) *says* the animal control office received a tip by email that the dogs were being neglected.

“The dogs were brought here to Anchorage Animal Care and Control Wednesday evening. They are in our care, they are being seen by a veterinarian today, and they are being cared for by our kennel staff. ”

Officers accompanied by Alaska State Troopers visited the home Wednesday afternoon. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says the matter is under investigation, and that Troopers will have no further comment until the investigation is complete. No charges have been filed.

Atwood says that when officers reached the home, there was no owner present. 

“To the best of my knowledge, the owner was not present when the dog was taken.”

She would not say how the dead dog died.

Atwood says Anchorage Animal Care and Control is ready to help if there is any suspicion of cruelty or neglect of domestic animals.


Categories: Alaska News

ENSTAR rates to hold nearly steady for 7 months, prices similar to last winter

Thu, 2014-11-13 10:46

Enstar gas prices won’t change much for the next 7 months. Rates will hold steady at just under 78 cents per hundred cubic feet starting in January. That’s 5 and half cents over current rates and about the same as last winter. For an average household on an average month, that’s a $6.70 increase.

Company spokesperson John Sims says the rate is about average for the past five years. Gas costs will continue to rise slightly because of inflation.

Over the past year, the company’s gas cost adjustment swung from about 76 cents per 100 cubic feet of gas in the winter to 46 cents in the spring then back up again for summer. Community members expressed concern about the swings during a meeting with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska this summer.

The rate dropped slightly this fall to 71 cents. According to regulatory filings, the company is still trying to make up for a $5 million dollar deficit in the Gas Cost Balancing Account.

The second quarter drop to 46 cents was an anomaly.

To prevent such large fluctuations in the future, the company is reverting to a yearly cost adjustment instead of quarterly. They’re working their way toward that goal by making a 6-month adjustment that will go into effect in January.

Sims says yearly adjustments will start in July 2015 so people can set their budgets before the cold winter months.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Send Backup Generator to Tuluksak

Thu, 2014-11-13 10:42

The state is sending an emergency generator to Tuluksak, which has not had power since Friday afternoon.

Jeremy Zidek is with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said Wednesday afternoon that the exact plan for bringing out the generator was still in the works.

(Image from Google maps)

“Once it’s on the ground they will be able to hook it up and have it operation within a few hours,” Zidek said. “We’re just really looking at different transportation options.”

Zidek says the Tribal Council has not expressed any emergency concerns, but tribal leaders are worried about food in people’s freezers thawing.

The Alaska Energy Authority has had a person on the ground since Monday to work on the generator, which broke down Friday. Residents say the post office is closed due to the power outage. The community is also dealing with phone and Internet issues, according to sources. The school principal says they have power from a generator and school is in session. Zidek says local individuals are working to share what power sources they do have.

“They are working with residents to identify where local generators are, where they can share the temporary power capability among neighbors,” Zidek said.

The community of nearly 400 people is located more than 50 river miles above Bethel. The ADN reports that GCI had sent a technician there to troubleshoot the phone and Internet issues. KYUK has been unable to reach the Tuluksak Traditional Power Utility.

Categories: Alaska News

Tremors and Ash Seen at Pavlof Volcano

Thu, 2014-11-13 10:35

Pavlof in eruption as viewed from Cold Bay on the evening of November 12, 2014. (Photo courtesy Carol Damberg)

Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reports that Pavlof, “has entered a new phase of eruptive activity.” Wednesday night, they upgraded the volcano from ‘normal’ to ‘watch’ status – the middle tier of their system, indicating heightened unrest.

The AVO reports that Pavlof is spewing ash up to 9,000 feet above sea level, visible in neighboring Cold Bay. Scientists also saw increased seismic activity at the volcano Wednesday afternoon.

Pavlof is one of the most active volcanos in the state, but it has been quiet since June, when it erupted for about a week. During that event, Pavlof sent up an ash plume more than 20,000 feet above sea level and caused a string of local flight cancellations.

The volcano’s eruptions have been known to escalate quickly, according to the AVO. They can last just a few days, or as long as several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Rejects Shell Suit Against Environmental Groups

Thu, 2014-11-13 10:30

An appeals court has tossed out a request by Shell Oil to block future challenges from environmental groups against Arctic drilling operations.

Shell filed the lawsuit against 13 environmental and tribal organizations back in 2012. The oil company wanted a formal declaration that its government-approved spill response plans were legal. They hoped it would help them block hypothetical lawsuits down the road.

But the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said any challenges would have to go through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which approves Shell’s plans, rather than Shell itself. The court said it would be unconstitutional for Shell to determine the winner of court battles between BOEM and other groups that haven’t even happened yet.

The National Resource Defense Council was one group Shell was suing. In a statement, director Chuck Clusen said, “Shell was attempting to quash dissent and circumvent due process. It didn’t work – our legal system prevailed.”

The decision leaves the door open for groups like the NRDC to take potential legal action against Shell’s prospects in the Arctic. That’s as the company tries to secure more federal approvals for a 2015 drilling season in the Chukchi Sea.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Pleads Guilty in Sexual Abuse Case

Thu, 2014-11-13 10:21

(Photo via KYUK)

A Bethel man has accepted a plea deal for sexual abuse of minors.

Eighteen charges against 66-year old Daniel Kashatok were consolidated into a charge of 2nd degree sexual assault of a minor and one 2nd degree count of attempted sexual assault of a minor.

Kashatok was originally charged with a total of 22 counts. With the guilty plea, the remaining counts were dismissed.

The charges stem from incidents between 2006 and 2010. Some of them reportedly happened at the Bethel Native Corporation building in Bethel where Kashatok worked. KYUK, in 2012, cited documents referencing 12 victims, of which 11 were under the age of 13.

Judge Charles Ray asked that Kashatok be held in the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center until sentencing after a request from Kashatok’s public defender. He’s been in jail in Anchorage. Sentencing is set for March 27 with Judge Ray.

Categories: Alaska News

New Hearing Held On Fairbanks Four Case

Wed, 2014-11-12 17:03

There was a hearing in the Fairbanks Four case Monday. The hearing in state court was requested by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is attempting to overturn guilty convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the 4 men imprisoned for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Study Predicts Stronger Storms, Flooding for Y-K Delta

Wed, 2014-11-12 17:02

A new study theorizes that there could be more frequent and more violent storms accompanied by increased flooding and erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta over the next 50 to 100 years due to climate change. The study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska used remote sensing technology along with traditional knowledge and observations from local Native people.

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Alaska scientists used satellite images to look through clouds during storms and for the first time could see how far tidal flooding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta extended inland. It was much farther than they imagined.

A new study by Alaska researchers says more, big, fall storms like one tracking across the Bering Sea toward Western Alaska are in the future for the Y-K Delta. (Courtesy of National Weather Service)

“It’s really extensive, it can go just about 20 miles inland during these really large storm events. So it covers a very large portion of the outer Delta,” said Jorgenson.

That’s Torre Jorgenson, a landscape ecologist and adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and co-author of the study. Scientists examined storm-flooding events in the Bering Sea region of western Alaska from 1913 to 2011 and found that the largest events occurred in autumn and were associated with high tides and strong southwest winds. The data allowed them to map and document the extent of the region’s flooding for the first time. Jorgenson’s projections show sea level could rise 1-3 feet in the region over the next 100 years and that the region will likely see an increase in the frequency of flooding in coastal areas to a monthly basis.

“The study also looked at the retreat of sea ice”, Jorgenson says, because it dampens the affects of storm surges in the winter. A delay of freeze-up of the Bering Sea during the winter could allow big storms and significant surges to extend into December and January. Dr. Craig Ely is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study.

“Over a couple of days what happens is the tide comes up and then the wind pushes the tide inland even more. And then the winds are so high the tide doesn’t get a chance to leave and so the water just basically builds up over a couple of days. You know I’ve been out in some of the smaller storms when we’ve been kind of stranded out there and there’s just no low tide, it just keeps getting higher and higher,” said Ely.

Winter storms could have huge impacts: freshwater habitats converting to salt water, heavy sediment smothering vegetation, low lying permafrost plateaus collapsing, and villages eroding away.

81-year-old Leo Moses, of Chevak, was born about 30 miles South in Kashunik where he remembers a huge flood changed everything.

“And then after the flood had gone, for some years, the village itself started to sink. I think it was that the permafrost underneath the village was melting so it had nothing to hold it up and it started sinking it,” Moses.

The flood forced the village to move to old Chevak in the mid 1940s when Moses was about 7. The BIA then moved the village to what is now Chevak. Moses says he has no doubt he’s seeing climate change.

“Yeah, I’m seeing climate change every year. Man, the permafrost is going. Eventually we won’t have any permafrost. Ice up north, the ones that never used to melt start melting and there’s more water. What kind of future we have, I have no slightest idea,” said Moses.

Jorgenson points to the village Newtok, the first modern western Alaska village to initiate their own relocation, to Nelson Island, due to climate change. Jorgenson says warming temperatures and increased flooding will impact the Y-K region in his lifetime.

“I’m anticipating that most of the permafrost in this region will disappear in the next 30-50 years and storm surges help accelerate this loss by killing the vegetation,” said Jorgenson.

Both Ely and Jorgenson say their work provides a baseline on which more science can build. The findings of the study are in the most recent issue of the journal, Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Selects Leaders For Gubernatorial Transition Team

Wed, 2014-11-12 17:02

The Division of Elections tallied 20,000 uncounted ballots on Tuesday. When workers turned the machines off at 10pm, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker had increased his lead over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell to 4,000 votes. With a Walker win looking more likely, a transition team is being formed to prepare for a December 1 inauguration. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

Bill Walker and his running mate Byron Mallott were quick to name the leaders of the transition team at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at their Anchorage campaign headquarters. First came Ana Hoffman – co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, and a Democrat. Next, they introduced Rick Halford – former president of the state Senate, resident of Aleknakik and Chugiak, and a Republican.

But that’s about as specific as they got on the transition team. After already being pushed multiple times by multiple reporters to explain what exactly the team wanted to accomplish, Rachel D’Oro from the Associated Press again asked for a game plan. This time, from lieutenant governor candidate Byron Mallott.

D’ORO: I’m feeling that it’s just a little vague from what all of you have said. Concretely, what is this team going to do? Are they going to come up with a list of possible personnel? What is the end result going to be of this team?
MALLOTT: You know, that’s something that we’ve pondered ourselves. *laughter*

Walker and Mallott clarified that the transition team will not be tasked with selecting commissioners, but they themselves will separately name a cabinet within days of formally winning election. Walker said he had talked with Gov. Sean Parnell about what the logistics of a transition would look like.

Transition co-chair Ana Hoffman said her team’s focus will instead be on policy.

“Arctic policy and climate change, consumer energy, corrections, economic development, education, fiscal policy, and fisheries,” listed Hoffman. “Of course, these are all very large, significant topics.”

Co-chair Rick Halford added that the idea is to get stakeholders in those areas to hash out possible courses of action, and there will be more specifics once the race is called.

“A transition is vague, and it’s particularly vague when you don’t have final results, and you have a week or two to deal with the final issue. So yes, you’re right it is vague,” said Halford. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question, because the question’s vague and the answers may be vague.”

Walker himself echoed that point.

“I apologize for the vagueness of it, but this is a different process because of the nature of the timing,” said Walker.

Walker also emphasized that even though a transition team is being formed, the campaign is still waiting on further results from the Division of Elections. The Parnell campaign plans to do the same.

Elections workers will count more absentee and questioned ballots on Friday, with counts also scheduled for next week if necessary. More than 30,000 ballots still need to be processed.

Categories: Alaska News

After nearly 30 years, Juneau service agency SAGA on verge of folding

Wed, 2014-11-12 17:01

SAGA is in the process of moving out of its main office and shop on LaPerouse Avenue in Juneau. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Longtime Juneau service agency Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, may not have enough money to keep operating.

The nonprofit has 18 AmeriCorps members in Anchorage, Juneau, Seward, Cordova and Yakutat. It also works outdoors with young people through programs that are now in a state of flux.

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SAGA recently lost staff members after a series of resignations and layoffs and is in the process of moving out of its main shop and office.

When George McGuan joined SAGA’s board of directors in March, he had no idea the organization was in a financial hole. He says the board informed him in July that SAGA was $250,000 in debt.

“I was blown away. I was like, ‘OK, we’re a non-profit. How are we $250,000 in debt?’ And they just kind of seemed like, ‘Well, that’s how we operate,’” McGuan says.

SAGA was founded in 1986 with a mission to foster development through hands-on learning. Its programs, Alaska Service Corps and Connections, bring AmeriCorps volunteers to Alaska. That’s how McGuan first came to Juneau in 2005.

Justin Fantasia had worked for SAGA since 2003. He left in October. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

He says the debt stems from many years ago, but the organization started falling apart this year. McGuan describes the process as people jumping ship.

“Our board of directors had our president quit and the organization itself had three people leave right in the middle of the summer. And then our executive director decided to quit because of the stress level, so we were kind of left holding the bag there with no real organization left,” McGuan says.

SAGA staff who left included an office coordinator and finance manager. When Executive Director Beverly Schoonover gave her letter of resignation in July, McGuan says the board tried at first to find a replacement, but that search has stopped.

Schoonover left in October for a state job after two and a half years with SAGA. Longtime employee Justin Fantasia also left around the same time. He had worked for SAGA since 2003.

“I was just really concerned that there wasn’t going to be a transition from executive director to executive director and that there was a lot of uncertainty whether the organization is going to continue on. I was not formally in a director position but I was in a leadership position. I didn’t want to find myself at the helm when things were going down,” Fantasia says.

Most recently, Fantasia was the manager of SAGA’s House Build program, a partnership with Juneau-Douglas High School, the school district and Juneau Housing Trust. Its goal is to build affordable housing.

He was the general contractor and experiential educator for high school students. Funding for his position came from the school district.

“When the House Build program wasn’t able to find land, which was not SAGA’s responsibility, but it was just sort of the partnership as a whole, I let everybody know that I was totally ready to be laid off if it was necessary,” Fantasia says. “It’s hard for SAGA to carry me as a staff person without that program revenue.”

SAGA is no longer part of the House Build program, which is moving forward and working with the city to purchase land. Fantasia, now an adjunct instructor at University of Alaska Southeast, still plans to help lead the construction.

SAGA’s AmeriCorps program Connections is funded through next September. The federal grantof $250,000 goes through the state commission Serve Alaska.

SAGA’s board has been trying to find another organization to take over Connections and its AmeriCorps members. Lawrence Blood with the Division of Community and Regional Affairs, which supports Serve Alaska, says any nonprofit or city government would be eligible, but a transfer would have to be approved.

“Hopefully, the discussions that the board is having has as little impact on the members as possible. And if it does change to a different organization, we hope to make that process as seamless as possible,” Blood says.

The board also doesn’t know if it’ll continue to operate Juneau’s Eagle Valley Center, an outdoor education and retreat facility located out the road. The City and Borough of Juneau owns the center and has had a use agreement with SAGA since 1992. The latest agreement goes through 2016.

The city’s parks and landscape superintendent George Schaaf says SAGA has had trouble meeting terms of the agreement and asked to renegotiate. SAGA has talked to other organizations about partnering to run the center.

“I know that they’re going through some stuff right now and basically they’ve just assured me that they’re taking care of the building, keeping the heat on, keeping the road plowed, that kind of thing,” Schaaf says.

Fantasia describes SAGA’s turbulence as a culmination of many factors associated with the non-profit world – the rollercoaster of grant funding, administrative burdens of grants, high turnover of staff.

“There’s been no questionable use of finances. It’s just a long history of trying to get by,” Fantasia says.

He says SAGA’s outlook is grim, but Fantasia is hopeful its legacy will continue with or without SAGA.

“What they’ve done for 25 years is provide young people with a chance to get out and work on meaningful hands-on projects in a different environment, so go out and work on trails projects, get out to different parts of the state, come in from the villages and work in these teams of young people, have some positive role models in their life,” Fantasia says.

Acting board chair Matt Smith says the board is fighting as hard as it can to keep SAGA alive but he doesn’t know if it’ll be operating after this year. When asked if he feels any responsibility for SAGA’s current trouble, Smith had no comment.

Full disclosure: George Schaaf is a member of the KTOO Board of Directors.

Categories: Alaska News