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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: 54 min 6 sec ago

Two Bethel Establishments Reportedly Were Operating as Bottle Clubs

Mon, 2014-05-12 10:31

The Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board says two Bethel establishments have been illegally allowing patrons to bring in and consume their own alcohol, operating as what’s known as “bottle clubs.” But two conflicting statutes in the state alcohol law put certain clubs in a gray area.

State Troopers and ABC Board teams have been in discussion with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10041 and an unnamed Bethel restaurant earlier this year after reports that they were allowing people to bring alcohol on site. Shirley Coté is the Director of the ABC Board.

“You can’t BYOB to any premises that under the law would require a license,” said Coté.

Until late April, the VFW allowed members to bring in their own alcoholic beverage. The ABC board and state troopers say because there were no charges filed they’re not disclosing the name of the restaurant.

Michael Calvetti is Commander of VFW post 10041, which has 174 members throughout the Y-K Delta. He says the post was operating under advice they had received from an attorney that under one statute, they are exempt from needing a license. But a separate section of state law specifically outlaws bottle clubs, unless allowed, thus blurring the law.

“Because there is a conflict between those two statutes, at this point, we have said we don’t want any alcohol on the premise until ourselves, the ABC board, and the legislative body get to together and discuss and figure out the exact solution to this concern,” said Calvetti.

Coté says the two statues indeed collide with each other. In this case, she says there are no consequences for what would be violations of the state’s bottle club law.

“We talked to them on the phone, we work with them like we work with a lot of people around the state who are unaware the acts they are doing, they’re unaware that what they’re doing is illegal. We gave them an opportunity to fix it, and they said it was fixed, and unless we get other information that it’s still ongoing, our case is closed,” said Coté.

The ABC board last month discussed a change to regulation that would have allowed the VFW to continue, but they elected not to go in that direction.

The board pointed to a category of license, a club license, that would apply for the VFW. But that would require them to sell alcohol, but Calvetti says the membership does not want to be in that business.

When Bethel voted to go wet in 2009, six establishments, including the VFW applied for liquor licenses. The city protested the applications and they were rejected.

The Alaska Legislature could also change state law to allow certain patriotic clubs to operate as they had in the past.

As for now, the VFW has a no alcohol sign posted on the door and is in discussions with regulators and lawmakers.

“We do not plan on moving forward in any direction with the thought of alcohol until we have something in writing that we know applies to this post. I don’t want a generalization, I don’t want ‘a I think so,’ I want it to be solid so there’s no question on any party’s part,” said Calvetti.

Calvetti says the VFW operates a bingo hall and hosts many community events and alcohol is not the focus of the organization. As a non-profit, he says he wants to continue to provide money and support for the community. So far this fiscal year, they have given $150,000 for local causes.

Click here to view correspondence between the VFW and the ABC board and the regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Catch Nikiski Teacher Accused of ‘Inappropriate Behavior’ With Student

Mon, 2014-05-12 10:29

A Nikiski teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student was the subject of a law enforcement manhunt Thursday afternoon. After the man threatened to commit suicide, two local schools were placed on lockdown. Alaska State Troopers caught the man on Friday.

Neither the Troopers or the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are saying much about the incident.

What’s known is that a male teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School was suspected of “inappropriate behavior” with a student. School District Spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says district officials reported their suspicions about the teacher to Alaska State Troopers Thursday morning and Troopers began their own investigation.

Troopers responded to the school and attempted to locate the teacher but he had already left the campus. At some point – it’s not clear when – the man threatened to commit suicide by consuming alcohol and sleeping pills.

Troopers began searching for the teacher’s red 1993 Dodge Dakota truck and urged members of the public to help locate the vehicle.

Meanwhile, both Nikiski Middle-High School and North Star Elementary School went on lockdown. Erkeneff says that decision was made after the report came in that man had threatened suicide.

“As a precaution, the school dostrict put students’ safety first,” said Erkeneff. “And so we did a lockdown at both of our schools that were in close proximity.”

Both schools were under the lockdown for about two hours Thursday. Under the district’s current procedures for a “modified” lockdown, students are confined to their classrooms but parents are still allowed to come and pick them up. Erkeneff says that at the schools’ regular closing time, Troopers were on site and students were allowed to go home as they normally would.

Trooper Spokesperson Beth Ipsen says Troopers finally caught up with the suspect Friday.

“(We) caught up with him at about noon today at about Mile 15 (of) the Kenai Spur Highway,” said Ipsen. “Based on some medical issues that he was going through, medics were called in and he was transported to the hospital, where he remains, getting treatment.”

Ipsen would not say what the nature of the man’s injuries were. He has not yet been charged with a crime.

As for the allegations that the teacher had “inappropriate behavior” with a student, Pegge Erkeneff says she cannot say much because the case is still under investigation.

“What I can say is that we did an internal investigation,” she said. “(We) deemed it necessary to contact the Troopers and bring them in.”

Erkeneff says the suspicions about the teacher were originally brought forward to district officials who then began an internal investigation.

She says the teacher has been placed on administrative leave. His name has not yet been released.

“People want to know everything but we can’t give out all of the information,” said Erkeneff. “We can just assure that all of our students … are safe right now. That’s the priority. I just ask for parents to trust us. We’re keeping kids safe and working with law enforcement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Ambler Man Faces Attempted Murder Charges for Shooting at VPO

Mon, 2014-05-12 10:22

Aerial view of Ambler and the Kobuk River in the summer. (Courtesy of the National Park Service via UAF Gates of the Arctic Research Portal)

An Ambler man is facing attempted murder charges after Alaska State Troopers say he tried to shoot a village police officer through the door of his home.

According to a dispatch from Troopers, it all happened around 1:15 Saturday afternoon. That’s when Troopers say 34-year-old Harry Morena was “intoxicated and belligerent” using a VHF radio.

Ambler Village Police Office Jeffery Metlon went to Morena’s home and knocked on the door. That’s when the officer says he heard Morena yell, “one shot, one kill” before shooting through his front door at the officer.

The VPO was uninjured and backed away—as Troopers say Morena shot at least two more times though the door and walls of his home.

A concerned friend then tried to contact Morena through the VHF. Officers investigating the shooting say the friend asked to meet with Morena but only if he promised not to shoot him. Morena allegedly told the friend he, “only wanted to kill the VPO.”

Troopers say the friend then met Morena in the street and convinced him to surrender his weapon.

Morena was arrested, and when Troopers arrived to investigate, a search warrant for his home later found evidence of a home-brew alcohol operation.

Troopers say Morena’s deaf and blind mother was also found in the home, oblivious to the gunfire Troopers say unfolded around her.

Morena was taken to the Kotzebue regional jail. He faces charges of second-degree attempted murder, two charges of second-degree assault, and several charges related to home-brewing alcohol.

Ambler is a community of about 260 people in the Northwest Arctic Borough, about 280 miles northeast of Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

Libertarian Party Sees Opportunity In GOP Fractures

Fri, 2014-05-09 17:11

Republican Senate Candidate Joe Miller did something unusual on Thursday: He spoke out in support of party that was not his own. The comments concerned the Libertarian Party, which could be in a position to gain converts from some dissent within the state GOP.

As the state’s biggest organized political party, the GOP represents plenty of different sects. There are big businessmen, and small businessmen, religious conservatives, Tea Partiers, and a slew of other subgroups.

The state’s Libertarian Party is not so big. Its membership has hovered around 7,000 voters since the Division of Elections began tracking their registration in the late 1990s. But there may be a perk to that: With fewer members, you can have more cohesion.

“It’s obvious the GOP is fractured. Everyone is well aware of that,” says Brad Leavitt, Alaska Libertarian Party vice chair and chair of its platform committee. “And to be honest, we’re reaping the benefits. People are coming over, and they’re disgruntled.”

Leavitt says he’s one of those guys. He only joined the Libertarian Party a year ago, and he often voted for Republican candidates before that.

Now, Leavitt says he’s seeing more interest in his party from the Ron Paul faction of the GOP. That group took over the GOP in 2012 in a coup, but then lost control a year later to the establishment wing.

Because the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party platforms have a lot of things in common, Leavitt sees the organization appealing to some the insurgents who might feel marginalized in the Republican Party. And one of the biggest position differences between the two parties was recently taken out by the Libertarians. Where the Republicans have an anti-abortion plank in their platform, the Libertarian position was that government should stay out of abortion.

Leavitt says the decision to remove it from the platform was:

LEAVITT: To make it an individual choice. Be it the individual’s decision one way or another. It’s the same for the candidate — not pigeonhole any candidate to say you must be this way or you must be that way. It’s just it’s about liberty.

That could make his party friendly to some of the Republican dissidents, including one big one: Joe Miller.

A U.S. Senate candidate in a three-way Republican Primary, Miller has had a strained relationship with the Alaska GOP over the years. While he has said he has no intention of running as anything but a Republican, Miller also rejected a pledge to support his Senate rivals if he loses the primary.

Miller is running against Dan Sullivan, a former attorney general and natural resources commissioner for the state, and Mead Treadwell, the sitting lieutenant governor. Sullivan has come out ahead in a recent primary poll, and he has also raised over $2 million since joining the race, putting him ahead of Miller and Treadwell.

This week, Miller raised eyebrows when he sent out a press release criticizing Mark Begich for remarks the Democratic Senator made about Libertarians in an interview. Miller argued that Begich was misrepresenting the Libertarian Party for political benefit, and Miller also stated he was “proud to share … values with the Alaska Libertarian Party.”

While Miller was traveling on Friday and could not be reached, Leavitt says there is no arrangement for Miller to run as a Libertarian should Miller’s Republican bid fail. But the Libertarian Party is open to the idea.

“We’d entertain it,” says Leavitt. “We’d talk with him — see what his thoughts and intentions are.”

The Alaska Republican Party is not so open to this.

Party Chair Peter Goldberg says the whole strategy would be self-defeating for conservatives.

“If one of the losers of the Republican Party tried to run anyway, it will hurt the winner of the Republican primary,” says Goldberg. “Surely some votes will move, and if it’s just enough, that means Begich wins again.”

Goldberg adds that his party has space for Libertarian-minded members.

Earlier this month, the Republican Party changed its rules to make takeovers by party dissidents less likely.

The Libertarian Party still has not named its Senate candidate.

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC CEO Releases Layoff Details

Fri, 2014-05-09 16:44

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Officials announced layoffs this week due to a $12 million budget shortfall. It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year.

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After a recent audit of the organization, CEO Dan Winkelman realized it would take dramatic measures to get the organization that delivers health care to Bethel and surrounding villages back in the black.

“According to our audited financials that just came out we lost almost 12 million dollars in 2013,” Winkelman said. “That’s not sustainable and we had to make a budget correction because of the that.”

Winkelman says 110 employees will be let go, across departments, and 50 more vacant positions will not be filled.

Dan Winkelman took over as CEO of YKHC January 17, 2014.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Last fall, around 50 positions were cut. Winkelman, who took over as CEO about three months ago, says the budget shortfall is a result of several factors.

“We didn’t meet our revenue collection goals since late 2012 so that’s had a huge impact to decrease our revenue. Also the federal sequester that occurred last year, that’s effected us and that decreased Indian Health Service’s budget, therefore it decreased our budget as well,” Winkelman said.

Last year the federal sequester by Congress decreased the Indian Health Service’s budget by about 5 percent. That translated to over $7 million in cuts at YKHC, Winkelman says.

In addition, he says expenses went up because of investments in a new elders home and in a new medical records system. Increases in temporary duty physicians, he says, and YKHC’s employee health insurance costs were also a factor. He’s working to correct inefficiencies in their revenue collection systems as well.

Winkelman says YKHC does not plan to lay off any doctors but reductions will be made companywide, and village clinics will be impacted.

“Human Resources is going to be working with out managers to determine that,” Winkelman said. ”This is going to take approximately 30 days, the next 30 days to implement.”

“It’s a large layoff so its going to take a lot of administrative time to complete it. Individual employees are going to be notified June 2ndthrough the 6th, so the first week of June and we’ll go from there.”

Severance packages will be offered to all employees who are laid off.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Forty-million-dollars in Indian Health Service settlement money recently awarded to YKHC for unpaid contract support services between 2005 and 2011 will not be used to shore up the budget, Winkelman says. Instead, he and the YKHC Board are safeguarding that money for the future.

“We’re thinking out long-term and part of our long-term strategy is to use those funds in addition to some other funds to try to get us a new hospital as well as a new primary care center,” Winkelman said.

Existing facilities in Bethel, built in 1980 are getting run down, Winkelman says, and the population they serve is growing. The new settlement money will be added to an investment account containing 40 million dollars from a previous IHS Settlement for a total of around $80 million.

With the layoffs, a spokesperson for YKHC says patients can expect a decrease in access to appointments, longer wait times and fewer services.

Winkelman says, even with the cuts, he projects YKHC will lose over 3 million dollars this year. However he does not anticipate any more layoffs at this time.

Thursday YKHC President and CEO, Dan Winkelman, released thisstatement explaining the layoffs:

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Mining Extension Offering Basic Prospecting Class

Fri, 2014-05-09 16:44

The University of Alaska Fairbanks mining extension program will offer a basic prospecting class in Palmer on Saturday.

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Dave Wright has worked on recreational and commercial mining claims for more than 30 years and will teach Saturday’s session.

He says the day long class will have broad appeal to both the weekend gold pan crowd as well as those looking to make it a business.

Wright says Alaska is endowed with some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. And it’s not just gold and copper.

“There are opals being mined at one area of Alaska, diamonds have been found although as of yet, nothing significant enough to mine but diamonds are here,” Wright said. “Emeralds exist in Alaska and the possibility of a real good emerald find is not beyond reach.”

Saturday’s class will be at Kerttula Hall in Palmer. You can register online.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Pelican

Fri, 2014-05-09 16:05

This week, we’re heading to Pelican, in Southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. Patricia Phillips is Mayor of Pelican.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 9, 2014

Fri, 2014-05-09 16:04

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

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Tacoma Climber Dies On Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Just days into climbing season, a mountaineer has died in an an accident high on Denali.  Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma Washington, became separated from her climbing partner before falling nearly 1,000 feet.

Joe Miller Speaks Out In Favor Of Libertarian Party

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Thursday, Republican Senate Candidate Joe Miller did something unusual: He spoke out in support of a party that was not his own. The comments concerned the Libertarian Party, which could be in a position to gain from some dissent within the state GOP.

YKHC CEO Releases Layoff Details

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Officials announced layoffs this week due to a $12 million budget shortfall. It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year.

Sand Point Sees Progress In War On Drugs

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A man allegedly carrying black tar heroin was arrested as he stepped off a plane in Sand Point last month. It’s the most recent development in the town’s fight against hard drugs.

UAF Mining Extension Offering Basic Prospecting Class

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Fairbanks mining extension program will offer a basic prospecting class in Palmer tomorrow.

AK: Plastics

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

Some say that after climate warming, plastic is the biggest environmental problem we face. And unlike climate warming, no one argues over who is responsible for the plastic in our oceans. We are.  After researching and reporting on it, Johanna Eurich wanted to do her part to reduce plastic trash.  The task is daunting. She started at home, in her tiny log cabin in Spenard.

300 Villages: Pelican

This week, we’re heading to Pelican, in Southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. Patricia Phillips is Mayor of Pelican.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Plastics

Fri, 2014-05-09 14:41

Some say that after climate warming, plastic is the biggest environmental problem we face. And unlike climate warming, no one argues over who is responsible for the plastic in our oceans – we are. After researching and reporting on it, Johanna Eurich wanted to do her part to reduce plastic trash. The task is daunting. She started at home, in her tiny log cabin in Spenard.

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I am sorting my trash and logging the plastic that has come into my life this week. It is all packaging.

When I was born, there was very little plastic around. Now, more than half a century later, there is tons of it floating around in the world’s ocean. Most of it comes from land. And it’s stuff from our cupboards and trash bins.

(Photo courtesy Johanna Eurich)

Unlike the long molecules that nature makes, the plastics we produce last forever. None of it rots the way natural cellulose does. Instead it breaks down into smaller, less visible pieces and becomes even more dangerous in the environment. Some of Alaska’s most remote beaches are covered with confetti of it.

The plastic issue makes me confront the limits of consumer choice. What I can easily, I am already doing. We don’t use plastic shopping bags anymore.

But I still suffer from plastic guilt. Then I meet someone like Kylee Singh working at the Alaska Center for the Environment. She comes at the plastic issue from a public health perspective.

“I just continually was trying to wrap my head around something that we had just created like plastic water bottles,” Singh said. “If I was drinking out of a plastic water bottle and drinking out of it for weeks at a time – I was living in the desert at the time – there has to be something leaching out of that plastic.”

She was in college when she got to help lead an effort to stop the use of bottled water on campus.

“A year after I graduated we found out that we had lobbied hard enough to put the bad on bottled water on Humboldt State,” Singh said. “So we became the first public university to ban plastic bottled water on campus.”

My plastic campaign isn’t all doom and gloom. Some of it’s fun. I’m making yogurt in a glass jar so I don’t have to buy the stuff in the plastic containers. The result is cheaper and tastier. I wrap the jar of lukewarm milk with a spoonful of yogurt in it and put it in the oven to incubate. The old pilot light keeps it warm.

Every little bit helps.

Dave Bass takes his own containers to restaurants when he buys take-out. He remembers the reaction the first time.

(Photo courtesy Johanna Eurich)

“The person who took the containers wasn’t even sure it was an option,” Bass said. “They had to go back to check to see if that was possible; they were confused but they eventually did it.”

Now local restaurants expect Dave to show up a few minutes early with glass Tupperware. It doesn’t save a ton of trash, but he says the thought of the unnecessary Styrofoam used to make it hard to take his food to go.

“The tastiness and convenience is nearly overshadowed by being forced to accept responsibility for several stupid Styrofoam containers that are going to be floating around in the ocean for the next billion years,” Bass said.

When I lived off the road system, I would buy large quantities to keep prices down, but everything came wrapped in plastic. That’s why rural dumps are stuffed with plastic. We bury it and hope for the best. But the amount in village dumps pales compared to the quantities that wash up on our shores from Asia. The man on the front line is Chris Pallister at Gulf of Alaska Keeper.

“We’re working on shorelines now that have up to 30 tons of plastic per mile on them,” he said.

Chris thinks the price of plastic should include all the external costs, like cleaning it up.

“Other things like glass will be cost effective then,” Pallister said. “We can make it here and reuse it here. And we could do that everywhere.”

“I don’t understand why people are opposed to internalizing costs and letting the consumers pay for it.”

Finally, I want to show you where I go when the plastic gets overwhelming. Welcome to my garden compost heap. This is the temple of rot and my husband Steven is the priest. He waters it and turns it to make it heat up.

Compost is entropy transformed and transcended. The heroes are worms and microbes. They break down and recycle all the long molecules made by nature. We will all rot someday. If I’m lucky, my chemistry will make more food, more blossoms like the sweet black compost from this heap.

After we are all long gone the plastic we have already made will still be here. It is a huge and growing pile and there are no simple answers. All I can do is start with my own pile and look for others willing to do the same.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Passes Lower Mill Rate, Okays 2015 Budget

Fri, 2014-05-09 13:33

Efforts to maintain a congenial atmosphere during budget deliberations paid off on Thursday evening, as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly approved the Borough’s  2015 fiscal plan  with minimum debate.

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There was a definite Kumbaya moment in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly chambers Thursday night when Deputy Mayor Ron Arvin read the motion.

“Mr. Mayor, I move to adopt, I move to set the mill rates at 9.662 area-wide and 0.52 non-area-wide. Ok, is there objection? Hearing none, that passes,” Arvin said.

The Mat-Su Borough Assembly stayed well under the Borough’s cap in setting the mill rate for next year’s budget. Mayor Larry DeVilbiss called the next question

“So, we have the final motion before us, as amended at least 24 time, or 25 or 26. Is there further discussion? Is there objection. Hearing none, it passes by unanimous consent. Congratulations,” DeVilbiss said.

Assembly members for the most part, called the current budget process the fastest in years.

“This first budget was an enlightening process, and since we finished it in such short time, it was more like lightning,” Assembly member Jim Sykes said.

It took two evenings of debate to get to the final question. The budget was amended 24 times, but the Assembly managed to lower the mill rate while retaining all employees.

“And the public was happy. That’s one thing I really noticed,” Assemblyman Jim Colver said. ”I don’t know how many budgets I participated in where it was usually clamoring for school money or, I think the level of service or EMS, fire, or roads, schools. The public seems pretty satisfied with the level of service, otherwise, they would have been here.”

The spending package is expected to top $400 million when the final accounting is complete.

The spending plan includes increases for Mat-Su’s school district, and for emergency response, and includes funding for services like Youth Court and a Sexual Assault Response Team. The Assembly funded outdoor recreation projects and programs from Meadow Lakes to Hatcher Pass, while providing money for flood plain mitigation program information and for a FEMA grant writer to apply for FEMA matching funds.

Mayor DeVilbiss has until May 20 to line up his vetoes.

“So I’m not going to absolutely tell you there won’t be any vetoes,” he said. “But, I have one question to the school district at this point, and if that’s alright, I don’t see a veto at this point.”

DeVilbiss would not say more than that Thursday night. A reconsideration vote is set for Friday at 5 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Wilderness in Alaska

Fri, 2014-05-09 12:00

Whether you call it locking up land or protecting it, wilderness designation raises some profound cultural, biological and management
questions. As it turns 50 years old, is the Wilderness Act showing signs of age? Or has it barely reached maturity? Nowhere in the country is there more wilderness than Alaska.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • J. Michael Holloway, author, Dreaming Bears, a Gwich’in Indian Storyteller, a Southern Doctor, a Wild Corner of Alaska
  • Produced segments by Aviva Hirsch, Reid Magdanz and Nikki Navio
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • 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, May 13, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Tacoma Climber Dies On Denali

Fri, 2014-05-09 11:17

Sylvia Montag approaches Karsten’s Ridge on Denali. (Photo via fox-challenge.de)

Just days into climbing season, a mountaineer has died in an an accident high on Denali. Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma, Washington, became separated from her climbing partner around May 5.

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Sylvia Montag and her climbing partner, Mike Fuchs, a 34-year-old mountaineer from Berlin, Germany, were climbing near Denali Pass on May 3 at just over 18,000 feet when the weather forced them to turn away from the summit and set up camp to shelter from the high winds. After waiting out the weather for two days, Montag and Fuchs began their descent down the West Buttress of Denali.

During the expedition, Mike Fuchs updated a blog on the pair’s progress. The last entry in the blog is from the night of May 4. Mike Fuchs described winds over 60-miles-per-hour and temperatures lower than 10-degrees below zero. He noted that the pair was down to about three days of food.  That was probably enough to descend the mountain, but it likely ruled out any further summit attempts.

Click here to read Sylvia Montag and Mike Fuchs’ blog.

At 11:00 a.m. on Monday, May 5, the National Park Service says that Fuchs reported via satellite phone that he and Montag had become separated and both had limited supplies, but he did not request a rescue. Fuchs had taken shelter in a storage locker kept at high camp, around 17,200 feet.  On Tuesday, May 6th, Fuchs called the National Park Service again to request a helicopter rescue.  He said he still had not heard from Montag. Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says that the phone calls, as well as the blog, provided useful information for rescue personnel.

“That helped the rangers here establish a timeline, how they were acclimatizing, where they had spent certain nights,” Gualtieri said. “That information was helpful in figuring out where we’re at:  how much food they might have left, what kind of equipment, or even more than that, even what sort of apparel they were wearing, so if we had to do an aerial search, we’d know what we were looking for.”

High winds and poor visibility prevented the Park Service from launching its rescue helicopter on Tuesday. Because Montag and Fuchs were climbing very early in the season, mountaineering rangers were not yet in position to help on the ground, either.  On Wednesday morning, the weather cleared enough for the rescue helicopter to launch. Dave Weber is a mountaineering Ranger for the Park Service, and was on board the helicopter

“The information we were going on from her climbing partner is that the most likely last-known spot was in Denali Pass, around 18,200 feet,” Weber said. “That’s the beginning of the descent portion of the Autobahn area, that takes you down to 17,200 camp.”

“We searched the Denali Pass area and then moved down further into what a likely fall line would have been from the Autobahn.”

Montag’s remains were spotted between 800 and 1,000 feet below the normal trail used on the traverse known as the Autobahn.  The Park Service believes she fell while descending from the pass sometime on May 5.  The area where Montag fell is one of the more dangerous areas of the mountain.  Twelve people have died in similar accidents near the same spot in the last 70 years.

Montag and Fuchs were not roped together while descending through the dangerous terrain. While that is not necessarily an uncommon practice, Dave Weber says the Park Service generally advises against it.  Weber also says that descending through the area early in the season poses extra risks.

“Earlier in the season, we tend to have icier conditions up high, so the footing tends to be much more difficult,” Weber said. “It’s nearly impossible to self-arrest with your axe if you do start to slip or if you do fall.”

“Given that, we’re very adamant that people take great caution and use protection along that traverse.”

Before they are allowed to attempt Denali, climbers must check in with the ranger station in Talkeetna and receive a briefing that covers the risks and features of the mountain. Dave Weber says that Fuchs and Montag’s briefing did not give any indicators that they were unprepared for the climb.

“Looking at their resumés, they did seem to have the appropriate experience to be on a mountain like Denali, so that wasn’t one of the things that we were clued into like we are in some instances where people are under-experienced or there’s disparate experience between members of the party, where you have somebody that’s very experienced and someone that’s not,” Weber said. “They seemed to be a very well-suited pair for this.”

Mike Fuchs was rescued from high camp on Wednesday and flown first to base camp and later Talkeetna.

The atmosphere at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station was somewhat subdued on Friday.  The sense is that everyone their hopes that this first climbing tragedy of 2014 is also the last.

Categories: Alaska News

Apache Selling Gulf Of Mexico Offshore Interests

Fri, 2014-05-09 10:50

The oil and gas company exploring the west side of Cook Inlet is getting a cash infusion.

Apache is selling off some of its Gulf of Mexico offshore interests to a mining company – Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold – for $1.4 billion.

That includes an interest in two projects and eleven exploration lease tracts.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition May 9, 2014

Fri, 2014-05-09 07:25

Two state troopers killed in Tanana. The state Republican Party meets in Juneau. The Anchorage School District comes into extra money. Three motorcyclists killed on Glenn Highway. Anchorage water rates are perplexing – an explanation follows. Parnell cuts deal for pipeline taxes. Ammunition in short supply. Why? Sen. Fred Dyson has a bill that would remove from view court cases that do not lead to conviction.  National Climate Assessment of climate change has warnings for Alaska.

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Paul Jenkins, Anchorage Daily Planet
  • Sean Doogan, Alaska  Dispatch
  • Steve MacDonald, Channel 2 News

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 9, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 10, at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 10, at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs Gasline Legislation

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:40

Surrounded by state legislators, cameras, and heavy machinery, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a measure that could serve as a starting point for a major natural gas project. He put his name on the bill Thursday, at a pipeline training center in Fairbanks.

PARNELL: So with my signature today, Alaska will be on its way to becoming an owner in an Alaska LNG project, and the project will officially get underway.

The proposed natural gas project is seen as a lifeline for the state, as North Slope oil production declines and state revenue dwindles. Its construction has also been attempted many times without success.

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More than 40 years ago, trillions upon trillions of cubic feet of natural gas were discovered on the North Slope. And ever since, Alaska’s leaders have been trying to figure out a way to sell it.

“In 1968, when they discovered oil and gas at Prudhoe Bay, the whole play was you build a pipeline to take the oil to market, take the weekend off, turn the equipment around, and go build a gasline,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “Didn’t happen.”

In the 1970s alone, you had companies with names like Arctic Gas, El Paso, and Alaska Northwest all making plays to build a gas line. Congress was supportive, too. Permits were issued, federal regulations were met. There were a lot of people who wanted the project to work.

“So you had three legit proposals in the Seventies,” says Persily. “None, as we know now, worked out because of the economics.”

The demand for natural gas just wasn’t enough to justify tapping the supply. The price for natural gas was so low that there would be no way to cover the costs. And on top of that, natural gas on the North Slope had value insofar as it made oil recovery easier.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to make any money.’ So, no one wrote any big checks to order pipe or go ahead with it,” says Persily. “That’s the simple answer.”>>

Through the decades, there were other private attempts at a gasline.

And since the late 1990s, there have been three major legislative efforts to get a gasline built. Gov. Tony Knowles got behind the Stranded Gas Act, which would have let the state enter into negotiations with firms to build a line. No one bit. Gov. Frank Murkowski tried to get through his own version of that, but it didn’t even come to a vote because of concerns that it prevented future legislatures from making tax increases. Then there was Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which offered a half-billion dollars in subsidies to get a project kickstarted.

“Stranded Gas Act 1 didn’t work. Stranded Gas Act 2 didn’t work. AGIA didn’t work,” says Persily.

So, what’s different this time?

“Well, what’s different this time around is the state would be an investor,” says Persily. “So, when you think about a business, every dollar that the state invests as a partner the companies don’t have to invest.”

Parnell’s gasline bill sets the state up as a partial owner of the project. The major North Slope producers — that is, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips — each get a 25 percent share in the project. The state will also get a quarter, but it will be giving the pipeline-building company TransCanada a cut to effectively serve as the state’s bank. Instead implementing a traditional tax on the natural gas, the State will simply get a share of the gas itself.

Persily says the economics for selling the natural gas to Asia are different, too.

“It wasn’t until about 2008 that LNG prices in Japan looked to be high enough to cover the costs of an Alaska LNG project.”

The politicians behind the bill are quick to call it the real thing. At Thursday’s bill signing, more than one person said they believed this piece of legislation would truly get a gasline built.

But there are skeptics, too. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker puts the odds that the legislation will lead to a gasline at zero. He says it commits the state to a hundred-million-dollar studies without a guarantee that anything will be built.

For his part, Persily is cautiously optimistic.

“If the market grows like many people expect. If prices in Asia stay high. If the producers do their engineering and environmental permitting work and don’t find any surprise and don’t find any big problems. If the producers and TransCananada and the state pass the political test with the public and the Legislature,” says Persily, before pausing. “Yeah, we have a decent shot at this, we really do.”

Lawmakers hope so, too. They will revisit the deal in 2015, when they are presented with more enabling legislation to allow the project to go ahead.

Categories: Alaska News

Memo Underscores Confession In Fairbanks 4 Case

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

There’s new evidence challenging the long contested murder convictions of 4 Native men in Fairbanks. The information was provided to the court by the Alaska Innocence Project, in its effort to free the men known as “The Fairbanks 4”.

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Categories: Alaska News

Former-Gov. Palin Defends ACES

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defended the oil tax structure she championed while in office, known as ACES. The system has been dismantled by state lawmakers and her successor Governor Sean Parnell.

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Palin also took a swipe at Parnell on Anchorage radio station KWHL when asked about Parnell’s change in direction, pointing out that Parnell came from the oil industry.

Parnell was Palin’s lieutenant governor from 2006 to 2009.

Palin also had supportive words for a rival to Parnell in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. She didn’t endorse Walker, but said he has “his thumb on the pulse of… most Alaskans who care about the future of this state.”

Walker said today that he had not spoken with Palin and was surprised by her remarks.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Ferry Service Will Resume Sunday

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

State ferry service to Skagway resumes on Sunday.

Alaska Marine Highway ferries have not been running to Skagway since the ferry dock there sank on April 24th. The state was able to contract with a marine salvage and repair company out of Juneau for an emergency sole source contract, and the dock was re-floated a few days later.

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Since then, the company has been inspecting and repairing damaged parts of the dock. The likely cause of the sinking is a water pipe under the dock that burst, flooding the hollow compartments that keep the dock afloat. Repairs have also been made to the passenger ramp that was partially submerged, the electrical systems and the vehicle ramp hydraulic system.

To date, the salvage and repair costs have run about a half million dollars, according to the state. Permanent repair work will be ongoing but not affect ferry service, according to a press release for the Marine Highway System.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Quakes Send Seismologists Into Rapid Response

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Aftershocks are continuing to rattle the western edge of the Brooks Range near communities like Noatak, and now seismologists are conducting a “rapid response” to capture these tremors. That’s after two earthquakes that came two weeks apart at magnitudes not recorded in the region in more than 30 years.

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Michael West is a seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. He said, “Our objective right now is to get instrumentation in the ground quickly.”

Map of the May 3, 2014 quake located 52 miles north of Kotzebue. (Image courtesy of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.)

Saturday a 5.5 magnitude quake shook the Brooks Range after another 5.6 quake rocked the same area in April. West says the reason for installing the instruments after the fact is two-fold.

“First of all, aftershocks will continue at some lower rate,” West explained. “Being able to understand the aftershocks, tells us something about the original earthquakes and why they happened.”

The instruments are being stationed in communities closest to the quake—Kotzebue and Noatak. Seismologists installed one in Kotzebue yesterday and are installing another in Noatak today. While in Noatak, they will hold a public meeting to address community concerns.

Carol Westly is with the Environmental Department of the Native Village of Noatak and is helping to organize the session.

Westly said, “For many of us it’s the first. Many of us haven’t been in a real earthquake. So I guess the most important information we’re hoping to get from them is what to do or not to do in the event of a big earthquake.”

There have been no reported injuries or major structural damage from the quakes, Westly said, but residents are tallying over 30 aftershocks since the first earthquake in April.

After such ongoing seismic activity, Westly said, “What they want to put is a sensor, an earthquake sensor in Noatak. I think some of us will feel better knowing there’s one here.”

West from the Earthquake Center says the instruments will give seismologists a better idea of the location and depth of the two quakes.

Most seismic equipment is located hundreds of miles away— in the Alaska interior and southern coast. West says this distance distorts data from quakes occurring in Northwest Alaska and does not register seismic activity below magnitude three.

West calls this deficit a “liability” for the state.

“What all these little earthquakes do that happen in huge numbers—these magnitudes ones,” West explained. “They happen in tens of thousands every year in the state. Nobody feels them—but they allow us to map out fault zones. They allow us to pinpoint the areas where bigger earthquakes are more probable in the future.”

West says the instruments being installed in Kotzebue and Noatak are temporary stations until the Alaska Earthquake Information Center finds more long-term solutions.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Student Breaks Ground With Yup’ik Spell Checker

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

A student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has created software that can spell-check the Yup’ik language. Yup’ik language experts are excited about the possibilities even though the designer is not a fluent speaker.

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Categories: Alaska News
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