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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: 6 min 36 sec ago

House Strikes Retirement Plan, Funding Formula Change From Education Bill

Tue, 2014-04-08 01:16

The Alaska House of Representative passed a sweeping education bill Monday night, but only after removing some of its more contentious elements and adding another pot of education funding.

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At the stroke of midnight, the House voted in favor of an education bill that nobody seemed particularly thrilled about.

It gave schools too much money.

“I’m concerned that this isn’t sustainable,” said Eagle River Republican Lora Reinbold in closing remarks.

It gave them too little money.

“The bill in front of us now will lead to additional cuts,” said Anchorage Democrat Geran Tarr.

It did not hold schools accountable enough.

“I think the educational institutions in this state should be coming to us and proving to us what they’re returning on our investment,” said Chickaloon Republican Eric Feige.

But in the end, a large majority of the House agreed with Anchorage Republican Craig Johnson.

“I will not sacrifice the good for the perfect,” said Johnson. “I will not say no to something that takes us forward, even if it’s baby steps.”

The final vote was 28-11, and the split was largely on caucus lines. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, of Sitka, was the lone Minority Democrat who voted in favor of the bill. Mark Neuman, of Big Lake, and Tammie Wilson, of North Pole, were the only Republicans to vote against it.

The bill was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell as the marquee legislation to what he dubbed the “education session.” Included in its 60-odd sections are provisions that encourage vocational education, set up a grant program for new charter schools, and allow students to earn credit for testing out of classes.

But the two farthest-reaching components of the bill were not a part of the governor’s original bill. They were additions the House Finance Committee made last week, and neither survived the floor session.

One restructured the teacher retirement payment plan so that the Legislature would stretch out its pension obligation over time, by making appropriations from the state’s pool of tax revenue. Gov. Sean Parnell has advocated for an opposite approach that involves putting a large amount of money into the retirement trust upfront, and then ideally paying pensions out over a shorter timeline with the help of investment earnings.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, successfully brought forward an amendment wiping the bill free of all changes to the retirement system. During her floor speech, she noted the plan included in the bill would stretch out retirement payments an extra 40 years and cost the state $15 billion more than Parnell’s plan, according to an actuarial analysis.

“The risk of continuing to balloon the unfunded liability is real, and in turn the impact to our credit rating is also real,” said Muñoz.

The other major part of the bill that was scrapped dealt with the school funding formula. The House Finance Committee had tweaked the formula in a way that favored large schools, without including a similar boost for small schools.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who caucuses with the majority, offered an amendment restoring the original formula. He said the formula change had not been properly vetted. He also framed the amendment as a matter of fairness, acknowledging that while the urban schools need money, “so do the smaller schools.”

Edgmon’s amendment also added $30 million in one-time school funding to the bill. That’s in addition to an increase to the base student allocation that’s worth $225 million over three years. By comparison, the governor proposed increasing per-student funding by $100 million over that same period of time.

While some Democrats in the minority said the funding package on the table was better than nothing, it still did not go far enough for most. As a caucus, they offered a failed amendment that would have put $450 million toward the base student allocation stretched over three years.

Democrats also attempted to get rid of language in the bill forbidding the state from spending money to implement Common Core standards, which they noted resembled Alaska’s own standards. They also tried to limit a new tax credit so that it would only cover contributions made to public schools, not private ones. None of their amendments were successful.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Spring Dividends Reflect Zero Corporate Earnings

Mon, 2014-04-07 23:48

Sealaska Corp. does not appear to be making much – if any – money. The regional Native corporation’s spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues.

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That’s according to an April 3 statement to shareholders.

Sealaska distributes payments to its almost 21,600 shareholders twice a year. In recent years, they’ve ranged from about $400 to around $1,100.

The money usually comes from three sources. The largest is a pool of all 12 regional Native corporations’ resource earnings. Another is Sealaska’s permanent fund. The third is profits from the corporation’s businesses.

“Usually there are. This year there isn’t any operating revenue included in the formula,” says Chris McNeil Jr., president and CEO of the Juneau-headquartered corporation.

That can mean little or no revenues are available for distribution. McNeil won’t say why Sealaska has no revenues to contribute. But he says the information will be in the corporation’s annual report, due out in May.

Read last year’s annual report

“I can’t really provide any details on it until we publish. And we’ve done that traditionally to make sure there is no miscommunication about what is being transmitted to shareholders,” he says.

“Sealaska is so opaque. They don’t really share much about their finances,” says Brad Fluetsch, a shareholder who runs a Facebook page highly critical of Sealaska. He’s also founder and managing director of Juneau-based Fortress Investment Management LLC.

He says even the annual reports lack detail. Earnings and losses are reported in sectors, so the reader often can’t tell which individual businesses are making or losing cash.

Still, Fluetsch says Sealaska’s board was honest when it approved a distribution without corporate revenues.

“I’ll give them kudos for that because that did take some effort on their part. Now what they need to do is hire a management team that can make that zero go away and actually turn it into a positive number,” he says.

McNeil says the biggest contributor to the pooled resource earnings is the owner of Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine.

“At this point, NANA is the principal distributor. But cumulatively, Arctic Slope has distributed more revenue than any other corporation,” McNeil says.

Sealaska was a major contributor before its timber subsidiary starting running out of trees.

McNeil is retiring this summer and the search for a replacement is underway.

This spring distribution totals about $12 million. It gives most shareholders $721 per 100 shares. Other shareholder classes receive only $57 per 100 shares. Most shareholders own 100 shares, though it varies because of gifting or inheritance.

Categories: Alaska News

Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:10

Mining Giant Rio Tinto announced Monday it will divest its holdings with Northern Dynasty, the sole owner of the Pebble mine prospect in Bristol Bay. Rio Tinto held 19 percent of Northern Dynasty’s publicly traded shares. But the company is not selling those shares. Instead, it will split them evenly between two charitable organizations.

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

The southeast flank and summit of Mt. Carlisle volcano. (Courtesy Kirsten Nicolaysen, Whitman College)

The Islands of the Four Mountains are at the center of the Aleutians — geographically, and in folklore passed down from prehistoric times. But we don’t know much about the people who lived there.

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An upcoming expedition to the site may change that. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik caught up with the researchers in Unalaska as they prepared for their trip — and for what it could reveal about the earliest Unangan people.

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The current story goes like this: the Unangan people came across the land bridge from Siberia and started making a loop. They moved down through the Alaska Interior and along the coast. Nine-thousand years ago, they got to the Eastern Aleutians and started working their way up the chain.

“Nine-thousand years ago, this was just a blasted landscape,” Jeff Dickrell, a historian based in Unalaska, said. “There was no grass, there was no dirt – it was just volcanic ash.”

That’s exactly what they would have seen on the Islands of the Four Mountains, in the center of the chain. The islands are mostly just – volcanoes.

But for whatever reason, some Unangans decided to put down roots there and build house pits. Past researchers have found those ruins, but they don’t know much else about the settlers. It’s a mystery that University of Kansas archaeologist Dixie West will try to unravel this summer.

Islands of the Four Mountains in the central Aleutian Islands, Alaska. (Image courtesy Dave Schneider & AVO/USGS)

“We’re going to be going out to look at different settlements – prehistoric villages,” West said. “We want to know how prehistoric humans adapted to the changes in the climate, and also, what were their strategies for living in an area which had the potential for massive volcanic explosions?”

West and her research team will look for genetic evidence in peat bogs on the islands to tell them who lived there and when. They’ll also search for artifacts like stone tools, and carbon date them.

Their expert on that is Virginia Hatfield, also of the University of Kansas. She says she hopes the house pits they find on the four volcanoes – Cleveland, Herbert, Tana, and Carlisle – will be in good enough shape to study.

“Since no excavation has occurred, we really don’t know,” West said. “We’re real interested in the one on Carlisle, since it has multiple layers of ash deposits and prehistoric occupation. And that’ll give us an idea of how people lived through time.”

They know at least one group of prehistoric Unangan lived on the islands – and they think more might have moved in as recently as a thousand years ago. Even if it hasn’t always been inhabited, it’s clearly an important place to the Unangans. In oral histories, the islands are described like the Garden of Eden – a place where life began.

Jeff Dickrell, the local historian, says all the reasons that the IFM are uninhabited today, were what attracted prehistoric Unangans. Each islands is made up almost entirely of its volcano, with no bays or salmon streams. And between them, changing tides create a rapids.

(Google Maps screenshot)

“That’s why I think the origination story comes from there, because that’s where the energy is,” Dickrell said. “That’s where all the sea mammals are going to be, where all the fish are going to be.”

“They don’t like the quiet backs of bays, they like the energy places, the points, passes, and that is the place.”

But some Unangan in the Eastern Aleutians take the story one step further. They say their people literally came from the Islands of the Four Mountains – which would mean they moved against the east-to-west tide of migration that we understand today.

This summer, the research team will be looking for evidence on the islands that might match up with the oral histories. It would be a big find.

But Dickrell says this expedition is going to change our understanding no matter what happens.

“In the entire history of archaeology, there’s probably been 20 digs in the Aleutians – almost none, relatively,” Dickrell said. “So the amount of information is so little, that every new site changes the story.”

Whether it’s adding onto the one we already have, or rewriting it altogether.

Categories: Alaska News

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road through the Izembek wildlife refuge.

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The issue has made national news. Alaska’s lawmakers have taken up the fight in the state legislature and in Congress. And now, the issue may be headed for court.

“Before the state can legally file suit against the federal government, it has to give notice to the affected agency,” Kent Sullivan, an assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law, said. “That’s what the state’s done with this recent filing against the secretary of the interior and the department of homeland security.”

The notice says after the 180-day waiting period, the State of Alaska may sue to set up a right-of-way through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The federal government would still own the land, but King Cove residents would have the right to pass through it. Sullivan says the state would probably take that a step further, and argue that villagers should have the right to build a road through the refuge as well.

Della Trumble is a spokeswoman for King Cove’s tribal council and village corporation. She says residents have been crisscrossing the refuge for generations.

“It has to do with hunting, fishing, and trapping that the people have done for many, many – technically thousands – of years,” Trumble said. ”They walked basically back and through there.”

Trumble says she’s glad the state’s considering legal action – even if it takes a while to resolve. Alaska’s filed similar claims against the federal government in the past. Some of them have gone on for up to 15 years.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Investigates Potential Impacts Of Road Development On Western Arctic Caribou Herd

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:08

In March, a group of researchers announced the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District.

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Their research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.

Kyle Joly is with the National Park Service, which, along with the Wilderness Society and U.S. Geological Survey, conducted the study. He says the results showed minimal effects from a road on the areas where caribou spend their winters.

“We do not expect that impacts to winter range will be great from this one road,” he said.

But Joly is quick to caution that the results are one small glimpse of the full picture.

“You know this is just the first phase of the project, and the authors of the paper and other researchers are working on other aspects to look at how the road might impact other aspects of caribou ecology,” Joly said. “More than likely this will be just be the first one in a long suite of studies.”

The study looked at a swath of land starting by Bettles, and moving westward towards the community of Ambler in the Northwest Arctic Borough. That’s the path proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as part of a Roads to Resources project.

Joly and his research partners spent four years monitoring where caribou spend their time, and cataloging the environmental factors that led the animals to pick those spots. The researchers mapped three potential routes the industrial road could go, then checked how big of a disturbance each one would be to the conditions caribou seem to like.

Joly says the results showed just 1.5-8.5 percent of the favorable range would be upset by the road. But he’s cautious about what that means for development.

“Well what shouldn’t be read into it is that there’s no impact to the caribou or the Western Arctic herd,” Joly said. “What we did is look at just one aspect of caribou ecology, which is winter range—just for this singular road”

Many of the ecological effects on caribou, Joly says, wouldn’t register until after a road were built, and can’t yet be studied.

“So we did not look at any potential impacts to migration, any potential impacts of increased harvest that might come from a road, and we also didn’t look at any potential development that might be facilitated by this road,” Joly said.

The caribou habitat study is set to be published in the journal Arctic later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:07

Working Group member Dave Cannon demonstrates dipnet features. (Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Two months before what would normally be time for king salmon fishing, Kuskokwim residents have a sketch of what the summer’s conservation measures will look like. There will be no directed king salmon fishing. For other chum and red salmon, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than its anticipated in the last week of June. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group last week painstakingly came to a consensus on conservation measures.

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After going through several draft fishing schedules this winter, the working group ultimately did not set a firm date for the first gillnet opportunity for other salmon species.

That’s because even with no targeted fishing for kings, there will be kings caught in 6” nets when they are used for chum and sockeye. The working group expects the first period to be the last week of June, but with the summer’s priority of allowing more Chinook escapement, it all depends on the run strength and timing.

Area Management biologist Travis Elison told the group that it’s hard to predict when chum and sockeye will outnumber the kings.

“As we show with the test fish data, there’s about a week period where just depending on run time, you might or might not hit that saturation point we’re looking for. From about the 18th to the 26th of June, it’s really hard to pick that date,” Elison said.

The first opening will come when there are sufficient kings moving upriver to spawn, and when chum and sockeye greatly outnumber the kings. During the June king salmon closures, there will be opportunities forfisherman to use 5’ dipnets to target chum and sockeye. Again, there’s no date set, but the dipnet fishery should open in mid-June sometime, according the motion that passed.

After 2013’s run brought the fewest kings up the river in history, managers and stakeholders are seeking to allow many more kings to reach spawning grounds. Bev Hoffman is a co-chair of the Working Group and says it’s crucial to bring that message home.

“People are going to be hurt by this, this is hard, and there will be a lot of venting. The situation is what it is and we can’t fish like there’s no tomorrow. Not on the kings, because there would be no tomorrow for the kings. And that’s the message,” Hoffman said.

There may be a couple opportunities for people to have at least a taste of king salmon. The group is asking managers to find a way to allow up to 30 king salmon per village, total, sometime in June. Tribal councils would be in charge of distributing the taste as they see fit. There are also plans to distribute fish caught in the Bethel test fishery to villages up and down the river.

As fishers work to feed their families, Co-Chair LaMont Albertson encouraged fishermen to take advantage of the river’s non-salmon species during the early part of June.

Managers anticipate allowing 60 foot whitefish nets with 4” mesh, but the group doesn’t want them catching kings. They will submit an emergency petition to require the 4” nets to be used only as set nets during a period in early summer. Some fishermen in 2012 had drifted with 4” gear, apparently targeting and catching kings.

Albertson says the conservation decisions were tough, but they were not decisions that could be put off.

“The decisions we make now will affect the population of the Y-K Delta, the human population, 10 and 20 years from now. This is a serious time and we need to take real strong conservation measures. I hope everyone getting this message will realize why we have to take these measures and I hope they’ll cooperate in every way that they can,” Albertson said.

To that end, at the close of the meeting, the members put together the Working Group message that they’ll take up and down the river to prepare fishers for a summer of conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:06

Hatchery tank. (Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks)

The onset of spring has some Alaskans looking forward to fishing season. That includes employees at the state’ new sport fish hatchery in Fairbanks, where they’re hoping for conditions less extreme than those experienced last year.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-07 17:23

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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Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Mining Giant Rio Tinto announced Monday it will divest its holdings with Northern Dynasty, the sole owner of the Pebble mine prospect in Bristol Bay.  Rio Tinto held 19 percent of Northern Dynasty’s publicly traded shares. But the company is not selling those shares. Instead, it will split them evenly between two charitable organizations.

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road through the Izembek wildlife refuge.

Bill Increases Education Funding By $225 Million

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the Alaska House of Representatives set to vote on an omnibus education bill on Monday, rural legislators are prepared to fight a change to the funding formula included in the legislation. The bill increases education funding by $225 million spread out over three years, and it adjusts the formula used to divide that money in a way that gives urban schools a boost.

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Islands of the Four Mountains are at the center of the Aleutians — geographically, and in folklore passed down from prehistoric times. But we don’t know much about the people who lived there.

Sealaska Dividends Include No Corporate Earnings

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Sealaska regional Native corporation does not appear to be making much – if any – money. Its spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues. But, the details are not yet available.

Study Investigates Potential Impacts Of Road Development On Western Arctic Caribou Herd

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

A group of researchers announced last month the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District. Their research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Two months before what would normally be time for king salmon fishing, Kuskokwim residents have a sketch of what the summer’s conservation measures will look like. There will be no directed king salmon fishing.  For other chum and red salmon, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than its anticipated in the last week of June. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group last week painstakingly came to a consensus on conservation measures.

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The onset of spring has some Alaskans looking forward to fishing season.  That includes employees at the state’ new sport fish hatchery in Fairbanks, where  they’re hoping for conditions less extreme than those experienced last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Legislators Wary Of Change To School Funding Formula

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:40

With the Alaska House of Representatives set to vote on an omnibus education bill Monday night, rural legislators are prepared to fight a change to the funding formula included in the legislation.

The bill increases education funding by $225 million spread out over three years, and it adjusts the formula used to divide that money out in a way that gives urban schools a boost.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who chairs the Bush Caucus, says that’s unfair.

“In essence it’s saying that ‘Smaller schools, you don’t need that extra money. You’re doing just fine out there,’” says Edgmon.

The current funding formula takes the base student allocation — or the dollar amount a school gets for each child enrolled — and multiplies it in such a way that a student at the state’s smallest school gets twice as much funding as a student at one of the state’s biggest schools. The idea is those bigger schools can be more cost efficient.

The omnibus bill changes that formula by getting rid of the penalties on the biggest schools. Where the current formula treats a 250-student school differently than a 750-student school, the version before the House treats them the same. The change amounts to a 10 percent boost in the formula for East High in Anchorage, the state’s largest school.

Some of the loudest calls for increased education funding have come from the state’s urban districts. The Anchorage School District is facing a $23 million shortfall, while the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are looking at an $8 million budget gap.

But Edgmon says rural districts are hurting, too, even if their budget numbers are not as dramatic.

“What hasn’t risen to the front page is the fact that the smaller schools have already made those cuts,” says Edgmon. “They’ve already laid off a lot essential services.”

Because rural schools do not get an increase in the formula change, Edgmon is worried this could lead to a wide gap in funding down the road. He thinks lawmakers did not get a chance to consider that during the committee process because the change was only introduced last week.

“We went into the K-12 funding formula, and adjusted some of those very complicated provisions there without having the benefit of a study, without having the benefit of some real analysis behind it,” says Edgmon.

Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children, a coalition of more than 20 school districts, has also come out against the formula change because of concern over a regional disparity. The coalition successfully brought the Kasayulie and Moore lawsuits against the state government, which argued that there was a funding inequity between urban and rural schools.

Urban legislators who advocated for the change to the funding formula say it’s justified because it helps 80 percent of students in the public school system. Anchorage Republican Mia Costello, who was not available for a follow-up interview, told reporters last week that the formula change made it so that urban children were not treated as a “fraction” of a student.

Categories: Alaska News

Rio Tinto Gives Pebble Mine Stake to Nonprofits

Mon, 2014-04-07 07:43

The mining conglomerate Rio Tinto announced this morning it is divesting its stake in Northern Dynasty, the owner of the proposed Pebble Mine. Rio said in December it might sell, but in a surprise move, the company says it is donating its 19 percent share to two charities, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.

Rio CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a statement the donation would ensure Alaskans will have a say in Pebble’s development.

The foundations didn’t immediately announce what they will do with their minority shares in the project. The director of the Bristol Bay  education fund said in a statement the gift will help the foundation fulfill it’s mission. In the same written statement, BBNC chief executive  Jason Metrokin said the corporation’s opposition to the mine hasn’t changed.

The copper and gold mine has drawn widespread opposition, and an EPA study recently found it would pose “Irreversible harm” to the region’s rich salmon runs. Bristol Bay Native Corp has been one of the leading groups opposing the mine.

Rio’s stake was worth nearly $25 million late last year but Northern Dynasty’s share price plunged last month when the EPA announced its assessment of Pebble, which is the company’s only major asset, and the price fell again today.

Categories: Alaska News

With Education Vote Postponed, Parent Group Rallies For More School Funding

Fri, 2014-04-04 18:17

Mary Hakala of Juneau, a member of the Great Alaska Schools coalition, speaks during a rally on the Capitol steps, April 4, 2014.(Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Alaska State House has delayed its vote on an omnibus education bill to Monday, giving lawmakers more time to wrestle with questions over teacher retirement policy and treatment of rural schools. But even though debate on the bill was delayed, that did not stop a crowd of parents from gathering on the Capitol steps to rally for more education funding.

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For the past week, there have been a lot of parents running around the State Capitol letting their legislators know they want more money put into education. They’ve united under the name “Great Alaska Schools,” and they describe themselves as a coalition of 1,500 families that support the public system.

On Friday, they stopped going door-to-door and went out into the street instead. They had one message: “B-S-A! Raise today!”

Cat Coward is a physical therapist, a jazz singer, and a mom to an 8th grade student at Romig Middle School in Anchorage. She flew down for the Juneau rally, because she has seen changes in the quality of education at Romig as the budget has been strained.

“They’re losing counselors there. Class sizes are increasing,” says Coward.

Coward says the proposals that have gotten traction in the Legislature don’t do enough to offset the cuts she’s seeing. The bill that the House is considering bumps the base student allocation — or the amount of money schools get per kid — by $300 spread out over the next three years.

Coward believes they should double that. She says that kind of increase to the base student allocation amounts to a little more than one percent of the overall budget.

“Our kids who are in school right now will never get another chance for this. This is it, this is the only time to fund these kids,” says Coward. “You know, we can put money at other capital projects or other things later, but we can never invest in these children ever again.”>>

To illustrate their point, Great Alaska Schools brought plenty of pie to their rally, to symbolize that they just want a larger cut of the fiscal one. There was blueberry, apple, you name it. And when the rally was over, Coward and other participants dropped off slices to their legislators in hopes that it would sweeten them up before Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Minimum Wage Bill Introduced Amid Sponsor Outcry

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:32

A bill that could supplant the minimum wage initiative has popped up in the Legislature.

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The House Rules Committee introduced the bill on Friday, and it’s modeled after a citizens’ initiative that’s slated to appear on the August primary ballot. It would raise the minimum wage up from $7.75 to $9.75 over the course of two years, and it would peg the minimum wage to inflation. If the bill is enacted into law, it would make the citizens’ initiative moot and remove the question off the ballot.

Initiative organizers strongly oppose any effort to pre-empt their initiative out of concern the Legislature might try to water it down. When a different minimum wage initiative was introduced in 2002, the Legislature passed a similar bill to keep it from getting on the ballot. A year later, lawmakers came back and stripped the inflation component.

Ed Flanagan, an initiative sponsor and former labor commissioner, says he’s worried the same tactic could be used again.

“It’s not like we didn’t see it coming, but I guess you still hope that people will have some sense of — I don’t know what you call it — shame or anything else such a bold-faced attempt to circumvent the will of the people,” says Flanagan.

If a new minimum wage law is enacted through the ballot, legislators may not touch it for two years.

House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt has said that conversation around a minimum wage bill has not been politically motivated, and instead has focused on public approval of raising the minimum wage. Recently, the House Majority Caucus released a poll by Dittman Research showing that 69 percent people they surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage.

The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Deal Reached For Susitna-Watana Dam Land Access

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:31

A land access dispute that threatened to delay progress on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project has been resolved, though the agreement has come later than expected.

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Friday afternoon, the Alaska Energy Authority issued a press release stating that a “complex” land access permit had been reached between AEA, six Cook Inlet village corporations, and Cook Inlet Region, Inc to allow access to Alaska Native-owned land that is in the study area for the proposed megaproject.

Over the past two years, discussions over land access have been ongoing, and were occasionally complicated by allegations of trespassing by contractors hired by AEA. Details of the deal were not immediately available.

The agreement could have an impact on funding for the Susitna-Watana project this year.

Governor Sean Parnell has asked the Alaska Legislature for a $32.7 million budget supplement for the current fiscal year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Shield Exercise Testing Military’s Emergency Readiness

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:30

The SSGT Robert T. Kuroda is docked at the Port of Anchorage. It’s the largest boat in the Army and sailed from Hawaii to be part of simulation exercises meant to test the readiness of the military to respond to a disaster situation where the port is rendered inoperable.  (Jolene Almendarez/APRN)

More than 550 military personnel from around the country are gathered at the Port of Anchorage this week for an Alaska Shield exercise, meant to test the readiness of the military to provide emergency support to areas impacted by natural or human-caused disasters.

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Categories: Alaska News

Senate Ratifies Treaties to Stop Fish Piracy

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:29

The U.S. Senate yesterday ratified two international treaties that Alaska’s senators say will help crack down on illegal international fishing. One is an agreement to restrict ships from using ports if they engage in what’s known as IUU fishing. Sen. Mark Begich says the practice robs legitimate fishermen of some $23 billion a year.

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“I know lots of times we talk about illegal, unreported, unregulated,” Begich said on the Senate floor yesterday. ” I like to simply call it pirate fishing. These are people who steal our fish out of our waters and then try to sell it back to us.”

He and other advocates of the treaty say it will also help deter human trafficking. The Port State Measures treaty takes effect after 25 countries ratify it. That’s how many initially signed the treaty, but only the U.S., the European Union and nine smaller countries that have gone all the way to ratification or full approval. Russia has signed and not ratified. China is on neither list.

A second treaty would create an international organization to regulate fishing in international waters of the North Pacific to protect fish habitat. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said it’s “critically important” to the sustainability and management of the resource.

“We’re trying to play be the rules,” she said. “We expect others to be doing the same.”

The treaties were approved by voice vote. Murkowski says they’re the first treaties ratified by the Senate since 2010

Categories: Alaska News

State, Feds Wrestle Over Navigable Water Control

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:28

The State of Alaska is continuing to fight the federal government over control of navigable waters in two cases involving Interior rivers.

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The Alaska Department of Law has filed a friend of the court briefing in support of Central resident Jim Wilde’s latest appeal.

Wilde is contesting the National Park Service’s authority to enforce regulations on the state owned Yukon River, inside the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve.

State Senior Assistant Attorney General Anne Nelson says the state has tracked the case from its start in 2010.

“The state’s position is that the Park Service doesn’t have the authority to regulate navigable waters within National Parks as if they were a part of the National Park,” Nelson said. “And so we’ve filed these amicus briefs to keep that issue in front of the court.”

In December a federal judge upheld Jim Wilde’s conviction of misdemeanor offences for resisting National Park Service rangers, who pulled him over for a boat safety inspection in September 2010. Wilde’s appeal is one of two challenging the federal agency, that the state of Alaska is involved in.

Federal judges have repeatedly rejected the state’s arguments in both cases, and this week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Alaska’s appeal concerning similar issues in the Katie John subsistence case. The state’s Nelson says the case frames the Wilde and Sturgeon appeals under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

“What it means is that we are continuing to work with the status quo, which is the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that certain navigable waters are considered public lands under ANILCA because the federal government has a reserved water right in them for purposes of administering ANILCA’s rural subsistence priority,” Nelson said.

She says the state’s focus in the Wilde and Sturgeon cases is on challenging the extent of Park Service authority over navigable waters inside parks. The state just filed its brief in the Wilde case. Briefs are due in the Sturgeon case by the end of the month.

Both appeals are before the federal 9th circuit court.

Categories: Alaska News

Food Tastes Better When It’s Shared

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:27

Chuck Miller(R) and son Jay harvest roe-on-hemlock. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman).

It’s crisp, crunchy, and salty – and you’ll never find it in a bag in the grocery store. Dipped in seal oil or eulachon oil (hooligan), it is a traditional Southeast Alaskan delicacy that signals spring as surely as a warm, sunny day. But, gathering herring eggs-on-hemlock branches is about a lot more than food.

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ANB Harbor. Stall 10. Small boat on the left. That’s Chuck Miller’s response to anyone looking for herring eggs. Miller has the means to harvest this traditional food in the traditional way. So, sharing the resource is a no brainer. “Food tastes better when you share with people and that’s the way our Native people are,” says Miller.

Like many subsistence fisherman, Miller practices the roe-on-hemlock harvesting method. He invited me to join him and his son, Jay, on a recent harvesting trip.

Miller: We are ready to get some fuel.
EF: With the fuel and everything how much does a trip like this cost you?
Miller: Over 200 dollars easy but it’s worth it.

That includes engine repairs and two trips out to Middle Island. Miller says it’s worth it because he’ll end up feeding at least a dozen people. But within minutes, I learn that he has deeper reasons for the practice. Jay explains.

Jay: The first time I went out I was 6 years old.
EF: Do you remember what that was like?
Jay: Yeah, I went with my uncle Eli my Dad’s brother.

Miller: The yellow buoy that’s on there is my brother’s buoy and my brother’s been passed away now for ten years. He was 5 years older than me. We used to do this together. This is the last of the gear that he had that he used.

As we pull into a cove on the backside of Middle Island the water abruptly changes from deep blue to a milky aqua. That’s what happens when you add a whole lot of fish sperm — or milt — into the mix.

Jay Miller helps his dad harvest herring roe. (KCAW photo/ by Emily Forman)

Miller: So it is still spawning in here.

Plastic bottles and milk jugs speckle the shallow water – all tied to submerged hemlock branches. A handful of those have “Miller” written on them in bold black sharpie ink.

He says people have stolen his sets in the past – which isn’t unusual when branches are left unsupervised overnight to gather eggs. As a result he’s mildly apprehensive around other fisherman.

Miller: He’s probably just staring me down because he doesn’t know who I am. But I’m gonna let him get a good look at me because I lived here my whole life.

Miller has a way of diffusing the tension.

Miller: Hey are you taking my sets? Haha! You guys look like you got a good set in!
Miller: K it’s coming up on your side. Right there, right there, right there!

Jay grabs the milk jug attached to his Uncle Eli’s yellow buoy. He clutches the trailing thick rope. Using all of his body weight he wrestles the egg-laden branch to the surface.

Miller: Get it to where you got some leverage. is it moving? It’s probably super heavy?

When its ready to harvest, a branch can weigh well over 400 pounds.

Miller: What we do is clip off pieces of it to get it in the boat. Holy smokes! That’s a good one right there!

Miller hoists the dripping branch into the boat. It’s coated with eggs and looks like it was dipped in a vat of rubber cement.

Miller: See this is the thickness you want, some people get them a little thicker, but not much more than that.

It’s a bountiful harvest, which according to Miller is thanks to his brother’s buoy.

Miller: It’s my good luck buoy and usual that’s the one every year that produces quite a bit it’s like my brother is looking out for us.

He tosses the leftover branch overboard.

Miller:Gunalcheesh! Thank you! We used the tree to help us.

Take away the power boat, and plastic milk jug buoys, and it isn’t difficult to picture this practice taking place long before Western and Native cultures met.

Miller: If i don’t start sharing what I know right away… I might not be here tomorrow.

When we return to ANB harbor, and pull into Stall 10. I realize that gathering herring eggs on hemlock branches is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude for the the teachings of his ancestors, gratitude for food, and the chance to pass on this way of life.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Moose Creek

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:26

This week, we’re heading to Moose Creek, a village of about 600 people in central Alaska. Jeff Jacobson is the chief of staff for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Book Club

Fri, 2014-04-04 17:25

Community outreach librarian Andrea Hirsh points something out to club member Mike Ricker. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Several people at Juneau’s downtown shelter and soup kitchen The Glory Hole are part of a new club. Every Tuesday, they come together on the second floor of the facility to discuss a different topic. The club is helping to build a different kind of community within the homeless shelter, a community not based on need, but on the exchange of ideas.

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Topics for The Glory Hole Book Club change every week. This session, the club discussed the space program. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

It’s called The Glory Hole Book Club, but it’s really more of a discussion group. Instead of everyone reading the same book, community outreach librarian Andrea Hirsh says there’s a theme that everyone comes prepared to talk about each week.

“The first day, everybody who was here wrote down five ideas of stuff that they thought would be so neat to talk about and we threw them in a hat, and then we pulled it out. And it works really well because it makes it open for anybody who wants to come,” Hirsh says.

Topics range from philosophy to fantasy. Hirsh says book club members can relate the topic to an article they may have read or a movie they watched. Oftentimes, group discussions stem from personal experience.

“We pulled, like, agriculture once and I thought, ‘That one is going to be terrible.’ But we talked a lot about animal husbandry and, like, growing crops, and most of the people here have worked in agricultural fields. It was a great topic,” Hirsh says.

Sheila Higgins (left) has been to every session of The Glory Hole Book Club, which started in January. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Six people, who have come to this club session, sit in a circle of chairs. All eyes are on Hirsh as she holds up the book “Packing for Mars.”

She talks about a test performed on want-to-be astronauts:

“They have, like, eight candidates and they keep them all in one room and they’re monitored 24/7. They have no privacy and they can’t leave each other because they’re simulating, like, what’s going on in the international space station.”

The Glory Hole Book Club was a test as well when the shelter paired up with Juneau Public Libraries to try something new.

Steve Albright is a member of The Glory Hole Book Club. (Photo by Lisa Phu/TKOO)

“I did not think that The Glory Hole Book Club would be a very successful activity but I think it’s really wonderful for people to have an opportunity to not think about the fact that they’re homeless and that they’re struggling and they need to get out of the situation,” says shelter director Mariya Lovishchuk

Club member Sheila Higgins was a psychic for 25 years out of Fairbanks and Anchorage. She also spent some time working on the North Slope. When she moved to Juneau in 2012 for a different job, things didn’t work out. She’s lived at the Glory Hole for about a year.

Since the club started in January, Higgins has gone to every session. She says those that attend have become closer.

“I think we get to know each other on a different level. We don’t see ourselves as homeless people here. We just see each other as brother and sister.”

At the end of every club session, a member pulls out the topic for next week. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The book club also adds another dimension to The Gory Hole. Most of the action takes place in the day room on the first floor, where all the meals are served.

“That’s kind of their forum down there, the people who run the place. Up here it’s ours, OK? It’s ours. This is our club,” Higgins says.

Club members freely share their opinions and listen. After several weeks of this, Higgins says they’re grown to respect and support one another.

“Nobody’s here because they want to be, you know. We’d all rather be in our own homes living different lives, but as long as we’re here, we’re going do the best we can for each other,” she says.

For Kidd Perez, the book club is also just fun.

“It’s spontaneous for sure and it’s just a tight knit group. We all are acquainted well enough here to just let it go, let it ride. You can comment and say pretty much what you think. It gets kind of crazy sometimes, but that’s part of the fun,” Perez says.

Perez is an auto mechanic. He says he goes where the money is. With summer approaching, he has hopes of moving out of the shelter.

“Could be sometime this month, because the season’s coming around and that means more work for a lot of people this time of year, so we’ll see what happens,” Perez says.

But as long as Perez is at The Glory Hole though, he’ll continue going to the club.

As the session on the space program wraps up, Hirsh holds out “The Book Club Hat.”

“Why don’t you pick out our topic for next week,” she says to club member Mark Trammell.

“Oh wow, psychology,” Trammell announces to the group.

Chatter and laughter break out among club members as they get up to leave, their minds already on next week’s club theme.

Categories: Alaska News

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