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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: 57 min 42 sec ago

Coast Guard seeks fines against anti-drilling protesters

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

The U.S. Coast Guard has initiated penalties against four anti-drilling protesters, including a woman who chained herself to a support ship that’s part of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil exploration plans in the Arctic Ocean.

Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener says Cody Erdman, Chiara D’Angelo, Paul Adler and Matthew Fuller on Friday were mailed penalty notices for violating the 100-yard safety zone when the Arctic Challenger was anchored north of Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.

The maximum fine is $40,000 for each violation, but a hearing officer in Virginia will determine the penalty. The activists will have a chance to present their case.

The Coast Guard says it supports the public’s right to protest. But it says prolonged safety zone violations strain agency resources and hinder its ability to respond to other calls.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Coast Guard commander to head cruise group

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

Alaska’s former top U.S. Coast Guard official will soon head up the world’s largest cruise-industry trade group.

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo addresses the Juneau Chamber of Commerce in 2011. He’ll soon head up the cruise industry’s trade group. (KTOO file photo)

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo takes over July 6 as CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association.

Ostebo served as commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District from 2011 to 2014. The district includes all of Alaska.

The Coast Guard oversees federal laws and regulations relating to the cruise industry.

Ostebo spent the past year as the agency’s strategic management director, based at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. The cruise association’s main office is also in the nation’s capital.

It’s a major force in maritime lobbying, representing more than 60 cruise lines, including most of those sailing Alaska waters.

Ostebo will oversee the association’s 15 worldwide offices, including one in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s weekend retreat to look beyond the budget impasse

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:52

Gov. Bill Walker on April 18. 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Weekend plans for about 175 diverse and influential Alaskans include right-sizing state government, working with interactive financial models and frank talk about the third rail of Alaska politics — revenue, taxes and tapping the Permanent Fund.

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are sponsoring the weekend retreat on building a sustainable future at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They’ll be sounding boards for big picture policy discussions about the state’s long-term fiscal future.

Walker says the location of the retreat has historical significance.

“It will be at the same site where the drafting of the Alaska Constitution took place in 1959. So, I like going back to our roots, so to speak. I like that it’s at the university campus,” he says. “We’re gonna stay in the dorms. The vast majority of us are going to stay in the dorms at UAF.”

Him included.

“I think the First Lady is going to be my roommate. I’m hoping she will be, anyways,” Walker says.

He says he’s looking forward to the collegiate atmosphere and dialogue. Many of the people invited to participate are members of his transition team that met after he was elected in November.

While lawmakers are still at an impasse on the budget, and how to address a multibillion dollar deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, that’s not what this weekend is about.

“We’re moving on beyond the budget impasse. What we want to talk about (is) the next 10 years, the next 20 years, the next 50 years in Alaska.”

Or, as Gunnar Knapp puts it, “We can’t go around having our cake and eating it, too.”

Knapp has studied the state’s fiscal situation for months as director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This weekend he’ll be speaking and listening.

“It won’t work anymore to say, ‘I demand this, this and this’ in terms of schools, ferry service, or health or roads or troopers or whatever it is people want from the government,” he says. “And at the same time saying, ‘But I don’t want anybody, you know, using the Permanent Fund or asking me to pay taxes.’ You can’t have it both ways.”

The legislature’s finance analysts have repeatedly noted this year that even if every state-funded government worker were laid off, the state would still spend billions more than what is forecast in revenue.

Since January, Knapp says he’s given at least 20 talks on the subject with various civic, education and business groups. Progress has been slow.

“You can’t go way out in front of what people are willing to talk about, even if you know — even if you’re in the legislature and the governor — and you know that eventually the conversation is going to have to get to those things. It is a process of education. … So it’s discouraging that we haven’t faced up to this more this year, but it’s probably just a practical reality of the political situation. Using the savings is the easiest thing to do.”

Knapp hopes that politically taboo fiscal matters will stop being taboo after this weekend.

“I’m not going there to advocate any particular solution,” Knapp says. “I’m just advocating an open conversation about the nature of the problem.”

The retreat itself is expected to be a frugal affair. Most of the participants are paying for their own travel. And dorms are a lot cheaper than hotels. There won’t be bunk beds, but participants may have to share dorm rooms, says Claire Richardson, staff to the lieutenant governor.

Richardson says she expects the state’s final bill to be under $150,000. A big chunk of that is a $37,000 contract for web and television coverage with, full disclosure, 360 North.

Live coverage begins at 6 p.m. Friday online and on 360 North television. For web streams, schedules and more about Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations with Alaskans, go to www.360north.org/sustainable-future/.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble FACA case against EPA to go forward

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:26

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward. That’s according to a ruling Thursday by Anchorage federal court Judge H. Russel Holland.

Judge Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble:

“With today’s ruling, the judge has essentially said that Pebble has raised plausible claims about how the EPA has handled and utilized input from anti-mining groups in all of the work regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. It represents a pretty significant victory for us that allows our case to advance,” said Heatwole.

Pebble’s opponents were quick to say Thursday that they were disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep the ruling, and the case, in perspective:

“This case is about a federal advisory process protocol. It in no way changes the scientific fact that if the Pebble Mine is developed, it will harm the last great salmon fishery on the face of the planet. It doesn’t change the fact that the EPA has the authority to take this action to protect this fishery, and has had, and will continue to have, the full support of our region to do so,” said Hurley.

While the FACA case moves forward, Judge Holland has ordered the EPA to halt all work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the preemptive dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place:

“So it basically prevents the EPA from advancing it’s preemptive veto against the project.” said Pebble’s Heatwole. “The next phase for us is discovery, and as we’ve long asserted, we believe there’s quite a bit more information out there as to what was going on behind the scenes with the EPA’s actions against Pebble.”

Both Pebble and the mine’s opponents said the FACA case will likely play out over at least the next year.

In a separate, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA, Pebble is suing for more agency documents and emails it says the EPA is not turning over as per requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:47

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

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Press secretary Carolyn Kuckertz, 38, has been charged with three felonies and misdemeanor for allegedly striking two people while drunk. The arrest occurred on Tuesday around 5:30pm.

According to court documents, Kuckertz quickly backed out of a parking spot at the Anchorage LIO and hit 28-year-old Maura Selenak, leaving her on the curb “in extreme pain.” Selenak suffered swelling and bruising to her torso. She was taken to the hospital, and was released with no major injuries. Kuckertz also allegedly struck another woman on the leg. Witnesses say Kuckertz initially stopped, was asked to stay, but then responded, “I can’t.”

The Anchorage Police Department says Kuckertz was later located at Minnesota and Benson, where she was picking up her daughter from daycare. Officers noticed the smell of alcohol, but were unable to complete field sobriety tests because Kuckertz was “swaying and stumbling.” Her blood alcohol level was later tested at .208, more than twice the legal limit.

Kuckertz is currently being held on $10,000 bail. Kuckertz pleaded no contest to a previous DUI in 2010.

A separate member of the Republican majority’s press office confirms that she has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

Categories: Alaska News

Criminal Justice Commission Gets an Earful in Nome

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:46

Alaska’s criminal justice system is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable—that’s the hard truth shared by a group of legal experts on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Commission members are visiting Nome seeking input from on ways to reform the system.

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The 13-member commission includes a diverse group—from judges and attorneys, to state agencies and mental health specialists, to Alaska Native and victim’s rights advocates. The commission has 3 years to make recommendations to the state legislature on reimagining Alaska’s law enforcement, courts, and incarceration systems.

“They needed to come up with new thinking, new ways of doing business, because they can’t afford to do it the old way anymore. It’s just too expensive. It’s too expensive to just build prisoners and throw more people in jail.”

Greg Razo practiced law for more than 20 years and is the Alaska Native representative on the commission. With 2 out of every 3 offenders expected to re-offend within three years of their release, the big idea is “justice reinvestment.”

The idea is to take all the money you spend in corrections and move it over and spend it in other strategies, such as treatment programs.”

Mary Geddes is an attorney with the commission. She says treatment—and other efforts that would reduce the high rates of re-arrest—demands a hard look at how the state runs its prisons today.

“We have questions about weather or not this is a good use of our incarceration facilities. That it’s housing non-violent offenders. That it’s housing so many people on a pre-trial basis. That means people who have not been found guilty but are still sitting in jail waiting for the resolution of their cases. And that it’s housing people who essentially have substance abuse disorders. Is that a good use of that expensive resource?”

The response from the audience at Kawerak’s Rural Providers Conference yesterday was a resounding “no.” Elders from the region told stories of “all their kids being in jail,” of grandmothers on fixed incomes housing and feeding their grandchildren as sons and daughters found themselves arrested and re-arrested and brought to hubs like Nome or Anchorage to serve jail time. Kodiak elder Irene Coyle joined a chorus of speakers calling for local solutions.

“We have troubled adults and teens, and they’re being taken away from the village, and they go to the cities. I just see that’s very expensive. I think with the tribal, being where they are now, need to be more stronger, in the criminal justice, so that we can deal with our own people at the villages and continue to find ways to discipline their actions and be responsible and accountable.”

That system *is expensive: costing about 58-thousand dollars a year for every prisoner in a “hard bed”—alongside huge costs like the 240-million dollar Goose Creek Correctional Center in Point MacKenzie. Already filled to capacity, at the state’s current rate of incarceration, Alaska would need another multi-million dollar prison in just 3 years. Advocate Keith Morrison of Nome says spending that money on *local justice systems is a better idea—but he says the state can’t walk away from the current system without paying for something to take its place.

“There will always be costs. The question is, do you want costs to be an investment and on the front end, in stemming these problems? Or would you rather be reactive, like the justice system, and only pay for it on the back end, and not be on the community level? There needs to be a reallocation of funds so that the same amount of money that went into this broken system can be reinvested into the communities to build the community system.”

Another speaker from Koyuk urged commissioners to go out to nearby communities—and not end their trip to rural Alaska in Nome.  The commission can make regular recommendations over the next 3 years, before delivering its final recommendations by February 2017.

Categories: Alaska News

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:42

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright. The Pentagon announced it first to Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which issued a joint press release Thursday.

The unmanned vehicles are about the size of a Cessna and similar to the Air Force Predator drones. It’s good economic news for Fairbanks. The delegation says 128 military personnel, plus family members, will begin moving to the area next month.

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General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle. Photo by U.S. Army.

Categories: Alaska News

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:41

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Council members have concerns over amendments that would exempt fisheries decisions from the National Environmental Policy Act, and open the door to potentially biased science.

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The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a huge law. It spells out the management of all fisheries in the United States that occur more than three miles offshore. Magnuson-Stevens created the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the seven other regional councils that set the rules and regulations around the country.

It’s no surprise then, that council members would take an interest in HR 1335, the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Alaska Congressman Don Young.

And other politicians have taken an interest as well.

“This issue seems to be drawing down support for HR 1335 at the presidential level.”

This is council executive director Chris Oliver, referring to President Obama’s recent letter threatening to veto Magnuson-Stevens, since the House Bill substitutes a new set of environmental standards for fisheries decisions, in place of the standards used under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

NEPA is an important law, too, in its own right. It’s the reason we have Environmental Impact Statements for major decisions regarding the country’s resources.

Oliver told the council that he’s been working for years on streamlining the NEPA-Magunson process, rather than develop a new one. He’d told the council he’d prefer to go with “the devil you know.”

“The fear is that we’re going to set up an extremely complicated process under Magnuson, the implementation of which is going to be subject to implementing regulations or guidelines. In essence, we’re going to end up doing the same thing within the Magnuson Act that we’re doing in our current process, which — while I don’t think it’s the perfect process — we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

With a presidential veto looming, council members did not offer any pushback against Oliver’s plans to restore the NEPA process to Magnuson Stevens. However, they were more vocal about amendments proposed by Alaska congressman Don Young to the bill — especially this language:

“Fisheries management is most effective when it incorporates information provided by governmental and nongovernmental sources, including State and Federal agency staff, fishermen, fishing communities, universities, and research institutions…”

This is sort of a preamble. The deal-breaker for the council comes next:

“As appropriate, such information should be considered the best scientific information available and form the basis of conservation and management measures as required by this Act.”

Council member Duncan Fields, from Kodiak, suggested asking Congressman Young for clarification. How would traditional knowledge — or information accrued over generations by Alaska’s Natives — fare under this amendment?

“It would be hard for me to support a position, for the council to say sort of out-of-hand, we’re not going to consider traditional knowledge, for example, relative to a particular issue and a particular context.”

Ron Hyder, from Oregon, sits on the council’s Legislative Committee. He suggested asking  for a report on this amendment before the council takes a hard position.

“It didn’t even occur to me in this that we might be including traditional knowledge. Because we not only accept, we look for ways to get traditional knowledge into our considerations.”

But it wasn’t just a question of whether traditional knowledge might be discounted, it was also a question of whether the council would be compelled to consider   any information available as “the best science.” This struck some members as intrusive.

Council member Jim Balsiger is the regional director for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

“This council has a long record of accepting information from everyone, and it needs to go through the SSC (Scientific and Statistical Committee). So my whole thought on that was allowing information from anyone outside the normal process raises questions. That’s what I thought we were looking for.”

The SSC is the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Council director Chris Oliver concurred. He saw no harm to the council process if the language about “best science” were struck. He suspected that it originated in conflicts in the Gulf of Mexico, where there was greater distrust of government-sponsored science.

The final recommendations from the council on changes to the Magnuson Stevens Act won’t be made until another committee — the CCC, or Council Coordination Committee — meets later this month.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:39

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member. Pace has a great nose, tons of energy and the drive needed for what to her is a fun game. For the people she finds, though, it’s as serious as life or death.

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Pace is rewarded for a successful search with a game of fetch. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Pace is always ready to play fetch. To her, that’s what a rescue is. Instead of tennis balls, she retrieves people.

A volunteer hides among some shrubs on the other side of a large, soggy muskeg. Pace’s owner and trainer, Carol Towne, holds onto the trembling, whining Labrador retriever.

Towne lets Pace go, the whining stops and the only sound is the tinkling of the bell attached to Pace’s collar.

A four-legged black streak zips across the muskeg, leaving behind a pack of clumsy humans, trying hard but failing to keep up. Pace quickly finds the victims and rushes back to let Towne know.

Pace leads us to the victim, and her reward is a rousing game of – what else? – fetch, this time with a favorite toy.

Carol Towne gets Pace ready to search for a volunteer victim, hiding in a muskeg. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Towne has been training Pace since she was an 8-week-old puppy. Just recently, Pace passed her last level of certification. She’s now officially the second certified search and rescue dog for the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, a process that took about two years.

“Her first test was a trail test. She did that last February,” Towne says. “That’s a half-mile test at night. A victim is hid on one side of the trail or the other. She’s excellent at that. She loves trails. Then we do the obedience. That was the hard part, being named Pace, she can’t stay still.”

Levi – a black Lab mix – had been the sole SAR dog. He’s about 9 years old, which is close to retirement age. Levi’s owner and trainer is Danelle Landis, the SAR dog team captain. She recently bought a young Belgian Malinois named Ripley, and started training her to take over when Levi can’t do the work anymore.

“She’s just finishing learning the whole runaway/re-find piece, which is the very end of the search,” Landis explains. “So, we hold the dog, the person runs away with the toy, then we let the dog go, they get to the person. When they get to the person, they run back and tell us by using an alert signal, which for her is a bark, which took me more than a month to teach her to bark on command.”

Barking isn’t the problem, of course. It’s barking for a specific purpose that can be challenging.

Boomer is a young, happy pitbull mix, and is a little further along in the training process.

Amanda Schuler is Boomer’s owner and trainer. She says she wasn’t sure what to do about her obsessive, overly energetic dog until she learned those traits are highly desirable in a search dog. They’ve been training about a year, and he’ll be ready for his first test this fall.

“He probably has another year of training. For search and rescue dogs, the obedience portion is sometimes the most challenging because they have so much energy and are ready to go, and they have to learn to contain that energy,” she said. “He’s doing well with it, but he has a lot of work to go.”

Schuler is confident that Boomer will do well, at least on the search tests.

“He’s really sharp and he loves playing this game,” she says. “I’m not worried about his 160-acre test, either — his endurance. It’s the obedience stuff that I’m most worried about.“

For the dogs, searching is just plain fun. And despite the serious need for this kind of work, fun is part of the incentive for their handlers, too.

They get to work with their dogs, hang out with other dog lovers and after training is done for the day, they all have more fun with a group hike through the muskeg.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:37

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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Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

Alexandra Gutierrez, KTOO – Juneau

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Criminal Justice Commission Gets an Earful in Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Alaska’s criminal justice system is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable—that’s the hard truth shared by a group of legal experts on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission.

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president.

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright.

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres.

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Mat-Su Borough Board Upholds Shooting Range

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Board Upholds Sutton Shooting Range

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:20

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough. The Borough’s board of adjustment was called to weigh-in Wednesday on a clash between two legal, but incompatible, businesses.

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A shooting range operating in Sutton has drawn criticism from an adjoining landowner. Chris Rose, who owns 20 acres in Sutton, says he has planed for years to use his land as a wedding event venue in partnership with an Anchorage florist.  Chris Rose:

“Folks in Sutton are concerned, justifiably so, about protecting the investments in their properties. And that’s why we have a Sutton Comprehensive Plan, that is why we have a special land use district. People like me rely on those things before we make investments in our property.”

But about a year ago, Rose says, he noted the sound of gunfire welling up over the bluff that separates his land from the Matanuska River.

That sound was coming from a shooting range operated by Alaska Tactical on property owned by Anchorage brothers Jim and Tim Kane. The Kanes own JTAC, a business that they call a “training facility”, that they run on their Sutton property. Tim Kane:

“Well JTAC doesn’t do the training. We just provide a facility for anybody who needs an outdoor recreational area to provide whatever services they have as a business, and we lease the property to those people.”

Kane says when JTAC opened for business, no Borough permit was required, because JTAC did not have a shooting range on site at first.

“We operated for two seasons and we didn’t have a complaint, nobody approached us. We attended the Sutton Community Council’s meetings to keep them up to date.”

But Alaska Tactical, a JTAC lessee, began using  the land for a private shooting range, without a permit.  It was a  year and a half, before anyone complained.

The complaint prompted the Kanes to get a special use permit, which was approved by the Borough Planning Commission last year. And the Sutton Community Council weighed in in favor of the permit, according to Community Council communications secretary Claudia Dolfi. Dolfi says that shooting is a Sutton pastime and that there are fourteen private shooting ranges in the area.

“At this point, having talked to neighbors and community members, it’s been discussed that if we had an outdoor shooting range and an indoor shooting range, same location, we’d all purchase memberships. We wouldn’t shoot on our own property anymore. It’s just more convenient. I think it would be a great advantage to our community.”

Dolfi says the shooting range could lead to area jobs.

But Rose appealed the planning commission’s decision to the Borough’s Board of Adjustment. Rose says the shooting range violates the Sutton Comprehensive Use Plan.

“I don’t think anybody could have reasonably thought that the Borough would allow a shooting range in a residential area, and that is what this is all about. Particularly on the thin record that was presented to the planning commission in the first place.”

In a judicial proceeding in Palmer on Wednesday, attorneys for the the Kanes and Rose argued their cases.  Teresa Clemmer, arguing for Rose,  cited quality of life and environmental concerns that she says the Borough planning commission overlooked.

“The planning commission has given no consideration to lead contamination in the soil” she told the board.

The Kane’s attorney, Jason Rueday, told the board that the owners of JTAC have followed the law.  Rueday said the planning commission’s decision was based on facts.

“We are in an area where shooting occurs,” Rueday told the board. ” I would submit that this facility is in character with the surrounding area.”

Several member of the public testified in favor of Rose’s position. But Sutton Community Council’s Dolfi handed the board a list of 80 names in favor of the shooting range permit. Mat Su Borouogh attorney Shannon Bodolay told the board that community sentiment is not part of the board’s decision. The board must decide only if the planning commission ‘s decision in favor of the special use permit is reasonable.   In the end, the three member board decided unanimously in favor of the planning commission’s decision to issue the shooting range permit.

Rose said Thursday that the shooting range permit is not based on substantial evidence, but he has not decided yet if he will appeal the board’s decision.  He has thirty days to decide to appeal.  If he does, the case moves to state Superior Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Allows Pebble v. EPA To Proceed

Thu, 2015-06-04 16:38

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward . That’s according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland. Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble. Pebble opponents were quick to say today they are disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep perspective.

While the FACA case moves forward, the Judge has ordered the EPA to do no work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, or the dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place, according to Heatwole.

No timeline exists for the case, though both sides said it was likely to go on for at least a year.

In a separate but related lawsuit, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA in federal court, Pebble is suing for more EPA documents and emails. Pebble says the agency has been slow to respond to its requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:38

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president. Prior to work in the private sector in recent years, Johnsen served in several high profile positions at the university, including chief of staff to former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. Johnsen is currently a senior vice president at Alaska Communications.

A release from UA Regents says Johnsen was selected from a group of four finalists by a search advisory committee that included regents, faculty, staff, students, and UA Foundation members. It says Johnsen will meet with stakeholders in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau over the next month, after which regents will review feedback and make a final decision. If hired, Johnsen will succeed retiring UA President Pat Gamble in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:22

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

In the State Office Building’s mailroom, it’s almost the end of the day. Jeremy Duncan and a co-worker are running letters through a postage machine. He’s been a mail courier for about 12 years. And he knows one of those white envelopes might be his.

Jeremy Duncan runs letters through a postage machine at the State Office Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Layoff notifications. I’m sure I have one in there, too,” he says.

There’s a clock ticking closer to 3 p.m. on the wall. That’s the time the mail goes out.

“We’re waiting for a stay of execution type of phone call, huh?” he says. “That’s what it feels like.”

The phone call doesn’t come and, at 3 o’clock, several boxes are loaded onto a cart and wheeled to the mail truck.

In total, the state spent over $6,000 on sending the layoff notices–something they were contractually obligated to do. About 3,000 went to Anchorage, 1,100 to Fairbanks, and 3,000 to other places. About 2,500 were sent in Juneau. And it’s all because legislators haven’t agreed yet on a fully funded budget.

At Switzer Village, Cierra Kendrick opens her mailbox with a key.

“I’ve got what appears to the layoff notices for me and my partner and a couple of pieces of junk mail,” she says. “I just really hoped they would figure it out before it got this far.”

Cierra Kendrick just received disappointing mail: a layoff notice from her state job. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

She works for the Alaska Department of Commerce and her partner works for the Department of Transportation. She had a meeting at work and knew the letters were being sent. She’s heard some of her neighbors are avoiding the mail.

“They just don’t want to. They’d rather wait until  we hear something. They send someone to check the mail so they don’t have to see the letter,” she says.

If the legislature fails to pass a budget in time, a small number of workers could still come back. But there are a lot of unknowns and layoff details vary by department and division. The one thing that is sure, the government will be operating with less funding next year.

Kendrick says it’s been a stressful and confusing time for her family.

“Am I going to have insurance come August, depending on what they do? I have two high-needs kids that rely heavily on our insurance and we can’t afford to go without it,” she says.

State workers last day of work could be July 1. Their health insurance will last through the end of the month. After that, they won’t be covered. Summer was supposed be a special time for Kendrick and her partner.

“We are planning our wedding in July and that’s kind of been put on the back burner because those are expensive.”

Thankfully, they have already bought her partner’s dress, but they’re still trying to figure out how to pay for everything else.

“We’re budgeting for it but there’s only so much you can do. We may have to reevaluate and downsize,” she says.

The day-to-day expenses, Kendrick says, would be difficult to manage if they lose their pay. They also have two car payments. There are expenses like cable and internet.

“We may shut it off to save the 150 bucks,” she says.

The legislature’s budget negotiations are still ongoing. Kendrick says she’s tired of lawmakers waffling.

“It’s a game of chicken is all it is,” she says. “It’s ridiculous that a group of adults is playing a game like this. To them, there is no consequence. But it’s a make or break situation for a lot of people.”

For now, all her family can do is wait until a budget is passed or isn’t.

“It all depends on what pretty little pieces of paper we get in the mail and when they happen to get here,” she says.

Kendrick says she’s currently looking for other employment.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:10

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres. Four water-scooping aircrafts are attacking the flanks of the fire as crews work to build a perimeter. They’ve put in a water pump near an area of heavy timber.

More than 100 firefighters are battling a blaze south of Kalskag. Image from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Tim Mowry is Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says there are no structures at risk now.

“We’re trying to keep the fire on the refuge so it doesn’t spread to native lands and native allotments,” said Mowry.

The fire is about three and half miles from the nearest point of the Kuskokwim River, and is burning in tundra grass and black spruce. Fire officials have enacted a temporary flight restriction to keep planes out of the area. While the fire grew quickly this week, Mowry says the weather improved.

“We got a little bit of precipitation, and even hail, on the western flank, and the winds have died down a little bit,” said Mowry.

He says the fire was not as active Thursday as it was earlier in the week.

Northeast of Tuluksak, a fire in the Bogus Creek area has grown to more than 8-thousand acres. No staff is on that fire, but aircraft are dropping water. Statewide, 31,000 acres have burned this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Stowers chosen as next chief justice of Alaska Supreme Court

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:24

The Alaska Supreme Court has chosen Justice Craig Stowers to be the next chief justice.

The announcement was made Wednesday in a release from the court system.

Stowers will succeed Dana Fabe, whose latest term as chief justice ends June 30. Under the constitution, chief justices serve three-year terms and may serve more than one three-year term, though not consecutively.

Stowers, a former superior court judge, has served on Alaska’s highest court since December 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Togiak boy drowns, huffing believed to be involved

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:17

A 14-year-old Togiak boy drowned in a creek early Tuesday morning. Troopers believe he and other boys were inhaling gas, known as huffing, before the drowning occurred.

Togiak VPSO Roger Wassillie got a call just past 3:30AM on Tuesday that Reuben Pauk had fallen into Nasaurlug Creek, where he had been hanging out with a group of friends.

“It was still dark when we arrived on scene. I saw a 4 wheeler on the side of the creek, I thought maybe he fell in right there,” said Wassillie.

Wassillie got in his skiff and began to look for the boy. The tide was making the search difficult and Wassillie sent out a call for help. Three other boats joined the effort.

“We were looking further up from the point where the kid went down,” said Wassillie. “We started getting closer and closer and then they found the boy.”

Around 6:15 am, almost three hours after the search began, Pauk’s body was found, about 100 feet upriver from where he went in the water.

In their report, the state troopers say the boys were huffing gas on the bank of the creek before the incident occurred. During his investigation, VPSO Wassillie noticed a large blue tarp where the boys were hanging out.

“So I went to check what it was and it was 5 plastic containers of outboard motor fuel containers. All of them didn’t have any covers on them,” said Wassillie.

Reuben Pauk, age 14, was pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin have been notified, and his body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim River Residents Face Early Season Restrictions

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:12

King salmon are beginning to show up on the Kuskokwim River. All eyes are on the few kings that are appearing in the Bethel Test Fishery and in subsistence fishermen’s nets during limited 4-inch openings. At a Wednesday work session of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, members prepared for more restrictions as the run picks up and a limited directed harvest.

2015 is predicted to be a below-average king salmon run. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

The river is restricted to a weekend set net fishing schedule with small mesh nets for whitefish. Federal staff recently counted 72 set nets between the Johnson River and Tuluksak. Because the nets can catch thousands of king salmon incidentally, Federal In Season Manager Neil LaLonde says they are tracking the early season fishing closely.

“There will be additional officers on the river beginning this Saturday. They’re talking to a lot of people along the river, there have been a few warnings written, we’ve seized a few nets. There was a 8.5 inch net seized, however, for the most part we’re getting good compliance on the 4-inch opportunity, and I’d like to say I think there’s a pretty positive attitude on the river this year,” said LaLonde.

Lalonde spoke at a recent meeting of the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Bethel. The working group, which meets weekly during the summer, is an advisory group made up of stakeholders up and down the Kuskokwim River.

Another below average king salmon run is in the forecast, and federal managers are aiming for the upper end of the river’s escapement goal to ensure the long-term health of the fishery. There will, however, be a directed king salmon fishing opportunity through a community permit system that begins in a week. Managers expect a total harvest of about 15-thousand king salmon this summer: eight thousand incidentally in nets and 7-thousand through the community permit system.

A few people from the middle river expressed concern about the possible level of harvest. Working Group member Dave Cannon spoke by phone from Aniak.

“Up here in the middle river and probably upper river, we’re flashing back to 2013 when it looked like things were okay, and everyone was doing fine, but when it came down to it, the upper river folks got the short end of the stick,” said Cannon.

That year started with liberal early season fishing and ultimately brought in the lowest escapement in history. Restrictions came later in the summer when more fish had not arrived after a slow start.

The river this year is split between federal management below Aniak and state management above Aniak during the king salmon run. Some members of the working group pressed state management biologist Aaron Poetter on whether he sees any serious biological problem with the projected harvest of king salmon in another down year.

“At this point there’s no really red flags, but we can’t look into that crystal ball. I think it’s a conservative approach based on the forecast, but we’ve had forecasts in the past we’ve approached differently. Given what we know and what we’ve learned, I think what we have going now is a reasonable approach,” said Poetter.

As the season intensifies, Working Group Chair Bev Hoffman expressed cautious optimism.

“I just feel we’re on a better track than past years. Am I still worried? Yes. That’s why I feel this conservation mode is important,” said Hoffman.

She says Kuskokwim kings, which have been in decline, need to make it upriver to spawning grounds if there are to be fish in the future.

A new set of tributary restrictions, meant to ensure the salmon make it up to those spawning grounds, go into effect on June 7th. There will be no gill net fishing on the Kwethluk, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak, and Aniak rivers and their tributaries.

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC Offers $20K for Information on PATC Fire

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:10

(Photo by Dean Swope)

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is upping a reward to $20,000 for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for the fire that destroyed the PATC alcohol treatment center. They previously offered a $5,000 reward.

YKHC says it was a criminal act that started the blaze last October during construction of the $12 million dollar alcohol treatment center. The 16-bed facility was 90 percent framed.

An investigation from the state Fire Marshal’s office said the cause of the fire was ‘undetermined’. In the report, investigators say the fire started in the southwest corner of the building near a locked utility locker but they could not determine the ignition source. Though investigators ruled out all possible mechanical and electrical causes, their summary does not explicitly rule out arson.

YKHC is rebuilding the facility, but says its completion will be delayed at least a year. YCHC is requesting anyone with information about the fire to contact Sergeant Amy Davis with the Bethel Police Department or Deputy Nathan Rocheleau with the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Grapple With Budget Impasse

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:45

Between the regular session, the extended session, and now two special sessions, the Legislature has been meeting for 135 days. But even with all the extra time, lawmakers appear no closer to a budget deal than they were a month ago. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez covers the Legislature and joins us to talk about the impasse.

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Categories: Alaska News