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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: 34 min 22 sec ago

Juneau Utility Sold For $170 Million to Outside Company

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:24

Southeast Alaska’s largest electric utility has merged with a Washington-based energy company. Alaska Electric Light and Power in Juneau is now a subsidiary of Avista Corporation, headquartered in Spokane. The deal closed on Tuesday.

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Alaska Electric Light and Power Company headquarters on Tonsgard Court in Juneau. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Juneau’s Alaska Electric Light and Power has merged with Spokane-based Avista Corp.

The sale was announced in November and the $170 million purchase closed on Tuesday.

At closing, Avista Corp. issued about 4.5 million shares of common stock to Alaska Energy and Resources Company shareholders at just under $32.46 a share. AERC is AELP’s parent company.

Avista is a mid-size utility that sells electricity and natural gas to nearly 700,000 customers in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and parts of Oregon. With the purchase of AELP, Avista Utilities acquires an additional 16,000 electric customers.

AELP Consumer Affairs Director Debbie Driscoll says they will not see any changes in day-to-day operations in the short term.

“Part of the contractual agreement was that when the deal closes everything remains as is or better for the next two years,” Driscoll says.

That includes retaining AELP’s Juneau headquarters and its more than 70 employees.

Avista Communications Manager Jessie Wuerst says Juneau may not be the company’s only entry into Southeast Alaska.

“We’re an investor-owned utility, so we’re always looking for opportunities to bring value to our shareholders and Southeast Alaska is certainly an area that has opportunities in it,” Wuerst says. “So we’re looking.”

She says 51 percent of Avista power generation comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric, wind and biomass. Avista also owns part of a coal-based generation plant in Montana.

Avista started as Washington Water Power on the banks of the Spokane River in 1889.

AELP was founded in 1894. The Corbus family bought into the utility in 1896 and has been majority owner since.

When former president Bill Corbus announced the Avista agreement in November, he said the company provided the best cultural fit.

Driscoll describes her fellow employees as excited about the merger, especially for the financial resources the bigger company brings.

“We’ve just expanded our resources significantly. There are changes in the industry, innovative improvements in the industry, smart grids, things that we can possibly now afford and maybe before it would have been too much of an impact to our customers from a rate standpoint,” she says.

AELP operates Snettisham and Lake Dorothy hydroelectric facilities as well as several smaller hydro projects and back-up diesel generation.

Note: Story updated at 9:40 a.m. to clarify that the no-change clause in the Avista agreement applies to daily operations.

 

Categories: Alaska News

After Floods, Huslia Earmarked $356,000 In Federal Funds

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:23

More than $270,000 in federal funds will help relocate five homes in Huslia following flooding and erosion on the Koyukuk River last month.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the money under its “imminent threat” funds. It supplements another $85,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover the full $356,000 cost.

The Athabascan village of 320 people is located about 250 miles west of Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Yellow Pages seek new life

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:43

New phone books are arriving at homes around Anchorage this month. So what do you do with your old ones? Give them a new purpose by recycling them.

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I opened a mysterious square door in my closet ceiling recently and thousands of bits of shredded phone book tumbled out onto my head. Some phone book publishers, like the Berry Company, collect out-dated versions of the massive tomes to shred and re-purpose as home insulation and garden mulch. They have collection points around Anchorage until the end of July

Berry Company Alaska branch manager Chris Vaughn says their “Think Yellow, Go Green” campaign aims to keep phone books out of landfills. Last year, they collected 38 tons of them.

You can recycle your new Yellow Pages too, but Vaughn says most people still use them. “There are less people using the phone directory. But when they say it’s dead, it’s not.”

Vaughn says their research shows 75% of consumers used the print yellow pages in the past year. Fifty percent in the past month. He says it’s another tool in comparison shopping that’s especially useful for small and medium sized businesses.

The Berry Company is collecting old phone books at Fred Meyer stores around Anchorage, the UAA Arts Building, and other locations until the end of the month. They can also be recycled along with your mixed paper at recycling facilities across the city.

You can opt out of receiving the phone books by going to www.yellowpagesoptout.com.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Enstar bill increase looks big but is temporary

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:23

Enstar customers will pay more for their natural gas this summer, but Enstar’s spokesperson says, it’s not quite the dramatic change that it seems.

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Getting an Enstar notice saying gas prices are doubling is shocking. But flip out; it’s not a permanent increase. John Sims is the director of business development for Enstar Natural Gas. He says that natural gas bills always change throughout the year.

Here’s what happens: Enstar has contracts with different gas producers in Cook Inlet. They set prices for how much Enstar is going to pay. Then Enstar estimates how much they think they will buy each quarter.

“First, we are tasked with the challenge of trying to forecast what the weather is going to be like for the next three months. And then we have to try to forecast what 137,000 customers are actually going to consume over that three month time frame.”

Sims says they forecasted this year that they would buy lots of gas during the winter at high prices. So customers paid high prices. When April hit, Enstar saw customers paid too much, so they decreased the prices. But then it warmed up. And people used less gas. And Enstar realized that they under collected for the second quarter. To make up for it, they are increasing the prices again.

“This over collection, under collection happens pretty much all the time,” he explains. “In every filing that we do on a quarterly basis. It’s just a little more extreme compared to prior years.”

Sims says that the 48% increase is misleading. It’s because people buy so little gas in the summer. The percentage would be much lower if the cost was spread out over more units of natural gas.

“If you look at your total cost for the entire year, you’ll find it’s pretty consistent to years in the past.”

Sims says Enstar won’t make any money from this quarter’s increase, just like they didn’t lose any money when they decreased costs in the spring. It’s just paying for the actual cost of the gas. Enstar makes its money from delivery fees.

Sims says the company is anticipating a slight decrease for rates in the fourth quarter. He says overall, this year’s natural gas prices will be fairly consistent with last year’s. Yearly natural gas prices are influenced by the producers in Cook Inlet.

Categories: Alaska News

One person dies in fatal crash at Merrill Field

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:32

A small airplane crashed during take off this morning around 8:25 am at Merrill Field in Anchorage. The pilot and sole occupant is confirmed dead.

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Lana Jensen was waiting for her flight to Nondalton when she saw it happen.

“I was just standing there watching the planes take off and noticed that plane was having strut problems. And I just heard it sputter and it went straight down.”

Fire trucks responded to the fatal crash at Merrill Field early Wednesday morning.

Jensen says she’s not really sure what to think about it. ”It’s kind of traumatizing. I don’t want to go home… just stay here now. But no, I have to go home. I have to go fishing.”

Police arrived on the scene within three minutes of receiving the report of the crash.

All of the runways at Merrill were closed for about an hour, but they have all since reopened.

The Anchorage Police Department says they will likely release the name of the deceased tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Arctic Policy Commission Listens to Community Input

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:31

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission held a listening session today in Anchorage. The aim was to get more statewide input, especially from the Alaska Native community, on how the Commission should try to shape future Arctic policy.

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The commissioners and people making comments discussed what they can and cannot control in the changing Arctic. They also heard a push for the Alaska Legislature to start thinking of itself as a body that’s part of a broader community.

Representative Benny Nageak from Barrow attended the meeting. He says people from the Arctic want to make sure their voices are heard, especially since they still rely on the natural resources of the area, like marine mammals.

He says his community understands their needs may be unique, but they live under state, national, and international governments. “And so we’ve learned how to work within the system. And as you can see from what you heard today, we’re not new to this.”

Nageak says his Arctic community needs to be involved in government and business decision making to protect their resources.

The Council will use today’s input and other public comments to produce a final report for the state’s legislature early next year. The report outlines Alaska’s written policy recommendations on topics ranging from scientific research to resource development to environmental protection in the Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Soboleff Wins Sealaska Board Seat, Nelson Becomes Chairman

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:30

The regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska has a new CEO, a new board chairman and a new board member.

Leaders of Juneau-headquartered Sealaska are following a direction set by their predecessors. But they promise some changes, following a recent board election.

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Shareholders elected Juneau businessman Ross Soboleff to an open seat.

New Sealaska board member Ross Soboleff. (Courtesy 4 Shareholders for Sealaska)

They also re-elected incumbents Rosita Worl, Sidney Edenshaw and Ed Thomas. A resolution limiting discretionary voting failed.

Joseph Nelson was named by the board as chairman. He replaces Albert Kookesh, who remains on the panel but stepped down from the post.

Results were announced at the end of the corporation’s annual meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel near the Seattle-Tacoma airport. About 6,000 of Sealaska’s 21,600 shareholders live in the Pacific Northwest.

New board member Soboleff was part of an independent slate called 4 Shareholders for Sealaska. Fellow members Carlton Smith, Margaret Nelson and Karen Taug were not elected.

Though he was the only one to win, Soboleff says the slate’s message was powerful.

“Most of the board members I’ve spoken to know shareholders are interested in very positive changes in the company. They and me are in the leadership and we have to figure it out together,” he says.

The slate, and most of the six other independent candidates, criticized the board for allowing corporate operations to run into the red by about $57 million last year.

“I would say central to what we came forward with was a turnaround plan for the company,” Soboleff says.

The slate’s Smith was enthusiastic about the results, even if he and two other members lost.

“It’s a powerful victory for shareholders today and it’s a change that’s been wanting to be implemented,” Smith says. “What we’ve got is the beginnings of a brand new board.”

He says the slate cast all its discretionary votes for Soboleff to make sure one member won.

Sealaska’s new CEO, Anthony Mallott, also says the results are a turning point.

“If today’s meeting isn’t proof of change, I don’t know what is,” he said in a press release. “We’ve heard from many people about what is expected of Sealaska, and the great news is that these are the things we’re already working on.”

It’s unusual for Sealaska to have an open board seat. Retiring members usually resign before an election and the board appoints a replacement who then runs as an incumbent.

This year, board member Byron Mallott announced he would not seek re-election so he could pursue his Democratic run for governor. But he completed his term rather than resigning. That guaranteed someone new would fill the seat.

A resolution changing discretionary voting to weaken the board’s hold on ballot counts failed.

Board candidate Mick Beasley, who authored the measure, says he’s frustrated, but would likely try again. He said he may also pursue a term-limits measure, as he has done before.

He was not optimistic about the election’s results.

“I see very little change,” he says.

In all, 13 candidates ran for four board seats this year.

Longtime incumbent Thomas was the top vote-getter, followed by incumbents Edenshaw and Worl. Challenger Soboleff won the fourth seat with the next-highest count.

The board runner-ups, in order of votes received, were Beasley, Myrna Gardner, Ralph Wolfe, Smith, Nelson, Taug, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin and Edward Sarabia Jr.

The voting share counts are below. Each shareholder casts a vote per share and most own at least 100 shares.

• Edward Thomas 677,440
• Sidney Edenshaw 674,874
• Rosita Worl 674,447
• Ross Soboleff 508,216
• Michael Beasley 472,611
• Myrna Gardner 390,509
• Ralph Wolfe 244,425
• Carlton Smith 206,829
• Margaret Nelson 156,551
• Karen Taug 151,966
• Michelle McConkey 137,691
• Will Micklin 112,261
• Edward Sarabia Jr. 102,166

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell: Pipeline Agreement Signed

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:29

Gov. Sean Parnell says an agreement has been signed that allows for the next stage in pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project.

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Parnell says environmental field work and pipeline engineering have begun as part of a phase in which the parties are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s still no guarantee the mega-project will be built, but Parnell called the agreement and work underway a mark of significant progress.

The parties involved are BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., TransCanada Corp., and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

ConocoPhillips was previously a holdout to signing because of issues the company said were confidential. A spokeswoman said those issues have been resolved.

Parnell said the project, in the coming weeks, will work to begin the process of securing an export license.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senator Still After ANC Contracting Advantages

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:28

A U.S. Senator from Missouri is continuing her crackdown on the advantages Alaska Native Corporations enjoy in government contracting.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill this week pressed the Small Business Administration to show that rules in place since 2011 are tightening requirements on ANCs and producing better oversight.

Since the 1980s, ANCs have won government contracts worth billions of dollars, through a program designed to allow small, minority-owned companies to contract for government work without competition. Other businesses in the program are limited to contracts of up to $4 million. Alaska Native corporations, though, can get sole-source contracts of any size, and they can work in joint venture with non-Native companies as long as the ANC owns 51%.

McCaskill has previously sponsored bills to remove those special advantages. She’s asking the SBA for a list of all such joint ventures since 2011, and for reports showing how Native communities benefitted from these contracts.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, in a press release, says he’s tried to reason with McCaskill, a fellow Democrat. But he says she doesn’t understand Alaska history. He says ANCs shouldn’t be punished for their success.

Categories: Alaska News

Rainy Weather Continuing Into July

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:27

Rain continues to fall across the central and eastern interior as July extends a trend that made June Fairbanks rainiest on record.

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National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Berg is tracking precipitation totals.

“Just the first day of July we had 1.92 inches of rainfall, and that was a new record for that date, and it was almost three times what the previous record was. Since midnight last night we’ve picked up a bit more. So far this month we’ve had 2.73 inches of rain,” he said.

Berg says that puts Fairbanks well on its way to above normal rainfall in July.

“Our normals for July are around 5 inches, so we’re about halfway there already,” he said.

More rain is forecast for the first half of today. Berg says a band of rain over the area is expected to move off to the northeast this afternoon.

“By midafternoon we should be seeing just some scattered showers around the area, and by evening maybe some isolated showers, but for the most part the rain will be done by 5 or 6 o’clock this evening,” he said.

While the rain is expected to stop, Berg says area rivers will continue to rise, elevating flood potential.

“We do look for most of them to start peaking by tomorrow sometime, or even into Friday. Once the river forecast folks from Anchorage arrive we’ll get some new model guidance from them as to where [the rivers] are actually going to start peaking. But they are a little bit ahead of where we were forecasting them to be yesterday,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers sent out message last night saying they anticipated lowering gates on the Moose Creek Dam at the Chena Flood Control project late today or Thursday.

A Flood warning is in effect for the Upper Chena, Salcha, Goodpaster Rivers and the Eastern Alaska Range. Flood Advisories have been issued for the Alaska Range, east of the Parks Highway, and the Birch Creek Basin north of Fairbanks. There’s a Flood Watch for the Tanana River between the communities of Salcha and Tanana.

Berg says the high water will coincide with more summer like weather over the 4th of July weekend.

“Drying conditions, thank goodness. We will see the temperatures come up a little bit, into the 70′s and possibly into the 80′s for the weekend,” he said.

Berg says there will be chance of afternoon thunderstorms through the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Rain Causing Problems On Interior Roads

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:26

The rain is resulting in dangerous driving conditions. State Department of Transportation Northern Region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says she issued numerous travel advisories this morning.

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“For just about every road in the interior, reminding people or warning people that there are obviously extremely wet surfaces and a lot of people are experiencing hydroplaning. So just like in the winter, people need to reduce their speed and make sure that they are allowing extra time to reach their destination. This is not the kind of weather to be speeding around,” she said.

Bailey says the third major rain event in as many weeks rains is resulting in road damage.

“We’re seeing all kinds of pot holes and just degradation of the sides of the road. So areas where we’re kind of having some erosion and water is actually eating away sections of the road,” she said.

Bailey says DOT crews are driving area roads 24 hours a day making emergency repairs. She says temporary repairs are also being made to the damage caused to the Denali Park Road last week by rain swollen creeks near the road’s end at mile 92.

“We have a crew that is working in Kantishna and actually our maintenance crew is going there to look at what longer term repairs will need to be made today. So they’re going to bring back pictures and a more extensive report from that area,” she said.

The emergency repair work comes amidst numerous summer road construction and resurfacing projects the wet weather is hampering progress on.

Categories: Alaska News

Largest Bristol Bay King Salmon Run Reaches Minimum Escapement

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:25

The largest king salmon run in Bristol Bay has reached the lower end of the escapement goal but the managers with Fish and Game are hoping for more.

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Categories: Alaska News

Strong Chum Runs Mean Salmon Openings In Norton Sound

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:24

Chum salmon leaping near Cold Bay, AK. (Photo: K. Mueller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 28, 2011)

As severe restrictions on Chinooks continue to hit subsistence users, early signs of strong chum runs are leading the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to announce some unanticipated commercial openings.

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“What is happening is this year we’re have an early, strong chum salmon run in most areas of Norton Sound,” said Scott Kent, ADF&G biologist for the Nome area. “It’s front-loaded in that, it’s hitting hard right now, and then it’s probably going to drop off here considerably in a week or so.”

Kent said that means this next few days in the region are going to be fruitful for fishermen. “We’re going to probably start seeing a lot of fish passage this week and into the weekend.”

Kent said the region is seeing some of the best chum counts on record for this time of year. At the Kwiniuk tower on the North side of Norton Sound, for example, 12,000 chums have already been counted, making this year one of the best runs in the station’s 49 years of operation.

Kent said the strong chum run is especially good news considering the poor pre-season forecasts.

“We were not expected directed openings in Golovin and Elim this year, especially not this early,” he laughed. “So, it’s a pleasant surprise.”

The Norton Sound isn’t the only region in western Alaska seeing strong chum numbers. A three-hour opening Saturday, June 28 lifted gear restrictions in the Lower Yukon and gave some families a much-needed chance to put up chum on their racks.

“Everybody’s real happy for the Y1 and Y2 three-hour six-inch gillnet opening that you guys had,” said Basil Larson from Russian Mission during a weekly Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association teleconference on Tuesday.

Not everyone was able to take advantange of the opening, Larson said, but those who could made it count. “There’s not a lot of families that could afford to go down and go fish for those three hours, but the families that did go down, I talked to them and they are all done with their summer chum subsistence harvest.”

Callers further upriver on the Yukon, like Janet Woods in Rampart, said they are frustrated at having to wait until nearly all the Chinooks have passed just to have a shot at fishing for chums.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting. We can’t even so much put in a net. If you let people fish even one day, that would eliminate all these problems with people getting caught, and getting their fish nets taken away, and having to go to court and pay,” Woods said. “We need to have our fish—that’s what sustains us.”

Fish and Game representatives on the call explained that upriver communities can expect a similar subsistence opening once 90 percent of the Chinook have passed. Which, based on past years, is likely to be some time around July 18.

Kent said that, while the Chinook restrictions have been severe, they do appear to be working.

“The King run is very poor,” he stressed, “but it’s not as dire as we thought it was going to be going into the season. In other words, we think we’ve got a good chance of making our escapement goals because we’ve taken such severe restrictions.”

While making escapement into Canada is an important goal to hit, Kent stressed the run is still significantly below historical levels.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a good run, it doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back yet. But it appears the measures taken across the region are working to conserve Chinook salmon.”

For a full list of ADF&G’s salmon openings in the Norton Sound area can be found on their website.

Categories: Alaska News

Person Dies in Merrill Field Airplane Crash

Wed, 2014-07-02 09:25

Anchorage police confirm one person has died in a plane crash at the city’s small plane airport.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro says the crash was reported just before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Merrill Field.

Police were at the scene within three minutes of the call, and authorities were able to confirm the fatality within five minutes of arriving.

All runways were shut down at the airport near downtown Anchorage and the Federal Aviation Administration has been contacted.

No other details of the crash were immediately available.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Poll Suggests Parnell Vulnerable … In A Two-Way Race

Tue, 2014-07-01 18:16

In the three-way race for governor, Sean Parnell’s two challengers have developed a bit of a chummy relationship. Here’s Independent candidate Bill Walker last month at the National Congress of American Indians.

WALKER: There are many benefits of running and one of the benefits I’ve had is getting to know Byron.

And Democrat Byron Mallott …

MALLOTT: I have to say that we’ve become good friends.

But now, one of those candidates says he doesn’t want to have to compete with the other at all. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that Walker would rather face the governor alone.

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Since Independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott launched their campaigns, both have concentrated on beating Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. Mallott and Walker have never sent a press release bashing the other, and they’ve even complimented each other’s ideas on the campaign trail.

(Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Only, there’s a problem with that. In the polls that have been conducted, Walker and Mallott both lose in a three-way race. Now, Walker has released a poll suggesting he would be competitive against Parnell if they were facing head on. He says he wouldn’t mind it if were suddenly to find himself in a two-way race.

“No disrespect to anybody, but I certainly wouldn’t,” says Walker. “So I think the poll speaks to that.”

The poll was commissioned by the Walker campaign, and conducted by Ivan Moore Research and the Alaska Survey. It shows Parnell with 42 percent support from respondents, Walker with 29 percent, and Mallott with 16 percent. When the poll takes Mallott out of the equation, the difference between Parnell and Walker shrinks to one point – 46 percent to 45 percent. And when Mallott is matched up against the governor, Parnell wins by a landslide – 55 percent to 34 percent.

Looking at the results, Walker says he doesn’t regret bypassing the closed Republican primary, where he would have been able to challenge Parnell more directly. While Walker is now an independent candidate, he has previously run as a Republican candidate and lost to Parnell in the 2010 primary. He says his message now does better with a broader audience than just Republican voters.

Walker adds that even if he likes the idea of a two-way race in the November 4 general election, he hasn’t approached Mallott about dropping out.

“It’s not intended to be a shot at him in anyway, other than just the polls — they are what they are,” says Walker.

Not surprisingly, Mallott isn’t too friendly to the idea of leaving the race, or trying to merge tickets. Mary Halloran is Mallott’s campaign manager.

“It is not and it never will be a two-way race between Bill Walker and Sean Parnell,” says Halloran. “What the poll does show and we’re most interested in is that most Alaskans want a different governor.”

Halloran is also skeptical of the poll itself. She suggests that it could be a “push poll” — never mind the problem of Alaska being famously difficult to survey.

The only other polls released on the governor’s race have been done by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, and they reached an opposite conclusion. A May poll showed the numbers basically flipped, with Parnell getting support from 37 percent of respondents, Mallott coming in second with 27 percent, and Walker in third with 17 percent.

“We do know that in all the other polls we’ve seen, Walker’s come in dead last,” says Halloran. “And what’s changed? As far as we can tell: nothing.”

Halloran says that moving forward, the Mallott campaign plans to spend more time highlighting the differences between their candidate and Walker, particularly on social issues like abortion.

Halloran would not say if their campaign’s internal polls match any of the publicly available numbers.

Ivan Moore, who conducted the survey, stands by his numbers.

“There was nothing about this survey that could be characterized as ‘pushy’ in any way at all,” says Moore. “When you come out with poll numbers that people don’t like, they resort to attacking the poll itself. I am an open book, and anyone who wants to come and sit down and look at the original data with me can do it.”

Moore says his results likely differ from PPP’s because his firm calls cell phones and landlines. PPP collects its information from landlines and online responses.

For its part, the Parnell team is brushing off Walker’s statement that he could be competitive in a two-way race.

“No matter how hard Walker tries to ignore the reality of a three-way race, Sean Parnell continues to hold a double-digit lead,” says campaign manager Jerry Gallagher.

Categories: Alaska News

Predator Run-Ins Threaten Hikers in the Chugach

Tue, 2014-07-01 17:42

A Fish and Game biologist says three wolves appear to have killed a hiker’s dog before stalking the dog’s owner on a popular trail just outside Anchorage last month. Another hiker’s account of a similar incident on a nearby trail may leave some wondering if canid predators are a growing threat on local trails.

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The first reported incident occurred about a month ago during the afternoon as a hiker was making his way up to Wolverine Peak in Chugach State Park with his two dogs.

One of the dogs, a jack russell, went missing for a couple of minutes. When the owner backtracked to look for her, he saw another type of canine. Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle took the report.

“He at first thought it was a coyote. As he looked at it he realized it was too big to be a coyote, he figured it was a wolf. And then he realized there were two more of them near the first one.”

The wolves saw the hiker, too.

“After about a minute or so they started approaching and he started retreating back up toward the ridge at a slow walk, initially. The wolves started picking up speed and trotting along and he started jogging, which is something we recommend against,” Battle says.

Battle says running is what prey usually does, and it may trigger a chase response from the wolves.

The wolves were within 30 feet when the hiker stopped retreating and stood his ground. The conflict dissipated shortly after.

The following day, the hiker went back to the trail to recover the carcass of one of his dogs, close to where he first saw the wolves. Battle says it had not been fed on.

Around the same time the hiker’s dog was fatally attacked, Anchorage hiker Molly Liston had a similar experience on a nearby trail.

Liston was hiking with her two dogs when she noticed she was being stalked.

“I just had this feeling that these aren’t dogs running up towards me,” Liston says.

She thought the animals were wolves at first due to their large size. She later decided they were coyotes based on the yipping noises they made. Liston started making her way back to the trailhead, periodically stopping to yell at the two animals following her.

“I’d take about five steps, turn around, yell, wave my arms and yell “NO!” Take about five steps, wave my arms and say NO.”

Liston couldn’t see the two animals the whole time she was retreating down the trail, but she knew one was on either side of her by the glimpses she did get.

“I almost get over to the other trail and my dog, Tallie, decided to go back and kind of see what was going on… and that’s when they almost got her. They were about 5 feet away from lunging and getting her. Again I just screamed “NO” and started running towards them,” she says.

Liston made a frantic call to a family member to meet her at the trailhead. The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes.

Based on the noises Liston says she was hearing from the animals, wildlife biologist Dave Battle says the animals were likely coyotes. But he also says reports of coyotes harassing dogs or people in the backcountry are rare.

One of the most difficult parts of Battle’s job is confirming wildlife sightings, especially when it comes to wolves versus coyotes.

“Some people know exactly what they’re seeing. Some people can tell easily the difference between coyotes and wolves; other people might not have had as much experience and know exactly,” Battle says.

Battle advises hikers to stand their ground if they think they’re encountering either species. He also says pepper spray is effective as long as it’s deployed when the animal is in range.

A representative from Chugach State Park said they have not posted any warning signs for wolf activity at Anchorage area trail heads.

Categories: Alaska News

Treadwell Urges US to Check Putin in Arctic; Sullivan Spotlights ‘Pro-Putin Rally’

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:51

In a recent presentation in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell spoke of the need to stay on neighborly terms with Russia. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus. Dan Sullivan, Treadwell’s rival in the GOP primary for U.S Senate, issued an email yesterday saying Treadwell attended a “pro-Putin rally,”  echoing the words of an anti-Russian columnist who denounced the conference where Treadwell spoke.

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The event, at the Senate’s Hart Office Building, was attended by a few hundred people. Sponsors of the U.S.–Russia World Forum say the annual event promotes mutually beneficial cooperation. This year, with Russian President Vladimir Putin reaching into Crimea, the idea seemed tinged with doubt.

At the start of the panel discussion in mid-June, the moderator introduced Treadwell with a little joke. It fell flat.

“This morning we get a message from Moscow that Russia is not waiting over Alaska,” said Edward Lozansky, president of American University in Moscow. “Because some of the people were worried that right after Crimea next would be Alaska, so please relax.

Treadwell ignored the joke. He said in the Arctic, the U.S. has to cooperate with Russia, because both countries need to prevent shipping disasters and oil spills, keep fish stocks healthy and enforce the borders.

“So given that need of proximity for cooperation, no matter what the international climate is, my point today is that at a time of very tough international climate, do not forget that we are neighbors because people will be affected, wildlife will be affected, our overall national security would be affected,” Treadwell said.

In an interview with APRN just before the speech, Treadwell said he intended to warn America not to let Putin dominate the region.

“What I’m going to say is our problems with Russia in the Arctic are such that we either challenge Putin now, or we are going to be challenged by him later,” he said.

In the international forum, with the Russian ambassador at hand, he sounded a bit more diplomatic. Treadwell, for example, barely used Putin’s name.

“My challenge to the Russians in this room is: help us keep those things more normal,”Treadwell said. “And my challenge to the Americans in this room is: don’t let Russia go it alone in the Arctic.”

With Russia’s armada of ice breakers and America’s lack of attention to the far north, Treadwell warned Russia could take command over shipping routes and resources.

“We’ve been through an exercise in the Caspian where we’ve said we’re not going to let one country control it,”Treadwell said, “and yet that’s exactly what we’re doing in the Arctic.”

Longtime Russia critic James Kirchik denounced the event in the online publication The Daily Beast, saying most of the speakers were Putin sympathizers.  Kirchik claimed Treadwell and Minnesota’s secretary of state were recruited to speak at the event so they would “gush about the importance of U.S.-Russian relations for their respective state economies, and warn against any moves that might set those relations back.”

Dan Sullivan’s Senate campaign sent a 250-word excerpt of Kirchik’s article to its press list Monday, with the subject line: “ICYMI: Treadwell attends pro-Putin rally” and the headline “Mead, what were you thinking?” Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson declined to be interviewed. He sent a message saying Monday’s email wasn’t actually a press release but an “In case you missed it” notice. The format, though, was classic press release, with the Sullivan campaign banner up top and the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” Anderson said Sullivan was unavailable to discuss the topic.

Categories: Alaska News

State Seeks to Join Izembek Lawsuit

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:50

The State of Alaska has tried to back up the village of King Cove on their quest to build a road through protected wilderness. Now, the state’s prepared to follow them into court.

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Trading land with the federal government was the last, best hope to free up space in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for a road. It would have connected King Cove to the airport at Cold Bay.

Wetlands in the Izembek NWR. (Kristine Sowl/USFWS)

After a long analysis, the Interior Department decided against the swap in December. It was a big disappointment for King Cove — and also the state of Alaska.

“We have 43,000 acres of land that we were going to exchange,” Tom Lenhart, an assistant attorney general, said. ”As well as, we obviously have an interest in the health and safety of our citizens. So there’s very valid interest there.”

That’s why Lenhart filed a petition on the state’s behalf in U.S. District Court this week.

“It’s a motion to intervene, which means we are moving to join the King Cove plaintiff group that has already filed suit,” he said.

A mix of private citizens and governments from around King Cove filed that suit at the beginning of June. They argue that the Interior Secretary violated federal law when she rejected the land exchange out of concern for wildlife in the refuge.

Lenhart says the state could provide some handy tools for making that case.

“Not just in law, to assist,” he said. “But with our biologists and planners, et cetera, who were in there for the last couple of years with the Department of the Interior, you know, looking at these alternatives.”

But first, the court will have to weigh in on the state’s request to join in. Even if they don’t get permission, Alaska still has another lawsuit in the pipeline. The state’s started the process to sue the government for a right of way through the Izembek refuge.

Della Trumble, a spokesperson for the King Cove Corporation, hopes the federal government’s taking note of all this.

“Everybody’s going to every possible extent, or avenue possible, to make this happen,” Trumble said. ”Hopefully the message is, ‘You’ve got to work with us.’ They’ve got to work with us on this issue.”

Trumble says it’s been a quiet summer in King Cove, with calm weather and no medical emergencies.

But it’s not always so peaceful. There were 11 medevac flights this year — many in rough weather.

Trumble says a road would provide reliable transportation out of the village during emergencies. And after lobbying for so many years, Trumble says getting a road would also let residents move on.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Releases Plan For Budget Cuts

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:49

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a list of budget cuts to be implemented during the new fiscal year. The reductions affect a wide range of programs and services.

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The budget actions come in response to an $8 million cut by the state legislature and an expected $4 to $6 million rise in fixed operating costs. UAF Vice Chancellor for Administration Pat Pitney says the legislative cut is being spread over numerous areas.

“In order to take the state budget reduction, there were pullbacks from units that ranged from 3 to 6 percent, so on average 5 percent, but there were some units that were held harmless, from a strategic standpoint or from a revenue based standpoint or from other circumstances,” she said.

Pitney says shortfalls related to increasing fixed costs will have to be found within each program.  For many, the specific impacts are listed as “to be announced” pending additional review, but Pitney says there will be job losses.

“A lot of it we will try to do through attrition, but there will be layoffs. It could be in the 40 to 50 range in a six to eight month period,” she said.

Among identified savings are $2 million from holding open job vacancies for 90 days, and more than a half million dollars from a legislatively mandated restriction on travel.

“Every unit is taking a 20 percent travel reduction, with the exception of instructional travel and athletic travel, which are taking a 5 percent travel reduction,” Pitney said.

Other cost savings measures include reducing administration, bringing programs currently in leased space back on campus, streamlining marketing and communications, elimination of UAF printing services, and cutting back campus bus shuttle routes.  Pitney attributes the targeted actions to recommendations of a budget review committee.

“Almost all of the recommendations, leadership endorsed in some way, shape or form. There were some modifications,” she said.

Among non academic university supported programs that will suffer in addition to taking their share of across the board reductions, are KUAC Public Broadcasting, which has to generate $100,000 more in public support, and UAF athletics, which has to raise another $50,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Possible Growth at Ted Stevens Airport Has Some Concerned

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:48

Every five to seven years, the Ted Stevens International Airport publishes a master plan detailing upcoming changes at Alaska’s busiest air hub. The latest variation of the plan was released Monday, allowing the airport to qualify for federal funding. While there are a lot of hypotheticals in the document, it makes one thing fairly clear: As Alaska grows and as more visitors come to the state, the airport will have to adapt to increased traffic.

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The south terminal of the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage (photo courtesy of Ted Stevens International Airport).

To do so, the plan lays out a handful of options, including moving some cargo jets to Fairbanks and upgrading existing infrastructure. The airport is also considering paving a new runway in the future, which could impact both the Coastal Trail and Point Woronzof park. That proposal has Anchorage based carpenter David Landry worried.

“What they’re talking about is putting a big rubble rock jetty into the anchorage coastal wildlife refuge, and decimating a really beautiful stretch of the Coastal Trail that a lot of those visitors to Anchorage really enjoy,” he says.

The airport has been floating the runway proposal for a few years, but Evan Pfahler, project manager for the Master Plan, says adding new infrastructure is a last resort. He adds that the plan doesn’t green light any construction. “The master plan is simply that, it’s a plan,” he says.  “It’s not any kind of approval or design that frankly enables the airport to do anything.”

The document will be available for review until August 29, and the public is encouraged to comment.

Categories: Alaska News
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