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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: 5 min 53 sec ago

Bear Urine Tested as Musk Ox Repellent in Nome

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:26

A unique smell has been wafting through parts of Nome this past week, but it’s not your typical summer fragrance. It’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new plan being tested to keep musk oxen herds out of town. Tony Gorn is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome.

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“We routinely—almost daily, now—move musk ox. But then they come back. So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town,” Gorn says.

He says the agency has tried it all—rubber bullets, firecrackers, even aircraft. Now, with tension in Nome mounting … as herds of the animals are continuing to congregate and threatening dogs and property—Gorn is trying a more natural incentive to coax them to leave.

“Some of the groups, at least, of musk ox are moving close to town because they’re trying to find a bear-free zone. So really the idea is to make it appear like there may be bears in the local area and maybe they would move back out. It’s absolutely not tested yet, but it’s worth a try.”

Gorn says the urine has been applied to two sites where people have had run-ins with the herds. However, Nome’s windy, wet climate is proving a challenge for implementation. Gorn is not yet sure how well the scent is carrying.

But where do you buy—or harvest—bear urine?

“Well, you can buy—you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing,” Gorn says.

Gorn has been in contact with other biologists that deal with musk oxen, but says Nome’s situation on the Seward Peninsula is unique. And it’s a polarizing issue for residents—some people are frustrated by the threat of herds in their backyard, while others like the experience of living close to wildlife.

The musk oxen population on the Seward Peninsula has been declining by about 13 percent each year.

Categories: Alaska News

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.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/03-phone-books.mp3

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
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