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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: 29 min 33 sec ago

Spotted Seal Pup Found Near Clarks Point Taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center

Wed, 2014-05-14 10:17

This spotted seal pup was found on April 30 near Clark’s Point and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. (Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center)

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has taken in the first stranded marine mammal of the year.

The one-week-old spotted seal pup was picked up on April 30th in Clarks Point and flown by Grant Aviation and PenAir to Anchorage. From there the pup was taken to the SeaLife Center in Seward.

The pup weighed in at 21-pounds and is currently being fed 5-times a day. The SeaLife is listing the seal pup in “good but guarded” condition. The pup is being cared for in the I.Sea.U. Critical care unit and the pup can been viewed by visitors to the SeaLife Center.

NOAA does not allow rehabilitated ice seals to be released back into the wild so the new pup will be cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center until a long-term placement facility is identified.

The Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska and it operates a 24-hour hotline to report stranded marine mammals. The hotline number is 1-888-774-SEAL.

Categories: Alaska News

As State Advances Unprecedented Mining Road to Ambler, Local Support in Question

Wed, 2014-05-14 10:15

Two potential routes for the the prosed Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road, (Photo by AIDEA)

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA, meets in Kotzebue today with a game management group to discuss a proposed 220-mile road to a copper deposit in the Northwest Arctic Borough that’s potentially valuable.

If built, the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road (AMDIAR) would head west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville, pass through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, and end in a remote area near three Upper Kobuk Valley communities.

“We’re already approaching 10 billion pounds of copper. That’s a major mine. So we don’t have a mine yet–but we certainly are getting something that has the size and potential to be a major mine,” said Ric van Nieuwenhuyse, head of the privately owned NovaCopper company.

“But, you won’t have a mining district without out road to it. So, that’s where AIDEA steps in,” Nieuwenhuyse told the Resource Development Council. He addressed them last April in Anchorage on the mining district, as well as the economic viability of a large-scale open-pit copper mine in the area.

AIDEA is spearheading the state’s push for the project. The road would be unprecedented in many ways, requiring construction of 15 long bridges over waterways in some of the state’s most remote wilderness. Though the project could take years, AIDEA is moving swiftly—a timetable one official called “daunting.”

In April, the agency began the long process of determining what the environmental impact of the road would be. $8.5 million for that study was set aside by lawmakers last month in the capital budget that passed in the Legislature, and will be part of what AIDEA sends to the feds if they apply for permits to begin work.

Karsten Rodvik is AIDEA’s director of external affairs. He says construction is still years away, and the process relies on input from those living where the road would pass by.

“We continue to work on the permit application process and are continually focused on a very active community involvement program,” Rodvik said. “We’re getting dates set in June for the Upper Kobuk communities and then throughout the summer we’re looking at establishing meeting dates for communities on the Koyukuk River.”

Feedback is important for AIDEA because under state law they’re required to have community support before developing projects.

But what exactly constitutes community support is not fully clear.

“The state does not have a good way to receive public comment,” said John Gaedeke, owner of a wilderness lodge close to the proposed road. Gaedeke started a petition opposing the road that’s gathered over 1,600 signatures online. He’s also the head of the Brooks Range Council, a group of business owners who charge that AIDEA and the state haven’t been open with the people who stand to be most affected by the project.

“The agencies have not connected [with] me at all, even though the road would pass within about eight miles of my family’s business,” Gaedeke said. “So, huge impact to the area the lodge is in–and the state has made no attempt to contact businesses affected in the area. That I’ve seen.”

But both AIDEA and NovaCopper tout local support for the road. They cite backing from NANA, the borough’s Regional Corporation, for the  forthcoming AIDEA EIS process. NANA owns part of the Red Dog zinc mine 90 miles north of Kotzebue that’s often mentioned as a template for profitable mining projects in the state.

But Gaedeke and others opposed to the road say NANA doesn’t speak for them, and that their voices aren’t being heard. It’s a sentiment echoed by John Horner and the others on the Kobuk Traditional Council.

“We felt that they weren’t giving us much information to begin with,” Horner said in March after Kobuk passed a resolution against the AMDIAR.  “As far as I am concerned, the Native Village of Kobuk is opposing the road.”

In Kobuk, opposition is tied to subsistence, with concerns the road will disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd’s migration. After years of decline, the worry is more activity in the area will further diminish the herd, and upend its migratory patterns in the region.

Representing 42 Interior communities, the Tanana Chiefs Conference in March also formally opposed the project after all six communities along the proposed route drafted their own statements against it. But coming from a regional non-profit in an unorganized borough (as opposed to the Northwest Arctic Borough, which is organized–a distinction with legal bearing under state mandates) it’s unclear how AIDEA will weigh that opposition.

Today’s Unit 23 Working Group meeting will have state and federal, regional, and local representatives to hear AIDEA’s plan for the road ahead.

Categories: Alaska News

Old And Bold Pilots: Warren Polski

Tue, 2014-05-13 17:42

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series, we’ve invited seasoned aviators to tell us about their adventures at the controls. Retired Anchorage pilot Warren Polski came to Alaska with his family when he was 9 and got his pilot’s license at age 16. He flew with the Civil Air Patrol for the next 50 years on search and rescue missions. One memorable flight was right after the 1964 earthquake. Polski took the first plane into Whittier, flying in two workers from the department of public safety. He says the ground was covered in debris and he needed to attempt to land on an airstrip maintained by the railroad.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Billionaire Behind Alice Rogoff

Tue, 2014-05-13 17:41

David Rubenstein on the Jumbotron at the Washington Monument Monday. (Liz Ruskin)

The Washington Monument reopened this week for the first time since it was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. A ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday featured military bands, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Washington’s mayor and TV weatherman Al Roker. But the man of the hour was David Rubenstein, who single-handedly paid half of the $15 million repair bill.

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“Seven and a half million dollars, which is incredible. Thank you David,” Jewell said, one voice in a chorus a gratitude for Rubenstein that morning.

If you’ve heard anything about Alice Rogoff, the woman who recently bought the Anchorage Daily News, you’ll likely know that she’s married Rubenstein, the billionaire who co-founded the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, and is No. 209 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

With his white hair and serious glasses, he looks a bit like the actor Steve Martin if he were playing someone wonky. Rubenstein says he may be the only person to have climbed up the Washington Monument in a suit and tie. His public speeches are often laced with witty, self-effacing asides. But when it was his turn at the microphone Monday, Rubenstein spoke only briefly.

“Many Americans have had good fortune,” he said, his words undercut by the siren of a passing emergency vehicle. “I have had good fortune. And I really wanted to give back to the country and this is just a down payment on my obligation to pay back the country for what it has done for me and my family.”

He’s done a lot of what he calls “patriotic philanthropy” lately, and it’s giving him a reputation makeover. After 9/11, Rubenstein became known as the mastermind of Carlyle Group. Conspiracy theories swirled around his private equity firm, mostly because it invested money from wealthy Saudis, and also because it hired ex-prime ministers and Pentagon bigshots who opened doors, making the firm rich. A more recent rumor, all over certain YouTube channels, has it that Carlyle Group is behind the disappearance of that Malaysian jet.

Rubenstein talks to news crews at the Washington Monument (Interior Department photo)

“Are we to believe the NSA’s private surveillance army run by the Carlyle Group has no information on Flight 370?” the narrator of one video says, with spooky music playing in the background.

The allegation has been discredited by the conspiracy-debunkers at Snopes.com. But if you’re inclined to believe in such things, a lack of evidence only proves it further.

Meanwhile, though, Carlyle Group has changed its style. Rubenstein says he failed to forecast how his firm would be perceived in a post-9/11 world. The ex-presidents and cabinet secretaries retired and weren’t replaced. Rubenstein told Forbes magazine he’s “depoliticized” the firm.

Now, Rubenstein is making headlines with big, patriotic donations: $10 million to restore George Washington’s estate at Mt. Vernon, and the same for Thomas Jefferson’s place at Monticello, plus $75 million for the Kennedy Center. He’s also purchased copies of the founding documents of the United States. He said at a conference recently it all started for him when he heard the Magna Carta, the 13th-century ancestor of the Bill of Rights, was on the auction block at Sotheby’s.

“The things that enable me to rise up from modest circumstances are kind of the freedoms so I really want to do something about it and I decided I was going to go buy the Magna Carta.”

Yes, he says he knows that sounds presumptuous. But he did buy it, for $21 million, and it’s on display now in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery of the National Archives. Pretty good for the son of a postal worker and a homemaker who grew up in Baltimore. He told the New York Times when he’s considering how to give his money away, he aims for things to make his mom proud.

Rubenstein went to law school on a scholarship — and later paid the school back with scholarships for 60 law students. He has signed a pledge to give away at least half of his wealth. He encourages other philanthropists to give to the nation, as well as to foundations and hospitals, “because our country doesn’t have the resources it once had. It just doesn’t.” He also tells them to give it away while they’re still alive. You’ll feel better about yourself, he promises, and thus live longer.

He said at a luncheon in Georgetown a few years ago that he never fell in love with Alaska the way his wife did. He says he’s more prone to air conditioning than to fresh air.

“I’m not big on the outdoors … not so much,” he told Washington society interviewer Carol Joynt. “But I got out of the car to come in here! I was outside for maybe 10 seconds.”

But he does, perhaps, owe his fortune to Alaska, and to the late Sen. Ted Stevens. In the 1980s, when Rubenstein and his partners were scratching for their first few million, Stevens authored a bit of tax code allowing Alaska Native Corporations to “sell” their operating losses. Rubenstein brokered some of the deals, helping profitable companies buy those losses to owe less in taxes. He says his big innovation was an accounting method that found far more losses than the $50 million originally projected. He once said his firm sold some $8 billion dollars worth. It was a boon for the Native corporations, for the buyers of their paper losses and also for Rubenstein and his partners. Only the U.S. Treasury was the lesser for it.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 13, 2014

Tue, 2014-05-13 17:12

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

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State Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Survivor Benefits Case

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that challenges whether same-sex couples should receive survivor benefits.

Rubenstein Reforming Face Of Carlyle Group

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

If you’ve heard anything about Alice Rogoff, the woman who recently bought the Anchorage Daily News, you’ll likely know that she’s married to a billionaire. David Rubenstein founded the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, and he’s Number 209 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

Shishaldin Volcano Rumbling To Life

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shishaldin Volcano is rumbling to life in the Aleutian Islands.

Bethel City Council Fires City Manager Lee Foley

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council voted unanimously to fire City Manager Lee Foley during a special meeting Monday.

Fish and Game Expects Low Yukon Chinook Run

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The run size for Yukon River Chinook, or king salmon is likely to be lower than last year’s.  Fishermen saw the lowest run of kings on record in 2013. Sport fishing throughout the entire Yukon River drainage area, including the Tanana River is closed this summer.  Biologists don’t expect enough fish for a subsistence or commercial harvest this year either.

Old And Bold Pilots: Warren Polski

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series, we’ve invited seasoned aviators to tell us about their adventures at the controls. Retired Anchorage pilot Warren Polski came to Alaska with his family when he was 9 and got his pilot’s license at age 16. He flew with the Civil Air Patrol for the next 50 years on search and rescue missions. One memorable flight was right after the 1964 earthquake. Polski took the first plane into Whittier, flying in two workers from the department of public safety. He says the ground was covered in debris and he needed to attempt to land on an airstrip maintained by the railroad.

Kuskokwim Elders React To This Year’s Breakup

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

This year residents along the Kuskokwim River experienced a rare break-up when the river seemingly broke up in reverse. While elders say this year was a unique event they also believe it could be sign of things to come.

The Dauenhauers Teach Tour Guides How To Teach Tourists

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

Two of greatest living scholars on Sitka’s Russian and Tlingit past were in town last week to train National Park rangers on the historic battles that took place there. Park rangers give programs but sometimes they’ll interact with visitors for only a few minutes. So the challenge is: How do you teach visitors about the culture in a memorable way?

Categories: Alaska News

The Dauenhauers Teach Tour Guides How To Teach Tourists

Tue, 2014-05-13 16:25

Two of greatest living scholars on Sitka’s Russian and Tlingit past were in town last week to train National Park rangers on the historic battles that took place here. Park rangers give programs, of course, but sometimes they’ll interact with visitors for only a few minutes at a time. So the challenge is: How do you teach visitors about the culture in a way that will have impact – when the most commonly-asked question is “Where’s the bathroom?”

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Nora and Dick Dauenhauer wrote Russians in Tlingit America. The book is used to train Sitka’s park rangers. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

I’m on a bus tour. All the passengers are trained historical interpreters. And the tour guides are the leading scholars on the topic. They literally wrote the book.

Dick: One of the earliest recordings of the history is from Sally Hopkins. And her daughter asked Nora if she would transcribe and translate this…

Nora and Dick Dauenhauer are the author’s of Russians in Tlingit America – the definitive work on the battles of 1802 and 1804.

The bus stops in old Sitka. It’s just a patch of grass near the ferry terminal. But in 1802 it was where Tlingit warriors attacked the Russian fort.

Latanich: This is Dick and Nora is right there in the blue sweater.
Dick: Hello
Park ranger: I like your book!
Dick: Thank you.
Park ranger: I make all of my staff read it.
Dick: It’s a good one I’m glad it’s in there because my memory isn’t what it used to be so at least it’s all in there now.

The Dauenhauers are in town to advise Sitka park rangers how to reinterpret the history for transient cruise ship passengers who know nothing about it.

Nora is Tlingit and a native speaker of the language.

Nora: The way we got into this was I was teaching Tlingit in Juneau high school and I got this letter from a professor.

Dick was the professor, he admired her work. The rest is history.

Sitka park rangers take tips from the the Dauenhauers on how to engage tourists. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

Dick: We’ve been partners in scholarship for over 40 years and we had our 40th anniversary in November…

Somewhere along the line they got married.

Dick: Still doing business but slower than we used to be.

While their relationship was always solid. The making of Russians in Tlingit Americanwas an on again off again kind of affair.

Dick: The first issue that came up to us in doing this book was who owns history.

Nora was asked to translate Tlingit oral histories recounting the battles. But then Native elders didn’t want to rehash the past, which put the book on hold. When the elders died the new generation wanted to know the history. Then the Soviet Union crumbled – freeing up access to Russian archives. It took decades of cultural and political change before they could complete the book.

Dick: So, these are difficult issues. I think it’s important to kind of be up front that this is living history that this is not just something that happened 200 years ago. People are very aware of that here.

Sitkans might be very aware of the history, but tourists from… Idaho? The challenge is getting visitors to care. I asked second season tour guide Janet Drake about her approach.

Forman: So much research, and so many different sources, a combination of written and oral history, and then you have to try and synthesize this for a group of tourists that…
Drake: know nothing about this place and..
Forman: How do you do that?
Drake: I know, that’s the challenge – finding those pieces that hit home for people.

Forman: What’s the most common question you get?
Drake: Where’s the bathroom? Hahaha! Just kidding… But actually that’s kind of serious.

Chief of Interpretation Becky Latanich is always thinking about how to make the history relatable.

Latanich: I think visitors have a hard time relating to this story. They come here and they don’t know anything about it and they think Sitka and they think totem poles. The battle is a little difficult for people because it’s not well know. It’s not Gettysburg. So do you have any suggestions for our staff about what themes you’ve encountered that people might be able to relate to?

Dick: Whoever controlled Sitka controlled the whole Northwest fur trade… If you got a flare for the dramatic you can reinterpret for the tourists… Imagine Katlian coming down, the Russians on the beach, and all of a sudden the Russians are behind them and here’s Katlian with his hammer because it’s easier to bash heads in than it is to pull a dagger out.

While engaging tourists is one thing, retelling the story in a way that’s respectful of the families that have a personal connection to the history is another. Some parts of this history are so sensitive that the Dauenhauers were actually asked to omit some of the detail. And they did because that’s the respectful thing to do.

Dick: And that’s of course the challenge of ethnohistory you are dealing with the families, family memories, and family traditions.

The idea that family history is complicated? Most people, even out of town visitors, can relate to that.

Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano Rumbling To Life

Tue, 2014-05-13 16:18

Shishaldin Volcano is rumbling to life in the Aleutian Islands.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory detected long tremors and an increase in surface temperatures at Shishaldin earlier Tuesday.

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Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

Those could be signs of an eruption, says Robert McGimsey, a geologist at the AVO.

“Typical eruptions of Shishaldin have involved what we call Strombolian eruptions, which are gas-charged emissions,” McGimsey said.

Shishaldin, which is located on Unimak Island is unique among volcanoes in Alaska. It doesn’t have a lava plug or a dome – just a deep, open vent.

McGimsey says that when Shishaldin erupts, “It’s gas bubbles coming up through the throat or the vent of the volcano. And when they pop, it just kind of throws magma up into the air. That’s
kind of what defines lava fountaining.”

That lava glides down the flanks of the volcano, leaving a smooth layer. That’s why Shishaldin is the most symmetrical, conical volcano in the world.

But for now, there’s no lava coming out of Shishaldin. Satellite images show steam, and some light traces of ash.

Still, this is the most active that the volcano has been since 2009.

The AVO started logging small explosions and ash clouds at Shishaldin this winter. They elevated the volcano’s official alert level in March.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Survivor Benefits Case

Tue, 2014-05-13 13:49

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that challenges whether or not same-sex couples should receive survivor benefits.

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Deborah Harris’ long-term partner Kerry Fadely was shot and killed when working at Millennium Hotel in 2011. According to Alaska law, spouses receive survivor benefits if their husband or wife is killed from a work-related injury. Same-sex couples do not because same-sex marriage is illegal in Alaska.

Harris said after her partner was killed, she had to leave their home because she did not receive the benefits.

“I still don’t have a home, not really…” she haltingly told the press after the oral arguments closed. “I work on the Slope for three weeks because housing’s included. And the other three weeks I stay with my children still, because you know, you don’t plan on these things happening, so you don’t have the resources…”

Attorney Donald Thomas argued on behalf of Millennium Hotel, which declined to provide Harris with death benefits. “Thus if the marriage amendment is precluding same sex couples from marriage, it is inherently, implicitly denying them – any person whose not validly married, the rights and benefits of marriage,” he told the Court.

Lamda Legal staff attorney Peter Renn represented Harris. He said same-sex couples are denied the same safety nets as opposite-sex couples.

“State law absolutely discriminates against loving, committed same-sex couples in this context, and it has absolutely no reason for doing so,” he told the press after the arguments finished.

Renn said the case is not directly challenging the same-sex marriage ban, but the Court could choose to take up the matter. “We’ve given the Court an option of menus. It could take a smaller bite and decide only the death benefits issue that is raised here for Ms. Harris. But it could also decide to take a somewhat broader step and declare the marriage amendment itself unconstitutional. So that is available to them. They could go there.”

This is the third case before the state’s Supreme Court that has challenged unequal benefits for same-sex couples. In both 2005 and 2014 the court ruled that same-sex couples should not be discriminated against. However, the Court did not strike down the marriage ban amendment.

Renn said the Court will likely issue a ruling late this year or early next year.

Monday five couples filed a case in federal district court directly challenging the ban. A circuit court in Arkansas overruled that state’s same-sex marriage ban last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Elders React To This Year’s Breakup

Tue, 2014-05-13 12:36

Kuskokwim and Gweek Rivers on 5/2/14 . (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

This year, residents along the Kuskokwim River experienced a rare breakup when the river seemingly broke up in reverse.

While elders say this year was a unique event they also believe it could be sign of things to come.

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The Kuskokwim River serves as the main transportation route for the Yup’ik living along it.  People use it to reach other villages and gather their food. So predicting its behavior is an essential part of survival.

Atmautluak elder Henry Tikiun says this break-up was unlike any he’s ever seen.

“They said the weather would change with the people, I never thought I’d ever reach this in my lifetime,” Tikiun said.

Originally from Bethel, Tikiun recounts his childhood memories when seasons were more predictable.

“In my first memories in Bethel, upriver areas like McGrath and Aniak would always break up first,” Tikiun said. “After that, downriver would break up even though it’s closer to the ocean.”

Tikiun says the ice would be much thicker in those days. Breakup would be signaled by loud rumbling from the river caused by ice grinding and breaking against each other. He says the climate is changing because of the way people treat the land.

“All of us just the same are polluting our land with no respect,” he said.

Tikiun points to trashed fuel drums along riverbanks as just one of numerous examples.

At the mouth of the Kuskokwim, Tuntutuliak elder and pilot James Charles says the early downriver break-up is attributed to the lack of snow and thin ice.

“The lower area had no snow and the ice was thin so it broke up first,” Charles said. “It usually breaks up last when there’s snow.”

Charles says he’s noticed reports of melting glaciers and permafrost and believes this is attributed to global warming.

“People say our land is thawing and getting warmer and I believe what they call ‘global warming’ is happening,” Charles said.

On the south side of the Kuskokwim Bay, elder John Alexie says breakup near Eek was similar to just one other that occurred about a decade ago. He says warming temperatures were predicted by his ancestral elders.

“I used to hear from people who came before me that the weather would change,” Alexie said. “It wouldn’t be as cold as it used to be and the winters would be different.”

Alexie also heard some of the elders mention that while this area gets warmer, other areas in the Lower 48 would get colder with harsher winters.

While break-up was unusual this year, the elders say similar break-ups may not be uncommon in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

‘I Am A Girl On The Run’

Tue, 2014-05-13 12:15

The theme of this Girls on the Run 5K was tutus. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

When Molly Barker exclaimed, “I feel beautiful,” the crowd of runners, running buddies, volunteers and family members cheered. When she yelled, “I am a girl on the run,” everyone – female and male alike –  shouted, “I am a girl on the run!”

More than 100 girls from around Southeast Alaska participated in Saturday’s Girls on the Run event in Juneau. The after-school program has been in Juneau since 2008, but this particular run was special – Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker was visiting from North Carolina.

 

Every runner in Girls on the Run has a running buddy who stays with them for the entire 5K. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Girls on the Run is a three-month after-school running program that empowers girls to be healthy, happy and confident. Each program session culminates in a 5K run.

Glacier Valley fifth grader Teija Loving says the program works.

“Because you can get fit and you can have new friends and you can, like, just meet a lot of new people and you can have more respect about yourself,” Teija says.

Emma Rice, also in fifth grade, says she’s learned a lot from the program.

“To, like, be confident and never give up on yourself and don’t think that you’re a failure,” Emma says.

Teija and Emma are on the cusp of entering a new phase of life where, Barker says, things starts to get more difficult.

“What I’ve learned is that around sixth grade, which is the age you guys are, the world suddenly – I don’t know if you’ve experienced this – starts to somehow get the focus off of who you are in the inside and put the focus where? On your outsides, like, maybe how you look, your body, your hair, all the other stuff,” Barker said.

Speaking to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School, Barker shared one way to handle this.

“If you are funny, are you going to kind of be a little bit funny if your gift is to make people smile and laugh? No, you’re going to really let that out,” Barker said. “So part of what I think we can do as strong empowered women, instead of focusing on each other’s outsides, we can bring our gifts, walk it into a room and own it.”

This is a lesson that Barker herself didn’t have growing up in the South. She struggled with being popular and fitting in. At age 15, she started drinking. Barker said her struggle continued until she was 32.

“I had this experience while out on a run actually that just changed everything and I became incredibly conscious of the fact that I lived 32 years of my life allowing words and other people to define me and I thought, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’” she said.

Three years later, Barker created Girls on the Run. It started in 1996 with 13 girls. Now, more than 130,000 girls in the U.S. and Canada are part of the program.

 

Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker speaks to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

AWARE is Juneau’s women’s shelter and domestic abuse nonprofit. It started Girls on the Run as one of its primary prevention initiatives. The program has spread to 11 other communities in Southeast Alaska and serves more than 350 girls.

Back at the 5K, 11-year-old Eli Mead stands with his little sister, Samantha, who’s in Girls on the Run.

“I’m her running buddy today because I love running,” Eli says. “I’m going to make sure that she never stops and I’m going to compliment her and I’m going to tell her that she’s doing fine.”

Volunteer Leslie Daugherty is also a running buddy.

“It’s just about taking baby steps. So we walk until we feel like running and maybe we don’t feel like running at all, and that’s okay, too. We’ll just be joyful about it and just feel strong and like we can do anything,” Daugherty says.

And that’s what Girls on the Run is all about – bringing joy and confidence. Or, as a girl once told Barker, “teaching girls to be the boss of their own brains.”

Categories: Alaska News

APICDA Tries to Draw Graduate Students Back Home

Tue, 2014-05-13 12:10

Community development quota groups, or CDQ groups, are supposed to harness some of the wealth from western Alaska’s booming fisheries. They all invest in education by handing out scholarships to coastal residents.

Now, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is changing the way it invests in graduate students to get the returns it wants.

Larry Cotter is APICDA’s executive director. He says the scholarship program used to be simple: Students from the Aleutians and Pribilofs could get up to $5,000 every year to pay for school. That worked well for undergraduates.

“First and foremost, I think the goal is to encourage folks to get an education and set the table for their future,” Cotter says.

But it’s different for students who pursue an advanced degree, like a master’s or a doctorate. In the past five years, 15 graduate students have gotten grants from APICDA to put toward school.

There’s no data on how many of them have returned to the Aleutians and Pribilofs. But Cotter says the region needs all of those students to put their graduate degrees to work in their communities.

APICDA wasn’t doing enough to draw them back home, Cotter says.

“The way to do that would be to shift away from providing an outright scholarship to encouraging the students to go get student loans, and then we would pay those loans off at up to $5,000 a year if they returned to the region and worked or worked for somebody working with the region,” Cotter says.

That could be a government agency, like the Aleutians East Borough. It could also be a nonprofit group, or even APICDA itself.

Cotter says it’s a new concept for APICDA. But they’re not the only ones using loan repayments to hold onto highly-educated residents.

The CDQ group for the Bristol Bay region — the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation — will pay off up to $20,000 in graduate school loans for students from the area if they come back home to work for at least one year.

“Frankly I think we may have looked at their program and said, ‘You know, that makes sense,’” Cotter says.

The Bristol Bay group didn’t respond to a request for information about their program. But according to their annual reports, BBEDC has been offering loan forgiveness to graduate students for at least a decade.

In the Aleutians and Pribilofs, the changes are going into effect. Residents who have returned to work for the region will have until July 1 to apply for student loan payments from APICDA. After that, more rounds of funding are expected to follow.

Categories: Alaska News

Managers May Close Kuskokwim to King Salmon Fishing Earlier than Planned

Tue, 2014-05-13 12:09

The waters of Kuskokwim River are free of ice and at the moment open to subsistence king salmon fishing, but that could quickly change, depending on how many fisherman are targeting and catching king salmon in a year that managers believe is crucial for viability of the run.

Brian McCaffery, the Acting Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Manager and the Federal In-Season Manager, says the early season plan had the federal Kuskokwim waters closing to gillnets larger than 4 inches as of a week from Tuesday.

Ice passes by Bethel, AK on Sunday, May 4, 2014. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“Right now the game plan is for the 20th, but if it turns out that a lot of people are out there targeting and successfully harvesting kings, we may need to make that date earlier to protect those fish that are trying to get upriver that are trying to get to the spawning grounds further up,” McCaffery said.

He says that there are concerns that the run might be building earlier as it has in other early break up years, but he doesn’t know with any certainty when the run will come in.

That said, Bethel resident Fritz Charles called into KYUK’s Friday Talk Line show and told listeners that the closures are not yet in place, and that it’s “a free for all.”

McCaffery says words like that are disappointing.

“We were hoping that given the widespread information that’s been disseminated across the year about the threats to the king salmon, that folks would use some individual restraint and not target the king salmon at this time and focus on some of the other fish species,” McCaffery said.

Later Friday, Charles explained that on one side, he is for conservation and making sure his grandchildren enjoy king salmon, but on the hand…

“Of course everyone one wants the fresh taste of fish,” Charles said. “And now is the time to do it, before any regulations or anything sets in place – that’s my personal opinion.”

Charles says he’s not hearing of any kings being caught as of Friday afternoon. This year if McCaffery sees large scale preseason king salmon harvest, he says in addition to closing the gillnet harvest earlier, he may also have to reduce or eliminate what was hoped to be a small cultural and social king salmon harvest of around 1,000 kings. He also may have to change or cancel the 6” gillnet openings penciled in for the last week of June.

2013 brought the lowest Kuskokwim king salmon run on record of around 94,000 kings, with only about 47,000 escaping to spawn, well below the bottom of the escapement goal. All of the weirs saw the lowest passage on record.

Whatever early harvest takes place this year could disproportionally affect the fish that head hundreds of miles upriver, says McCaffery.

“We suspect that many of these salmon that are headed up to the farthest reaches of the headwaters are among those that come in early,” McCaffery said. ”The folks upriver have made it very clear that they want and need those stocks to be protected.”

McCaffery says his crews may be travel this weekend to see how many fishermen are out. Enforcement crews were planning on beginning around May 20th, but they may arrive earlier if necessary.

“We’re really hoping that with some very conservative actions which we realize will take sacrifice and will cause some hardship for people that we that may be able to have a better chance at having healthy populations down the road, not just for this generation but for generations still to come,” McCaffery said.

Click here to view the early season regulation outlook and a letter from McCaffery explaining the consequences of the early season harvest.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Tallies Cost of Blasting Issues at Wastewater Plant, Landfill

Tue, 2014-05-13 12:02

It’s been a year since Unalaska started uncovering big problems with a major construction project in town. Work is moving forward on the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. But, staff are still trying to put a price on the damage done.

Workers at the wastewater treatment plant site are busy pouring concrete for the building’s water tanks and foundations. City Manager Chris Hladick says they’ll be able to start building the actual structure of the plant in the next month.

“You know, they had planned on being further along than they are, but I don’t think it’s going to impact the total schedule,” Hladick said.

The plant has to be online by the end of 2015, as mandated by a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, Hladick says they’re working on another issue — one that was never supposed to be part of the project.

They’re trying to add up the cost of issues with blasting work done at the site last year.

Advanced Blasting was originally hired to carve out a hole for the wastewater treatment plant’s foundations, but the city says they blasted too deep and too wide, and left behind explosive materials, including sticks of dynamite.

Advanced Blasting owner Julia Saunders has said the company won’t comment on the allegations.

But contractors on the project say it’s cost them at least $1.6 million — and counting — to deal with the blasting issues.

In some cases, the city’s agreed to pay what the companies are asking. They granted a $340,000 change order to Alaska Mechanical, the lead contractor, to fill in the over-blasted area.

But Northern Mechanical, the subcontractor at the plant, is asking for a lot more — $1.3 million, to be exact. Hladick says the company did face a lot of extra work. They had to deal with the over-blasting and the abandoned explosives at the site.

“It was completed last July and August, I believe, the work — they’d find a blasting material and they’d stop work and deal with it, and there were a lot of starts and stops,” Hladick said.

Northern Mechanical hasn’t been paid for that extra work yet, because the city wants more details on why it cost so much.

“We’re saying, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money. Okay, show us your back-up. Show us your timecards, show us how many trucks you used…’ all that kind of stuff,” Hladick said. ”And that’s well within our rights to do that.”

Either way, it’s not just financial cost from blasting issues that’s adding up at the wastewater site. It’s costing time, too. Hladick says Alaska Mechanical wants to add extra days on the end of the contract to make up for delays.

He says that shouldn’t be a problem — the city built a buffer into their construction schedule so they could meet the EPA’s deadline even if they ran into problems.

But all those problems have had a ripple effect, and it’s spread to another municipal project: the landfill expansion. Dynamite wrappers turned up in piles of rock there last month, bringing work to a halt.

The contaminated rock had come from the wastewater treatment plant, and Northern Alaska, the contractor that was supposed to use it to expand the landfill, needed to clean it up. Hladick says they asked for $2.3 million extra to do it.

“That was just to go through 40,000 yards of rock, and they were going to go through it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure there wasn’t anything in it,” Hladick said. ”They had, like, $4,000 a day for a powderman to be on site, and they estimated 60 days to go through the pile.”

The city thought the change order was too expensive, so they canceled the contract altogether. The project is set to go back out to bid this week. Whoever picks it up will also have to deal with the contaminated rocks.

That’ll all make up the final price of the blasting issues at the wastewater plant. Once the city approves the contractors’ requests and tallies the total cost, Hladick says they’ll bring it to Advanced Blasting and start looking at getting paid back.

“Yeah, we’re going to sit down with them and talk about it, that’s for sure,” Hladick said.

That conversation won’t involve lawyers — at least not at first. But with projects worth more than $23 million total and several companies’ reputations at stake, Hladick it’s a definite possibility down the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Fire Warning Rescinded

Tue, 2014-05-13 11:52

The risk of fires in Southeast’s Tongass National Forest has dropped.

A warning was issued last week as warm, sunny weather dried out grass and underbrush.

But Fire Management Officer Seth Ross says that’s changed.

“It seems that the forecast and the current weather indicate that we’re going back to our typical Southeast Alaska pattern, coming out of that warm and dry weather,” Ross says.

“So, we are going to rescind that warning, but still, caution people to always be careful of fire in the woods,” he says.

Ross says the Tongass sees an average of 17 fires each year. Sometimes it’s as high as 40. Most are brush and peat fires.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game Expects Low Yukon Chinook Run

Tue, 2014-05-13 11:51

The run size for Yukon River Chinook, or king salmon, is likely to be lower than last year’s. Fishermen saw the lowest run of kings on record in 2013.

Sport fishing throughout the entire Yukon River drainage area, including the Tanana River is closed this summer. Biologists don’t expect enough fish for a subsistence or commercial harvest this year either.

(Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Anywhere between 64,000 and 121,000 Chinook salmon could swim up the Yukon River this summer. Fish and Game’s Yukon River Research Biologist Stephanie Schmidt expects the run size to be close to the lower end of that range.

“Because the last several years, we’ve seen run sizes that have come in lower or at that low end of our preseason projections,” she said.

If she is right, this summer’s will be the lowest run on record for the Yukon River. Schmidt says there could be several reasons for the decline in king salmon.

“I always like to use the analogy of a a rivet in an airplane,” Schmidt said. “If you take one rivet out the airplane will still fly; If you take two out, it will still fly, but once you start taking three, four, five rivets out it’s going to crash.”

“So it might not be one big thing that’s causing Chinook salmon to decline but several small factors.”

Fish and Game is trying to manage the king salmon population so that up to 55,000 fish make it to Canada. That’s close to 86 percent of the lower end of the projected total run size. Fish and Game’s Yukon Area Summer Season Manager Eric Newland says there hasn’t been a lot of argument against closing sport fishing, subsistence or commercial harvest this summer.

“I think most people on the river really understand this: that it’s a problem, we’re doing a lot to conserve these fish and we’re still not making goals,” he said.

According to Newland, biologists are looking for ways to allow for harvest of other species in place of king salmon.

“Initially, we’ll be trying to provide for sheefish in the lower river, whitefish in other districts as well as summer chum when those fish become available a little later in the season and at that time we’ll be using gear types that allow for the release of King salmon if they are incidentally caught at that time,” he said.

Newland says last year’s commercial harvest of chum salmon, also known as dogs, was one of the largest on record. The subsistence harvest last summer was also up for chums, and Fish and Game expects a strong fall chum run this year as well. In the meantime, several research initiatives to investigate the king salmon decline are underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel City Council Fires City Manager Lee Foley

Tue, 2014-05-13 11:44

The Bethel City Council voted unanimously to fire City Manager Lee Foley during a special meeting Monday.

The termination comes after the 3-month-long investigation conducted by a third party attorney into nepotism, contracts, and personnel issues, among other issues. Council member Mark Springer noted that Foley had done a lot of good for the city.

“However it is the council’s prerogative at any time to terminate the city manager and in light of matters that have come to our attention and that have been given very serious consideration by the council…that why I’m making this motion,” Springer said. “And as I’ve said in previous meetings, this is not something we are taking lightly.”

Former Bethel City Manager Lee Foley at City Council meeting, 5/12/14.
(Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Mayor Joe Klejka says there were at lease three contracts that were not sent out for competitive bidding, including the demolition of the old police station. The mayor would not name the other two, but the investigation included examination of city contracts with former finance director Bobby Sutton.

“We’ve not been following Bethel Municipal Code, and as our administrator for the city, [Foley] is the person most responsible for that to occur,” Klejka said. “It has just not been followed multiple, multiple, multiple times.”

The council confirmed violations within the city related to procurement, nepotism, credit card usage, personnel policies, leave, and travel and training policies. Foley’s son, Bo, works for the city’s IT department, which violates current city code.

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Foley admitted to using a city credit card for personal business and allowing department heads to do the same before paying back the money.

The termination was effective immediately. Foley has been city manager since July of 2008. Port Director Pete Williams has been the acting city manager since Foley was placed on administrative leave in April.

Foley said in a brief statement to the council that it was an honor serving the city council and that he wishes the best for Bethel.

The council is hoping to hire a human resources director soon, in an effort to ensure personnel policies are followed.

The council passed four motions in the special meeting. One would freeze tuition assistance to city employees until next year. Others would not allow first class travel on city business trips, stop automatic credit card charges, and ensure employees who cash out sick leave and personal time do so according to code.

The city is not releasing the investigation, citing attorney client privilege. KYUK and five other media organizations have submitted a public records request for the investigation.

The council meets in a regular meeting Tuesday at 6:30 at City Hall where they plan to hold a public hearing about proposed increases to water and sewer rates, direct city staff to move ahead with bike path and boardwalk repair and discuss creating a Bing Santamour higher education scholarship.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Air Group To Repurchase Up To $650 Million-Worth Of Stock

Tue, 2014-05-13 11:40

The Alaska Air Group will buy back up to $650 million of stock, in a move approved by the Board of Directors.

The buyback will equal about 10-percent of the company’s current market capitalization and comes on the heels of the current $250-million stock buyback.

In a prepared statement, the Chief Financial Officer stressed that the Alaska Air Group will finance the stock repurchases with cash on hand and cash flow from operations.

Since 2007, the Alaska Air Group has instigated 8 stock repurchase initiatives at a cost of $519-million. The Board of Directors also approved a quarterly cash dividend of 25-cents per share to be paid on June 4.

The Alaska Air Group is the parent company for Alaska Airlines.

Categories: Alaska News

Group Challenging Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

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The complaint is being filed in federal district court today, and it names Gov. Sean Parnell as the lead defendant. The parties are challenging the ban on the grounds that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Caitlin Shortell is one of three attorneys representing the couples.

“I think there’s a very strong, growing recognition that laws that single out a particular group of people to deny them rights do not square with the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, not with the Alaska Constitution,” Shortell said.

All but one of the couples challenging the ban have already been married in other states. But their marriages are not recognized by Alaska because of the ban that was instated in 1998. The fifth couple is unmarried, but would like to wed in Alaska.

Because the state officials named in suit have not seen the complaint, a spokesperson from the Department of Law could not comment on the case.

The State Supreme Court has ruled as recently as last month that gay couples need to be treated equally under law in situations like employee benefits and tax breaks, but it has skirted the question of whether the marriage ban conflicts with other parts of the Alaska Constitution.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. Federal judges have struck down marriage bans in several states since that ruling.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Walruses Removed From Unusual Mortality Event In North Pacific

Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Pacific walruses have been removed from the unusual mortality event declared in the North Pacific for several marine mammal species.

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Categories: Alaska News

Panel Discussion Addresses Effects Of British Columbia Mines

Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Over the weekend, the Western Mining Action Network held a panel discussion in Anchorage on the development of large scale mines in British Columbia that could impact the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers. All are prolific salmon producers for Alaska.

Chris Zimmer is the Alaska Rivers without Borders campaign director. He says there are a number of mines proposed for BC and two of the most concerning are the Tulsequah Chief mine and the much larger Kerr Suphurets Mitchell or KSM prospect which is half the size of the Pebble mine proposal and 50 times larger than Tulsequah.

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Why are these mining proposals ramping up now?

Zimmer – Well part of it is the price of gold. When I started this work 15 years ago, gold was in the 300 to 400 an ounce and now with it well into the thousands, that’s really driving a lot of this. And you also have two big pushes from BC. One a very strong pro mining push from the BC government. Premiere Christy Clark said she wants to see eight or ten mines in eight or ten years. Then you also have over the last couple of years, both Canada at the federal level and BC at the provincial level have, I’d say significantly cut their permitting regulations, significantly weakened some environmental laws. So these mines are going through much faster, in the permitting reviews, they’re not being held to as rigorous a standard, so we really see this as a tremendous mining binge in the BC side of the Southeast Alaska/BC transboundary region here.

Describe what the concern is for Alaska.

Zimmer – The biggest issue is, we’re downstream from all of this. If the rivers flowed the other way, it would be quite different. So the concern is for our water quality, our fish and the jobs, the livelihoods, the cultures that depend on those. Basically what we have in the headwaters now is a toxic time bomb if these mines are built. You’re going to have millions to billions of tons of acid mine generating rock, constant water flow and in the case of KSM, the company says they’ll have to treat the water for 200 years when most people think they’ll have to treat it forever. So forever is a tough concept, who is going to pay for forever? Who is going to pay to clean this up? So Alaska is going to get no benefit from these mines, the benefits will all flow to Canada and we get nothing but the risk to our downstream fisheries.

This is a trans-nation border issue, waters flowing from BC into Alaska, U.S. waters, have you spoken to anyone from the congressional delegation about this?

Zimmer – Over the last couple of months, we’ve put together a loose coalition of almost all the stakeholders in these watersheds, from commercial fishermen to tribes to environmentalists and we did send a team back to Washington DC in March. The response there was excellent from federal agencies and from our congressional delegation. They saw the risk, they listened to everybody and the congressional delegation immediately fired off a letter to Secretary John Kerry, saying this is an international issue and we need the State Department to engage directly with the Canadian government, because this isn’t an Alaska/BC this is really the U.S. and Canada and the border creates some problems of jurisdiction, the mines are in another country so the only way we thought we could get some traction and get these issues addressed is to make this a federal government to federal government level. Secretary Kerry does have other things on his plate these days, so we haven’t gotten an answer back yet, but we’ve been working with lower level officials in the State Department to try to engage with Canada. So that type of diplomacy is slow, it’s painful, but its really the only way for Alaska to get satisfaction, to get it’s concerned addressed. Canada is probably going to dig its heels in a bit so this could be a tough battle here.

Categories: Alaska News
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