APRN Alaska News

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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 6 min 46 sec ago

Mallott, Walker Talk of Joining Forces

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:10

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The deadline for making candidacy changes for the November general election ballot is tomorrow and talks have reportedly been going between Democrat Gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker about a possible unity ticket. Just how that would be done and what would become of running mates Craig Fleener and Hollis French remains to be seen. The Mallott campaign said the media can expect some sort of availability Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Change Coming to Lower Kuskokwim School District

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:08

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Students returned to classes recently across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Jacob Jensen says change is on the horizon for the district with the largest number of rural students in the state.

This year, the Lower Kuskokwim School District has new leadership at several schools. Superintendent, Jacob Jensen, says of the five schools in Bethel, three have had principal turnovers. Jensen.

“So we have three new principals. So the principal at Gladys Jung is the principal that’s been with LKSD for quite a long time at LKSD, I believe he’s on year 12, Chris Carmichael. The principal over at Immersion is a longtime LKSD employee, Mike Smith, who had retired and decided it did not suit him and came back. And then the new principal at BRHS has been a principal in Alaska for, I think nine years, her name is Elizabeth Balcerek,” Jensen said.

The district is looking to reorganize behind the scenes. Right now, the district does a lot of what’s called site-based management, which means schools and principals have a lot of autonomy to do things like, set their own calendar, run their own lunch programs and hire their own staff. But Jenson said LKSD, for a number of reasons, is looking at more centralization.

“Possibly looking at things like having a centralized food service, as opposed to having each individual site kind of run their own, centralizing a lot of our technology has already happened,” Jensen said.

“We’re looking at possibly maintenance, you know centralizing that. You know purchasing. We try to order the same types of vehicles and snow machines and four wheelers but we don’t really have any policies about that. So kinda looking at all those type of things.”

Jensen said LKSD is one of a handful of school districts in rural Alaska that still allows schools such autonomy. He says while local input and control are important for the district, officials may have to make serious budget changes in response to pressure from limited state and federal funds. He says the district can be more efficient with some centralized services.

Besides consolidating management of LKSD, Jensen says, district-wide accreditation is another major goal he hopes to accomplish this year.  Jensen says, also new this year, students will take fewer tests. That’s a result of the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind.

“As far as the waiver, it doesn’t do a whole lot different other than listeners should know that it was by this year all of our students had to be 100 percent proficient, which was an unrealistic goal,” he said. “So the state got a waiver and now we’re working on what is called a growth model so we’re making sure that kids are growing each and every year.”

In addition, the state high school graduation exam is no longer being given due to a proposal by Governor Sean Parnell that was approved by the state legislature this past year.

“It made it difficult for some students that could not pass that high school graduation exam,” Jensen said.

“It caused some difficulties for some students who wanted to get into the military and go on to post-secondary options. I thinking it was a good idea when they put it in place. It was a little bit difficult in implementation. So, what’s happening now is that kids just have to meet the qualifying criteria of the school district.”

Jensen says two other state tests have also been eliminated, the ‘Terra-Nova’ and the State of Alaska Standards Based Assessment test also known as the SBA, which is being replaced with the Alaska Measures of Progress Test, or AMP. Students will take the AMP online. Jensen also notes that all children in the district can now eat breakfast and lunch for free. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, and Jensen says he’s hopes the meals will help students excel.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District stretches about 100-thousand square miles and is about the same size as the state of Ohio. The district, made up by 28 schools with more than 4,000 students, has an operating budget of about $80 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Freedom Summer Marks 50th Anniversary

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:06

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, when civil rights activists from across the United States joined together to register black voters in the Deep South. It was a summer marred by violence and filled with hope for much of the country. But in Alaska,things were different.

Rosa Foster darts around her small kitchen making oatmeal. Formal china is on the table, family photos line the walls and shelves. The hyperactive 81 year old jumps –from story to story as she puts away the tub of margarine and box of sugar.

We settle onto the couch in her crowded den, the TV constantly on in the background. She alternates between telling more stories and answering her phone as her oatmeal grows cold.

Foster moved to Anchorage from Virginia in 1961 with her husband, who was in the military, and their two young children. She says she met her neighbors, who were all welcoming.

Foster recalls the intricate details of getting her first job as a third grade teacher at Fairview Elementary. The way she tells it, she went to the school district administration and demanded exactly where she would teach and what level.

She was one of the first black teachers in the city but she says she didn’t feel like any of the other teachers or the students treated her any differently, not like in Virginia.

Foster says when they bought a house in Airport Heights in 1963, some of her friends were a bit concerned.

But her friend thought the Fosters might be okay since they both had white-collar jobs. Foster says she became fast friends with her neighbors and taught them about her family’s way of doing things.

Williams says he decided to join them and he did find a place where people of different colors were friends.

He says there were black-owned construction companies building for the government and black-owned clubs serving the community. But not everyone agrees that Anchorage was a relative utopia in terms of race relations. Richard Watts Jr. moved to Anchorage as a small boy in 1949.

In 1951, the home of a black family in Rogers Park was torched. After that, Watts’ parents helped start the Anchorage NAACP. Watts says the black community was only allowed to live in certain parts of town.

No one would sell them a house in west Anchorage, so his family bought a home in the eastern part of Nunaka Valley. To shop, they drove to the Carrs Brothers on Gambell in Fairview because the store sold things like pigs feet and chitlins for cooking southern soul food.

So in 1963, when Watts was 16, the NAACP started a boycott. For three weeks Watts joined others picketing in front of the store. And when the boycott ended, he was hired as a bagger.

Watts says it was a comfortable place to work, and he was quickly promoted. Within a few years he was a store manager, then a director of groceries. Now he’s in charge of the beverage and tobacco divisions.

But Rosa Foster says not all of the stores were as progressive as Carrs. She recalls trying to buy shoes at JC Penny’s for her children and being ignored by the sales clerk.

She hurries off to answer another call, her cold breakfast long forgotten.

Categories: Alaska News

Forecasters Keeping Eye Out for an El Nino

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:05



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Weather forecasters have their eye out for an El Nino this fall and winter. The equatorial Pacific Ocean warming has been observed in its early stages this summer.  National Weather Service Alaska region climate science and services manager Rick Thoman is tracking conditions that signal El Nino.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Complaints Filed Against Statewide Public Officials

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:03



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Three Kenai Peninsula residents have filed complaints with the Alaska Public Offices Commission against statewide public officials for failure to disclose gifts.

Categories: Alaska News

Heat Pumps Tap Ocean’s Thermal Energy

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:02

Engineering consultant Andy Baker says the thermal energy in the ocean is clean, efficient, unlimited. (Photo by Robert Woolsey. KCAW-Sitka)

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Using seawater to heat large buildings in Alaska is no longer a pipe dream.

Andy Baker, an engineer with YourCleanEnergy LLC, helped design an ocean-sourced heat pump system for the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward which will pay back the community’s investment in less than nine years — just in fuel savings.

Baker spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce about practical applications for a technology that has quickly moved from theory into reality.

There’s a big difference between talking about an innovative heating system that’s on the drawing board, and talking about one that’s now used in places like Seward, NOAA’s research lab in Auke Bay, and the Whistler Village and Convention Center in Vancouver.

Baker described how the thermal energy carried in the current along Alaska’s coastline originated on the equator. Resurrection Bay, which supplies the Seward SeaLife Center, has a staggering amount of energy available.

Baker tried to describe it in terms Alaskans might understand:

“Here’s the real ah-ha picture. This was taken by the CEO of the SeaLife Center in 2009. In November, the seawater temperature is 50 degrees, the outdoor air temperature is 22. You see the latent heat of that body of water. It’s just a big hot tub steaming off. This bay is two miles wide and 11 miles long. So we’ve calculated the volume of the bay, and we know it raises 15 degrees in temperature over each summer season. We calculated how much heat that was, and if you tried to heat that bay using the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, you would have to burn it for 50 days, 600,000 barrels a day, at 85-percent efficiency. So it’s 20 percent of TAPS, in just one bay.”

The disparity between ocean and air temperatures in the fall in Seward is because of the warm current. The difference isn’t quite as extreme in Sitka, but the result is the same: A basically limitless supply of seawater at a stable temperature that never freezes.

Baker says the taxpayer-owned SeaLife Center turned off its two oil-fired boilers in 2012 and began to realize savings of $10,000 a month in fuel, or $120,000 a year. This will pay back the original investment in a little under nine years.

Air-source heat pumps have been gaining ground in Sitka. Blatchley Middle School has heat pumps, the remodeled Harrigan Centennial Hall is slated to get them, and dozens of homeowners have installed residential versions.

Only the Sitka Sound Science Center has been actively pursuing seawater heat pumps, and has installed an upgraded seawater intake for its aquarium that can be adapted to heat pumps.

Baker says there’s a common misconception that heat pumps circulate corrosive seawater. Not true. The seawater raises the temperature of a coolant loop through a heat exchanger, and then is returned to the ocean.

And for corrosion-resistance, the heat exchanger — like the one in Seward — is made from titanium.

“And so this is really the star of the system,” Baker said “There’s no moving parts. That’s a $28,000 unit. It’s about 7-feet tall. There are 126 plates in it. In advance of it is an in-line filter that traps particles, so we don’t have clogging in the plate exchanger. And the Science Center here is looking at having a similar system — similar hardware, but on a smaller scale. And this is one of the most important investments. If you do this right and size it right, you’ll have plenty of heat coming into your system.”

Baker also discussed expanding a seawater system beyond a single building — into a neighborhood district. The concept is already in use in Scandanavia. It functions like any utility, electricity or drinking water, but it this case it would be a coolant loop. Residents could connect heat pumps to it, or not. And cities understand pipes.

“For the city it just means that they’re not in the heat business, they’re just pumping a loop of cold water around. That’s something you already do with your water system.”

Baker touched on some other advantages of seawater-sourced heat pumps: Unlike air-source, they don’t become inefficient as the air cools down. Just the opposite. The greater the difference between the air temperature and the water source, the better they perform. There’s also no pollution — especially when the electricity is coming from hydropower.

Baker said that liability — which can be mitigated in other forms of alternative energy like biomass — is off the table for seawater heat pumps. He cited other tangible benefits like more jobs for people to run and maintain neighborhood districts, and lower costs for residents and businesses in the winter. But he said not all benefits would be tangible.

“If you do a project like this, people will start to identify your town with that innovation. People respect that. They look for that leadership.”

Baker says that the Seward project benefited from two grants from the Alaska Energy Authority’s emerging technology fund. He described the Alaska Renewable Energy grant fund as “more problematic,” since it assigns communities like Sitka and Juneau lower fuel costs than elsewhere. Baker felt that if the AEA accurately reflected the cost of oil in its grant formula, Sitka would have had seawater heat pumps last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Welcomes New US Citizens

Mon, 2014-09-01 16:01



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Eighteen Ketchikan residents became U.S. citizens a few days ago. The ceremony took place in the courtroom of Ketchikan’s historic downtown federal building.

Categories: Alaska News

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