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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: 44 min 28 sec ago

Dalton Highway Still Closed, But Repairs Underway

Fri, 2015-05-29 10:22

Repair work is progressing on the northern end of the Dalton Highway, where breakup flooding has made the road impassable for nearly 2 weeks. Water began dropping back last weekend, leaving behind extensive damage, and Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says there’s no repair timeline.

“This is gonna be a really big task. It will take several days, and at this point we really don’t have an estimate on when the road will be able to be re-opened.”

The closure extends from mile 335, all the way to mile 412 near Deadhorse. Bailey says repairs have been focused on at either end of the closed section, laying culverts, filling in erosion and diverting around thawed roadbed.

“Ice lenses have been impacted by the water, so there’s unstable soil now.”

Bailey says a full accounting of the damage won’t be available until crews can reach damaged sections in the middle of the closed area. She says repairs done so far this spring have cost 5 million dollars.

The most northern section of the closed section of the highway, between mileposts 391 and 412 is the focus of a scheduled 27 million dollar reconstruction project to elevate the roadbed. Bailey says the new damage has changed the project timeline.

“Originally this was going to be divided into 2 separate construction projects, and were going to start on one half this year, and start on the other half next year, and instead of doing that we’re gonna go in and start on the entire flooded section this year, which makes sense because we have all of this repair work that will have to happen anyways.”

Bailey says the project also includes additional culverts and hard surfacing of the highway. Some overflow and flooding have been an issue on the Dalton Highway south of Deadhorse for years, but Bailey this spring’s more extensive problems are considered an anomaly, and the state does not anticipate having to raise the grade of other sections of the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake rattles Southwest Alaska

Fri, 2015-05-29 10:15

There were no tsunami warnings, but last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake northeast of the Chigniks rattled residents all over Southwest Alaska. The quake happened at 11 pm sharp.

Alvin Peterson in Chignik Lagoon says it’s the strongest earthquake he’s felt in decades.

Map showing the location of the 6.4 earthquake off the coast of the Alaska Peninsula.
Credit Alaska Earthquake Center

“Well, it was almost comparable to 64 earthquake. The house was rocking pretty good,” stated Peterson. “I understand there was some rock slides and stuff falling off the selves and breaking. It defiantly rattled everybody’s nerves”

The quake was initially reported as a 6.8 magnitude but was later downgraded. Residents all around the region took to Facebook last night to discuss the earthquake and its effects. Many of those commenting said the earthquake’s unusually long duration was a bit shocking. Peterson agreed.

“I heard a couple reports it lasted almost a minute but it was pretty long, and pretty violent,” added Peterson.

Closer to the coast, residents in Chignik Bay headed for the tsunami shelter last night to be on the safe side. Fire chief Guy Ashby, speaking this morning, said the quake started as a slow roll.

“It started of maybe like a three, just shock a little bit. And then you can start hearing it building and it starts shaking a little harder,” said Ashby. “It probably shook about 35 or 40 seconds.”

The quake happened at a depth of 35 miles. It had a magnitude, according to the Alaska Earthquake Center, of 6.42 on the Richter Scale, and according to posts on Facebook, was felt as far west as Platinum, and Wasilla in the east.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest board announces best finances in 6 years

Fri, 2015-05-29 10:09

Yukon Quest leaders announced a $38,000 surplus, the largest surplus the organization has seen in 6 years.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that leaders of the 1,000-mile Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse sled dog race announced the budget at their annual meeting Thursday. Board President Bill McDonald says he expects prize money for the race to stay the same or increase in 2015.

The announcement comes in stark contrast to the organization’s Yukon board meeting held last week, where members announced a $50,000 debt. Yukon Quest has two nonprofit boards in both Alaska and Canada.

The Quest has struggled to break even since the global recession reduced sponsorships and finances in 2009. Officials talked about halting the race four years ago and reduced the purse to $100,000 in 2013, half of 2007’s purse.

Categories: Alaska News

Low oil prices could threaten trans-Alaska pipeline

Fri, 2015-05-29 10:06

A high-ranking federal Energy Information Administration official has said lower production levels could threaten the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and that oil prices may not rise above $100 a barrel until 2030 or later.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that EIA administrator Adam Sieminski said Thursday at the Alaska Oil and Gas Associations annual luncheon that geopolitical tension could drive prices up much sooner than 2030.

He said the agency is concerned that engineering complications could jeopardize the oil pipeline if the flow falls below 300,000 barrels a day, potentially resulting in an unexpected shutdown.

The pipeline is designed to move 2 million barrels of oil daily. Today production is about 525,000 barrels daily.

Oil prices are currently around $60 a barrel, leaving the state with a $3.5 billion deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

The purpose and history of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend

Fri, 2015-05-29 08:00

Today, we’re talking about the Permanent Fund. Some House Republicans want to move some of the fund’s earnings into the body of the fund so it can’t be touched. Others are tossing around the idea of using the Permanent Fund as collateral for earning more money for the General Fund. Is this what the Fund is for? So, we’re taking a step back and looking at the history of the Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend.

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Sterling Gallagher, former commissioner, Department of Revenue
  • Cliff Groh

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 29 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Judge Accused of Misconduct

Thu, 2015-05-28 17:45

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct.

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The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct cites six incidents—brought to their attention through anonymous complaints—beginning the first month Dooley was on the job in May of 2013 and running through September of last year.

Courtroom recordings—made available through the commission—highlight a series of statements by Dooley the commission says violates state law and the state’s code of conduct for judges—by showing “insensitivity” to victims, witness, and others in both criminal and civil cases.

In a May 2013 hearing, Judge Dooley asks a man facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest:

“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”

In a November 2013 sentencing hearing—after a guilty conviction for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl—Dooley says:

“From what I’ve read this was not someone who was, I hate to use the phrase asking for it, there are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”

And last August Judge Dooley spoke to the jury during a domestic violence case—with the victim on the stand.

Juror: “She keeps mumbling and I can’t understand her.”

Dooley: “I know. I’m not allowed to slap her around, I can just say something.”

A civil trial that same month showcased Dooley’s self-described “medieval Christianity”—statements the commission says are “inappropriate to the dignity of judicial office.”

“I’m going to enforce those oaths and they’re enforceable with a two-year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge. I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”

A final violation alleges Judge Dooley essentially bargained a specific sentence in exchange for a defendants’ “no contest” plea. The commission says that defendant didn’t have a lawyer—all of which the commission says is conduct that harms “the administration of justice” and brings the judicial office “into disrepute.”

Marla Greenstein is the executive director of the commission. She says the complaint was built on review of court transcripts and interviews with people working in the Nome legal system. The case, she says, has been building for months.

“The commission evaluates the conduct in the investigation at various stages and gave notice to the judge several times in the process. The point where they made the determination it was serious enough to warrant public charges was at a meeting on May 12.”

Judge Dooley has 20 days to respond to the complaint. He said Wednesday he has no comment on the violations.

Greenstein says Judge Dooley could face a hearing before the 9 members of the commission, or reach a settlement—either outcome will go before the state Supreme Court, which will rule(s) on 1 of 3 possible outcomes.

“A public censure, basically a public statement that the conduct was wrong and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct; suspension from office for a certain period of time; and then, the most severe, is a removal from office.”

An Alaska resident for nearly 40 years, Judge Dooley has lived all over the state: from urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks to rural communities like Bethel and the North Slope. He opened a private law practice in 1993, he was appointed to his current position in Nome in March of 2013 by former governor Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Officials to Meet With Forty Mile Gold Miners

Thu, 2015-05-28 17:43

Bureau of Land Management officials are scheduled to meet with Forty Mile area gold miners tomorrow. BLM Alaska spokeswoman Leslie Ellis Waters says Friday’s meeting in Chicken will include the agency’s top administrators.

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Ellis Waters says they were invited to attend the meeting. It follows recent years of tensions, highlighted by an August 2013 Environmental Protection Agency lead armed raid of several mining operations. Miners felt intimidated, but a subsequent governor’s report found officers did nothing wrong. Ellis Waters says there’s no official agenda for Friday’s meeting, but reclamation regulations are likely to be a primary topic.

Ellis Waters says there’s a lot of confusion around the topic, but stresses that the BLM will be there to listen. She could not say what data the water quality assessment and regulatory changes are based on, but longtime Forty Mile area Miner Sheldon Maier of Fairbanks contends the science isn’t there.

Maier’s wife Yenna describes the conflict between miners and regulators as over control, not better practices.

The Maiers have refused to pay federal access fees for a road they say they’ve invested thousands of dollars to repair. Last year the state sued the federal government claiming ownership of numerous historic rights of way in the Forty mile region. The Maiers, who have been vocal advocates on behalf of Forty Mile miners, say they’ve grown weary of meetings that don’t yield changes, and don’t plan on attending tomorrow’s session with the BLM in Chicken.

Categories: Alaska News

#StickFigureAK uses art to spark community

Thu, 2015-05-28 17:41

An early #StickFigureAK entry by Kim S from the project gallery.

From ancient cave art to bathroom sign indicators, stick figures are everywhere. And so sometimes, we don’t really think about them. But The Arc of Anchorage is trying to change that, and the way we see people who experience intellectual disabilities, with a new statewide art initiative.

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Everyone can draw a stick figure, right? Here’s mine:

But most people who participate in #StickFigureAK are much more creative. They’re using everything from candy to crab legs to human bodies to make stick figures that represent things they love.

“Sometimes we think of a stick figure and we kind of think, ‘Well, you know, whatever.’ It doesn’t seem that exciting or it doesn’t have a lot of potential,'” says project creator Naomi Hodawanus. “And unfortunately, and I hate to even say this, but unfortunately, when some people think of a person with a disability,they’re quick to dismiss that person’s potential, too, just like we do with a stick figure. But really, even if someone has an intellectual or developmental disability, they were created to create just like we do.”

The statewide initiative is run by The Arc of Anchorage, which works with people with intellectual disabilities. They offer work-skills training, social opportunities, and art classes.

“At the Arc of Anchorage we embrace people of all abilities, and we recognize that everyone really does have the ability to create. We create words, pictures, sounds, movement. We’re always creating something. And when we’re doing that we’re giving form to who we are and context of us as an individual.”

Everyone in Alaska is invited to submit up to three figures to the StickFigureAK web site where people will vote for their favorites. The top 100 will be printed in a limited edition coffee table book. Submissions are open until September 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thu, 2015-05-28 17:38

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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Fed. Jugde Hears Oral Arguments from EPA, Pebble Over Alleged FACA Violations

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Environmental Protection Agency and Pebble Limited Partnership presented oral arguments Thursday over whether or not the EPA violated federal law when it opted to restrict mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay.

Coast Guard Adds Response Vessels in Anticipation of Shell’s Arrival

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The Coast Guard is preparing for increased marine traffic in the region this summer.

Nome Judge Accused of Misconduct

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct—as well as violating sections of state law that the charges say could call his integrity into question.

Alaska LNG Gains Milestone With Export License

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The federal Energy Department announced today it will license Liquified Natural Gas exports from Nikiski, even to countries without a free trade agreement.

Federal Officials to Meet With Forty-Mile Gold Miners

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Top Bureau of Land Management officials are scheduled to meet with Forty Mile area gold miners Friday. The meeting follows recent year’s tensions, highlighted by an August 2013 armed raid of several mining operations, led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Heroin Hits Home: Small Airlines Are The Drug’s Inroad

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than compared to 2013. State law enforcement officials say heroin gets into Bethel mainly on low-security, small airline passenger flights. This is the third and final story in a series about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how Bethel is fighting it.

#StickFigureAK Uses Art To Spark Community

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

From ancient cave art to bathroom sign indicators, stick figures are everywhere. And so sometimes, we don’t really think about them. But The Arc of Anchorage is trying to change that, and the way we see people who experience intellectual disabilities.

Salmon Skin Wallets and Crab Shell Shirts for the Masses

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A small Juneau business launched a Kickstarter this week to crowdsource funds for a unique line of products. The company is hoping it’s onto the next big thing in fashion: clothing and accessories sewn from discarded salmon skin and crab shells.

Need to Get Away? Why Not Build An Airplane

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

Most of us are firming up our summer plans right about now. For one Seattle family, that means getting their home-built plane ready for their annual trip to the most isolated parts of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Assembly Shoots Down Mayor’s Vetoes

Thu, 2015-05-28 15:49

Last week, Matanuska Susitna Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss threatened to veto line items in the Borough budget.. and last night [wednesday] he did just that. But the Borough Assembly had a different plan.  

Mayor DeVilbiss presented the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly on Wednesday with a veto document outlining seven budget items that he considers unnecessary spending. DeVilbiss said he wants to keep Borough spending to the limited powers granted to the Borough, and “hold the line on grants that go outside those powers.”

“The grant process, which I am suggesting, is a wide-open door that needs to change.”, DeVilbiss told the panel, adding that grants are “the easiest money to get in this state, with no limits on how much or what for. ”

First item on the mayor’s hit list, $106, 000 dollars in grants to the cities of Palmer, Wasilla and Houston.

Assemblymembers quickly voted to override that one, and went on to override mayoral vetoes against grants for a Sexual Assault Response Team for Wasilla, and for the Youth Court.

But the veto against a $150,000 grant for the Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program was sustained. This item caused the greatest debate of the evening, but gained only four votes in support of an override. Assemblymember Steve Colligan supported the override, saying the grant, which would fund the purchase of land for a shooting range, would only be a one – time ask and would benefit kids.

“But I’ll remind you that this year we passed through $200,000  and some for a kitchen at a ski facility, we’ve invested $ 4,000,000  at a Nordic ski facility, and we’re paving the road there, for that group of young folks. And all sorts of other things, and as was pointed out, we’ve had [target shooting ]Olympic champions and the like, and I don’t think that this competes with the adult shooting ranges, over time I think it will actually augment it. ” Colligan said.

But Assemblymember Jim Sykes had concerns about process, saying

“Every other one of these proposals had some kind of process.. there was an ask. To me, this looks just like an end run around process, and that’s one of my main objectio

Assemblymembers Matthew Beck and Barbara Doty joined Sykes in voting against the override.

The shooting range funding was the only veto that stood. Vetoes against funding for Willow Fire Service Area, Houston’s Fire Hall and Big Lake’s Community Center failed.

DeVilbiss expressed his disappointment, saying that Borough revenues are not the problem, but Borough spending is.

“This wide open window, which was just a niche a few years ago, to help the libraries and the cities, has blossomed into a bundle of things that is going to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

Borough spending and subsequent taxation has consequences to Borough property owners, DeVilbiss admonished, noting the thirty pages of foreclosure notices now going to print.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska LNG Gains Milestone With Export License

Thu, 2015-05-28 15:32

The federal Energy Department announced today it will license Liquified Natural Gas exports from Nikiski, even to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the U.S. The authorization is conditional on winning final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski says it’s a big boon for the project to bring North Slope natural gas to market.

“When you distill it down to, ‘what exactly does that mean?’ as one reporter asked, it basically means we can start selling our gas to anybody. So Japan: come on up. Taiwan? I don’t care where you’re coming from. Know that this project is real,” she said, at a luncheon today of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

Alaska LNG would be authorized to export up to 2.55 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day for 30 years. Alaska LNG is a partnership of the state, the producers and pipeline company TransCanada. The project, including a new trans-Alaska gas pipeline, are forecast to cost as much as $60 billion.

Categories: Alaska News

Need to Get Away? Why Not Build An Airplane

Thu, 2015-05-28 15:24

Photo: Mark Reed via KPLU.

Most of us are firming up our summer plans right about now. For one Seattle family, that means getting their home-built plane ready for their annual trip to the most isolated parts of Alaska.

For about 11 months of the year, Mark Reed and his wife Chris Buchanan live in Ballard. They recently moved into a fixer-upper.

“The house is still a work in progress,” Buchanan jokes.

The other month of the year, they spend in Alaska. Their home there is a tent they pitch wherever they’re able to land their plane. They drink water filtered from a stream. They eat fish they catch themselves. They’ve been hooked on that wide open space ever since their first trip up in 2008.

“We were traveling over terrain pretty soon into our trip where we couldn’t see a town or settlement or even a road outside of any of the windows.”

They let the weather dictate their way – if it’s clear, they can make it to places few humans get a chance to go – the northernmost reaches of Alaska – Prudhoe Bay, the Brooks Range, the Colville River. Their means of transportation is kept in a hanger at Paine Field.

“And this is the machine,” Reed says.

It’s a single-engine prop plane, canary yellow, a bit longer than a Subaru Outback.

“And the wings are riveted aluminum here. There’s thousands of rivets in there. Lots and lots of hours of riveting,” Reed says. He did all the riveting himself.

Reed built it from a kit but added lots of customization – mostly to make the plane safer. He has three GPS’s and two electrical systems.

When asked what it was like to take the plane up for the first time, Reed said it was a hoot.

“There’s a certain amount of trepidation. I’d spent almost 3,000 hours building it. I didn’t have too many doubts about it. But you are a test pilot and that first flight is always an exciting one. It’s always something to celebrate when it’s done.”

Reed has always loved making things – especially things that go up in the sky. In college, he taught himself how to make technical, high-end kites – you know, the kind that do flips in the air. He turned that into a business called Prism Designs. About a decade ago, he reached a point where things were going well, but he felt a little bored.

“When that happens for me it’s always been helpful to think about what would you be doing if you could be doing anything at all and time and money was no object and one day that idea popped into mind, and the idea was to build an airplane and fly it to the northernmost point in Alaska and fly it to the southernmost point in South America.”

Buchanan adds, “There’s an assumption that this is a mad idea that my husband had that I somehow had to be convinced to go along with and my friends who know me are just as likely to think the idea came from me.”

They share an adventurous spirit. Reed already had his pilot’s license, and Buchanan got hers too. After their first trip, they decided they wanted to go to Alaska every year and they ditched the South America idea.

“We really had our minds blown by the experience of being in that landscape,” Reed says.

Two years after that trip, their daughter was born.

I asked if things changed when Rachel arrived. “Did you guys have to have a conversation about oh are we going to keep doing this?”

“No, that was not a conversation for us,” Reed says.

They just installed an Evenflo kids’ car seat in the back of the plane. They rejiggered what they take to accommodate kid gear. Some necessities these days include Dum Dum lollipops and a few stuffed animals. The trips are special for Rachel, too.

Picking blueberries, she says, is her favorite thing about Alaska.

I’m fascinated by that. I have kids, and sometimes I feel almost paralyzed by fear about the dangers that exist. When they climb too high in a tree, I get freaked out. It’s hard to imagine taking them to isolated parts of Alaska in a small plane. But I admire it. It’s all about teaching kids to jump into life with both feet.

Buchanan and Reed want their daughter to experience how amazing our planet is.

“There’s something to be said for appreciating the scale of the world that you live in and it shouldn’t be scary,” Buchanan says.

Making good judgments is another thing they want to teach Rachel. They plan extensively before each flight. That is how they handle the risks of flying in Alaska – the massive mountains, the unforgiving weather.

“You spend a lot of time looking pretty far ahead of the airplane trying to think about what could happen next, what you may be headed toward next and what you’re going to do about it,” Reed says.

That means not just having a plan B — but plans C, D, E and F. Still, flying’s not the only risk, there’s also wildlife. They’ve seen plenty of bears. But animal encounters can also be magical. Once, a curious caribou spent a long time watching them fly a kite and then slowly moved toward them.

“That caribou just decided it was time to come check it out and see what was going on with this colorful thing in the air and these strange bipeds on the ground,” Buchanan remembers.

It sounds amazing.

“I’m going to have you put this on. This is a life vest,” Reed says.

And that’s why, when Reed asks me if I want to go up with him in his plane, I agree. I’m a little nervous. And I’m kicking myself for not buying life insurance like I’ve been meaning to. But if it’s safe enough for them to take their kid in the plane, I decide to chill out.

“It’s the survival gear that we typically like to travel with,” he says.

“Do I need to know how to use this?”

“Rudimentary stuff.”

We climb into the plane. It’s not roomy.

“Clear!” Reed says.

It feels teensy compared to the giant Boeing triple seven rolling down the runway before us. I’m feeling pretty calm, I know Reed is a careful guy. But then I see a sign on the dashboard.

“I just noticed this passenger warning,” I tell him. “This aircraft is amateur built and does not comply with federal safety regulations for standard aircraft.”

Reed says, relax. He says the plane actually exceeds a lot of those regulations. We get the go-ahead from the control tower and take off.

Sinatra is playing in the background…. “come fly with me… let’s fly, let’s fly.”

If you’re used to flying in a jet, being in a small plane feels almost like you’re hardly moving. Reed says we’re flying 140 miles per hour. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s mesmerizing to see Seattle landmarks from above – there’s Husky Stadium, there’s Gas Works Park. I can see every color of Lake Union in a way that you can’t from a boat. Then Reed says, do you want to take the controls? I don’t want to be a chicken, but I’m anxious. I lightly push the stick forward and the nose dips. I bank the plane slightly to the right and slightly to the left and after 30 seconds, I tell him I’ve had enough.

Back on the ground, Reed loads up for a weekend trip. They don’t just take their plane to Alaska, they often head to the San Juan Islands. This is a familiar routine. City life is what can feel hard now and then.

“Sometimes birthday parties are a little challenging,” Buchanan jokes.

Come July, they won’t have to worry about a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Instead, they’ll be monitoring the weather in Alaska and figuring out good places to land their plane, and keeping an eye out for bears.

Categories: Alaska News

Heroin Hits Home: Small Airlines Are The Drug’s Major Inroad

Thu, 2015-05-28 14:58

Heroin confiscated by law enforcement. – Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers

Federal officials say they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska in 2014 than compared to 2013. State law enforcement officials say heroin gets into Bethel mainly on low-security, small airline passenger flights. This is the final story in a series about the impacts of heroin in Bethel.

Bethel City Manager, Ann Capela, says the trouble heroin is causing in Bethel requires a coordinated campaign not unlike the one that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed with the goal of rooting out terrorists. Although Bethel’s heroin campaign is on a smaller scale, it uses the same slogan:

“If you see something, say something,” said Capela.

Capela, who was hired about six months ago, says the city doesn’t have the capacity to take on multinational drug rings, so the community must work together to root out dealers and traffickers, who have set in motion a slew of problems impacting everything from OCS cases to fire and police calls.

Ann Capela, Bethel City Manager. Photo by Geraldine Brink/KYUK

“We need the information from the community. We don’t have the manpower to be, but we need to be our eyes and ears [about] what’s going on. They need to let us know,” said Capela.

Capela says the idea is to support a grassroots effort already brewing in the community. One aspect of the campaign promotes a tip line that goes straight to the Alaska State Troopers Western Alaska Alcohol & Narcotics Team- or WAANT. Capela says the city also hopes to work with social services and health care providers, tribes and others to get addicts the help they need to quit.

At a meeting in which the Bethel City Council tasked city administration with making a heroin action plan, Councilmember Mark Springer said the heroin problems have gotten so bad, that they need to call in reinforcements.

“We would be happy to see as much law enforcement pressure as possible against people who are importing narcotics into Bethel and selling them here. As I said before, it’s criminal conspiracy, it’s organized crime in no uncertain terms,” said Springer.

Alan Wilson, a supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Anchorage, says law enforcement needs tips from people on the ground in Bethel to help.

Wilson says it’s happening across the country. After regulators cracked down on prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, and reformulated them to be less attractive to addicts, heroin found a market again.

“We have drug traffickers that we know have contacts in Mexico and they purchase their heroin either in Mexico or on the border of Mexico in the United States and they ship it up to Alaska,” said Wilson.

Doreen O’Brien testifies about heroin before the Bethel City Council. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK

Todd Moehring is an investigator with WAANT. He says heroin makes its way to Bethel and other bush communities, in smaller quantities.

“We’re not receiving pounds directly from Mexico on a freight aircraft or something like that, but we’re receiving user amounts. Typically what we’ve learned so far is that most of the dealers have roughly a gram of heroin or more, so that’s usually around 10 hits on a user level, maybe up to an ounce or so – again, because we are at the end of the line,” said Moehring.

Moehring says they’re after source dealers and traffickers. He says it’s coming through mail, freight services and the port. But he says a lot comes in simply on passengers on smaller airlines serving Bethel.

“Smaller airlines that operate under different federal rules, and the security screening is not the same as we get for your larger commercial jets. So folks are carrying drugs in their baggage, they’re carrying it on their person, in their clothing, they’re also doing it on internal body carry,” said Moehring.

Under federal regulation small airlines, which carry less than 50 passengers, are not required to participate in TSA screening. A spokesperson forRAVN Alaska, the main smaller airline that serves Bethel, declined to go on tape. She said via email: “It’s not our policy to search bags. If we have reasonable suspicion that someone may have an illegal substance or item in their bag, we pull the bag and call the troopers or local police authority.” City Manager Capela says she wonders if a drug dog would help.

“I don’t know whether we would require a K-9 unit that looks at the cargo when it comes down. A K-9 unit just as people are going by,” said Capela.

Troopers with the WAANT team say they have requested a drug dog for their Bethel office, but state of Alaska officials say they don’t have the resources to provide one. Moehring says the Anchorage WAANT office just got a drug dog to stop the flow of heroin and other narcotics out of the city. The dog is funded by the North Slope Borough, and will focus on that region but could also be used to follow up on tips from Bethel.

Bethel WAANT tip line: (800) 478-2294

This is the final story in a 3-part KYUK series.Click here for part 1 and part 2.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Adds Response Vessels in Anticipation of Shell’s Arrival

Thu, 2015-05-28 14:44

Because the Coast Guard anticipates heightened marine traffic, two 25-foot response boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor this summer. (Emily Schwing/KUCB)

Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell moves forward with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

“This is very unusual, especially for Alaska,” said Lieutenant Aaron Renschler. He’s the Chief of Enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage.

“We do deploy our assets around other parts of the state, but specifically for Dutch Harbor, this is the first time.”

The Coast Guard will establish safety zones around Shell’s exploratory vessels. They’ll will use Dutch Harbor as a port of call between June and July.

“If something were to occur, we’re at least two to three weeks from getting assets into Dutch Harbor,” said Renschler, “so it’s prudent that we forward deploy them in anticipation f any activity.”

Renschler said the vessels can be used for emergency response as well as daily operations.

“They are there to ensure that the marine transportation system remains open to all users and that includes facilitating commercial traffic, recreation traffic, all your commercial fishing vessels, as well as allowing individuals to express their first amendment rights,” he said.

The boats are not required as part of Shell’s permitting process, but the oil company has subcontracted the vessels. The daily operations are being funded with money from the U.S. Coast Guard’s budget. Renschler did not have an immediate cost estimate.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA, Pebble Partnership present arguments over alleged FACA violations

Thu, 2015-05-28 13:45

The Environmental Protection Agency and Pebble Limited Partnership presented oral arguments Thursday over whether or not the EPA violated federal law, when it opted to restrict mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay.

Pebble Limited Partnership alleges the EPA formed a number of de facto advisory committees of mine critics that operated behind closed doors, rather than out in the open while writing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. That assessment could result in the massive gold and copper prospect being restricted or prohibited.

“The way the statute works, it says that when you reach out to non-federal employees and seek their advice and bring them into the process as though they were federal employees, you have to do it according to a format that’s set out in the statute that makes sure it’s done in the open and that it’s done fairly,” Tom Collier, the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, said. “And they didn’t do that.”

The EPA disputes those claims, saying no such committees were formed and that Pebble had as many opportunities to make their views known as groups opposed to the mine.

Kimberly Williams is the executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a Dillingham non-profit that includes tribal corporations and governments opposed to the Pebble Mine. She came to the courthouse in support of the EPA.

“We feel that, you know, they’ve come out, they’ve listened to everybody, they’ve met numerous times out in the region, holding meetings not only in Dillingham, but up in Illiamna, where Pebble was located,” Williams said. “So, we’ve had unprecedented access, just no different than Pebble has in letting our views known on large scale mining.”

The EPA urged the court to dismiss the case.

Judge H. Russel Holland took the arguments under advisement and will make a decision at a later date.

Judge Holland issued a preliminary injunction in November, halting the EPA’s 404-C process regarding the Pebble Mine, while the court reviewed the allegations.

The EPA and Department of Justice refused to comment further, as the case is still in court.

In a separate case, a federal appeals court panel upheld an earlier decision by Judge Holland, dismissing Pebble’s challenge of the EPA’s 404-C process as premature.

Categories: Alaska News

New Business: Salmon Skin Wallets, Crab Shell Shirts For the Masses

Thu, 2015-05-28 10:16

A small Juneau business launched a Kickstarter campaign this week to crowdsource funds for a unique line of apparel and accessories. Tidal Vision is hoping it’s onto the next big thing: garments sewn from discarded salmon skin and crab shells.

Tidal Vision’s salmon leather wallets will retail for about $75. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Craig Kasberg, the founder of the company, pulls out a wallet from his back pocket. It’s a muted jade color, shiny with a slightly bumpy texture.

“It’s much different than what you see when you throw a skin away in the garbage when you’re cooking up your dinner or something,” he says.

The wallet is made entirely from salmon skin sourced from a processor in Kodiak, and then sewn at a tannery in Washington State.

The odor is different than what you might think.

“I would say it smells quite similar to any vegetable tanned leather really,” he says.

The skin has gone through a 24-step process that dries it out until it turns into leather. The material doesn’t stink because the fish oils have all been removed.

“And then replace those with all natural based vegetable tanning oils.”

Alaska has a long history with fish leather. Historically, Alaska Natives across the state have used salmon and other fish skins to craft durable garments, bags, boots and other items necessary for village life. These days, a few Native artists continue the time-consuming tradition of processing fish skins.

The material was also marketed to tourists and fashion houses in the 1990s until those ventures fizzled. Over the last few decades numerous Alaska entrepreneurs have tried their hand at the fish leather business, prompting speculation that it could be a new cottage industry for the state.

Kasberg says the biggest hurdle is convincing consumers byproducts are cool.

“When people think of fish waste, they almost plug their nose in reaction. When people haven’t seen it, smelt it, felt it, I think there is a challenge there,” he says.

Kasberg owns a gillnetter and has fished commercially in Southeast Alaska for almost a decade. He recently sold his commercial fishing license to help fund the new business.

His partner, Zach Wilkinson, has a background in economic development in agriculture. He says the agriculture industry already uses animal byproducts to make high-end items, like shoes and handbags, so why not Alaska fisheries.

“Clearly this stuff is valuable and useful and we could be doing something with it,” he says.

Some seafood processors sell byproducts for pet food, fish meal and vitamin supplements.

“What I’m particularly excited about it is kind of moving those things up the value chain and producing higher value products,” Wilkinson says.

Another item Tidal Vision plans to roll out is clothing made from chitosan extracted from crab shells. The fabric is antimicrobial, so it’s perfect for socks, underwear or gym shirts.

“We’re still going to recommend you wash your clothes but as far as odor goes, you won’t have to,” Kasberg says.

The use of chitosan is common in many industries. It’s usually stripped away from crustacean shells with formaldehyde, but Tidal Vision has a patent pending on a greener, more environmentally friendly method. They’re hoping to eventually expand the product into bandages and other medical supplies.

“The sutures that dissolve into your bloodstream are made out of a chitosan,” he says.

If the products take off, Kasberg says the business could add an overall boost to revenue for fish processors in Alaska. He would be giving them a dollar a pound for the skins, which he says is 90 percent more than fishmeal manufacturers pay. And that money could trickle down to commercial fishermen who supply the processors, like Juneau fisherman Anthoney Sine.

“That would increase our price. That would increase the money that we would be getting on our end,” he says.

Sine owns a boat called the Fortune and is preparing for the upcoming gillnet season. He says the price of seafood can fluctuate; alternative revenue streams could provide more stability.

“It greases the wheels,” Sine says. “Our seasons are short, especially the salmon season. Being able to get a little more money for my product strengthens my business for sure.”

Kasberg’s Kickstarter campaign has already raised more than half of the money it needs to begin mass production. They’re starting with wallets and plan to roll out one item at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama Creates Arctic Steering Committee

Thu, 2015-05-28 09:40

President Obama discussed Alaska, climate change, and Arctic issues in a speech May 20. That came after an executive order in January creating an Arctic Executive Steering Committee to coordinate federal Arctic activities. These may be signs Arctic issues are gaining a higher profile.

President Obama told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement they’re part of the first generation of officers to begin their service in a world where the effects of climate change he says are so clearly upon us:

“Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever. By the middle of this century, Arctic summers could be essentially ice free. We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean — new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below.”

The president went on to outline Arctic priorities:

“In Alaska, we have more than 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline. The United States is an Arctic nation, and we have a great interest in making sure that the region is peaceful, that its indigenous people and environment are protected, and that its resources are managed responsibly in partnership with other nations.”

The nation’s first U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic, Admiral Bob Papp, says the U.S. is also keeping an eye on Russian efforts to build military depots all along its northern shore.

“Anytime you see a military buildup, yes, we would be concerned. But the buildup is one thing. In other words establishing capabilities, is one thing. Intent is quite another thing. How do you use those things. So we watch both of those. The intent part is a little more difficult to interpret. But in terms of capabilities, while there’s been a great deal of rhetoric and a lot of talk about building things. The economy has not been good and Russia has not been able to fund these things.”

Still, Papp says the eight nations that make up the Arctic Council have tackled two critical issues:

“When you have maritime traffic, inevitably, inevitably, particularly in the conditions that you find in Alaska, in the Arctic, weather, and seas, rocky shores. There will be an accident some day and you need to be prepared for that. So the agreement for search and rescue was a good first step. The agreement on oil spill preparedness and response is a good first step. Now you’ve got to operationalize that . You have to get out there and exercise those things. Get lessons learned.”

But Papp says much more is needed: a U.S. Coast Guard Air station, a deep water port north of the Bering Strait… and icebreakers. Papp says the U.S. is down to one medium and one heavy icebreaker, far behind other nations. But, he says, the Obama administration has not requested funding to build ice-breakers:

“I think the administration has juggled a lot of different priorities over the last few years or so. An ice-breaker is amongst those priorities but has not risen to the point where funding has been asked for. There’s been some minimal funding for preliminary survey and design of a new icebreaker. But the real money for building an ice-breaker is not there yet. We’re hopeful that will happen as increased attention is focused on the Arctic.

Navigational aids are antiquated:
“Some of the depth findings that are used on modern-day charts today were soundings that were taken by Captain James Cook and crew took in 1778 using a piece of lead on the end of rope.”

And Papp recommended some other improvements:

“Satellite navigation is pretty good because the GPS constellation is, gives good coverage for the entire globe. But communications satellites have over time been optimally positioned for the middle latitudes, not so much for the high latitudes. So, yes, aids to navigation, communications, charting, setting up traffic separation schemes, all things that will help to improve mariner safety would be beneficial to us.”

The chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years and recently came to the United States. Since taking his post a year ago, Papp has been working on organizing that transfer. And , he coordinates Arctic activities among dozens of bureaus and agencies within the U.S. State Department.

Categories: Alaska News

All Aboard the Gravy Train: ‘The Magpie’ Serves Up The Goods In Anchorage

Thu, 2015-05-28 08:00

Amanda Cash slices rosemary bread for an egg sandwich.

From inside her bright yellow food truck called The Magpie, Amanda Cash stares across five lanes of traffic rushing past, or stopped at the light, on Benson Boulevard.

Listen now:

“People yell from the middle lane, ‘What kind of food do you serve?'” she says. “I’m like, ‘come get some biscuits and gravy! I want to cook you breakfast!'”

Cash makes lunch too, but breakfast is where her heart is. She’s has an omelette on the menu this week with cremini mushrooms, zucchini, basil, Swiss chard, and feta cheese – finished with a swirl of aged balsamic vinegar and Sitka sea salt.

“I really want commuters to stop by here instead of fast food, because I’m just as fast, and a lot more delicious,” she says.

Cash has had a booth at the farmers market on 15th and Cordova since 2012. This year, she decided to upgrade her cooking space and branch out to more locations. She serves breakfast and lunch four days a week from Waymatic concession trailer she found on Craigslist. Cash is considering adding a Thursday night event to her schedule called “Magpie a la mode” with homemade pie and ice cream.

“This is such a fun way to be able to do local food and go into neighborhoods and to create a sense of community by going to people instead of them coming to me,” she says.

The Magpie will be in the Allen and Peterson parking lot on Benson and the Seward highway until the end of May. Cash is currently scouting her next locations.

Categories: Alaska News

Protests continue outside LIO over education funding and medicaid expansion

Wed, 2015-05-27 17:45

Fiddlers and protesters gather outside the LIO in downtown Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

Some Anchorage area residents don’t think the Legislative Majority’s recent budget proposal is good enough, even though it adds money back in for education. They don’t like the plan to move around money to avoid a majority vote either. About 50 people and a group of fiddlers gathered outside of the LIO in downtown Anchorage this afternoon to sing modified versions of old camp songs.

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“Mike Chenault – is this your fault? Fund schools. Kids rule,” the group crooned to the tune of Camptown Races. “Fiddle around with Alaska’s kids, we’ll think about this day.”

Great Alaska Schools organized the protest, one of many this legislative session. Statewide coordinator Deena Mitchell says they were prompted by the proposal to move Permanent Fund dollars in order to give access to the Constitutional Budget Reserve without a majority vote. She says the newest proposal from the majority still cuts $32 million from education and leaves school districts with less money than they had last year.

Protesters at the LIO in downtown Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

“This is about the future of Alaska and our children. And to cut education after making that promise of the three years of funding last year and then not be willing to discuss this with the minority is just wrong,”she said. “They’re fiddling with our future. They’re fiddling with our finances. They’re fiddling with Alaska.”

Members of the faith community also continued their weeks-long vigil asking for Medicaid expansion. Fifteen different churches are taking turns sending members to the LIO to protest.

“And we have just been eager to see it come to the floor anyway, which of course it hasn’t as yet,” said AFACT member Karol Libbey. “But we are still very hopeful that it will make it and support the 40,000 Alaskan who are uninsured at this time.”

Republican lawmakers didn’t include Medicaid expansion on the agenda for the special session.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Navigates Pot Legalization

Wed, 2015-05-27 17:43

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is holding a public meeting Wednesday on proposed rules for marijuana businesses. Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins administration will be laying out a zoning ordinance governing what types of marijuana operations will be permitted, and where.

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“Trying to lay down our idea of where the commercialization aspects; the growing, the manufacturing, testing and sales can be in our community, before people select the wrong piece of property where we say that’s not going to be allowed.”

Hopkins says the borough will display maps showing local zoning as well as overlaying federal drug free zones, like those requiring a 1,000-foot buffer around schools.

“Where will businesses be allowed to set up and operate in relationship to not only our zones, but to these sensitive use areas, where the federal government and the community may say we don’t want it around certain areas. It’s already been a strong statement that (we) don’t want any of this in residential areas.”

The legalization initiative approved by Alaska voters last fall does not allow use of marijuana in public, but Mayor Hopkins says there’s no clear definition of what that means relative to businesses.

“Our proposal is not allow any of the smoking clubs or marijuana consumption bars at this time. Also, the state has been trying to bring the law forward in terms of their definition. It may not match ours, so that aspect of marijuana usage is still up in the air.”

Mayor Hopkins says representatives from the borough assembly and city councils of Fairbanks and North Pole, as well as local government staff will attend tonight’s meeting. Questions and public comment will be taken.

Categories: Alaska News

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