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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: 50 min 38 sec ago

Alaska Centenarians In National Photo Project

Tue, 2015-01-06 16:52

Photographer Danny Goldfield shows centenarian Henry Neligan some apps on his smartphone while talking at the Ketchikan Indian Community cafeteria.

A New York photographer wants to create portraits of a 100-year-old man and a 100-year-old woman from each of the 50 states. He’s calling the project “To Live 10,000 years,” and he recently checked a couple hundred of those years off his list during a trip to Ketchikan.

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Danny Goldfield thought that Alaska would be the most difficult state to find centenarians, especially a man. But, it turned out to be pretty easy. Goldfield knew someone from Alaska, and one connection is all you really need in a state where everyone is closely connected.

So, he sent an email, his friend made a call, and there you have it.

“It was kind of amazing that the first day of the project, that I had a lead, at least, for what was going to be the hardest subject to find: A man in Alaska who is over 100,” he said.

Henry Neligan. Photo by Danny Goldfield

That 100-year-old man is Henry Neligan, an Alaska Native who also is a veteran of the World War II-era Alaska Territorial Guard.

Neligan eats lunch almost every day at the Ketchikan Indian Community cafeteria. Goldfield joined him there for soup, salad and sandwiches, as well as conversation and, of course, photographs.

Conversation is part of the process. Goldfield said he’s naturally curious about people, and enjoys talking with each of his subjects.

“I don’t really have much of an agenda or questions that I need answered,” he said. “I’m just happy to be with them and wait and hear what they have to offer, what they have to stay and let their stream of consciousness inform the conversation. It’s the same way with the photography. I don’t have any expectations of what kind of images I’m going to get. I just wait and let things happen and try to make it as natural as possible. In a perfect situation, I’m almost invisible.”

Goldfield said he started this project in part because his own parents are getting older. That made him think about aging in the United States, so he decided to focus his lens on the growing community of older Americans.

It’s early days still for Goldfield’s project, which he expects will take about two years to complete. Before coming to Ketchikan, he photographed centenarians in Maryland, Connecticut and New Hampshire, and after Alaska, Goldfield planned some more West Coast stops.

This has been a learning experience for Goldfield. He said that before starting this project, he had a pretty bleak view of what it was like to be an older American. Now, though, he has a different picture of that world.

“There’s a lot of people out there looking out for the elders in our communities and it’s really been actually more encouraging than discouraging, which is nice, right?” he said.

Goldfield acknowledged that his project probably leads him to seniors who are well cared for.

Margaret McCombs. Photo by Danny Goldfield.

Another lesson learned is that the senior community is a woman’s world.

“You know, 80 percent of centenarians are women, most older adults are women,” he said. “It’ll be a daughter, inevitably, that’s caring for an elder in a family. A lot of people working in different organizations are women. So, sometimes you hear that ‘the politics of gender. It’s a man’s world.’ Well, I have found a world that is definitely a woman’s world and it’s the world of older adults.”

Speaking of women, Goldfield was able to find an Alaska woman in Ketchikan to photograph, as well: 107-year-old Margaret McCombs, who lives at the Ketchikan Pioneers Home.

Goldfield’s photographs of 100-year-old men and women can be seen online at tolive10000years.com. Goldfield also shares his images through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Alaska News

MEA Eklutna Plant In Testing Phase

Tue, 2015-01-06 16:35

 Yellow smoke emitted Monday by the new Matanuska Electric Association power plant in Eklutna is worrying some nearby residents.

According to MEA spokeswoman Julie Estey, the smoke is temporary and non- harmful. Estey says the smoke is a byproduct of installation and tests of the emission control system at the new power plant, which is expected to be completely on -line by the end of March.

“Our commissioning process at our new power plant had some yellow – tinged exhaust being emitted yesterday, and that was simply us fine -tuning our emissions control devices. They are called SCR devices, and the basically scrub the exhaust as it comes out of the stacks.”

The exhaust from the engines is part of the commissioning process. Tests are going on to fine- tune the devices that scrub nitrous oxide from the plant’s exhaust. The plant is designed to operate completely on natural gas, with diesel capability as backup.

“What that requires is a certain level of ammonia, aqueous ammonia, being injected into that system, and as the technicians were fine – tuning that amount aqueous ammonia to inject the chemical reaction was tingeing the exhaust yellow. And that was operating on diesel, now typically, our engines will run on natural gas, but we do want to test the full spectrum and range of their performance and so we were making sure that we could get that tuning done on diesel as well.”

Estey says the smoke was held in place by a temperature inversion, and that the smoke could return, off and on, during the commissioning phase, which will last for the next four to six weeks.

“All ten engines have now been run, and they are going through a battery of tests. Our goal is by January 15 to have four engines up and running completely and sending full output onto the grid.”


MEA plans to have all ten engines at the plant operating by the end of March.

The new,  $324 million, Eklutna Generation Station started operations this month to provide power for MEA’s roughly 66,000 customers in Eagle River and the Matanuska Valley.

MEA has an interim contract with Chugach Electric to purchase power for the plant until the end of March. MEA and Cook Inlet energy producer Hilcorp signed an agreement in 2013 to provide natural gas for the Eklutna plant through March of 2018. The gas will be delivered through an existing Enstar pipeline.

Categories: Alaska News

Illegal Dumping On State Land Draws Prosecution, Fines

Tue, 2015-01-06 16:27

Even in the grainy, black and white surveillance camera photo, the three young men are obviously in their twenties, and are ready to dump an old washer and dryer out of their small truck in the Goose Bay State Game Refuge parking lot.  The three were caught on camera breaking the law.   Joe Meehan, statewide coordinator for the refuge program, says the three then used the appliances for target practice, further polluting state property.

“And that’s just repeating this whole cycle of dumping garbage and lead contamination. We’re going to keep on top of it. We’re not going to tolerate it. The users of the Refuge don’t want it to continue and we are going to try to stop it as best we can by continuing to clean up and by catching and prosecuting people when we can catch them. “

Meehan says when the trio are located, possible fines of up to 10 thousand dollars and up to a year of jail time await them, under Fish and Game law.

“Yeah, it’s been a long time problem. It’s been going on out there at Goose Bay for decades. It kind of became the culture of use for people to drag their old refrigerators, tvs, computers, couches, furniture, stolen vehicles, junk vehicles, bring them out there and target practice with them and then just leave all their garbage behind.”

Since 2010, the state has spent one hundred thousand dollars cleaning up Goose Bay. With the help of the Alaska National Guard, about 107 Tons of debris has been removed including about 75 vehicles, 40 car batteries and other hazardous materials. Recent cleanup efforts have aimed to mitigate lead deposits that remain in the refuge from years of target shooting.

“We ran into the same problem in the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. That people just get accustomed to doing it. It’s where they go to dispose of their garbage, it’s where they go to target shoot. And if we can clean it up, fix it up and attract people to go in there and use this for legitimate activities, like hunting and fishing and bird watching and photography, eventually, you’ll displace that illegal activity.  I’d like to think that we are changing people’s types of use and that they are not doing that illegal behavior, but unfortunately a lot of times I think we are just displacing it and sending it elsewhere.”

This week, a twenty year old Wasilla man, Ian Beall, was fined one thousand dollars for dumping two truck loads of roofing material at Goose Bay State Game Refuge. He must also serve 20 hours of community service.  Beall was easily traced through evidence gathered by refuge officials, and he pleaded guilty in December. 






Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s New U.S. Senator Takes the Oath

Tue, 2015-01-06 16:17

Sen. Dan Sullivan, with his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, thanks Vice President Joe Biden after a ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol.

“I was talking to Julie, I said, ‘All right, send this to all our Alaska supporters.’ (It’s a) long way to go, pretty expensive airline ticket, (I thought) maybe 20 or 30 Alaskans would come. And I think at last count we had well over 200 Alaskans!” Sullivan said, to hoots and applause.

Alaskan guests included Gov. Bill Walker, and state legislators Click Bishop, Lynn Gattis and Bill Stoltze. Alaska Political consultants Art and April Hackney mingled with D.C. strategists like Carl Forti and Mike Dubke. Former Attorney General Gregg Renkes attended, as did developer Bob Penney and Washington lobbyists with long ties to the Alaska delegation, including Duncan Smith and David Russell. Sullivan’s parents came, along with his brother Frank Sullivan, CEO of RPM International, the paint company founded by the family. Sullivan said he had too many relatives in the room to name them all.

“I’ve got a million cousins and nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters, and sisters-in-laws and brothers-in-laws,” he said, adding that the Alaskans would surely bump into a Sullivan relative or two in the Capitol corridors, or in the dinners and receptions to come.

After the official swearing in, the new senator went back to the Capitol for another swearing-in, also with Vice President Biden, but this one for the cameras in the ornate Old Senate Chamber. It was one senator at a time, with each family gathered ‘round. The procession ran long as Biden kissed every baby, congratulated the elderly, and signed family Bibles. When the freshman Senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner, came up, Biden called Gardner’s grandma on a cell phone. (She said she couldn’t talk because she was watching TV to see her grandson get sworn in as a U.S. Senator.) Sullivan, when it was his turn, approached with his teenage daughters.

“This is Megan, this is Isabella, this Laurel,” Sullivan said, by way of introduction. “This is the Vice President of the United States.

Alaskans mingled with Sullivan relatives at a reception in the Russell Senate Office Building.

“Oh My God,” Biden said, conveying his admiration as the girls pulled off a perfectly formal how-do-you-do.

Biden joked to Sullivan that, with such beauties at home, he better have a good fence.

“Oh, I got concertina wire,” said the senator.

Earlier, in the real Senate chamber, as senators filtered in. Sullivan found his desk and shook hands with new Republican colleagues. He spoke briefly to Sen. John McCain, and had a longer chat with Sen. Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, which Sullivan will serve on. Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigned for Sullivan in Alaska, came by to say hello. Outside, in the corridor, Sullivan wasn’t letting it go to his head.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “There’s an element there where you’ve seen some of these important figures for a good part of a your life and you’re very honored to be able to serve with them.”

As a freshman with the lowest seniority, Sullivan’s desk in the Senate is not in the chamber’s power spot. It’s on an outer edge, third row in, next to Iowa’s new senator, Joni Ernst. Still, it’s the United States Senate, so it’s one of the most powerful seats in the country, and therefore the world.

Categories: Alaska News

Aleut Enterprises To Pay Over $1 Million In Adak Fuel Spill Settlement

Tue, 2015-01-06 12:09

Aleut Enterprise will pay more than $1 million to settle criminal charges and cover damages from a fuel spill on Adak.

The spill took place back in January 2010. A tanker was unloading fuel at a facility operated by Adak Petroleum – a subsidiary of Aleut Enterprise, which is owned by the Aleut Corporation.

The receiving tank and a secondary containment system overflowed, spilling 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel into nearby Helmet Creek. From there, it flowed into Sweeper Cove – and into Adak’s small boat harbor.

The spill took almost a year to clean up. Just about 5,000 gallons of fuel were recovered. After an investigation by state and federal authorities, Alaska’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals filed a criminal case in 2013.

Prosecutor Carole Holley says that Aleut Enterprise has been fully cooperative. That’s why the state agreed to drop criminal charges and pursue a $500,000 civil penalty instead – the maximum allowable under state law.

“Our goal is to make sure that the environment is protected, that we conserve our resources, and that companies really take their obligations and their responsibilities to the state seriously,” Holley said. “And Aleut [Enterprise] did so, in this case.”

In addition to their civil penalty, Aleut Enterprise will pay another $200,000 to improve their environmental compliance programs around the state. Besides Adak, the company also has a fuel facility in Cold Bay.

Aleut Enterprise has already agreed to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to cover environmental assessments and monitoring at the spill site.

Holley says state prosecutors have also reached a settlement with the former fuel facility manager in Adak. Michael Baker was present the day of the spill.

He’s pleaded guilty to violating his company’s oil discharge plans and failing to test overflow detection equipment. Baker will pay a $2,000 fine and serve 40 hours of community service.

Holley says that Baker will do that work at an environmental organization near his new home in Florida.

Neither Baker nor Aleut Enterprise could be reached for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Hospital Cuts Ties With Former CEO, Moves Toward Transition

Tue, 2015-01-06 09:54

The hospital classroom fills for the board’s noon meeting. Staffers urged transparency as the board moves forward. “A lot of what’s happened has been a mystery to us,” said one. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka Community Hospital has an interim CEO. The hospital board named Chief Nursing Officer Raine Clarke to the post at a special meeting on Monday (1-5-15). The term of Clarke’s service is not known at the moment. What is known, however, is that former CEO Jeff Comer will not be receiving anything more than his paycheck for his work through last Friday, as Sitka’s embattled hospital struggles to balance its books and find direction.

Raine Clarke is at the top of the duty roster to serve as CEO when the regular hospital CEO is absent — regardless of whether it’s a planned absence. This is by-the-book hospital policy.

Municipal attorney Robin Koutchak nevertheless urged the hospital board to give Clarke the nod formally, even if it was on a very short-term basis. The hospital board also liked the idea of rotating other members of the hospital administration into the CEO role, as has been standard practice.

Jeff Comer speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in November 2013, prior to disclosures about the hospital’s financial straits. (KCAW Photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Koutchak said that right now a team really couldn’t serve as CEO .

“My caution is: You really need somebody in charge of the ship.”

So the board settled on Clarke, and there was some comfort in following established procedures to arrive at that decision.

This is board chair Celeste Tydingco.

“We’ve already got policies in place. This isn’t a huge emergency right now. We do have things that we’ve already established that are working. But let’s meet real soon. Let’s get a plan together very, very quickly and make a good plan, and not just a knee-jerk plan.”

To help, the city of Sitka is providing the support of municipal administrator Mark Gorman, chief administrative officer Jay Sweeney, and municipal attorney Robin Koutchak. Member Lori Hart thought that between the hospital board, hospital staff, and municipal staff, some kind of transition plan could be developed in about three weeks.

The transition will not involve Jeff Comer, who became CEO of Sitka Community Hospital in October, and handed in his resignation around New Year’s. Comer vacated his hospital-owned apartment on Sunday, January 4, turned in his keys, rental car, and laptop, and departed Sitka for Phoenix, Arizona, according to Koutchak.

Sitka’s attorney wanted to clear up any misconception about whether Comer would entitled to a severance package worth two months of his $185,000 salary.

She read from an email Comer sent to board members the day before the meeting.

“He says: Per Section 7a of my Employment Agreement the Board must pay me for 60 days. That’s not what that section says in his contract. So if you all could look at his contract, and go to that section. 7a states that he is to give 60 days notice. It doesn’t say we’re to pay him. It says he’s to give us 60 days notice.”

In his email, Comer agrees to remain available to work telephonically from Arizona to support the hospital during the transition. Koutchak felt that didn’t fulfill his employment contract. Furthermore, there’s the alleged assault.

Comer failed to appear for a scheduled meeting with the assembly on January 2, saying — through a statement — that he had been attacked and beaten on a local trail that afternoon, and feared for his safety.

Koutchak felt it was best to move on.

“He gave us his resignation letter dated December 30, and then on Friday he really, really let everyone know by way of the assembly meeting that he was gone, and Sunday he was on a plane. So I think we’re really safe in saying Friday was his last day. Pay him up through Friday, let it go.”

But members Hans von Rekowski and Ann Wilkinson were unsure. Von Rekowski expressed concern about contracts and other work that Comer had in progress, and which might be difficult for someone else to pick up. Wilkinson wondered if the board should postpone accepting Comer’s resignation until they were satisfied that he had left things in order.

Koutchak thought that was unrealistic.

“Ann, I think he’s gone. Elvis has left the building!” (Laughter…)

During public testimony, the hospital board felt some heat — both real and figurative — from the 60 staff and members of the public packed into the hospital’s classroom space. There was sentiment that the board was too dependent on the services of the headhunting firm B.E. Smith in hiring Comer, when a simple Google search would have shown that Comer had jumped often between jobs.

Physician Richard Wien was clearly disappointed in Comer. He urged the board toward accountability and action.

“Real, material damage has been caused to this hospital. How is that so? Well just a couple of examples: I hear nurses are applying to SEARHC. Do you know how hard nurses are to get? I heard that the two mid-levels (physicians) who were coming here were not going to come here or sign contracts because they heard of the financial issues related to this hospital. And it goes on and on and on. When a professional has a job to do, they roll their sleeves up and do it!”

Wien recommended putting a physician on the board. That idea was seconded by member of the public Owen Kindig, who wanted the board to look beyond traditional models of hospital governance. “This is a watershed moment for Sitka,” he said.

There was also a sense of community in the room, and a willingness to work toward a solution. Members of the hospital finance department said that an audit would show that the numbers may not be as bad as Comer had indicated. The mood compelled assembly member Ben Miyasato to step forward and remind hospital staffers that they will come out the other side. “You will weather this,” he said.

Note: Sitka police are soliciting the public’s help regarding the alleged assault of Jeff Comer, which reportedly occurred last Friday at about 1 PM near the bridge on the lower part of Herring Cove Trail. Anyone with helpful information about Comer’s assailants — reportedly a man and a woman — are asked to call police at 747-3245.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Aniak Infant Death

Tue, 2015-01-06 09:48

An infant was found dead Sunday morning in the village of Aniak, reportedly after sleeping on the couch with her mother.

An Alaska State trooper report said officers, volunteer fire and EMS crews responded to a home after a report that the infant wasn’t breathing. They tried resuscitate the girl but were unsuccessful. The 5-month-old was transported to a clinic where she was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Troopers said it appears the mother fell asleep with the child on the couch around 2:30 am. A relative stopped by the house after 7 and woke the mother, who discovered her child was not breathing.

Last month in Emmonak a one-year-old girl died in similar circumstances. A trooper report said that baby stopped breathing after sleeping on the couch with her father, who had been drinking that night.

Experts say bed sharing, especially on sofas or couches, raises the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, often by the larger person accidentally suffocating the child during the night.

Categories: Alaska News