APRN Alaska News
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is a quieter affair this year, as the fleet conducts its first fully cooperative fishery since the mid-90s.
Is food a source of comfort–or division? How can it be used to spark conversations about global conflicts? Those are the questions Anita Mannur is asking in her upcoming talk called “Kitchens in Crisis” at UAA. Mannur, an associate professor of Asian & Asian American studies at Miami University in Ohio, says her research looks at ways in which food can bring people together, or push them apart.
“And I think that’s for me rooted in my own personal history as an immigrant [from India]. As a child, sort of being embarrassed about the kind of food I would have to bring and it marking me as different and wanting to be the same as everyone around me and not wanting it to smell different.”
But Mannur says food can also be a vehicle for talking about larger issues. She says some restaurants, like Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, only serve food from countries that are involved in conflicts with the United States, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. There, food is used as a teaching vehicle, get people to talk about the stories and histories connected to the foods.
Mah-nor will be speaking at the UAA Library room 307 Thursday night at 6 pm.
Some of the best big mountain skiers and snowboarders in the world are in Haines this week for the Freeride World Tour. After taking on slopes in France, Andorra and Austria, the tour is holding its first ever Alaska stop.
Tuesday night, the Upper Valley experienced an impressive display of the Aurora Borealis. The lights are caused by particles from the sun being thrown into space and interacting with the charged particles in Earth’s ionosphere, which begins about sixty miles above the surface. This is referred to by scientists as a geomagnetic storm. Donald Hampton researches those storms for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He says the geomagnetic storm on Tuesday was very rare.
“It’s kind of a once-every-ten-year kind of storm. Just the magnitude and the duration were quite spectacular, actually.”
Geomagnetic storms are rated on a scale of one to five, based on their intensity. This week’s event was rated a G4, or ‘severe,’ storm. On Tuesday, the northern lights were visible across substantial areas of the Lower 48. Storms that strong also have another effect, however. Donald Hampton says communications systems, such as telephones and radio, can be impacted when their signals hit the ionosphere.
“That plasma actually reacts to that electromagnetic wave going through there, and it can do things like attenuate it, so the signal you think you’re going to get out of the other side may be a lot weaker. So, instead of hearing a radio station ten miles away, you might only be able to hear it one mile away, or something like that.”>>
No significant outages were reported in the Upper Valley as a result of Tuesday’s geomagnetic storm, meaning that the event amounted to nothing more than an impressive light show.
Testimony from the director of the Missile Defense Agency today suggests Alaska will likely remain the cornerstone of the nation’s ground-based missile defense operations, at least in the near term. In Congress, some members have cheered the idea of a new missile site in the East. The Pentagon is considering locating one in Maine, New York, Ohio or Michigan.
But Missile Defense Agency Director James Syring says he doesn’t believe that’s a priority now. Someday, he says, the program would benefit from a third U.S. missile site, in addition to the existing ones at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Together they’re slated to have 44 interceptors by 2017. But he says his investment priority is Long-Range Discrimination Radar, a system likely to be built in Alaska also.
“The LRDR is critically important to where I see the threat from North Korea going in the near future, with the capability of becoming more complex, requiring more interceptors, and us, and the war fighter needing the assurance that we have persistent track and discrimination capability against that threat,” he said. “It is a must.”
Syring says he hopes to award a contract for the radar system by fall. Contractors were told to assume the system would be built at Clear Air Force Station, southwest of Fairbanks.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she doesn’t see any good news for the families in Southeast Alaska that still depend on the harvest of Tongass timber. She says nothing Congress does seems to increase the national timber harvest, and Murkowski she’s not confident the transition to second-growth in the Tongass will work.
“I don’t disagree that you’ve got a hard job here managing things,” she told Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell at a budget hearing today, “but I don’t know what to tell the folks in the Tongass anymore.”
Putting some of the blame on environmental lawsuits, Murkowski says communities that used to rely on timber now have to rely on subsidies, like the Secure Rural Schools program. And, Murkowski says, the Forest Service budget for recreation in Alaska dropped some 23 percent over five years.
“So I’m discouraged. I’m just discouraged. Because I don’t where the communities I was born in, like Ketchikan, or raised in, like Wrangell, I don’t know where they go,” she said.
Tidwell says coping with the nation’s increasingly large forest fires is sapping his agency. But the Forest Service chief says, after years of decreases, the recreation budget for Alaska finally went up last year.
“This budget request does maintain that level of recreation funding. I wish it was more,” Tidwell said. “But until we can fix this fire issue, it takes up so much of our constraint, that we’re going to continue to see these impacts.”
The Alaska Wilderness League issued a written statement after the hearing endorsing an increase in recreation funding to support jobs in tourism and fishing.
Gov. Bill Walker and his wife each reported income of between $100,000 and $200,000 for the sale of their law firm.
The information is included on the financial disclosure Walker filed Sunday. The report, required for certain public officials, allows for a range to be given for income and gifts. It says the firm was sold Dec. 1, when Walker took office.
The Walkers each reported between $200,000 and $500,000 in capital gain on the sale of business properties.
Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang said the Walkers’ Bootlegger Cove LLC owned what she called the prime downtown property which housed the firm and another business condo. She said the capital gains are from the sale of those units. Bootlegger Cove has since dissolved.
The Walkers maintain interests in other real estate.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott reported at least $1 million in income upon resigning from the Alaska Air Group board.
Mallott, by email, said stock held as deferred income was transferred to him and taxed as ordinary income when he resigned from the board Dec. 1. He called it a one-time event after 32 years of service.
The financial disclosure report that public officials are required to file allow for ranges for the value of gifts and income.
A Mallott aide said Mallott didn’t have the exact figure with him, as he was traveling, but said it was around $1.7 million.
Mallott’s report also includes $20,000 to $50,000 in deferred compensation from Sealaska Corp. that Mallott says was triggered by his resignation from Sealaska’s board last year and is to be paid out annually.
The Alaska House has passed legislation pushing back the date by which legislators and other public officials must file annual financial disclosures. HB 65 would move the filing deadline from March 15 to May 15.
A minority-led effort to keep the reporting deadline for legislators as March 15 failed. Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat from Fairbanks, said legislators owe it to the public to provide that information while in session.
Rep. Mike Hawker, a Republican from Anchorage, said the bill, which he sponsored, would not degrade the quality of information available to the public about legislators. He noted that candidates make financial declarations when they run, and their annual reports are on file. The change in date also includes those serving on boards and commissions.
The vote was 32-8 on reconsideration. The bill next goes to the Senate.
The Juneau Assembly has approved new enforcement measures designed to cut down on “hawking” — an aggressive form of commercial sidewalk solicitation also called “barking.”
Juneau police say the practice is on the rise, especially during the summer tourist season.
Lt. Kris Sell says downtown patrol officers will be working with local businesses this year to identify and stop hawking.
“Last year was when we saw what appeared to be our first professional barker, brought in from out of town — very good and very aggressive — and he was cited twice,” Sell told the Juneau Assembly. “And (he) did comment that it’s just a cost of doing business as long as he didn’t have to go to court.”
The previous penalty for hawking was a flat $150 fine no matter how many times a person was cited. The updated punishment includes a $150 fine for a first offense; a $300 fine for a second offense in a two-year period; and a mandatory court appearance for a third offense in two years.
Sell says JPD did one undercover sting targeting barkers last year, and she promised more this summer.
Kristy Chhabria is a South Franklin Street store owner, who says hawking is common in other tourist destinations. But she says the visitors who come to Alaska are looking for a different experience.
“Not to toot our own horn, but because we don’t do the barking and the hawking, it’s actually helped us,” Chhabria said. “Customers will come back after walking down and say, ‘We just love you. You guys aren’t out there harassing us.’”
The Assembly unanimously approved the new more strict hawking enforcement measures at its meeting last night. Some Assembly members commented that they wished the penalties could be even stronger.
More than half of all homes in Alaska were built in the 1970s and ‘80s.
That’s according to an Alaska Housing Finance Corp. report released last year that highlighted the need for improvements to the state’s aging housing stock.
AHFC offers a variety of loan and rebate programs aimed at home renovations and energy efficiency upgrades. Corporation officials were in Juneau over the weekend to talk about some of those programs at the Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association’s Home and Outdoor Living Expo.
Amelia Harmon just moved to Juneau from Michigan and is considering buying her first home. She’s been looking online to get a sense of the market before she starts to shop for real.
“A lot of them look like they need some work, but that’s just from the outside,” she says of the homes she’s seen thus far. “I don’t know what they look like on the inside. I don’t like to judge a book by its cover.”
Harmon and her mom came to the Juneau Home and Outdoor Living Expo to get a better idea of what’s available. She says she wants something not too pricy, but also doesn’t want to put a lot of money into a fixer upper.
“Not a home that needs too much renovations and have to put more work into it than what you paid for,” she says.
Harmon stops at the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. booth, where there’s big sign with a floral print couch on it that says, “The 70s called. They want their house back.”
Jan Miyagishima, director of mortgage operations at AHFC, says most homes in Alaska are in the 35-year and older range.
“Doesn’t sound like it’s really old if you compare it to the East Coast. But the homes are getting dated,” Miyagishima says. “If you don’t keep up your home, it will decrease in value.”
Alaska Housing offers three renovation loan programs. Homeowners can get up to $312,750 in remodeling financed by having a full appraisal done on their property. Those looking to refinance their mortgages can qualify for a package that allows them to recoup money spent on improvements over the previous year and get an additional loan up to $50,000. Finally, there’s a purchase renovation loan that allows buyers to pay for up to $50,000 worth of upgrades through their mortgage loan.
Miyagishima says all three programs require a bid from a qualified contractor for the work to be done.
“This is allowing people to get the kitchen that they want, the bathroom upgrades,” she says.
AHFC does not actually loan money itself. Instead, it works with lenders like banks and credit unions to offer home financing to Alaskans. The state-backed corporation is like Fannie Mae orFreddie Mac, in that it buys loans from these lenders, and packages them into mortgage-backed securities that are sold to private investors.
Alaska Housing also operates the state’s home energy rebate programs, which can be used in conjunction with any of its renovation loans. These programs allow homeowners to get an energy rating to identify any issues. The rebate helps pay for the cost of improvements.
“The average rebate’s right around $7,000,” says Jimmy Ord, AHFC energy programs manager.
“Most Alaskans put in somewhere around $12,000,” he says. “So there’s a good investment from the homeowner and the state in the project.”
Alaska Housing also offers energy rebates for new home construction. But in recent years, Ord says the state has averaged fewer than 2,000 new homes per year. That’s why the heavy push to improve existing housing.
“Most of the infrastructure is already in place, so we have to look at how we’re going to move that infrastructure into the next generation,” he says.
Harmon, the potential home buyer looking to lay down roots in Juneau, says right now she’s more concerned about finding the right price than she is with renovations.
“It’s more expensive up here than where I’m from down in the lower 48,” she says. “But Michigan doesn’t have the views and the stuff that Alaska has to offer.”
And she says it’s good to know that options are available should she need upgrades for whatever home she decides to buy.
Dallas Seavey crossed under the burled arch in Nome at 4:13 a..m. Wednesday, securing his second-consecutive Iditarod win and his third four years.
He finished the race in 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds.
Seavey made the 22 mile run from Safety, the Iditarod’s final stop before the finish line in Nome, in three hours.
He finished the race with 10 dogs.
Dallas’ father, Mitch Seavey, is running in second place, approaching Safety.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
The top teams have left White Mountain and they are on their way to the Iditarod finish line in Nome. Spectators are unlikely to see a major shakeup in the front end of the field, but this year’s race is likely to end with career bests for many of the teams up front.
As Tuesday progressed in White Mountain, it became clear that Dallas Seavey was the likely winner of this year’s Iditarod.
“I’m starting to think there’s a chance we could do this,” he said.
Seavey has won the race twice before, but this year, he has says he’s had more fun than ever driving his team.
“You know we’re having a blast out here, we’re just musing,” he said.
Seavey left White Mountain with a four hour lead on another Seavey – his father, Mitch. Race officials joked that Dallas ought to stick around for a few extra hours and race Mitch in to Nome.
“No, I have too much respect for my competitors to do any showboating like that,” Dallas said. “I’m going to take every minute of my lead. If the wind starts blowing or if I end up having to carry ten of eleven dogs, this race, we’re so used to things going well, that we thing ‘oh that will never happen,’ it does happen.”
When he pulled into the checkpoint, Mitch Seavey said it’s been a long-time dream to see his family dominate the Iditarod leader board
“Well of course our dream finish would be one-two, with me in front of course,” Mitch said. “I thought it was agreed upon by the whole family. I just didn’t know how that would work out.…nah, it’s a great day, we’ll see how it all pans out. We still have to make it to the finish line.”
Both Mitch and Dallas Seavey are very competitive men, with extremely fast dog teams. The older Seavey knows better than to try and catch his son.
“That’s another thing about running tired dog teams,” Mitch said. “You don’t want to upset the apple cart. You just move along at whatever they are comfortable with and don’t let them fall asleep on you, but you can’t start whooping it up and going rodeo style, because you might not even make it.”
Seavey says it’s unlikely Aaron Burmeister can make up enough time to overtake his team. Even so, Burmeister remains hopeful.
“Well that’s a possibility,” Burmeister said. “That’s kind of the goal to be able to catch Mitch and I have no idea where Jessie is behind me.”
Jessie Royer arrived for her eight-hour layover less than two hours behind Burmeister, but she says the last few runs up the coast have taken a lot of energy out of her dog team.
“He’s mentioned before, I’m one person he does not want behind him at want mountain, because I have caught him a lot of times,” she said.
Royer says she tried to catch up, but she is also realistic about what her dog team can do in the next 70 miles.
“If I had caught like hour on him coming here, and all I had left was an hour on the way to Nome, sure,” she said. “But I’m not going to catch two hours on the way to Nome.”
The top few teams are likely to finish in the order they arrived in White Mountain, making for a less dramatic race in comparison to previous years, but they all know the race isn’t over until their dog teams pass under the burled arch.
After completing the mandatory 8-hour layover in White Mountain, Dallas Seavey left the checkpoint at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday on his way to Safety – the final stop before mushers cross the Iditarod finish line in Nome.
As of 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, he is the only musher to leave White Mountain.
Dallas’ father, Mitch Seavey was the second to arrive in White Mountain, with Aaron Burmeister, Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle arriving later.
After failing to expand Medicaid through a budget item, Gov. Bill Walker is trying again. He has introduced a standalone bill that would allow the state to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, while also offering
some reform measures.
When he was campaigning for governor, Bill Walker aggressively stumped on the issue of Medicaid expansion.
“There was never a time when we brought this up where there wasn’t instantaneous applause,” he said.”>>
Now that Walker is in office, getting the state to accept $146 million in federal funds to grow the pool of Medicaid recipients has been one of his top priorities.
First, Walker tried to secure the money through a line in the operating budget, but a House Finance subcommittee stripped that out. Then, Walker said the Legislature should consider an expansion bill by the House
Democratic Minority. That didn’t move. Next, he collaborated with a Republican senator on a reform bill, but the product offered did not include expansion. Now, Walker is doing something that legislators have
requested of him since the beginning of session.
“We have transmitted legislation for Medicaid expansion, Medicaid reform,” he said.
Walker made the announcement in the Capitol’s cabinet room, with two dozen supporters of Medicaid expansion behind him.
Right now, the state’s Medicaid program mostly covers low-income children and pregnant women. The nine-page bill makes it so that Alaskans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $20,000 a year for a single adult — can get coverage, too. There are 42,000 Alaskans eligible for Medicaid expansion, with some covered by Indian Health Services but other falling into a gap where they’re required to get health insurance by law but ineligible for subsidies because they don’t make enough. The federal government would pay the total cost of expansion in the first year, and then ratchet that down to 90 percent in the year 2020. The Walker administration expects about 20,00 eligible Alaskans to enroll within a year of expansion.
But Walker stressed that his bill wasn’t just about providing health care
to more people.
“It is a catalyst for reform,” he said. “We heard a lot about reform, and reform has been ongoing. Reform is part of this legislation.”
When asked to elaborate on specific reform measures, Walker mostly deferred to his health commissioner and his budget director. Commissioner Valerie Davidson described the promotion of telemedicine to bring costs down, and
added that bill would allow Alaska to apply for waivers to increase their federal match for some health care costs.
One waiver would allow Indian Health Services beneficiaries to have care from tribal providers totally covered by the federal government.
“That allows us to realize a potential savings of between $80 and $150 million.”
Walker’s budget director, Pat Pitney, explained that the bill also starts the process of implementing a provider tax, where up to six percent medical services can be taxed as revenue for the state.
“The provider tax would bring in more than the corporate tax for health providers,” Pitney said.
That tax would need approval from the Legislature in a future session.
After rolling out the bill, the Walker administration gave the Medicaid supporters the microphone. They were wearing buttons that read “It’s the right thing to do,” and most came from various health and trade groups. The
Alaska Hospital and Nursing Association, the Alaska Mental Health Trust, and the National Education Association were all represented, and they talked about the good expansion would do for their organizations and the
people they service. But there were two people in attendance who would directly benefit from Medicaid.
Steven Grundstein, a 53-year-old Juneau man, stood at the podium and announced he had a terminal kidney disease and could need dialysis within months. He said he found himself in the health care gap, and that getting
help has been difficult.
”Everyone is passing you around like a football,” he said.
Grundstein added it was difficult watching the debate over expansion, as someone affected by it.
“In politics, things go bad. I’ve seen too many bills start out with really good intentions and then go horribly wrong. Let’s try not to let the horribly wrong happen here.”
Legislators were still processing the bill on Tuesday afternoon. But some key players, like Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, reacted favorably.
Kelly had offered his own reform bill, and he said he was glad to see legislation on the issue from the governor. He said some of the reforms in each could be complementary. But Kelly said that expansion remains a
sticking point for him.
”We’re going to disagree on expansion. That’s the big thing,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that he did not want to add people to a “broken system.”
Hearing on the governor’s Medicaid bill are expected to be held starting next week.
The federal government can once again continue processing H-2b visas, the program that traditionally allows foreign roe technicians to work in Alaska seafood plants.
Whether the visas would be available for the summer season was unclear after a court challenge in Florida. But the judge’s decision in that case is now on hold until mid-April. Dennis Phelan of the Pacific
Seafood Processors Association says that should be enough time to move this summer’s visas along. Phelan says Alaska’s 100-million-dollar roe industry depends on the H-2b visas.
“There’s probably only 100 of them that we’re bringing over, but it’s crucial employees because they are the representatives on the ground for the folks who are buying the product, in most cases Japanese companies,” Phelan said.
Phelan’s trade association represents nine companies with about 25 processing plants around Alaska. H2-B visas are intended for seasonal non-farm workers. To qualify, employers have to show they can’t fill the positions with U.S. workers. Last year, H2-bs for Alaska jobs were primarily for roe technicians, but several dozen also went to bolster the sales force at jewelry stores in Southeast Alaska that cater to cruise ship passengers. Phelan says his association is still trying to get the industry back in the J-1 visa program, which used to allow thousands of foreign students to come to Alaska to work in processing jobs.
Walker Introduces Medicaid Expansion Bill
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
After failing to expand Medicaid through a budget item, Gov. Bill Walker is trying again. On Tuesday, he introduced a standalone bill that would allow the state to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, while also offering some reform measures.
Feds OK to Process Visas for Roe Technicians
Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
The federal government can once again continue processing H-2b visas, the program that traditionally allows foreign fish roe technicians to work in Alaska seafood plants.
Dallas Seavey First to White Mountain
Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
Dallas Seavey was the first musher to arrive in White Mountain Tuesday morning. It’s the second to last stop along the Iditarod trail. Teams will take an eight-hour mandatory rest there, before they make the final push for Nome.
Premera Warns of Possible Data Breach
Lisa Phu, KTOO-Juneau
If you have a health insurance plan through Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, your personal information may be vulnerable to a data breach. According to Premera, about 650,000 Alaskans are among the 11 million people potentially affected by a cyberattack of the health insurance company. A Premera press release says attackers may have gained access to customers’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses and bank account information.
Iditabike Racers Reach Nome
Francesca Fenzi, KNOM-Nome
In Nome, onlookers welcomed the first racers off the Iditarod trail on Monday – but not for the iconic sled dog race, these racers had wheels.
Roe Herring Fishery Gets Two-Hour Notice
Rachel Waldholz, KCAW-Sitka
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be on two-hour notice starting 10 a.m. Wednesday the Alaska Department of Fish & Game has announced.
Tribal Members Move Ahead Toward Unifying Region
Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Despite having no quorum and no vote, tribal members at the Calista-sponsored Yukon Kuskokwim Governance Convention on Monday decided to move ahead with an interim step toward unifying the regional politically.
Rupert Delegation Lobbying for Continued Connections
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau
Prince Rupert leaders are in Juneau this week to lobby for continued connections with Southeast Alaska. Budget cuts threaten to reduce state ferry sailings to and from the British Columbia port city. And policy differences have blocked construction of a new ferry terminal there. Rupert Mayor Lee Brain says the marine highway link helps economies on both sides of the border.
UAF Rifle Team Falls Short at Championships
Dan Bross, KUAC
The University of Alaska Fairbanks fell just short of a national title at the NCAA Rifle Champions on their home turf over the weekend.
Weather Doesn’t Stop Emergency Responders from Training at Dutch Harbor
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB-Unalaska
Chilly winds and whiteout conditions didn’t stop a team of emergency responders from mounting a unique exercise at the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday.
Despite having no quorum and no vote, tribal members at the Calista-sponsored Yukon Kuskokwim Governance Convention on Monday decided to move ahead with an interim step toward unifying the regional politically. Leaders put the future of a proposed regional tribal government first in the hands of tribal councils and set a deadline of 30 days for them to vote. If successful, the proposal would then go before individual tribal
voters who would vote yes or no on it.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks fell just short of a national title at the NCAA Rifle Champions on their home turf over the weekend. For the second year running, the Nanooks placed second to West Virginia University. The margin of victory was just 2 shots, with UAF taking Friday’s small bore match at the Patty Center, and the Mountaineers coming back Saturday, with just enough in the air rifle competition to nab the overall title in the 8 team competition. West Virginia’s Maren Prediger was the top individual shooter. UAF’s Tim Sherry was best Nanook in 8th place.
Chilly winds and whiteout conditions didn’t stop a team of emergency responders from mounting a unique exercise at the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday.
If you have a health insurance plan through Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, your personal information may be vulnerable to a data breach. According to Premera, about 650,000 Alaskans are among the 11 million people potentially affected by a cyberattack of the health insurance company.
A Premera press release says attackers may have gained access to customers’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses and bank account information.
Eric Earling is vice president of communications at Premera Blue Cross based in Washington.
“This is data going back to 2002, so this affects current and former members, in addition to other individuals and organizations with whom we may have done business,” he said.
Earling says Premera is the largest health plan in Alaska. It has about 110,000 current members in the state.
The health insurance company discovered the attack at the end of January and notified the FBI, which is now part of the investigation. Premera issued a press release about the cyberattack and notified employers and health brokers on Tuesday. It also plans on mailing letters to notify everyone potentially affected.
Premera’s offering two years of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.
Customers can sign up at the website premeraupdate.com or by calling 1-800-768-5817.