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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: 10 min 24 sec ago

Anchorage: Data Shows 2% Dip In Major Crime

Tue, 2015-05-12 15:53

One of the focal points in Anchorage’s recent mayoral election was crime, and wrangling with questions over whether or not it is on the rise in the municipality as a result of policy decisions.

Outgoing Mayor Dan Sullivan held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to explain that statistics for the last year tell a more optimistic story than the one on the campaign trail.

 

Statistics from the recently released data on UCR incidents in 2014 provided by the Mayor’s Office.

Standing with Police Chief Mark Mew, Sullivan said that major crimes are down overall. Based on the Uniform Crime Reporting standards set by the FBI, incidents went from 14,476 to 14,136, a decline of about 2 percent.

But the numbers come with caveats.

Though serious crimes like homicide, sexual assaults, and theft nudged slightly down from 2013 to 2014, it was not in every category. For example, aggravated assaults were up by 14 percent, vehicle theft by 8 percent. What’s more, many of the categories hit lows relatively recently in 2010 and 2011, but have been persistently rising since.

Sullivan, however, prefers looking at the data in a 5-year averages, which puts the frequency of violent crime below that of the previous mayor’s administration.

Individual UCR categories broken down over the last five years, provided by the Mayor’s Office.

 

But critics believe it was investments in the police department during the Begich administration which caused the biggest declines, and that short staffing in the department has led to less follow up on low-priority complaints. And hence, less data points.

For his part, Sullivan has said the city could not afford a force that size, and that he does not believe there is a correlation between spending on APD and incidents of crime. Quality decisions on where to put officers makes a bigger difference than mere quantity, he told reporters.

Incoming mayor Ethan Berkowitz campaigned on expanding the size of the police force to stem what many perceive as a rise in crime across the city. Though firm plans on financing that proposal have not yet been released, police chief Mew says new officers coming out of the academies will be deployed according to recommendations made in the 2010 PERF report .

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Aims to Continue Pullen Creek King Program

Tue, 2015-05-12 15:32

King salmon. Photo by ADFG.

This is the last year that Alaska Department of Fish and Game will manage a brood stock king salmon run in Pullen Creek near Skagway. The state made that announcement earlier this year. Since then, the city has formed a committee that hopes to continue the program on its own.

Fish and Game cited a lack of funding and irregular broodstock as the reason for ending the 10-year Pullen Creek program.

For example, last year only six females returned to Pullen Creek. But in 2013 the pond was chock full of salmon. That year was an anomaly. In the last eight years the return of kings to Pullen Creek has averaged 137 fish.

The Pullen Project was started in the late 1990s with king salmon brood stock from the Tahini River. It’s run in conjunction with Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery. Eggs from returning females are harvested each year and reared in pens in Pullen Creek. They are released into the wild and return to fresh water in usually three years.

Fish and game will now quit harvesting eggs and pull the pens from Pullen. But Skagway is hoping to keep the program running.

“There is definitely an interest from many sources here in Skagway to continue enhancing the fisheries here,” says city manager Scott Hahn. He’s been working with a newly formed ad hoc committee to research options for continuing the program. Hahn describes one possibility:

“This ad hoc committee would try to form a nonprofit and move into a much more practice role to build a hatchery or find the resources to do the things we can’t contract out. We don’t know what those are. We are at the start of this process. But this nonprofit/ad hoc committee is going to have to answer those questions.”

The goal of the fish and game program was to establish a sport fishery in Taiya Inlet. That’s the main reason Hahn says the community wants to continue the program. But it’s also a good resource for the town’s primary industry – tourism.

“I think (visitors) like to see the entire salmon process because that’s the revered and often sold component of Alaska tourism. So it would be a definite benefit to that as well. People are going to want to see the fish reared and see the fish returned.”

Hahn says the city will have to eventually decide how much it wants to invest and spend each year maintaining the program.

If the program ends, kings will continue to return to Pullen Creek on their own for the next few year. But without fish and game biologists there to meet them at Pullen Pond and harvest the roe, the run will eventually peter out.

Categories: Alaska News

Climbers Heli-Rescued Off Mt. Dickey After Slide

Tue, 2015-05-12 14:14

Two climbers were rescued off of Mt. Dickey, southeast of Denali, Monday night.

The National Park Service reports that two Idaho climbers have been rescued after an avalanche on Mt. Dickey in the Alaska Range.  According to a statement from Denali National Park, 27-year-old Saxon Spellman and 24-year-old Michael Wachs, were on the mountain when the avalanche occurred, but neither was caught in the slide. The pair attempted to climb down after the avalanche, but could not find a safe route.

Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says the climbers signaled a local air taxi pilot by stomping an ‘SOS’ into the snow and waving their arms. They also activated a GPS locator. After mountaineering rangers spotted Spellman and Wachs from the air, a search and rescue helicopter was dispatched. The rescue helicopter, piloted by veteran rescue pilot Andy Hermansky, was able to land on the mountain and pick up the two stranded climbers.

Photos taken by a ranger show that where Wachs and Spellman were was one of few safe places on the face of Mt. Dickey.

Park Service staff have reported an increase in avalanche activity following several feet of fresh snow and windy conditions. Thus far, no major accidents have been reported in the Alaska Range for the 2015 climbing season.

Categories: Alaska News

Paying Attention To Soil Could Reap Harvest Benefits

Tue, 2015-05-12 12:52

Many of Alaska’s farm produce vendors are going strong, drawing customers even in mid winter.  Some use the organic label, others don’t, but what exactly is it that makes a vegetable organic?  There is a  difference between no-till farming, organic farming and just plain farming.

In a book that changed how many view standard agricultural practices, Japanese famer/philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, said that accepted farming methods upset the natural symbiosis of living environments. Fukuoka and his 1975 book, “The One Straw Revolution,” is credited with leading today’s sustainable agriculture movement.

Speaking at a forum in India, in 1997, Fukouka warned that deserts were being created at an alarming rate, due to over tilling, over production and over grazing. He proposed no-till, no- herbicide farming, saying that all that farmers need to do is broadcast seed on the ground, letting nature take it’s course. But would Fukouka’s methods work in Alaska?

On a busy Saturday at the Sears Mall in Anchorage, Butte organic farmer Mark Rempel is doing a brisk business. Customers line up for potatoes, cabbages and bright golden squash. I asked him, would do – nothing farming work in Alaska?

“I think there is an opportunity for that, but economically, I wouldn’t dare try that. What I produce on small acreage is amazing. If you came and saw what we crank out of our little piece of ground is amazing. We only farm 14(acres), and if you watch what happens in South Anchorage on a Saturday, how much produce goes flying out of our stand, you realize there is a lot of production happening.”

First of all, Rempel says, organic farming and no-till farming are two very different things. He says just by taking his produce to market, he’s depleting the soil. That’s because the vegetables themselves have taken nutrients out of the ground just by growing. And those nutrients must be put back in, or the soil suffers.

“We have a wonderful opportunity in Alaska with the fish industry. Because they have a lot of byproduct. And so what a lot of ships do, is they will dry out their waste, run it across a screen, and the fish meal falls through the screen. And that’s high protien, high nitrogen. It’s used as dog food and fertilizer. And then there’s the bones and other things that come out of that. And that’s what I use. That comes to Palmer and there is a guy with a hammer millwho grinds it up to sawdust and that’s what i put on my field. Every micronutrient that is soluble in the sea is in that.”  

He says he’s putting stuff back into the soil that was not there in the first place.

Rempel is the only certified organic producer left in Southcentral Alaska. He tills the soil, but his organic certification limits the types of soil enhancements that he can use. He broadcasts the fish bone meal, and mixes in calcium and other minerals which feeds the microbes in the soil, rather than the plant.

“I feed them, so they work symbiotically with the plant. Because the plant exudes sugars, and the microbes come to that. But they bring nutrients to the plant in a way that the plant can use it better than straight fertilizer. So I feed the soil to feed the plant to feed us.”

Down the mall corridor, Alex Davis sells produce and pork harvested on his Palmer acreage.

“I am no longer a certified organic producer. I don’t file with the federal government, but I didn’t change my farming practices, so I do all organic practices, not the verification paperwork and not the fees.”

Davis says do-nothing farming is a bad idea.

“We are taking out thousands of pounds of carrots a year off of two acres. I have to have inputs into that to be able to take that back out. You just can’t take out and expect it to not collapse. “

Davis says he fertilizes using fish bone meal, too.

“We also use lime very heavily, which is high in calcium, which is a great thing to put in, and that has made our vegetables sweeter over the years. Sometime we use some soft rock phosphates. A little bit, every now and then I use some cow manure or pig manure if it is available.”

He says he farms organically, but is no longer certified organic. What’s the difference?

“The amount of headache I have to do in paperwork” he laughs.

So it’s the paperwork that makes it organic? Rempel says, there’s more to it than that. It’s consumer confidence, too. Rempel gets his soil tested by an independent lab for recommendations as to what nutrients are needed. He says balancing out the proper mix of nutrients is the trick to healthy soil. And soil is the very foundation of agriculture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Chinook Researchers Encounter Unlikely Predator In Bering Sea

Tue, 2015-05-12 11:35

Salmon sharks are closely related to mako and great white sharks, and one of the few warm-blooded fish species. Photo: Kristine Sowl, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

While studying Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea, researchers have found themselves in the wake of an unlikely killer.

Andrew Seitz is a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who has spent the past several years studying Chinook salmon. He said the first sign of foul play came from satellite tags used in his research this winter. The tags gather behavior and migration data for the salmon, taking temperature and depth readings every two minutes — then relaying them to researchers by satellite later on.

Seitz said those temperature readings were what alerted him to the fact that something was, well, fishy.

“[The] temperature went from between 45 to 55 F, and it jumped up to 65 to 80 degrees in a matter of a couple minutes. And there’s no water temperature that warm in the Bering Sea,” he said.

Seitz suspected immediately what had happened — his tags, and the salmon they accompanied, were in the belly of a warm-blooded predator.

But, he explained, the mystery didn’t end there. Marine mammals, much like humans, have a body temperature between 98 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit — meaning the salmon weren’t the victims of an arctic seal or sea lion.

“Which leaves just one suspect,” said Seitz.”The salmon shark.”

Salmon sharks, which are closely related to mako and great white sharks, are one of the few fish able to keep their body temperature warmer than their surroundings — allowing them to pursue their favorite prey into even the icy waters of the Bering Sea.

Still, Seitz said he was surprised to find the sharks in Northern waters during the winter, adding that the predators could be a factor in Alaska’s low king salmon returns.

“It’s too early to even speculate on whether salmon sharks are actually having population level effects. But its certainly worth considering and the impact of salmon shark predation should certainly enter the conversation about what is controlling or influencing abundance of Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea,” he said.

Seitz plans to further investigate the impacts of predation on king salmon by deploying more satellite tags from a Japanese research vessel this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Overturns Wassillie Gregory’s Conviction

Tue, 2015-05-12 11:34

A judge has dismissed the harassment conviction of a man who was roughly arrested by a former Bethel police officer in the AC parking lot. Judge Bruce Ward approved the application Monday for post conviction relief filed by Wassillie Gregory’s attorney after video surfaced last month. From a distance it shows the arrest by officer Andrew Reid, in which the intoxicated Gregory is slammed to the ground several times.

Attorney Sean Brown’s motion on behalf of Gregory cited the new video evidence that contradicted the officer’s report of the arrest. The district attorney did not oppose the motion and the judge approved it.

Gregory pleaded guilty last year to the harassment charge without the assistance of an attorney. He originally faced charges for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The latter charges were dismissed with the guilty plea.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Assembly Budget Discussions

Tue, 2015-05-12 11:03

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly is working on next year’s Borough budget, and on Monday night, the panel made some amendments to the spending plan. The Mat Su Borough’s proposed $400.7  spending package is undergoing modifications by the Borough Assembly, particularly in the areas of education and emergency services funding. At Tuesday night’s special meeting in Palmer, nine amendments were approved, amendments which increased grant funding for the Borough’s three main cities, benefited fire service areas by providing extra money to fund positions, and increased Borough support for Youth Court and the Borough Sexual Assault Response Team program. However, the main discussion of the meeting focused on Borough School District funding. A one point five million dollar increase in education funding proposed by Assemblyman Matthew Beck was reduced by 150 thousand dollars in the final round of voting.  Assemblyman Matthew Beck:

” Our mil rate, I think, right now, with the amendments that we’ve done, I think it is 9.8. So it’s up slightly, it is still under ten. I think our goal is to keep it under ten, I think that that’s our goal. I think we’ll be able to accomplish it and still be able to provide services. I think that when the school ends up getting to keep its fund balance, that’s going to offset the shortfall. “

Beck says he’ll submit another amendment on Wednesday allowing the School District to keep it’s fund balance.

But Assemblyman Jim Sykes had a warning for the body:

“I just want us to think about where we are going real seriously. Because what we did with the schools is deficit spending. We’re gonna start with a one point four million dollar hole next year, and we will be asked to fully fund education. And I really think this was a prime opportunity that we really should hve gone probably to the taxpayers and said, ‘this is our priority and we have to raise your taxes.'”

Discussions on funding increases for Borough Emergency Services to provide a boost to wages and benefits, and to allow for two new positions were inconclusive, and postponed until Wednesday night’s special Borough Assembly meeting.  Tuesday’s [May 12] special Assembly meeting on budget deliberations has been canceled.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska is first phase of Arctic Ocean fiber optic project

Tue, 2015-05-12 09:42

Marine surveying will start again this summer near Alaska’s coastal communities in a wide-reaching effort to improve communications by laying a $700 million fiber-optic cable linking Europe and Asia through the Arctic Ocean.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports lingering sea ice in Canada’s Northwest Passage has caused project delays for cable-laying ships that don’t have the ability to adjust course like transport ships do.

Anchorage-based Quintillion Holdings is a partner in the project, and CEO Elizabeth Pierce says the company has a larger role now than it had at the project’s inception.

Pierce says developers are now using a phased approach, with work starting on links from Asia to Nome and Prudhoe Bay to Europe after the Alaska portion of the project is finished.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska regulators monitor backfill leak at mine

Tue, 2015-05-12 09:41

Alaska environmental regulators are monitoring a spill of material used to shore up underground workings at the Pogo Mine in the state’s interior.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Regulation says a leak of “paste backfill” was discovered Thursday by workers, who reported the spill. The material is placed underground to form supportive concrete.

Regulators say an estimated 36,000 gallons of the amount spilled was released outside a containment area. Officials say the material’s high viscosity means it likely will not spread beyond the gravel pad where it is contained.

Officials say the responsible party is Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo LLC, which has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the spill. Pogo was fully purchased by Japanese partner companies – Sumitomo Metal Mining and Sumitomo Corp. – in 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Alaska population down after 26 years of growth

Tue, 2015-05-12 09:40

An aging baby boomer population and a stagnate birthrate have caused Alaska’s population to fall for the first time since the 1980s recession.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the population dropped by 61 people between July 2013 and July 2014. The last time the population dropped was in 1987 to 1988. Additionally, more people left Alaska than arrived during the studied time period.

Data from the state Department of Labor shows Alaska lost 7,488 people from mid-2013 to mid-2014. It was the second straight year that more people left the state than arrived

State demographer and report author Eddie Hunsinger says while the size of the drop is small, it is remarkable because Alaska’s growth has been steady for so long. He attributes the drop to more deaths while birth numbers remain the same.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage police release ID of moped driver killed in crash

Tue, 2015-05-12 09:40

Anchorage police have identified a moped driver who died after a collision with an SUV on the Glenn Highway as 66-year-old Leroy Blix Jr.

Police say Blix was traveling on an outbound lane Saturday evening when the collision occurred with the SUV, which also had been heading out in the same far right lane.

Police say no charges have been filed. The collision continues to be investigated.

Categories: Alaska News

Transmission line planned for Clear Air Force Station

Tue, 2015-05-12 09:38

A small Air Force station in interior Alaska is scheduled to be hooked up this year to a rural cooperative’s power lines.

Golden Valley Electric Association is moving forward with installation of a 2.4-mile high-voltage transmission line to Clear Air Station.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the Department of Defense for three years has sought the connection as a cost-saving measure.

Clear operates radar antennas that track satellites and provide early warning of an intercontinental missile attack.

The station since it was built in 1961 has generated its own coal-fired heat and electricity.

The station’s 22.5-megawatt plant produces far more power than the facility requires with improved radar systems.

The Defense Department will pay an estimated $6.1 million for the transmission line.

Categories: Alaska News

While Pitching Expansion, Health Department Officials Cite Fixes To Payment System

Tue, 2015-05-12 07:11

The state’s troubled Medicaid payment system has seen improvements in recent months, according to Walker administration officials.

Health-care Services Director Margaret Brodie briefed legislators on the state’s progress with the system at a House Finance committee hearing on Monday. The update comes as Gov. Bill Walker has asked lawmakers to accept federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Out of the 500 defects found in the Xerox-built system, fewer than 100 remain. Brodie also said that claims were being processed with greater than 90 percent accuracy. She said the system is not perfect, but it is improving dramatically and can handle more claims.

“The amount of work that remains is still significant, yet from October 2014 to the present, we have made significant progress,” said Brodie.

Xerox’s Medicaid payment system has been plagued with issues since it went online in 2013. It denied or miscalculated many claims because of rounding errors, causing providers to “experience serious difficulties getting paid,” according to a Department of Health and Social Services report. The state responded by offering $165 million to providers in advance payments — $70 million of which has been recouped — and suing Xerox for damages.

The problems with the payment system have caused Republican lawmakers to describe Medicaid as “broken,” and a number have said they do not support expansion of the program until the system is reformed. Brodie’s presentation did not convince some Republican members of the House Finance committee that the system had been sufficiently repaired. Rep. Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, said he does not feel the improvements go far enough.

“We seem to be a little bit more comfortable that the same thing, at that point in time, we had an issue with,” said Pruitt.

The committee will continue to hold hearings on Medicaid throughout the week. Expansion of the program has been a major priority of the Walker administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Law Firm Gifts $3.5M to Tribal Health

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:40

A national law firm that specializes in Indian law is donating $3.5 million to improve medical care for tribal members. The decision comes after the firm, which has offices in Anchorage, helped win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving hundreds of millions of dollars for tribal health organizations.

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The law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson last year was one of the law firms that successfully fought for back payments to tribes from the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Attorney Lloyd Miller, a partner in the firm, says the firm wanted to give back to Indian Country, and recognizes the firm’s 40-year anniversary:

“We wanted to give back to Indian Country,” said Miller. “And since so much of our work involves health care issues, we wanted to focus our charitable contribution program on improving health care facilities, either entire clinics or acquisition of critical equipment such as cat scans, MRI machines and the like.”

Four-hundred-fifty thousand dollars each is going to the statewide Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for patient housing, and to the Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation for construction of a behavioral health clinic. Last year, ANTHC was paid $153 million for contract support costs, or overhead, that had been in litigation since 1990. Southcentral was awarded $96 million. Miller says $200,000 each is going to the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw nations:

“For the most part we’re working with tribes we know very well,” said Miller. “Tribes we’ve had a relationship with since the firm’s founding, in the case of some of the tribes we’ve worked with for 40 years.”

Miller says he hopes their donation will inspire other companies that work with tribes on self governance in health:

“We encourage them to come up with matching funds so that the tribes can do more for their people.”

Miller says in the coming year, the firm will be working on grants to other tribes in Oklahoma, and in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.

Categories: Alaska News

Galena Elder Turns 100

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:38

Galena elder Sidney Huntington turned 100 years old on Sunday. Hundreds of family members, friends, and community members gathered in Galena to celebrate the occasion on Saturday.

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As any reader of his biography “Shadows on the Koyukuk” can attest, Sidney Huntington’s life has been full of near-death experiences in the wilderness of the middle Yukon and Koyukuk River valleys.

At his centennial birthday celebration, Sidney recounted one of those experiences, in which he got lost in extreme cold temperatures while chasing down a marten. With only an ax, a gun, and the clothes on his back, he was forced to make camp.  Exhausted and near death, he remembered a story told by the late elder Edwin Simon, advising him to make two fires instead of one.

With that experience in mind, Sidney came to realize that not only must young people listen to elders, but elders also have the responsibility to tell the truth.

“Edwin Simon told me, if you use a story, tell a true story. A false story can cause someone to lose his life.  Never use a story to make yourself good. That’s an example of listening to your elders.  I always give credit to Edwin Simon for teaching me to save my life.”

 Sidney saved himself in other ways, as his daughter Agnes Sweetsir remembered:

“When you realized that your drinking was affecting us negatively, you had your last. When you were told that to continue to smoke would cost you your life, you had your last. Maybe it was your stubbornness that helped some, but I think it was your love of life and believing that your life was more than just about you and your good times and self-satisfaction, it was about all of us. And we thank you.”

Besides quitting drinking and smoking, Sidney also attributed his longevity to eating small, light meals – something he said he learned from the Japanese.

Also at the centennial, family members read a selection of birthday greetings that Sidney has been receiving from the likes of President Obama, Senator Murkowski, Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott, and the co-author of Shadows on the Koyukuk, Jim Reardon.

Sidney lives at the Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility in Galena, along with his wife of 70 years, Angela.  The K thru 12 school in Galena, where the party took place, is named after him.  He remains a strong advocate for public education, and high school basketball.  Until recent health challenges, he attended every Galena Hawks practice and game.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, May 11, 2015

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:35

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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Shell Gets Conditional Approval For Arctic Drilling

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil has gotten another green light for its exploration season in the Chukchi Sea this summer. But as KUCB’s Annie Ropeik reports, the company still has some hurdles to get through before it can drill.

Sealaska Earnings Up, But Losses Continue

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska upped its income by $50 million in 2014. Officials at Juneau-headquartered Sealaska say it’s the start of a multi-year recovery. But critics point to figures showing it’s still losing money.

Army Drawdown Felt in Alaska

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The United States Army is in the midst of a nationwide draw-down that could remove thousands of troops from bases in Alaska in the months ahead. But some units have already started to dissolve. The recent deactivation of an engineering unit at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is one small piece of larger changes for the Army in Alaska.

Minority Democrats To Hold Own Hearings

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Members of the House and Senate minorities are planning hearings of their own, citing frustration with the lack of progress during the special session.

Can Free Pregnancy Tests In Bars Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Bars in Alaska are now offering pregnancy tests. The pilot program is meant to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome in the state. Alaska has one of the highest rates in the country. Supporters hope the tests will reach women early in pregnancy – a crucial time when they might not know they’re expecting.

Dillingham Fires Up New Incinerator at Landfill

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

The new incinerator at the Dillingham landfill has fired up. A ban on open burning and limited space led city officials last year to purchase the incinerator.

Law Firm Gifts $3.5M to Tribal Health

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

A national law firm that specializes in Indian law is donating $3.5 million to improve medical care for tribal members. The decision comes after the firm, which has offices in Anchorage, helped win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving hundreds of millions of dollars for tribal health organizations.

Ninilchik Community Library Hires New Director

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

This spring, the Ninilchik community library brought its number of paid staff up to… one. It hired a new director at 15 hours per week. Like many small libraries around the state is has a minuscule budget and relies primarily on volunteers to keep it running.

Galena Elder Turns 100

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Galena elder Sidney Huntington turned 100 years old on Sunday.  Hundreds of family members, friends, and community members gathered in Galena to celebrate the occasion on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

Mine-Sweeping, Playground-Building, Parachuting Sapper Brigade Leaves JBER

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:31

The 23rd Engineer Company is one part of the 2d Engineer Brigade in the process of dissolving. The 2nd Engineer Brigade started during WWII with amphibious landings, and the insignia is a sea-horse, “The work-horses of the sea.” Photo: Courtesy of Cpt. Richard Packer, USARAK)

The United States Army is in the midst of a nationwide draw-down that could remove more than 11,000 troops from bases in Alaska during the months ahead. But some units have already started to dissolve as a result of downsizing and sequestration. The deactivation of an engineering unit at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson earlier in the month is a small piece amid larger changes for the Army in Alaska.

In a two-story lodge overlooking scenic Otter Lake at Fort Richardson is Captain A. Edward Major (“Soon to be Major Major,” jokes another captain), who shows me a plaque with a castle on it, the emblem for the Engineer Corp.

“We are engineers–we build things,” Major explains. Things like fortifications for combat, represented symbolically by the castle, “They are proud, and they are imposing structures.”

It’s a sad day for Major. His company, the 23rd Engineer Battalion (engineers who jump out of planes when they have to), deactivated. It is part of the US Army’s strategic shrinking of the overall force. We visit places on base showing the unit’s legacy. One of them is the lodge we’re in, which the 23rd built back in 1974.

“Unfortunately in burned down in 1982,” Major said, “and my company again came back and rebuilt it.”

Engineers fill a peculiar role in the Army, handling what can seem like wildly incompatible responsibilities. Decades ago the unit designed an Alaska-shaped playground on base. But they also returned from a combat deployment in Afghanistan just six months ago, where they would look for roadside bombs, as Major explained, “To make sure some of our less well-protected brethren were not being blown up by the insurgents.”

Since transitioning back to Alaska, Major has worked on dissolving his unit. He shows me a big, empty industrial building that smells like diesel where he and others tied up loose ends, handled all the paperwork of assigning troops to new units, and got commendations in order.

Of the 133 soldiers under his command, around 50 are being absorbed by 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, and about half are scattering across the globe. It’s a small loss within the larger deactivation of the full 2nd Engineer Brigade, which has shed more than 700 positions from JBER in the last two years, many of them from the more experienced ranks.

“That’s what the Army restructuring was all about,” Major said, “it was a nation-wide effort to figure out where we could accept some risk, and where we needed to reinforce.” Amid that calculus the Army decided Alaska had enough engineering capacity, and opted to shore up units stationed elsewhere.

But that process of making and unmaking is part of the Army, which is constantly adapting to new circumstances, and it’s fundamental to the  identity of combat engineers in particular, who refer to themselves as “sappers.”

“It actually goes back to the French word sapeur, and specifically engineers tunneling under enemy fortifications,” Major said. “They would dig under castle walls and buttress them up with wood, then set fire to the wood. So that would literally sap the strength from the wall, and when the wall fell down you could just run in and take the castle.”

Confused, I ask if the insignia for the engineers isn’t at odds with their nickname, “It just sounds like you build castles, but also destroy castles.”

“It is true,” he replied, “we are meant to do both.”

Major is part of the 23rd leaving Alaska. His next posting is at his alma matter, West Point, managing construction projects for the Corp of Engineers.

Categories: Alaska News

IMinority Democrats To Hold Own Hearings

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:15

As the special session grinds on, Democrats in the minority plan to call their own hearings outside of the standard committee process.

With the 30-day special session at the halfway mark, seven meetings have been held on the budget, one on Medicaid expansion, and zero on a sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law. Democrats will hold a hearing on all three of these special-session agenda items at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office on Thursday evening.

As part of the Legislature’s majority party, Republican committee chairs have the authority to schedule official hearings. At a press availability on Monday, members of the minority explained they were dissatisfied with the progress of the special session, and decided to hold meetings of their own. They say they will take public comment, which has not occurred in the meetings that have been held.

The Legislature has been in a state of gridlock since the final days of the regular session, when lawmakers failed to reach a deal on a budget. Because of a multi-billion-dollar deficit, some Democratic support is needed to tap the state’s hard-to-access rainy day fund, but the minority has said it will not support a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion or more funds for education.

If a deal to fund state government cannot be reached, a shutdown is possible as early as July, according to the Legislature’s financial analyst.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham Fires Up New Incinerator at landfill

Mon, 2015-05-11 16:34

This week, Dillingham landfill employees began burning municipal trash.

The new incinerator at the Dillingham landfill.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

Poncho Garcia is the Public Works Director for the City of Dillingham. He says the incinerator heats up to about 1,300 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re going through about 5,000 pounds of trash a day. And once we get the other addition help we’re probably going to pump that up to 10,000 pounds or more a day,” said Garcia.

The city purchased and installed the incinerator after the Department of Environmental Conservation did not renew a permit for open burning.

City Manager Rose Loera says the new incinerator will help to save the city costs and clean up the landfill.

“You won’t see bears trying to get into the cells. The bird activity would diminish tremendously,” said Loera.

The incinerator does not handle glass, and the City is continuing to ask residents to sort glass from their trash and take them to drop-off locations around town.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Gets Conditional Approval For Arctic Drilling

Mon, 2015-05-11 16:16

Shell has gotten another green light for its oil exploration season in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval for Shell’s exploration plan Monday morning.

The Noble Discoverer in Unalaska in 2012. (KUCB-Unalaska file photo)

Agency sokesman John Callahan says the conditions include getting permits from other federal agencies to actually drill for oil, work around marine mammals and discharge wastewater.

“So while our agency has conditionally approved this plan, there are some things Shell still has to do before it can go out,” Callahan says.

Shell has described a more concentrated campaign of activity than it had last time it attempted to drill in the Arctic. It plans to use two drill rigs and up to 40 round-trip helicopter trips a week — more than triple the number from its previous plan.

The executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission asked the government last month to consider the effect of noise from Shell’s proposed operations. Arnold Brower Jr., on behalf of the commission, says they could create a “fence of sound” and displace the whales.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says they’re hoping the environmental permits they wind up with will be ”practical” and “usable,” and will come through in time for a full summer season.

“We achieved these permits in 2012 and we’re looking forward to their delivery for 2015,” she says.

2012 was marked by a range of mishaps, including grounded drill rigs. And Susan Murray, a vice president for conservation group Oceana, says Shell’s not ready for another try.

“If Shell hasn’t shown us yet they can take bad decisions out of the equation, and their contractors can’t take bad decisions out of the equation, they don’t belong in the offshore Arctic yet,” she says. “The risk is simply too high.”

Shell’s rigs are still set to heard north in the next few weeks, though. Along with their permits, they’re waiting on a final plan from the Coast Guard for buffer zones around their rigs when they’re staged in Unalaska and Kotzebue.

Categories: Alaska News

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