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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: 36 min 33 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tue, 2015-07-14 17:43

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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Coast Guard Gears Up For Shell’s Chukchi Season

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

As Shell gears up to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard is getting ready, too. At an Arctic Symposium in Washington D.C. this morning, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard outlined the difficulties the service will face in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and in the Arctic generally.

Shellfish genetics could be the key to climate change adaptation

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A recent NOAA study found that by 2040, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries may no longer be sustainable because of ocean acidification, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place. Yesterday, we reported on a hatchery in Oregon that’s become a model for adapting to these different conditions. But the long term solution may actually lie in shellfish genes.

Report: Heroin Use is Skyrocketing in Alaska

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

Education Lawsuit Heads Through Appeals Process

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Several briefs were filed by the June 30th deadline with the Alaska Supreme Court in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s ongoing lawsuit challenging the State of Alaska’s requirement that local governments earmark a certain amount of property taxes for public education.

Knik Arm Project Gets A Tentative Green Light from Administration

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

In a letter to state Department of Transportation commissioner Mark Luiken, state office of management and budget director Pat Pitney has advised DOT to proceed within existing appropriations, to continue work on the Knik Arm Crossing.

Falling Debris From Decrepit Apartments Closes Juneau Park

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The burnt out Gastineau Apartments in Juneau will finally be demolished by the end of November, according to Juneau’s city attorney. In the meantime, the city says the downtown buildings are a public safety concern. It’s temporarily closed the neighboring park due to falling debris.

City Considers Amending Land Use Code to Address Child Care Shortage

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Assembly is working on amending child care permit regulations in an effort to increase child care availability in Juneau.

Nome Reindeer Ranch Cultivates A New Generation of Herders

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

In 1967, Larry Davis snow machined from Nome to Cape Espenberg. When he returned, he brought with him 200 reindeer — a herd that would eventually swell to 10,000 in the 1990s.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s Office Advises DOT To Proceed With Knik Arm Project

Tue, 2015-07-14 17:37

In a letter to state Department of Transportation commissioner Mark Luiken, state office of management and budget director Pat Pitney has advised DOT to proceed within existing appropriations, to continue work on the Knik Arm Crossing.

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The memo, dated July 6, advises DOT to seek federal loan money to pursue right of way requirements. The memo essentially removes the Knik Arm project from a state halt on mega projects.

DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says the memo will allow DOT to pursue a letter of interest for a federal TIFIA loan

“We are picking up really exactly where we left off when the administrative order was issued, so we were about to pursue the letter of interest for TIFIA, we were working with the National Marine Fisheries Service for the permit, which most of the other permits hinge on this permit, and then of course, finishing up the right of way, in particular, working with Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.”

McCarthy says the steps outlined in the memo are all outside of the control of the state, so it makes sense to pursue them, so the state can decide whether to move forward on the bridge project or not.

Categories: Alaska News

Education lawsuit heads through appeals process

Tue, 2015-07-14 17:36

A flurry of briefs was filed by the June 30th deadline with the Alaska Supreme Court in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s ongoing lawsuit challenging the State of Alaska’s requirement that local governments earmark a certain amount of property taxes for public education.

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A 2015 property tax bill from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough includes a break-out of how much a homeowner pays toward the state’s required local contribution for public education. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

“I’ll go out on a limb and say I’m absolutely confident that we are correct in this matter,” says Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst.

He knows the borough has a good case. They won the first round, after all, when Superior Court Judge William Carey ruled in January that the state’s required local contribution for schools violates the Alaska Constitution.

The question is: Will the Alaska Supreme Court uphold Carey’s decision?

State attorneys didn’t waste any time filing an appeal with the high court, and Carey’s decision was put on hold pending that appeal.

Borough officials also filed an appeal because, while winning the main point, they didn’t get everything they wanted. Judge Carey ruled against the borough’s request for a refund of the previous year’s required local contribution – about $4 million.

The most recent filings with the high court allowed each side to argue why the justices should rule against the other side. The borough relied on a prior case, State v Alex, which in the 1980s, challenged a required tax, which went directly from commercial fishermen to regional aquaculture associations.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the tax violates the Constitution’s prohibition against dedicated funds.

The borough’s brief focuses on similarities between Alex and the current case.

“It absolutely hits it, every point,” Bockhorst says.

Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen adds: “One of the lynchpins of the arguments that the state makes is that, if the money doesn’t hit the state treasury, there can be no dedication and you don’t have to appropriate the money. But in the Alex case, the money never hit the state treasury.”

He explains that the Constitution stipulates that public funds can’t be dedicated, or earmarked, by the state – revenue has to be appropriated on an annual basis by the Legislature.

The state counters that the required local contribution isn’t state revenue, and that the statute only requires local funding – not necessarily a local tax. But Bockhorst says the only realistic way a local government can raise the mandated millions of dollars every year is through taxes, and that those local taxes are a back-door way for the state to fund schools.

“The state is able to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools by forcing us to levy what amounts to state taxes,” he says. “We get the blame and they get the benefit.”

The borough didn’t win the refund issue because Judge Carey ruled the state wasn’t enriched by the required local contribution. The Legislature can choose to reduce or increase school funding each year, and the mandatory local contribution doesn’t necessarily factor in to that process.

The borough, though, contends that the state is, indeed, enriched.

“If we’re compelled by the Legislature to spend a chunk of money in furtherance of their responsibility, then that money is being spent for their benefit, whether they’re required to fully fund or not,” Brandt-Erichsen says.

With this latest set of briefs filed with the Alaska Supreme Court, each side now has until July 28 to respond in writing. After that, the next important date is Sept. 16. That’s when oral arguments are scheduled with the Supreme Court in Anchorage.

“And the Supreme Court has signaled in the past that they plan to rule promptly,” Bockhorst says.

An exact timeline for a decision is not known, but ideally a ruling would be announced prior to the next legislative session. That way, everyone would know before lawmakers convene in Juneau whether or not the state needs a whole new education funding system.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Considers Amending Land Use Code to Address Child Care Shortage

Tue, 2015-07-14 17:33

The Juneau Assembly is working on amending child care permit regulations in an effort to increase child care availability in Juneau.

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The Juneau Lands and Resources committee met Monday evening to push forward an amendment to the city’s land use code that would allow child care providers to care for more children. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KTOO)

On Monday evening, the city’s Land and Resources committee forwarded an amendment that would change part of the land use code, allowing at-home child care facilities to take in 12 children instead of eight.

The Association for the Education of Young Children, or AEYC, provides resources and advocates quality child care in the Southeast. Coordinator Nikki Love says the organization is in full support of the amendment.

“There’s enough licensed care for 1 in 4, or 1 in 5 children, under the age of 5, so the need is really high,” Love said.

In the past few years waitlists have increased but remain at a steady rate, according to Love.

“We’d like to see a decrease in barriers to child care facilities and businesses in town since there is such a great need for child care, and changing the zoning would help open the door to potential businesses,” she said.

The amendment also provides a clear definition of child care home-facilities, requires at home providers to have sufficient parking and if state fencing requirements apply, the city may require the fence to meet neighborhood aesthetics.

If passed, the amendment would not affect any child care facilities currently operating.

The amendment is a part of a larger comprehensive plan to fix the child care crisis Juneau.

Gold Creek Child Development Director Gretchen Boone says she’s in favor of the permitting — the more childcare, the better.

Boone says the waitlist at Gold Creek has 75 children on it — the highest she’s ever seen it despite working at the facility for nearly two decades.

“Having more child care out there would benefit the entire community. There are families on our waitlist who have been on our waitlist for over a year and will probably never obtain space with us,” Boone said.

Lisa White, former owner of Little Bear Daycare, says she also had long waitlists.

“Usually by the time I would get back to some names they had long since found a place, but sometimes it would a year or two,” White said.

White cites over-regulation as the reason she closed her child care center in 2007.  Nearly finished with the re-licensing process she called it quits as a child care provider in Juneau after 17 years, a profession that she cherished.

While speaking about the lack of childcare in Juneau, White got emotional. She looks forward to the situation improving for Juneau’s families.

“It’s just going to keep getting worse unless they do something about it. There are all these families — they need this, and they don’t need this years from now, they need it years ago,” White said.

The amendment was forwarded on to the full assembly, and will be considered at a future meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Reindeer Ranch Cultivates A New Generation of Herders

Tue, 2015-07-14 17:32

In 1967, Larry Davis snow machined from Nome to Cape Espenberg. When he returned, he brought with him 200 reindeer — a herd that would eventually swell to 10,000 in the 1990s. But that’s just a piece of recent history.

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Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

Larry’s son — Bruce Davis — is the owner of the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch. On Monday, he sat down with members of the Reindeer Club to talk about the big picture.

He asked: “What year do you think reindeer herding came to Alaska?”

“1900? 1969? 1920?”

Those are the kids who make up Reindeer Club, a program borne from collaboration between Davis’ ranch and Nome Eskimo Community. Now in its second summer, the club meets on Mondays to learn about different aspects of reindeer herding.

Yearling Brownie explores the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch outside of Nome. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

On Monday, Davis focused on history, explaining how reindeer were introduced to Alaska in 1892. But he didn’t stop there. He touched on topics from corral construction to vaccinations to the lichen his reindeer like to eat.

His goal is to educate young people on the ins and outs of reindeer herding. He says it’ll take time for Alaska — having herded for just over 100 years — to catch up to places like Chukotka, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, which have been refining their techniques for 4,000 years.

Bruce Davis leads Brownie around the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch a year after she was orphaned and adopted. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

“We’re trying to revitalize the reindeer industry again, but it’s dying out,” Davis said. “So we have to get the young people involved again. So it takes a while. This is part of our outreach — to let you guys know that reindeer herders are still here.”

For the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch, “here” means 13 miles out on the Kougarok Road. The ranch opened in 2010, and its herd now includes 100 reindeer. The most beloved is Brownie, a yearling that was orphaned before being adopted and domesticated by the Davis family.

While the kids in Reindeer Club called Brownie back to her trailer on the ranch, the rest of the herd ranges across an area 50 miles wide and 30 miles deep. Davis says he eventually hopes to grow the herd to 3,000 or 4,000 reindeer, a process that could take 10 to 15 years. He also has plans to evolve the small summertime club into a larger 4-H program.

For now, the Reindeer Club will meet weekly on Mondays through August. Interested kids can contact Nome Eskimo Community for more information.

Categories: Alaska News

Falling debris from decrepit apartments closes Juneau park

Tue, 2015-07-14 16:43

The burnt-out Gastineau Apartments will finally be demolished by the end of November, according to Juneau’s city attorney. In the meantime, the city says the downtown buildings are a public safety concern. It’s temporarily closed the neighboring park due to falling debris.

The city closed Pocket Park at the end of last week.

Tourists stand in front of the closed Gunakadeit Park, also known as Pocket Park, on Monday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“One of our workers was in there the other day and noticed some broken glass in the fountain area,” says Colby Shibler, park maintenance supervisor for Parks and Recreation, “and realized that it wasn’t a broken bottle and then looked up and noticed a bunch of the windows were broken out in the building there and realized that the glass was probably falling out of the window or had been broken out from the inside, it looked like, and was concerned about glass falling on people in the park.”

Dave Lane admits people have trespassed into the apartments in the past, but now he says the buildings are more secure. Lane does construction for the owners of Gastineau Apartments, James and Kathleen Barrett.

“We as of late, and that being the past 8 months, 9 months, have been patrolling more. Almost every evening, we come through and we make sure there’s no one in here at that time. We made sure everything is secure to the best of our abilities,” Lane says.

Gastineau Apartments still have unboarded, broken windows. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

City building official Charlie Ford says the Barretts are being negligent with security.

“I had been working with Mr. Barrett to try and keep the building secured and all of a sudden, I noticed a side door was open and there was a ladder leaning up against the Rawn Way side of the building that was obviously used for access to get into the upper floors,” Ford says.

Ford sent a letter to the Barretts Monday asking them to board up more windows and clean up the remaining glass shards. He says if they don’t care of it, the city will.

Gastineau Apartments have been uninhabitable since a November 2012 fire. The city declared the buildings a public nuisance soon after. The Barretts have repeatedly missed deadlines for repairs or demolition. Part of the building caught on fire again in March.

The Barretts had until June 19 to turn in paperwork and plans for demolishing the buildings. When they failed to do that, the city sent a letter a week later stating that it would demolish them on its own. At the end of June, the Assembly appropriated $1.8 million to do that.

James Barrett says that’s hindered his own plans to sell or demolish the buildings. He says he’s talked to more than 30 companies.

“It’s just put me at a standstill when we thought we were moving forward. I’m going to see where the other contractors who are bidding are going to end up. That’s about all I can do at this point,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he’s seriously considering suing the city.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Heroin Use is Skyrocketing in Alaska

Tue, 2015-07-14 16:35

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

And in 2013, 23 people in Alaska died from heroin overdose, four times the number of overdose deaths in 2008.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.

Dr. Jay Butler is the state’s chief medical officer:

“When we look at the magnitude of heroin deaths combined with the magnitude of deaths due to prescription opioids, we’re looking at a similar number to what we see with motor vehicle accidents. that’s a problem, but it’s one of those things that doesn’t tend to get in the news very often because it doesn’t happen all at once.”

According to the report, many addicts switch from prescription pain killers to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to find. Dr. Butler says he had a patient last year who told him he spent more on cigarettes than heroin.

Butler is working to improve access to the drug naloxone (nah-LAX-own), which can prevent overdose deaths. And he wants to make the state’s prescription drug monitoring program more user friendly for prescribers and pharmacists and more well known:

“We also need to get the word out. I’ll be honest, I’m a licensed physician with a DEA number. I didn’t even realize we had a prescription drug monitoring program until I worked for the state.”]

The state’s prescription drug monitoring program was established in 2008 to combat the misuse of controlled substances.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Gears Up for Shell’s Chukchi Season

Tue, 2015-07-14 15:23

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft

As Shell gears up to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard is getting ready, too. At an Arctic symposium in Washington D.C. this morning, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard outlined the difficulties the service will face in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and in the Arctic generally.

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft says if Shell is allowed to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard will be there with five ships and two aircraft. But, the admiral says, nothing about the Arctic is easy.

“We are a service that prides itself on being semper paratus – ‘always ready’– but this area really does present a challenge for us,” he said.

Policing Shell is a big part of the job. Zukunft says the Coast Guard will be there to “provide that check and balance for (the) private sector. As they exploit these riches, there is zero room for failure,” he said. “And by that I mean an oil spill in the Arctic.”

Zukunft says environmental activists may be one complication.

“We may have a run-in with NGOs if Shell gets its final permit,” he said. “Greenpeace did protest when Russia was drilling in their Arctic domain. They were in prison for about 16 months. I don’t think we’ll take as harsh measures in the United States, but we need to be there as an enforcement arm.”

The worse-case scenario is a well blowout, which he says could send 25,000 barrels a day into the ocean. Zukunft says the lack of on-shore facilities would complicate a response. Zukunft was the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon five years ago.

“We had 47,000 responders that we’re marshaled to the Gulf of Mexico, and you can’t do that anywhere but the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Try to put 100 people in Barrow, Alaska, and after the first 50 show up, the other 50 will be fending off polar bears. We do not have the (on-shore) infrastructure.”

Arctic operations have to be sea-based, he says, and that’s why Shell is moving nearly 30 ships to the Arctic for the short drilling season. It’s also why the company is required to have a relief rig and a well-capping stack on hand.

The ship carrying the capping stack got a lesson in the hazards of the Arctic just outside Dutch Harbor July 3, when its hull was cracked. Presumably, the Finnish-owned icebreaker Fennica hit an uncharted object. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was surveying nearby and was able to check out the Fennica’s route.  NOAA found areas that were shallower than charted, but senior Arctic advisor Dave Kennedy says it’s still not clear what the Fennica hit.

“They’re still analyzing the data but the preliminary report is there is nothing obvious that they could find that would indicate something that should have been an obstacle there,” Kennedy said.

A Shell spokesman says the Fennica will be repaired temporarily in Dutch Harbor then set out for Oregon for permanent repair. Shell says the mishap won’t delay the Chukchi Sea operation because the capping stack isn’t needed until August.

Admiral Robert Papp, a former head of the Coast Guard, says the Fennica might have hit something like an underwater spire, a natural structure he says would be hard for surveyors to spot. Papp is now the State Department’s special Arctic representative, and at the Arctic Symposium he hinted at a big, high-level meeting in Alaska next month.

“I can’t talk a lot about that today, but it will draw the attention of the world to Alaska and the Arctic, and I’m very excited about it. “

Months ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski let slip that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry plan to visit Alaska in August. The exact date, and which communities they’ll visit, aren’t publicly known. Papp says he expects an announcement shortly.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Marine Debris Stockpile To Be Shipped to Lower 48

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:59

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris — some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan — set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest.

This undated photo provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, shows pelagic gooseneck barnacles (Lepas anatifera) established on a buoy off the Gulf of Alaska. The barnacles are native, open-ocean barnacles; the most common and abundant organism observed on marine debris. A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris, some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest. (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation via AP)

Hundreds of heavy-duty bags of debris, collected in 2013 and 2014 and stockpiled at a storage site in Kodiak, also will be shipped out. The barge is scheduled to arrive in Kodiak by Thursday, before setting off on a roughly one-month venture.

The scope of the project, a year in the making, is virtually unheard of in Alaska. It was spurred, in part, by the mass of material that’s washed ashore — things like buoys, fishing lines, plastics and fuel drums — and the high cost of shuttling small boatloads of debris from remote sites to port, said Chris Pallister, president of the cleanup organization Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is coordinating the effort.

 The Anchorage landfill also began requiring that fishing nets and lines — common debris items — to be chopped up, a task called impossible by state tsunami marine debris coordinator Janna Stewart.

Pallister estimates the cost of the barge project at up to $1.3 million, with the state contributing $900,000 from its share of the $5 million that Japan provided for parts of the U.S. affected by tsunami debris. Crews in British Columbia will be able to add debris to the barge as it passes through, chipping in if they do. Pallister’s group has committed $100,000. Delays due to weather could drive up costs, which Pallister said is a concern.

The cost to operate the barge is $17,000 a day, Stewart said.

Many of the project sites are remote and rugged. Crews working at sites like Kayak and Montague islands in Prince William Sound, for example, get there by boat and sleep onboard. The need to keep moving down the shoreline as cleanup progresses, combined with terrain littered with boulders and logs, makes it tough to set up a camp, Pallister said. There’s also the issue of bears.

While relatively few people visit these sites, it’s important to clean them, Stewart said. Foam disintegrates, which can seep into salmon streams or be ingested by birds, she said. There’s concern, too, with the impact of broken-down plastic on marine life.

What’s not picked up can get swept back out, she said.

“It’s like it never really goes away unless we get in there and actively remove it,” Stewart said.

Alaska has more coastline than any other state. And Alaska cleanup operations often are expensive and dangerous, said Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center.

“Even without the tsunami, Alaska is well-known for being polluted with all these buoys and other stuff from fisheries activity and from other human activities,” he said.

It can be hard to definitively distinguish tsunami debris from the run-of-the-mill rubbish that has long fouled shorelines unless there are identifiable markings. But Pallister and others say the type and volume of debris that has washed up in Alaska is different since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands in Japan.

Before the tsunami, a lot of old fishing gear would be on the beach. But afterward, the debris included an inundation of Styrofoam and urethane, Pallister said. Objects such as property stakes and crates used by fishermen in coastal Japan also have begun showing up, he said.

Crews plan to do cleanup work in the Gulf of Alaska this summer, which will add to the material that has already been cached in heavy-duty bags above the high-tide line. All this would be loaded onto the barge.

The logistics are complicated.

Dump trucks are expected to ferry the large white bags of debris from the Kodiak storage yard to the barge after it arrives. Tom Pogson with the Island Trails Network, which worked on the Kodiak-area debris removal, said that will be the easy part.

Categories: Alaska News

Shellfish genetics could be the key to climate change adaptation

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:28

A recent NOAA study found that by 2040, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries may no longer be sustainable because of ocean acidification, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place. We recently reported on a hatchery in Oregon that’s become a model for adapting to these different conditions. But the long term solution may actually lie in shellfish genes.

Diagram of upwelling which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place causing a lot of pH fluctuation. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

Evolution and resiliency are the buzzwords for a sustainable mariculture industry in Alaska, a state that is particularly vulnerable.

“And Alaska is going to be the test bed unfortunately for informing us for how the rest of the ecosystem will respond to ocean acidification,” says Jeremy Mathis, a NOAA oceanographer who worked on the recent study based at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

One short-term solution hatcheries are testing is injecting the acidic ocean water with carbonates that are needed for organisms like clams and mussels to develop hard shells.

But in the long term, Mathis says they may need to turn to genetics for answers.

“Ideally we can start looking at species that are more resilient to ocean acidification and adapting the commercial fisheries and commercial processing to animals that have that robustness to tolerate ocean acidification as opposed to the ones that are more vulnerable to it,” says Mathis.

That’s where scientists like Gretchen Hofmann come in. She’s a marine biology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I work on marine invertebrates and sometimes fish and we study how they respond to their environment. We would call it environment-organism interactions and lately we’ve been interested in how these organisms will respond to future changes in ocean pH and ocean warming,” says Hofmann.

She’s a leader in what Mathis calls the emerging field of genetic adaptability.

“So it really just started with a conversation with oceanographers who were thinking about this and from there, we started to do experiments, and then we started to ask deeper questions about whether or not organisms could adapt to these changes in the ocean and even if there are already genotypes and strains of organisms that are able to handle a low pH condition,” says Hofmann.

She says the first experiments they did were a bit too basic for Mother Nature. They’d take species, put them in water with different pH, and see how they’d react. That didn’t reflect natural variations in ocean conditions.

“What we found was that there wasn’t just this straight line, no pH change, but that pH was going up and down sometimes quite dramatically,” says Hofmann.

Alaskan waters, for example, are very cold and have shifting pH depending on the seasons, fresh water inputs, and how much CO2-rich glacial melt is present.

From Washington to California, the coast is subject to a phenomenon known as upwelling, which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place. That means a lot of pH fluctuation.

So, Hofmann says they shifted their sea urchin research to take upwelling into account.

“And we formed the hypothesis to test that the adults from the place where there was a lot of low pH exposure would be genetically different from the wimpy ones that did not experience all that pH stress,” says Hofmann.

They found that the urchins from areas with upwelling had a different genetic signature from those who weren’t and their progeny, or babies, were more tolerant of acidic water.

“It was even more interesting because it looked like the trait of being able to tolerate that low pH, that was heritable,” says Hofmann.

She points to work being done in New Zealand, where different types of green-shelled mussels are being cross-bred to develop a new resistant and adaptive strain.

So, an Alaskan hatchery, for example, could choose to make the shift from some common species being raised now to ones that selectively favor that trait.

But it also may mean letting go of consumer preference for certain types of clams, mussels, and other shellfish that just don’t measure up.

“These are things that we should be taking a strong look at because it could be that there are other strains of shellfish that could be used that would be more successful in a mariculture setting. But, it is a very thorny issue and one that I think science could bring a lot of daylight to, I think, if we work together on it,” says Hofmann.

Hofmann says it’s important for industry and scientists to start partnering now, to get ahead of the game as much as possible.

“The first thing we have to do though is get carbon dioxide emission levels under control and then we can deal with the damage that has already been done through mitigation and adaptation strategies,” says Mathis.

Because, the problem will only get worse with each coming year.

Categories: Alaska News

Suspicious Duffel Bag at Federal Building Draws Juneau’s Bomb Squad

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:26

Photo: KTOO.

A suspicious duffel bag left in the post office parking lot outside Juneau’s downtown Federal Building on Monday drew out the bomb squad.

Police cordoned off the area, but the building wasn’t evacuated.

Lt. Kris Sell with the Juneau Police Department says their initial call was “that a woman who was running for some unknown reason threw down a duffel bag and left it in the parking lot.”

Sell says the woman came back about 25 minutes later and tried to reclaim the bag, but at that point police erred on the side of caution and inspected the bag as if it were a bomb. It wasn’t.

The woman isn’t in custody and hasn’t been identified, though police want to talk to her and have surveillance video.

“If the woman who jettisoned the bag and then came back for it could contact us to talk to us, that would save us a little bit of leg work in the investigation,” Sell said. “We’d sure like to have a conversation with her and know what’s going go.  Not that she’s necessarily in any trouble.”

There was nothing illegal in bag. Sell says the investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Fennica Vessel Limps to Oregon For Repairs

Mon, 2015-07-13 19:45

A Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship carrying required blowout response equipment for Arctic offshore drilling will be sent to a West Coast shipyard for repairs.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says the 380-foot icebreaker Fennica will transit from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Portland, Ore., for repairs.

Smith says the company’s 2015 drilling schedule should not be interrupted.

The hull of the Fennica was gashed July 3 by an uncharted object as it departed for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The Fennica’s primary mission for Shell is carrying a capping stack, which could be lowered onto a wellhead to stop a blowout.

Smith says Shell drill rigs can begin top-hole work and the Fennica will not be needed until August.

Categories: Alaska News

Records: Employees used leave time for charity golf tourney

Mon, 2015-07-13 19:00

Public records show nearly all of the employees of the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. who played in a charity golf tournament last month took personal leave time that day.

Stacy Schubert, a spokeswoman for the independent state agency, says some returned to work while others took personal leave for the day. She says one employee, who helped with the tournament and later returned to the office, was paid for the day.

Rep. Lynn Gattis used the event as an example of the need for agencies to exercise restraint in activities that go beyond their core missions as the state deals with large budget deficits.

Schubert says no state or federal money was used to put on the event, which raised about $15,000 for the Nome Boys and Girls Club.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard searches for a missing cruise ship passenger near Seattle

Mon, 2015-07-13 18:36

The Coast Guard is searching an area in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca near Seattle for a passenger reported missing from a Holland America cruise ship.

The cruise line says the 64-year-old man was aboard the ship Statendam when it sailed from Victoria, British Columbia, Sunday night, but he didn’t check off the ship after it docked in Seattle on Monday.

Petty Officer Katelyn Shearer says Holland America reviewed surveillance video and determined the man’s location was last known off the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Neither the Coast Guard nor Holland America would immediately say what the video showed.

The Coast Guard says it has two cutters, two smaller boats and a helicopter searching for the man. He’s described as a U.S. citizen who had been traveling alone.

The Statendam was on a 14-day roundtrip cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 13, 2015

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:45

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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State Says Sockeye Fire Sprung From A Burn Pile; 2 Face Charges

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed 55 homes near Willow in June.

Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Protect LBGT Alaskans Against Workplace Discrimination

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska is one of 28 states that allow workplace discrimination against someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Calista Shareholders Vote to Enroll ‘Afterborns’

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshape the ownership of the Y-K Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

Lessons for Alaska: Oregon Shellfish Hatchery Tackles Ocean Acidification

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A recent NOAA study named 2040 as the date for the potential end of Alaskan shellfish hatcheries. That is, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place to combat ocean acidification. Earlier this week, we reported on the research, done at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. Now, we’ll take a look at what a hatchery on the Oregon coast is doing to deal with these harmful changes in ocean chemistry.

On the Nushagak, Sportfishers Struggle to Reel In the Kings

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

The Nushagak River is becoming one of Alaska’s premier destinations for king salmon sport fishermen. The king return to the Nushagak is proving stronger this year than last, and Fish and Game says they’re on track to meet the escapement goal. But sport fishing guides say the angling has been less than average.

New RX Drug Drop Gives Community a Chance to Safely Purge Meds

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Starting Monday, Juneau residents will be able to walk into the police department and hand over drugs without consequence. It’s been several months since the community could safely dispose of prescription medications.

 

 

Haines Sees A Spike in Avian Rescues

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Charges Filed

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:43

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed fifty – five homes near Willow in June.

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The point of ignition of the Sockeye fire has been traced to an unattended burn pile on Willow property owned by Anchorage resident Greg Imig, aged 59. Imig, and Amy Dewitt, age 42 have been charged for their role in starting the 7,220 acre wildfire. According to state fire information officer Tim Mowry,  Imig and DeWitt did not have a burn permit for the debris pile located on forested lands at a recreational cabin owned by Imig.

“They were burning debris without a permit, and they did leave that fire unattended, and it is a worst case scenario and that’s why it strictly says on our burn permits, and it is what we try to drive home.. never leave any fire unattended.”

According to Mowry, an investigation conducted by the state division of forestry and the state fire marshall’s office concluded that the illegal burn was left unattended on the evening of June 13. One of several of the burn piles smoldered and crept into the woods, resulting in the blaze that swept toward Willow on Sunday, June 14, causing evacuations Sunday night and Monday.

“You know, to be clear, there was no burn suspension in place. So if these folks had have had a permit, and had followed safe burn guidelines, they would have been within the law. It’s tragic all around what happened”, Mowry says.

Imig and Dewitt are to be arraigned in Palmer District Court on July 28. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing an area, allowing the spread of fire and leaving a fire unattended. Mowry says that Amy Dewitt did make the 911 call to fire officials.

The Sockeye wildfire moved so quickly that many evacuees had little time to gather more than a few items and rescue pets. The fire was fought with help from Hot Shot crews from the lower 48, and at one point there were 500 firefighters attacking the blaze.  Mowry says that the most recent information puts the cost of fighting the blaze at over $8 million.  That cost does not include losses of the structures.

In addition to the 55 homes lost, 44 additional structures were lost in the blaze.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Sees A Spike in Birds Needing Rescue

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:37

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team to help respond to the unusually high number of injured birds.

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Eagle Foundation staff and visiting vet Michelle Oakley examine an injured eagle. (Courtesy American Bald Eagle Foundation)

The word that Eagle Foundation staff keep using to describe the spike in bird rescues is “intense.”

“Yeah it’s been a wave of birds, just very intense,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson.

They say, in the past, they’ve been called to one or two bird rescues throughout the entire year. So far this year, they’ve done 16 bird rescues. That includes eagles, ravens, hummingbirds, and more.

“Recently there’s just been an explosion of birds,” Goodson said. “It’s not uncommon to see one or two a week.”

“I’ve been here seven years and this is busiest we’ve ever been with injured birds,” said Eagle Foundation Director Cheryl McRoberts.

The past week alone has been a record-breaking one, McRoberts says. They’ve rescued three eagles and one raven.

“For the past few eagles it’s been a lot of trauma,” Goodson said. “Like, probably got hit by a car, probably ran into something.”

Education and Outreach Coordinator Leia Minch went on the most recent eagle rescue. The foundation got a call from police about an injured bird near Mud Bay Road.

“So we went down there, put a net over it — you get control of the head to get a towel over it,” Minch said. “There’s kind of a theory with raptors that what they can’t see they can’t fear. So you want to cover up their visual senses. And then get them in a crate and take them here to do triage. You take good notes so that the vets down in Sitka kind of have an idea of what’s going on with the bird.”

There’s no full time veterinarian in Haines, so the foundation sends injured eagles to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. The center said on their Facebook page that June was their busiest month ever, with 20 injured bald eagles being sent in. So far in July, they’ve admitted six eagles.

The Haines Eagle Foundation staff say they don’t know what is causing the dramatic increase in injured bird calls. They say it could partly be that people are more aware that the foundation does bird rescues.

“I would lean toward that there’s more awareness going on,” Minch said. “Another thing to think about is this a really warm, dry year. So food availability might not be as good as it has been in previous years.”

Local bird watcher and counter Pam Randles thinks food scarcity could have something to do with it. She says this summer, she’s observed more desperate behavior in birds searching for food. She’s seen birds fighting over food, eagles trying to steal fish from people, and other risky behavior. It’s speculation, but Randles says that kind of risk taking could lead to more injuries.

Whatever the cause, the staff at the eagle foundation have decided they need more manpower to deal with the influx of avian injuries.

“We do need help,” Goodson said.

She says volunteers on the Avian Rescue Team will be trained in how to handle an injured bird and bring it to the foundation. Having a few more people on call to help will take some of the burden off of the foundation’s three trained raptor handlers.

The foundation has set up a cell phone that they’ll pass around to staff and volunteers. Whoever has the phone will be the on-call raptor rescuer.

“On the last eagle that we had, it was a Sunday and everybody was off [work,]” said McRoberts. “And I got the [injured bird] phone call and I was in a panic. I was running around knocking on doors trying to find help. So if we had some volunteers that would really be helpful.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Avian Rescue Team in Haines, you can call the foundation at 907-766-3094 or stop by in person.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Shareholders Vote to Enroll ‘Afterborns’

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:36

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshape the ownership of the Y-K Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

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The prospect of enrolling the younger generation of Y-K Delta Alaska Natives has been discussed for years. Now after the historic vote, Calista communications manager Thom Leonard says it too will take time to bring on the tens of thousands of new shareholders, That’s expected to start in the first half of 2017.

Calista is the regional Native corporation for much of Western Alaska. (Image courtesy of Calista Corp.)

“This is going to be a long term process. It’s something that can’t happen overnight. Over the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll spend a lot of time developing and implementing the enrollment process.  We’re going to be talking to other regional Alaska Native Corporations who have enrolled their descendants, finding about materials they used to process their enrollment of descendants.”

The move extends the shareholder base beyond people born before a cutoff date of December 18th 1971. Prior to passage of the binding resolution, younger people could only receive shares through inheritance or gifting.

The company estimates that the number of shareholders could quickly increase from 13,000 to between 38,000 and 43,000.  With a tripling of shares, each individual shareholder would, on average, receive one-third of the value of shareholder dividends relative to the company prior to expansion.  Last year’s dividend averaged $380 dollars.

Board Chair Willie Kasayulie of Akiachak says the company will benefit from the new voices.

“Many of these younger people are highly educated and I think in that context, I welcome the enrollment of descendants because of their ability to provide input to the operation of the company.”

In addition to descendants, people who were eligible in 1971 but did not enroll can apply for shares. Enrollment will be ongoing after it starts in 2017.  That means newborn Y-K Delta Alaska Natives will be eligible upon birth for their corporate shares.

“The parents will be able to apply to become a shareholder for them at any time, there wont’ be any open periods or anything like that.”

Original shares will not go away and can be passed through gifting. The new shares however, are life estate, meaning that they only exist as long as the shareholder is alive.

The company takes on additional administrative overhead with the growth. Implementing the enrollment may cost a million dollars.  Establishing a quorum also becomes more complicated. While more than 60 percent of shareholders live in the Y-K Delta region, that figure could drop to 55 percent with the descendant enrollment.

Calista has grown from the 16th largest Alaska-owned company by revenues in 2010 to the eighth largest last year. The company is active in several industries, like aerospace, military contracting, real estate, and construction. They own subsurface rights to the Donlin Gold prospect.

Leonard says the company’s focus remains the same.

“Calista’s day-to-day operations and strategies don’t really change. Under ANCSA, ANC’s have two objections. One e is to be successful business. The other is to improve the lives of their shareholders. Calista will continue to work to be a successful company.”

Calista joins other Alaska Native corporations like the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Doyon, and Sealaska that have issued shares to descendants. The most recent was Ahtna in 2008.

Categories: Alaska News

New RX Drug Drop gives community a chance to safely purge meds

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:33

Adam Nelson says people inquire once or twice a week what to do with leftover prescription drugs. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Starting Monday, Juneau residents will be able to walk into the police department and hand over prescription drugs without consequence. It’s been several months since the community could safely dispose of their medications.

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Adam Nelson is the lead pharmacist at Juneau Drug Company. A quaint, old-fashioned pharmacy in the heart of downtown. He started working here when he was 14 and became a pharmacist about five years ago.

He says his favorite thing about the job is the people.

“Talking to them, finding out about their day and helping in any way I can,” he says.

But something that can be difficult to help customers with is what to do with leftover prescription pills. He says they inquire once or twice a week, “Can I drop this off here?”

“Because they went to the dentist, they give them 20 pain pills in case they need them, they only take three,” he says. “And they need somewhere to put them and most people in Juneau don’t want to throw them in the garbage.”

Trace amounts of medication, flushed down the toilet or thrown in a landfill, can wind up in your drinking water.

“Let’s say, you go to the dump and you throw in a handful of pills in the dump. All that rain water is going to turn it into liquid and it’s going to flow out into the streams and the creeks,” he says.

The RX Drug Drop is located in the lobby of the Juneau Police Department. Prescription medication is welcome. Needles and liquids are not. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Twice a year, the DEA, along with the Juneau Police Department, would round up surplus pharmaceuticals. But that program ended last year after funding was cut.

Lt. Chris Sell from JPD says disposal options were non-existent.

“People were justifiably frustrated when they were trying to do the right thing and there wasn’t an avenue to responsibly and legally dispose of their medications,” she says.

Now with the RX Drug Drop, people can walk in and safely get rid of their meds.

The model has worked successfully in other places, such as Ketchikan. The police department there has been doing it for about 2 ½ years. Sell says people can drop off medication anonymously.

“There’s no forms to fill out it’s just like a book at the library.”

Last year, JPD confiscated 374 prescription opioid pills which can elicit the same effect on the brain as heroin. Sell says addiction can start at home and lead to harder substances.

“When we talk to addicted people, they almost always started with someone’s prescription drugs.”

With the addition of the drop box, JPD hopes it won’t come to that.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon River chinook salmon run weaker than expected

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:00

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

State wildlife officials say the chinook salmon run on the Yukon River will be even weaker than expected.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports most of the fish are upstream already in a run that likely won’t reach between 118,000 and 140,000 chinook, an already conservative estimate.

An Alaska Department of Fish and Game news release says about 112,000 chinook salmon have been counted migrating upstream so far.

Limited subsistence fishing and other restrictions have been in place to ensure enough chinook reach Canada to satisfy goals set by the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

This summer’s chum run has been average and will likely reach 1.4 million on the Yukon.

Categories: Alaska News

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