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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: 42 min 54 sec ago

UAA Prioritization Report Lays Out Next Steps, Many Questions Remain

Wed, 2015-02-04 17:17

The University of Alaska Anchorage on Tuesday released its report on the findings of the prioritization process it has been undergoing for the last year and a half. It gives recommendations and lays out a basic plan of how to move forward, but many questions remain unanswered.

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From, “enhancement in the form of a tenured or tenure-track position is necessary for success” to, “expensive program with limited student demand and few graduates. Recommend expedited review for revision or elimination.” This report lays recommendations, setting the stage for the next step in prioritization. But, there’s one thing you won’t find in the report.

“You won’t see money, funding reductions in here,” Bill Spindle, the vice chancellor of administration at UAA, said. Though some budget cuts will be an end result, he says that’s not the focus of this report. ”We mainly did this exercise to better align all our programs and functions with our overall mission.”

The recommendations are based on extensive research and analysis by two faculty task forces, which looked at every program and function at UAA.

Each item is placed into rank 1 – which means it’s a priority for enhancement – through 5 – which calls for further review, and potentially elimination. But, Spindle says just because something is ranked category 5, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily doomed.

Others are, however.

Sam Gingerich, the interim provost at UAA, says some things – like a number of certificate programs – are potentially on the chopping block because their time has passed.

“While they were very effective a decade ago, there’s no longer as much interest or as much demand by employers, so those will, for the most part, be eliminated,” Gingerich said. ”However, there are a few in there that actually do still have a market that they need to meet.”

The majority of the academic programs were found to fit in with UAA’s mission, or even deserving of more resources. But, a number of programs landed in category 4 – in need of transformation, like the Elementary Education or Human Services programs. Diane Hirshberg – who is a professor of education policy and the president of the faculty senate at UAA – says even though no decisions are final, staff and faculty remain uneasy as state funding continues to drop.

“The administration is being very cautious and trying to let people know that they’re trying to, that they’re gonna put into place a process for budget cutting that is not going to lop off essential limbs, but I think faculty are going to be very, very nervous until we see what this really looks like,” Hirshberg said.

In a letter sent from UAA Chancellor Tom Case, he says revenue projections have fallen by as much as $30 million over the next 3 to 5 years, and the savings from prioritization won’t make up that difference.

Spindle says the university expects to act on the recommendations in the report by the end of this school year.

Categories: Alaska News

Priceless Yupik Art Stolen From YKHC

Wed, 2015-02-04 17:16

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is offering a reward for information that helps find thirteen pieces of Yup’ik artwork that were stolen from display cases.

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Newton Chase is YKHC’s Vice President of Support Services. He says the items were taken from the Administrative Building, just across the street from the main hospital.

“We believe sometime this past weekend someone unknown to us gained entry to the building or remained in the building after-hours on Friday and broke into the display cabinets on each of the floors and removed a number of the priceless pieces of heritage,” said Chase.

The thief broke off the ivory loon and left behind the wooden frame. (Photo by Charles Enoch / KYUK)

Officials say there is no surveillance footage of the incident because the cameras on each exit were not recording at the time. A YKHC press release says the locks on display cases were picked. YKHC Risk Management Director Linda Weisweaver says none of the displays were damaged and it appears the burglar tried to hide the theft.

“All the pieces that they removed were really smaller. The biggest one was probably a foot and a half tall tusk, a walrus tusk that had been carved. The majority of them would fit inside someone’s coat or jacket,” said Weisweaver.

Weisweaver says some of the items were taken apart, with only the ivory portion missing. The items taken are estimated to be worth over $11,000.

YKHC is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the thief or the safe return of the stolen art. In the meantime, they’ve doubled their security detail.

Officials ask anyone with information to contact the Bethel Police Department.

For images and descriptions of the stolen items click here.

Categories: Alaska News

How Much Debris Litters Alaska’s Beaches?

Wed, 2015-02-04 17:13

Crushed plastic debris on beach at Patton Bay, Montague Island. (Photo courtesy Chris Pallister)

Thanks to funding from the government of Japan, plans are being made to pick up hundreds of tons of plastic marine debris that has been gathered from Alaska beaches.

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Gulf of Alaska Keeper was already in the trash business, picking up old fishing gear, when the 2011 tsunami swept away miles of buildings, docks, vehicles, contents of dumps, tanks, and other materials along the coast of Japan and sent much of it floating across the Pacific. The organization knew where it was most likely to hit. And it did, says Keeper President Chris Pallister.

“A tremendous amount of trash,” Pallister said. “Some of our outer coastline beaches that are hard on the Gulf of Alaska have as much as 30 tons of plastic debris per mile, which is an astounding amount of plastic.”

Talk of Alaska: Plastics in the Ocean

The resources to respond were nowhere near adequate, but concern about the debris was widespread, particularly in villages along the coast, which often organized their own cleanup efforts. A number of organizations got involved, including the cruise ship industry. There was a small helping of federal funds – $50,000 per state, but then the Japanese government sent $5 million to help with the cleanup. Part of that money was released to Alaska through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year. Gulf of Alaska Keeper was able to bring more cleanup workers to some of the shores. It wasn’t easy:

“Every year we get our small skiffs and stuff flipped and you know it’s a challenge, and it costs a lot of money,” Pallister said. “We’re exposed out there in the Gulf with our small vessels, and it’s a very, very difficult, dangerous job for all of us.”

The plastic was gathered up, often placed in huge bags, but then it had nowhere to go. It was just left stacked up, waiting for whatever arrangements could be made to remove it.

This year another $900,000 has been released to Alaska from the Japanese donation, and Pallister plans to use it to engage a helicopter to lift the material, and a huge barge to take it to a destination that is still undetermined.

“Now that we have some money, we can do this. It’s not gonna be enough money to do everything we want to do. We hope to get down there and work with the Sitka Sound Science Center and all the folks down in southeast Alaska that are consolidating debris this summer,” Pallister said. “And hopefully this barge will just make a circuit around the northern Gulf, go down to southeast Alaska and we’re talking with our colleagues in British Columbia, they may join us too, and take a big load of trash down to a recycling center in Seattle.”

It’s going to have to be a pretty big barge, and it’s going to take another cleanup mobilization as well.

“We have 1,800 super sacks and a lot of other loose debris,” Pallister said. ”It’s probably about pretty close to 3,000 cubic yards of plastic, and we expect to double that by mid-July of this year.”

And it won’t be the end of the plastic trash. In recent years, Gulf of Alaska Keeper’s cleanups have been coming across a lot more than fishing gear on those exposed beaches. The way Chris Pallister sees it after 12 years of beach cleaning, the tsunami just added to an already existing – and growing – plastic debris problem on Alaska’s coasts.

“That basically doubled our volume, but we’ve always had a really bad problem up here, and it’s mostly western pacific drift that we’re gettin’ up here, it’s not local,” Pallister said.

The material that drifts and blows ashore during storms is just the most visible form. A lot more has broken down into small pieces that can be mistaken for food and ingested by birds and fish. Efforts to assess the impacts of those micro- and nano-plastics in the marine environment are just beginning.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Tourism Expecting Boost In 2015

Wed, 2015-02-04 17:12

More visitors are expected to head to Fairbanks in 2015. Interior tourism operators got a preview of prospects for the upcoming season during a recent conference in Fairbanks. Most of the expected visitor increase is tied to cruise ship and airline industry changes.

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Categories: Alaska News

Another Congress, Another Bill to Rename it Mount Denali

Wed, 2015-02-04 16:04

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has filed a bill to forever change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali. As in past years, it will no doubt be blocked by lawmakers from Ohio, the birth state of President McKinley. Murkowski says it’s still an important cause.

“It’s something that Alaskans look at in the state and are just reminded that there are decisions that are done for us, outside the state, without consultation,” she said.

Alaska has been clamoring for the name change since the 1970s. Murkowski says Ohio shouldn’t take it personally. And yes, in case you’re wondering, Alaska’s junior senator, Ohio-born Dan Sullivan, does support the bill. In fact, Sullivan signed on as a co-sponsor.

Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio, has already filed a counter measure, a bill to declare the mountain will remain McKinley. Gibbs’ district includes Canton, home of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Administrator Insists Water Rule isn’t a Power Grab

Wed, 2015-02-04 15:47

The stage was set for Congressman Don Young to light into another Obama appointee. And not just any official: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which Young says runs roughshod over Alaska and the Constitution. She was there to discuss a question fundamental to the EPA mission: which waters can the EPA regulate under the Clean Water Act?

Alas, Representative Young is home with the flu. But this was a rare joint hearing, House and Senate. So Sen. Dan Sullivan was there to face Administrator McCarthy. He campaigned on his ability to take on the EPA.

Alaska’s also home to 63% of the water subject to clean water act jurisdiction and 65% of the nation’s wetlands,” Sullivan reminded her. “So as you can imagine, this is a very big deal to the people I represent.”

Sullivan read from a Supreme Court ruling that curtailed EPA’s reach. That case concerned the Clean Air Act, but Sullivan says it’s relevant to the new water rule, too.

“I think that’s exactly what’s happening here. A significant expansion of EPA jurisdiction over the U.S. economy, over certainly my state. And I don’t think the Congress has authorized that authority to the EPA,’ he said. “So I’ll just be a little bit frank: I don’t even think this is a close call.”

McCarthy answered with a version of a response she gave all day.

“I would say that I don’t think the agency is in anyway seeking congressional action or otherwise, to expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act,” she said. “What we’re just trying to do here is to better define that in a way that everybody can be more sure of its implementation and we can save everybody time and resources.”

Throughout the hearing, Republicans said the rule would subject even farmer’s fields and small ditches to the Clean Water Act. McCarthy continued to insist the rule isn’t an expansion of the law but an attempt to expand exemptions to the law.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, threw McCarthy a series of softballs.

“So isolated puddles are not regulated?” she asked. McCarthy said no, as she did to all of Boxer’s questions.  ”Isolated ponds, not connected to other waters, are those going to be regulated under your rule? …. Artificially irrigated areas, will they be regulated under your rule?

Ditto, McCarthy says, for reflecting ponds, summer pools and water-filled depressions at construction sites.

Rick Rogers followed the hearing from Anchorage. He’s the executive director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, a business association with members from all of the state’s major industries. Rodgers says he remains convinced the rule is a threat to development, in part because it’s vaguely worded.

“From a legal perspective, it is not clear,” Rogers said. “It does not say what she purports it to say, and the rule itself   does not provide the assurances that the administrator is working very hard to provide.”

The final rule isn’t out yet, and Rogers says it may improve with revision. McCarthy says she hopes to have it done this spring.




Categories: Alaska News

Tax On Alcohol to Treat Anchorage’s Worsening Substance Abuse Issues Fails

Wed, 2015-02-04 02:34

A controversial proposal to put an alcohol tax before Anchorage voters on the April ballot died before the Assembly Tuesday night. The plan was the latest proposed solution to the city’s costly issues managing chronic inebriates.

The Assembly ordinance would have put a 5.5% tax on sales in package stores, setting the money aside for housing units, beds in detox centers, and other treatment options. That rate was on the low end of estimates considered by supporters, and left out sales in bars and restaurants.

Assembly Member Ernie Hall sponsored the bill, and believes that with more problemed drinkers relying on emergency services, a local tax is the only way to proactively address growing needs.

“I think for our business community, for our city as a whole,” Hall said during Assembly comments, “this is the major problem facing us now. And I see no other solution.”

The bill aimed to finally find a funding mechanism for services that have been proposed in a number of studies and policy papers looking at how to economically and compassionately treat those in Anchorage dealing with serious substance abuse and homelessness. For years, groups have identified measures to save money and help chronic inebriates transition off the streets. But those policies currently depend on grants and donations which can vary from year to year, hampering longer-term solutions.

“There have been plans and panels that have been put together for the last 34 years to make sure that there’s evidence-based recommendations for the municipality to implement,” explained Carmen Springer, director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. “And the main reason why those have not been put in place is a lack of a dedicated funding stream to support those measures.”

For many Assembly members the bill just was not ready. It was introduced only a few weeks ago, a short window for raising support on what some see as a potential tax hike. Even the 5.5% rate was unspecified until the night of the vote. The measure needed a super-majority before it could go before voters on the ballot. And though several members support the intentions, they would prefer bringing a refined version to citizens.

“While this effort, I think, at some point might be a good tool, if you take it to the voters now and you haven’t worked with the community, you haven’t had the time to work with the community, then it’s going to fail,” said Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston. “You can’t bring it back next year.”

Many members from industry groups representing alcohol retailers and hospitality businesses sat in the audience wearing red to show their opposition to the tax, and applauded when it failed by a vote of 6-to-5. Heidi Heinrich is president of the Fairview Business Association, and does not believe it is fair to ask Anchorage residents to pay more while the state withholds funds meant to address a population coming from all over Alaska.

“We pay $40 million every year [in] alcohol tax, to the state,” Heinrich explained. “It was promised that it was going to be used for treatment, and that way we’re dealing with the state-wide problem instead of just making it just Anchorage’s issue. And that’s not how it has been spent.”

But for some, waiting for action has a higher cost. Linda Kellenbiegel was just a single day away from her 30th year of sobriety, and at the end of the meeting, after nearly everyone else had left, described to Assembly members what inaction means for those in Anchorage struggling hardest to recover.

“Once again we’re gonna have another committee, we’re gonna have another task force, we’re gonna have another thing. And what’s gonna happen is when it comes right down to it you’re gonna get threats from the alcohol industry to stop them from paying anything,” Kellenbiegel said, fighting back tears. “I just don’t know how many more people that I know who come in and get sober but can’t do it without the facilities, who can’t do it without the detox–how long are they going to have to wait? How many more are gonna have to die?”

Assembly members are tentatively planning to refine a version of the measure within an ad-hoc Committee on alcohol and drug abuse.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Releases Prioritization Report Findings, Recommendations

Tue, 2015-02-03 19:09

The University of Alaska Anchorage on Tuesday released it’s report on the findings of the prioritization process it has been working on for the last year and a half.

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Though the report provides a basic outline of the findings and a brief explanation of what will come next – many questions are still unanswered.

“You won’t see money, funding reductions in here because, first of all, we don’t think that’s the right place,” Bill Spindle, the vice chancellor of administration at UAA, said. ”This part is mainly about alignment and we mainly did this exercise to better align all our programs and functions with our overall mission.”

Alignment is determined largely by the data collection and analysis done by two faculty task forces, which took a deeper look at both the academic and support aspects of the university.

The findings place support functions and academic programs into rank 1 – which means it’s a priority for enhancement – through 5 – which calls for further review, and potentially elimination. But, Spindle says just because something is ranked in category 5, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doomed, but a closer look is needed to bring the it into alignment.

“Somebody has to be at the bottom. Now, we looked at everybody at the bottom though, and we need to make sure we’re all – and there’s a lot of alignment issues that we need to work on and we’ve identified those, we have it pretty well under control what we’re gonna do,” Spindle said. “And in some cases it’s already been done.”

Though this report focuses more on realignment and reorganization than sweeping cuts, Diane Hirshberg – who is a professor education policy and the president of the faculty senate at UAA – says faculty are still uneasy as state funding declines.

“The administration is being very cautious and trying to let people know that they’re trying to, that they’re gonna put into place a process for budget cutting that is not going to lop off essential limbs, but I think faculty are going to be very, very nervous until we see what this really looks like,” Hirshberg said.

Ultimately, there will cuts, but at this point it’s unclear what exactly those cuts will entail.

In a letter sent from UAA Chancellor Tom Case, he says revenue projections have fallen as much as $30 million over the next 3 to 5 years – and the savings from prioritization won’t make up that difference.

Categories: Alaska News

Parents Voice Frustration Over Termination Of Tanaina, UAA Agreement

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:52

Scott Hamel answers questions from concerned parents and community members about the university’s decision to terminate it’s long-standing agreement with Tanaina. (Photo by Josh Edge – APRN – Anchorage)

Tanaina Child Development Center has been housed on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus for decades, but, last week the group received a letter from the university saying they would need to find a new home. Parents gathered Monday night to ask questions and voice their concerns.

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“It’s already got me scrambling to find something to do,” Matt Rogers is a research scientist at UAA and has a child enrolled in Tanaina. ”The prospect of finding child care right now is..it’s incredibly daunting to say the least. When I went through this process for the first time, it was almost a year-long wait to get my son into school here. And so for any of the places where you hope to send your kid, you’re looking at something comparable.”

Rogers’ thoughts echo those of the 50-plus parents gathered in UAA’s Student Union.

Scott Hamel is an assistant professor at the university and the president of the Tanaina board of directors. He says the long-standing agreement states the center would provide services and preferences to university students, staff and faculty in exchange for the space it now occupies and utilities. But, Hamel says in a memo sent last week, UAA alerted Tanaina that it was terminating the agreement.

“The reasons that they gave were that there was other people on campus that wanted the space and they also said that it’s a liability issue to have the kids on campus,” he said.

Tanaina accommodates about 60 children, between 18 months and 5-years-old.

The center anticipated moving to a new location over the summer temporarily while the Wells Fargo Sports Complex undergoes renovations, but, the university’s decision not to bring them back came as a surprise.

Bill Spindle is the vice chancellor of administration at UAA. He says it’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s a decision the university had to make.

“As much as we know it’ll be tough on the families – and I know, I’m a parent, I know how hard it is to get childcare, I totally sympathize,” Spindle said. “We don’t think this is the right place to do it, not that we don’t want to be associated with child care. We don’t think that space is adequate, we don’t have adequate space at the moment. As I’ve told them, I’m willing to help them look for other space and see what’s out there, but we’re just limited financially.”

It’s unclear what will move into the space currently occupied by Tanaina, but Spindle says some of the student services offered at the University Center could use the space.

Though the current agreement is ending, Spindle says UAA is open to the possibility of a new partnership in the future.

“There are definitely issues here that we want to try to mitigate,” he said. “We will do the best we can in that area, but for the long term looking at the mission of the university, you know, child care center is a good service, it’s an important one, but we don’t think that’s the best place for it and we think now is the time to move it. But we’re willing to try to partner if we can figure out how to do it.”]

Tanaina has been housed on the UAA campus for decades, but it operates as an independent non-profit.

Discussions about the future of the Tanaina, UAA partnership are ongoing. In the meantime, Tanaina is looking into alternate locations.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Files $50 Million Budget Supplement

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:36

Gov. Bill Walker has filed his supplemental budget, which covers spending for this fiscal year that was not originally appropriated.

The supplemental budget increases state spending by $50 million overall. The budget includes $92 million for Medicaid payments that were owed to doctors, but not paid out due to issues with the state’s billing system. That spending is partially offset by a $52 million cut in one-time education funding.

The supplemental budget also includes language that would help facilitate the purchase of the Fairbanks Natural Gas utility, which Walker announced last week.

Walker’s endorsed budget for the new fiscal year has not yet been released in full. It is due to the Legislature by February 18.

Categories: Alaska News

Homeless Assistance Program Scrambling For Funding

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:19

A program that distributes millions of dollars a year to keep homeless and emergency shelters open across the state is nowhere to be seen in Governor Bill Walker’s budget—leaving dozens of organizations scrambling for the money they’ll need to keep their doors open.

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The basic homeless assistance program—or BHAP—provides anywhere from $5.5-$6 million a year to emergency shelter and transitional housing programs all across Alaska. Last year 40 organizations were funded through the program in 20 communities across the state. The money pays for anything from staffing costs to social work. Every year the grants help more than 13,000 of Alaska’s most vulnerable—an increasing number of whom are children. About one in five of Alaska’s homeless is under the age of 18 – and every nearly one in three of Alaska’s homeless include a parent and a child.

Sue Steinacher is with the Nome Emergency Shelter Team, or NEST—the one and only shelter in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region. She says the BHAP grant covers two thirds of the shelter’s expenses—essentially making the shelter possible.

“For NEST, it has been HUGE. It is the grant that really got us up and running,” Steinacher said. “It is far and away the largest grant that we receive, and it funds the lion share of the staffing at the shelter, which is essential.”

But the yearly BHAP grants could soon disappear—one of the casualties of the state’s $3.5 billion budget crisis. The grant isn’t in Gov. Walker’s budget. Marc Romick with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation—which administers the funds—says there’s simply no backup if the BHAP program ends.

“There is no money in the Homeless Assistance Program, and if there is no money at the end of the process, the legislative session, then there wont be any money for us to distribute to the grantees,” Romick said.

In cities like Anchorage losing BHAP grants would impact shelters like Brother Francis as well as Clare House, which shelters women and children. Catholic Social Services director Lisa Aquino says at those shelters, the BHAP money goes directly to case management.

“Those case managers work with our clients who are living at the homeless shelters and connect them with services they need, housing opportunities, employment opportunities, with treatment and healthcare opportunities, those case management opportunities are really the ladder out of homelessness,” Aquino said.

But at smaller shelters—like the NEST shelter in Nome—the BHAP grants can be the difference between having an emergency shelter … or not.

“If we have no other funds to supplement the loss of this rant, it would pretty much, it would come very close to shutting down the shelter. It is that significant a grant to our operations.”

For now, Steinacher says NEST can redirect local donations to keep the shelter running. But that comes at the price of ending the shelter’s other programs, like sober housing and other homeless prevention efforts.

Aquino with Catholic Social Service says the way forward is through engaging with lawmakers in Juneau and making the case for funding the state’s shelters and homeless programs. The group of organizations representing BHAP grantees plan to meet with budget officials in Juneau soon—and Romick with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation says they’ll review their agency’s needs with the house and senate finance committees on Friday.

Until then, shelters large and small—in 20 communities across Alaska—are waiting to see if they’ll have the funds need to keep their doors open for another year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Railroad Seeks Approval To Move LNG

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:16

The Alaska Railroad is among a few across the country seeking first ever approval to transport liquefied natural gas.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fishermen Test Experimental Cook Inlet Pollock Fishery

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:15

Since December, a few intrepid Cook Inlet fishermen have been trying something new. They’ve been fishing for pollock in state waters using seine gear. It’s an experiment to determine the viability of establishing a future fishery in the area. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver spent a day aboard the Sea Prince to see how the experiment is working so far.

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We set out from the Homer harbor before sunrise. The crew of the 58-foot Sea Prince organizes gear on deck under a flood light as we chug into Kachemak Bay.

And in the wheelhouse, Captain Rob Nelson is preparing for the first set. He’s not totally sure where or when to set the net.

“I guess, somebody’s got to start,” he said. “I mean it would be great if we knew exactly what to expect and how to gear up and everything. But, somebody’s got to go first I guess.”

The Sea Prince and another vessel, the Silver Streak, are the only two boats that have gone out so far. It’s a risky venture after all, to put time and money into something that might not pan out. And that’s the bare bones of this experimental fishery – to test the waters for potential and figure out the particulars along the way.

That’s one of the reasons Elisa Russ is on board today. She’s an assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game.

“Definitely that has been the impetus with having every single trip observed with a Department of Fish and Game observer on board to monitor the bycatch as well as the effectiveness of the gear and how the fishery is prosecuting,” Russ said.

Chinook bycatch has been a huge concern for fishermen and biologists alike. Since the fishery started in December, there have been 45 kings caught. Russ says all but two were released unharmed and those didn’t go to waste.

“And so, any that are caught and killed, which as I said was two, then I’m processing for sampling and taking genetic information from and then I’ve been donating them to the Homer Food Bank,” Russ said.

The majority of the bycatch has been herring, jellyfish, and the occasional Pacific cod. And numbers are lower than initially expected.

Captain Nelson says the other thing that’s been lower than expected is the fish.

“The fish are in the deep. This time of year they’re out in the deep hole so it’s kind of out of our reach unless they really come up,” he said. “So, you can see the potential; with a little deeper net you could go out and fish right out in the middle and probably catch some real volume doing that.”

The Sea prince can fish down to about 150 feet whereas the Silver Streak is limited to 75 feet.

And so far, the numbers reflect the net size. During the seven trips the boats completed in December, the Sea Prince caught more than 10 times the amount of pollock as the Silver Streak. And the combined total of 11,400 pounds was still only a fraction of the 220,000-pound GHL for 2014. To date, just over 30,000 pounds have been caught.

Captain Nelson says there’s good biomass, but lots of other contributing factors have come into play like tides, time of day, temperature, depth.

But he says the biggest challenge so far has actually been what to do with the fish once it’s caught.

“It just started slower. It’s one of those things where we figured we were going to be hot and heavy into it at the beginning and then market-wise it’s been a little slow,” Nelson said.

“They really need to diversify who they’ve been selling to. I think they’re hoping that with the opening of the trawl pollock fisheries – the big fisheries in the state for pollock – this will hopefully allow them more options for where to sell their fish,” Russ said. “Where the processors are buying larger volume from the pollock trawl fleet, that they can also perhaps sell a higher volume with less restrictions. I’m not sure if that’s how it will pan out.”

The majority has gone to the bait market at 30 to 40 cents per pound and he’s sold some to the South Korean fresh market as well.

Nelson plans to deliver today’s catch to The Auction Block in Homer. In the 10 hours we’re out fishing, they catch a grand total of 3,872 pounds. It’s not the most they’ve done and not the least.

With the sun well below the horizon, the Sea Prince stows its gear and heads back to town.

“We’re going to pull over to the dock where they’re going to unload us there. We’ll just crane up the totes and they’ll take them from there over to the facility and weigh them and then we’ll go from there and tie up,” Nelson said.

We head inside a warehouse where people are busy opening up the totes and throwing fish.

There’s also a surprise visitor. Beaver Nelson is the captain’s father, who’s come to see how his son fared today. He also sits on the Gulf of Alaska pollock work group. It was created to stimulate discussion about opening state waters to seining for the species.

Pollock is caught predominantly in the federal trawl fisheries. But he says recently, there’s been interest in new avenues.

“And there’s other areas [like] Sand Point, Kodiak, and King Cove,” he said. “Those areas are all interested in possibly seining for pollock also. So, this fishery is basically to determine if seining is a feasible way to capture pollock other than trawling. A safer way with possibly much less bycatch than trawling would involve.”

He says not only would it maximize use of a state resource, it would open up opportunities for fishermen concerned with the turn toward more restricted IFQ-type fisheries.

“If we had a state allocation, it wouldn’t be an IFQ thing,” he said. “It would be an allocation toward open-entry fishery to anyone who wanted to try it, could go do it.”

He says if the data collected during these initial trips is positive, he could see a fishery coming to fruition.

That data is the focus of biologist Elisa Russ’s last task of the evening. She heads over to a metal table, pulls out a pollock, a ruler, and a scale. She sticks the hook end of a scale through one of the heads.

“I am sampling the pollock. I’m going to do a random sample of 50 pollock from the catch today now that it’s all mixed up,” Russ said. “On all these fish, I’m going to take the length, the weight, the sex, the maturity condition, so if it’s a juvenile or if it’s sexually mature and where it’s at in its reproductive cycle.”

She pulls out a knife, swings it and chops open its head.

“I take out the pair of sagittal odaliths from these fish and that’s their earbones. We can tell their age from them. They’re kind of like a tree, they have rings on them,” Russ said. “We break them, burn them, cut them in half, toast them in an oven and that gives some contrast to the annuli, the age rings, and then we age them.”

This sampling will establish baseline data for the fishery. It will be taken into consideration by Fish and Game, the Board of Fish, and other stakeholders in determining where to go from here.

So, all in all, there’s still a lot up in the air. There are a lot of unknowns. It’s still a risk, but Captain Rob Nelson says, it’s worth it.

“Might not even be a profitable venture the first year, but it will be a start and you’ve got to start somewhere and we’ll know where to go from here,” he said. “But the first thing is to show that it can be done.”

He’s got until the end of February to do just that.

Categories: Alaska News

After Regrouping In Anchorage, Kikkan Randall Looks Towards World Championships

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:14

Alaska Pacific University skier Kikkan Randall has spent three years on top of the World Cup sprint standings. This season has been different- she’s struggled to make even the top ten in races. Randall’s back in Europe now, after spending a few weeks in Anchorage to regroup.

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Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.

Kikkan Randall was skeptical when her coach Erik Flora suggested she fly back to Anchorage from Europe in the middle of the World Cup racing season:

“At first, I have to admit, I thought he was a little crazy.”

But she came around to the idea of having a chance to refocus in the comfort of her home city. She says she ate seafood, played with her cats, and trained at Kincaid and Hillside:

“It was really, really good. Just to see friends and family and get back in a good training environment. I really feel like it was the break I needed.”

Randall’s early results on the World Cup have been disappointing. Her best finish so far is 9th in a sprint race in December in Switzerland. Randall is coming off last year’s Olympics, where she was the favorite to win gold in the skate sprint, but finished far out of the medals. Then in the spring and summer, she thinks she trained too hard, hoping to prove she could peak properly for this year’s World Championships:

“I don’t think I rested enough coming off of a big Olympic year and just carried too much fatigue into the summer and the fall. And by the time I realized I was under some fatigue, we were already in the racing season so I was trying to balance resting with the racing and it hasn’t allowed me to find my peak form.”

Until this year, Randall’s career has been a steady progression to become the best female sprint skier in the world. She says things were going so well, she got a little complacent thinking that trend would continue. Now she’s experiencing a new kind of challenge- not performing to her own, or the world’s, expectations:

“I’ve been laughing a little bit because I often talk in presentations about the importance of focusing on the positive and focusing on the process and the little things you can do each day to build up to your goals, and I feel like I’ve been having to listen to my own advice a little bit.”

The big goal this season is the World Championships, which start in Falun, Sweden on February 18th. Randall and her U.S. teammate Jessie Diggins are the defending world champions in the team sprint event. Randall says its a gamble whether her form will be back to 100 percent but she’s excited to get back to racing:

“I don’t really plan to put hard expectations down. I think I just want to make sure my body is in a good place and go out and race with what I have and if things go well, it could be some good results.”

Alaska Pacific University head coach Erik Flora isn’t worried about Randall’s performance. He says it’s common for elite athletes who have long term success to occasionally take a step back and have a rebuilding year. He says in the long run, one sub-par season shouldn’t matter much for Randall’s career, even if it’s hard to see it that way right now:

“With Sochi being a fairly big goal and a lot of the training leading up to it, post Sochi taking a year to adjust, having a bit of an off year, I’m sure when we look back on it, it’s not a big deal at all.”

Flora says the APU ski team as a whole is having one of it’s best season’s ever, with breakout performances on the World Cup from Rosie Brennan and Sadie Bjornsen. Both will compete in the World Championships alongside Kikkan Randall who is thrilled by the success of her teammates.










Categories: Alaska News

Joyce Kerttula Dies At 91

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:13

Joyce Kerttula stands behind Gov. Bill Egan as he signs a bill by Rep. Jay Kerttula, holding his daughter Anna. Beth Kerttula is standing beside the governor. (Uncredited photo via Alaska House Democrats)

Joyce Kerttula died Monday at age 91 after a long fight with lymphoma, but not before helping two generations of Kerttulas rise to political power in the state.

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Beth Kerttula, the girl with the bunny in the photo, likens her mom to a 61st legislator who made Jay Kerttula’s historic rise to power possible.

“My dad’s the only guy to have ever been both speaker and president of the Senate, and I just, I never could figure out how he could have ever done that until I was in and realized, you know, it’s because of my mother. If you have someone working with you who you trust implicitly and who works side by side, and who really is a, frankly a second legislator, you can get a lot done. And that’s what happened. They were a tremendous team,” Kerttula says.

Beth Kerttula represented Juneau in the Alaska House for 15 years.

Jay Kerttula represented Palmer in the Alaska Legislature for 34 years, and Joyce Kerttula worked alongside him as an unpaid volunteer for almost that entire time.

In a 2014 interview, Joyce recalled how her unofficial career in the legislature began with an office visit. His secretary pulled open – then shut – a desk drawer that was full of papers.

Joyce Kerttula in 2013. (Photo courtesy Beth Kerttula)

“And I said, ‘Would you mind telling me what was in that drawer?’ And she says ‘Oh, that’s letters that I don’t know how to answer and I’ll get to them one of these days.’ And I said would you mind if I looked at one of them?’ And I pulled one out at the bottom and not the top and it was over a month old. And I said this can’t go on.”

Beth Kerttula picks up the story from there.

“And my mom just sat down and started writing, writing letters on one of those old Underwood typewriters. And she just kept going, and that was it,” she says.

Thirty-some years later, she was still at it. Joyce Kerttula handled the legislative offices, the campaigns and constituents. In her obituary, the family calls Joyce Kerttula “the heart and soul” of her husband’s legislative offices.

Originally from Oklahoma, she was born Helen Joyce Campbell in 1923. After finishing college, she left Oklahoma to be a personal assistant to a scientist working on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, where she witnessed a test detonation of an atomic bomb.

She moved to Alaska in 1954 and taught English at Palmer High School. She met and married Jay in 1955. Joyce Kerttula’s unofficial career in the Alaska Legislature began after he was sworn into office in 1961.

An Alaska memorial service is in the works for the summer. She had been living in Palmer, but was in Palm Springs, Calif., for medical care when she died.

“My mother used to say, you’ve got to live every day. And I, I’m going to try to emulate that a little bit better,” Beth Kerttula says.

Joyce Kerttula is survived by her husband, daughters, a sister, two grandchildren and a large extended family.

Categories: Alaska News

As House Leadership Calls For End To Point Thomson Litigation, Attorney Request Extension

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:13

Attorneys challenging the Point Thomson settlement have requested more time to prepare a new brief on the case. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports the delay has rankled legislative leaders, who think it’s inappropriate for Gov. Bill Walker to remain a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the state.

The Point Thomson lawsuit was originally filed in 2012 by Bill Walker, when he was still an attorney in private practice. He thought it was inappropriate for the State to make a deal with Exxon to develop the North Slope gas field without getting public input or seeking legislative approval.

But now that Walker has been elected governor and the lawsuit has been transferred to the firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, the Alaska Supreme Court has asked for additional information on the proceedings.

The court set a deadline of January 30. But on Friday, attorney Robin Brena asked for an extension to mid-March. Brena says the firm needs extra time to review the case and see what legal options are available to them.

“The case was just recently transferred from Walker & Richards to Brena, Bell, & Clarkson,” says Brena. “So, the primary reason [for the request] was to give us an opportunity to get up to speed, and also give an opportunity for the counsel just to chat and and see if there’s any alternatives to litigation.”

The Point Thomson settlement was a major point of contention during the gubernatorial campaign.

Former Gov. Sean Parnell approved the original agreement, and it established a development plan for the reserves that would supply a proposed natural gas megaproject. Parnell, a Republican, criticized Walker for filing the public interest suit, arguing that it could jeopardize development of the field. Walker, who is not affiliated with a political party, called the settlement the “dirtiest backroom deal in state history.” But a week before the election, he said he would drop his lawsuit against the state if elected governor.

Walker’s name remains on the lawsuit, but he’s delegated his office’s authority to act on Point Thomson to Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, who must consent to Walker’s participation on Point Thomson matter. In a written statement, Walker maintains that the deal was illegal, and that he is not in an “immediate hurry” to drop the case.

Attorney Robin Brena says the extension request is not a sign in either direction.

“I don’t think reading tea leaves beyond that is helpful at this point,” says Brena.

But House Speaker Mike Chenault thinks a potential extension of the case could be significant.

“I think they always say that — don’t read much into the tea leaves until the thing’s over with or until you’re in a position where you can’t affect the outcome of it,” says Chenault, a Nikiski Republican.

Chenault believes the lawsuit has already gone on too long.

“You’ve got the governor as the governor of the State of Alaska, and now you have the governor as a plaintiff against the State of Alaska,” says Chenault. “I think it just sends a bad message.”

On Thursday — the day before Brena, Bell & Clark filed for an extension — Chenault sent the governor a letter, in conjunction with other members of House leadership, requesting that the lawsuit be dropped because of the conflict. He says continuing the lawsuit and extending the briefing timeline “creates uncertainty” for industry. Chenault adds that with Walker’s executive authority, it would be more appropriate for the governor to pursue a legislative remedy instead of asking for resolution in the courts.

“He is the governor of the State of Alaska. He is the head man,” says Chenault. “If he’s got a problem, he should be able to work that out without being involved in lawsuits.”

Chenault says he has not received a response to his letter from the Governor’s Office. Walker, who is traveling to New York to meet with credit rating agencies, was unavailable for comment, as was the attorney handling the case for the state.

The court has yet to decide whether it will grant the extension.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 3, 2015

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:12

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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Point Thomson Settlement Challengers Request More Time

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Attorneys challenging the Point Thomson settlement have requested more time to prepare a new brief on the case. The delay has rankled legislative leaders, who think it’s inappropriate for Gov. Bill Walker to remain a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the state.

Walker Files Supplemental Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has filed his supplemental budget. It covers the money that was spent during the current fiscal year but was not originally appropriated.

Homeless Assistance Program Scrambling For Funding

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A program that distributes millions of dollars a year to keep homeless and emergency shelters open across the state is nowhere to be seen in Governor Bill Walker’s budget. It leaves dozens of organizations scrambling for the money they’ll need to keep their doors open.

Vet Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans.

Pipeline Coordinator Still Shuttering Shop While Obama Calls for Funding

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The budget President Obama sent Congress this week includes $1 million for the office of the federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline. But the current coordinator, Larry Persily, says he’s still shutting down his offices in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.

Alaska Railroad Seeks Approval To Move LNG

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Railroad is among a few across the country seeking first ever approval to transport liquefied natural gas.

Fishermen Test Experimental Cook Inlet Pollock Fishery

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Since December, a few intrepid Cook Inlet fishermen have been trying something new. They’ve been fishing for pollock in state waters using seine gear. It’s an experiment to determine the viability of establishing a future fishery in the area.

After Regrouping In Anchorage, Kikkan Randall Looks Towards World Championships

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska Pacific University skier Kikkan Randall has spent three years on top of the World Cup sprint standings. This season has been different- she’s struggled to make even the top ten in races. Randall’s back in Europe now, after spending a few weeks in Anchorage to regroup.

Joyce Kerttula Dies At 91

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Joyce Kerttula died Monday at age 91 after a long fight with lymphoma, but not before helping two generations of Kerttulas rise to political power in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Vet Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Congress

Tue, 2015-02-03 14:12

The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said it’s an important bill for Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita and also the highest rate of suicide.

“As an officer in the Marine Corps both on active duty and in the Reserves, I’ve personally witnessed the struggles, at times tragic, that some of our servicemen and women undergo,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The bill is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who killed himself 2011. The legislation calls for a review of military and VA suicide prevention programs, financial incentives to help recruit psychiatrists to the VA and a better website to show the mental health resources available.

According to the VA, some 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Sen. Sullivan said it’s a personal issue for him.

“The suicide of a young Alaskan marine under my command still haunts me. You always wonder: could I have done more?” he said in his Senate speech. He paused for 10 seconds, looking down at the podium, working to maintain composure. “With the proper awareness and resources, this marine might be alive today.”

Clay Hunt’s mom said almost the same thing about her son: “If he had had better care, he, maybe, would not be dead today,” Susan Selke said in an interview with NBC.

The bill passed the House last month, also unanimously, and now heads to the president for signature. The bill had widespread support last year, too, but was blocked by then-Sen. Tom Coburn, who objected to the cost: $22 million over five years. The Oklahoma Republican has since retired from office.

Categories: Alaska News

Social Entrepreneurs Driving Innovation

Tue, 2015-02-03 11:54

Today we’re innovating. If you head up to the fourth floor of the Loussac Library on just about any given day, you’ll find a number of different groups working in the innovation lab.

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“Groups and what they talk about include everything from overseas consulates, federal organizations, crafters, hobbyists,” Darla Hane, the coordinator of the innovation lab, said. “They really run the gamut.”

She says to think of the lab as part brainstorm, part real-world application. For example, let’s say you’re a band that’s looking for a place to practice.

“We want to help that group not only create music but also have an understanding of band contracts, band writers and copyright laws and how it applies to them,” Hane said. “If they want help with their websites we can connect them with programmers or web designers.”

“It’s a very holistic approach to it.”

The group that’s meeting tonight is fairly new; only their second week. They’re called the social entrepreneurs.

“Social entrepreneurs approach entrepreneurship in a way that a regular entrepreneur would, but they also approach it with the thought that the outcome of their business model should have a direct impact on the social good of their community,” she said.

Hane says the group, much like the lab itself, is diverse. There’s the Dean of APU, a graduate student, a small business owner, and a song writer to name a few. Tonight’s discussion is about how to offer free cash checking and bill paying to Anchorage residents.

“The gist of it is there are 13.5 million people in the US that have a job, but don’t have a bank account,” Thomas Gokey, who is part of a group called Strike Debt, said. “I don’t know specific numbers for Anchorage.”

He describes it as an Occupy Wall Street offshoot focused on reducing debt in the US. He says free check cashing is just one way to do that.

“On average it costs you 10 percent of your income just to access and spend your money if you don’t have a bank account,” Gokey said.

Gokey says that’s because banks charge to cash and write checks if you’re not a member. Also, there are penalties for certain purchases if you don’t have a bank account. Purchases like a car. Gokey is hoping his fellow social entrepreneurs can help create a business that could bypass the bank.

“The service provided is super simple,” Gokey said. “You just need someone to turn a check into cash, and write a check to pay bills.”

“What is the chance that a bank would say ‘we can do that in our bank.’ I mean I can see why they’d say no, but I can also think of benefits to the bank. Because when this person does finally decide they want a bank account, where are they likely to bank?”

Oddly enough, director Darla Hane says she knows a few bankers that frequent the innovation lab. She’s going to invite them to the group’s next meeting.

“Let’s talk to some bankers. Yay! It’ll be great,” Hane said.

I asked Darla how often something works out that perfect at the lab. She tells me it happens all the time.

“Collaboration is a big part of the innovation lab,” Hane said. “Just tonight one of the guys here was talking about his patent, and so he used some of the other lab guests to apply for his patent.”

The patent wasn’t finalized, so Hane wasn’t able to give me any details. Not unless I show up next week of course.

Categories: Alaska News

To Fund Lobbying Effort, Sex Worker Advocates Turns To Internet

Mon, 2015-02-02 23:21

Every legislative session, different interest groups will hire lobbyists to influence legislation that affects them. But what happens if you’re already on the wrong side of the law? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that a sex worker group is raising money to send one of their own to Juneau.

Smart watches, movies, even potato salad — all these things have found success with crowdfunding. Now Terra Burns wants to see if Internet users will pay for her to travel to Juneau and advocate on behalf of sex workers.

“It’s really been really hard for people in Alaska’s sex industry to have any voice at all because of stigma and criminalization,” says Burns.

Burns is 33 years old. She’s a graduate student who studies the sex industry, and she’s worked in it in the past. She’s also affiliated with a sex worker group called Community United for Safety and Protection, which opposes human trafficking laws that were put on the books in 2012.

The laws upped the penalties for coercing people into the sex industry, and they changed the statutes so victims would not be referred to as prostitutes. But Burns thinks they have not worked as promised — of the sex trafficking cases that have been opened since the the laws were put on the books, she says half were prostitutes themselves.

“Most of the people that they have been charging have been women who have been working together in the industry,” says Burns.

Burns thinks the law should be amended so those who work in the sex industry of their own volition are not treated as traffickers and are not entrapped by police officers.

Burns launched a “Tilt” crowdfunding campaign three weeks ago. It’s like Kickstarter, but for causes. The goal is to raise $1,500 to pay for Burns to live out of a camper in Juneau for a month. So far, the crowdfunding campaign is only at the halfway mark, with just $800 raised.

Burns says there weren’t too many other funding options. She notes sex workers can’t act like a union, where they collect dues to pay for lobbying on issues that affect them.

“I would love to be able to have that discussion, but it would be considered under the law sex trafficking in Alaska,” says Burns.

And she’s volunteering, because the group can’t afford a professional lobbyist.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” says Burns.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission does not have much experience with advocates supported by crowdfunding, but they think Burns will have to register with them as a representational lobbyist, since only her expenses are being covered.

Even if the campaign stalls and those expenses are not fully covered, Burns has decided to come to the capital. So far, only one bill dealing with sex trafficking has been introduced, and it would allow victims of sex trafficking to use that as a defense if they are charged with prostitution crimes. Burns is opposing it because she thinks it splits members of the sex industry into victims and traffickers while leaving voluntary participants in a difficult position.

But bill sponsor Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat and the Senate’s Minority Leader, does not see the conflict.

“My bill does not affect sex workers — it affects victims of sex trafficking,” says Gardner. “It doesn’t touch sex workers who are voluntary sex workers in any way, shape, or form.”

Gardner introduced the bill last year, and it passed the Senate unanimously before stalling in the House. Because the bill has not been controversial, Gardner is not sure that Burns’ lobbying effort will be productive.

“She’s well intentioned, and might very well be right about some of the things she’s saying,” says Gardner. “But we deal with the reality here of what it takes to pass legislation, and you can have a great big earth-shaking, proposal, or you can bite off one little piece that won’t draw opposition from any quarter, and try to get that through.”

Gardner says she does sympathize with the difficulty that people affected by sex trafficking legislation have in being heard by the Legislature.

“We got calls from people, but by and large they were too frightened to speak on the record,” says Gardner.

Burns plans to testify on the bill, should it get a hearing.

Categories: Alaska News