Alaska News

Lawsuit seeks to allow non-Alaska residents to gather signatures for state ballot initiatives

APRN Alaska News - 50 min 33 sec ago

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week seeks to remove the residency requirement for people gathering signatures for state ballot initiatives.

To get a statewide voter initiative on the ballot, the sponsors must gather thousands of signatures. And for the signatures to be valid, the people gathering them must be Alaska residents.

Political consultant and former Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Kohlhaas said that requirement is unconstitutional.

Kohlhaas is working to get four potential ballot initiatives before voters. He said the law has for years placed an extra burden on initiative sponsors in terms of who they can hire.

Kohlhaas said that limits their constitutional rights to free speech, political association and to petition the government.

“You can’t live on love,” Kohlhaas said. “The way that the system is set up is that only the best organized and the best financed groups are going to get an issue on the Alaska state ballot.”

Kohlhaas and an out-of-state man hoping to come to Alaska to work as a signature gatherer are the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Meantime, the state said it is reviewing Kohlhaas’s complaint.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar said it’s the job of her office to defend laws enacted by the Legislature and that only the Legislature or a court order can change the residency requirement.

Bakalar said the review – and any subsequent response from the state – could take up to three weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: $15,000 and 2,000 miles later, Kotzebue High volleyball players show Sitka their skills

APRN Alaska News - 1 hour 45 min ago
This is the team’s first trip to Southeast in over a decade. They played five matches in less than 48 hours. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

Alaska’s high school sports teams spend a lot of time and money on travel. But $15,000 and 2,000 miles for just one one trip? That’s unusual. Last week, the Kotzebue Girls Volleyball team traveled to Sitka to play Mount Edgecumbe and Sitka High School.

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Mount Edgecumbe’s gym was pretty full for a Saturday morning. The school’s Lady Braves are the state’s defending volleyball champions and they’re hosting the Kotzebue Huskies. The game starts with the Braves chanting “Edgecumbe! Edgecumbe!”

And then from the Huskies…

The Huskies warmed up for their game against the Mount Edgecumbe Lady Braves, Alaska’s defending volleyball state champions. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

“We say who let the dogs out hoo,” Cassidy Kramer said.

“Because we’re the huskies – so who let the dogs out because we’re not at home,” Calia Sieh said.

The Huskies are about as far from home as they can get and still be in Alaska – more than 1,000 miles. This is nearly every girls’ first trip to the Southeast. It takes a day to get here.

“We left Kotzebue at 8 a.m. and we got here at almost 11 (p.m.),” Calia said.

But the Huskies came to Sitka prepared: Xtra Tuffs and raincoats — because of the style.

These girls say high school sports are the way that a young person from Kotzebue gets to see new places.

“Flights are just a lot of money and you can’t drive anywhere so you have to fly, so sports is how you get out of town in high school,” Cassidy said.

Christina Fields is the volleyball coach. She said sports are one of the few free organized activities that keep kids busy and out of trouble.

“If you’re not into like outdoorsy things like camping or hunting or anything there’s basically nothing to do in Kotzebue,” Fields said.

So, the school invests in sports. School districts generally share the cost of flying teams back and forth. And this trip to Sitka was especially expensive. Sitka High School donated $3,000 and Mt. Edgecumbe is providing room and board. With roundtrip flights at $900 a head, the Kotzebue School District still spent $15,000.

And Husky fans? They had to pay their own way here – and some did.

“Let’s get the ball back,” the fans screamed. “Here we go Huskies!”

Three of the Huskies “Mom Squad” also made the trip. From L to R: Cathy McConnell, Annie Howarth, and Corina Kramer. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

Three Kotzebue moms are in the stands, wearing t-shirts with “Mom squad” printed on the back. Corina Kramer said this game is a big deal in Kotzebue. Fans are following her Facebook updates and watching the live-stream.

‘If those girls have family they’re online and they’re cheering as much as we are, hollering at their TV sets or their computer screens at home,” Corina said.

Some of the moms played on this volleyball team together in the 80’s. Annie Howarth said back then, they traveled to villages within 100 miles of Kotzebue.

Now, because of how regional rankings work, Kotzebue teams fly farther and play bigger teams. This has a price tag but new benefits. Athletes accrue thousands of miles on airlines. And when they stop in Anchorage, they can fill bags with food and school supplies that are 2-3 times as expensive in Kotzebue. And then – there’s seeing a different part of Alaska. Ally Martin is on her first big trip –

“I didn’t expect a lot of trees or mountains,” Ally said.

“It’s way different,” Cassidy said. “In Kotzebue you can see for miles and miles and miles. Like you’ll stand on a hill and can see caribous that are miles away.”

Cassidy’s impression of Sitka?

“It’s so pretty! I love it. We saw a whale today,” Cassidy said. “It was so cool and we say its water spew up.”

This trip is also special for the coach Christina Fields. She became head coach last month.

“When I decided to coach I was pretty excited to come here,” Fields said.

That’s because Fields knows Sitka. Seven years ago, she was a star athlete at Mt. Edgecumbe. Now her little sister is a student here. Fields said the Edgecumbe coaches made a big difference in her life.

“I wanted to be a coach like them, like they were for me,” Fields said.

The Lady Huskies volleyball team traveled over a thousand miles from Kotzebue to Sitka to play Sitka High School and Mount Edgecumbe. (Photo Courtesy of Cathy McConnell)

Meaning they pushed her and gave her confidence.

To make this trip worth it, the Huskies played four matches and one scrimmage in less than 48 hours. By the end, Fields said they’re feeling very tired.

“I thought it was like 11 P.M. after our game and I feel like I’m trying to stay up all night right now,” Fields said.

These trips are fun but exhausting, and when the team’s energy is low, that’s the hardest time to coach.

“I still have yet to find out what would help them but I’m going to be googling a lot of mental drills I can do with the team,” Fields said.

The Huskies lost both games to Mount Edgecumbe and won both against Sitka High School. The next time they might play these teams is in November, at the state championships in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker pitches 1.5 percent income tax with a limit

APRN Alaska News - 2 hours 8 min ago

Gov. Bill Walker is proposing a new tax to close part of the gap between what the state government spends and what it brings in.

The tax would be a flat 1.5 percent of wages and self-employment income. But there would be a limit in how much anyone pays.

No one would pay more than twice what they receive in an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

State Commissioner of Revenue Sheldon Fisher said the administration decided against asking for more new revenue bills.

“We feel like we are most successful – and when I say we, I mean the administration and the Legislature working together – are most successful when there’s a single item of focus,” Fisher said.

Both state residents and non-Alaskans working in the state would pay the tax.

Administration officials have a mouthful of a name for the tax: the “capped hybrid head tax.” It’s not a true head tax, in which every person pays the same amount.

But it’s also different than most of the tax proposals the House considered this year, since everyone whose pay is above a certain ceiling would pay the same amount. This year, that amount would have been $147,000.

Fisher said the tax wouldn’t be applied to all forms of income.

“It does not tax capital and, therefore, it should encourage … investments in the state,” Fisher said. “It also does not tax retirement income, so we know that’s a matter that’s sensitive to many of our retirees that are on a fixed income.”

The tax would raise about $320 million. That would still leave a significant budget gap, even if the Legislature passes a bill that draws money from permanent fund earnings. State officials said the gap next year would be between $200 million and $500 million.

Administration officials said the Legislature should decide how to close the gap. Options include spending from state savings, other new revenue or additional cuts.

If the Legislature passes the tax, it would start in January 2019. It would require as many as 50 new state workers to administer.

Walker plans to call the Legislature into a special session on Oct. 23 to consider the tax and a bill that would increase sentences for some crimes.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Jay Stange of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - 2 hours 11 min ago
Jay Stange of Anchorage. (Photo by Samantha Davenport, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Jay Stange of Anchorage. Stange is a math teacher at Dimond High School.

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STANGE: I was born in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and I was adopted by a family that brought me to Alaska. I grew up in Juneau and then came to Spenard in 1975 when I was nine and went to Woodland Park Elementary, which is a close school that’s just down the street from my house right now.

I teach at Dimond High School, and you know, I’m 51 years old. And I’ve been teaching high school for seven years, so I came about being a teacher in a weird way.

I was working as a project manager, I was basically helping people insulate houses all over Alaska and building homes off the grid with some friends of mine. It was the summer solstice and I had a bunch of people staying here, and my couchsurfing guest showed up; she was late. She was the only couchsurfing guest that ever called on the telephone to make sure that I got the message that she was coming — and then she was late.

And I go down to the airport to pick her up because she calls late, right? She gets in my work truck — and you gotta understand at the time, I’m basically this random, Alaska carpenter dude. And she gets in the truck and I just take a quick glance in the back of my scary, white, panel van. There’s two chainsaws, there’s like random tools all over the place, it’s filthy, there’s wrappers everywhere. And she gets in and she doesn’t even notice, and she starts telling me a story. I don’t know, there was something about her.

I came home and I was like, “Hey, do you want the half hour bike tour of Spenard before I go back to work?” And she was like, “Yeah!” And she gets on and she can’t ride a bike. She’s like the only girl in Brooklyn that can’t ride a bike, right? So we did the best we could, and one thing leads to another and I end up falling in love with this girl. I went out to visit her that winter in New York City, and I didn’t come back for five years. When I came back, I had two kids, I was married and I was a school teacher.

Categories: Alaska News

Small spill reported at Valdez Marine Terminal

APRN Alaska News - 5 hours 54 min ago
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company is investigating the cause of a spill at the Valdez Marine Terminal. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Interior)

The operator of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is reporting an oil spill at the Marine Terminal in Valdez.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company estimated the volume of crude oil spilled to be less than 100 gallons.

Crews reported seeing a sheen on the water late Thursday morning. The spill is not ongoing.

According to Alyeska, the spill happened during yearly maintenance testing of the loading arms at Berth 5.

“During a pause in the testing, oily test water flowed back through hose and piping related to the maintenance, out of the fire system salt water intake piping, and into Port Valdez,” Michelle Egan, a spokeswoman for Alyeska, said in an email.

The spill area has been boomed and teams are skimming the water to try to recover the oil.

Alyeska reports there have been no impacts to wildlife or injuries associated with the incident.

A spokeswoman with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council said her group is monitoring the response to the spill, along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Coast Guard.

On Friday, the Department of Environmental Conservation said it was conducting an overflight to assess the situation.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker cites uncertainty over funding in opposing ACA repeal

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 10 min ago
Gov. Bill Walker speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Capitol in April. Walker has opposed the latest attempt to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Gov. Bill Walker gave more reasons Thursday why he opposes the latest bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Bill sponsors say it will give states more flexibility in health care.

But Walker said that’s not enough.

“Flexibility is something that I’m interested in as a state, as a governor, of course,” Walker said. “But with significantly less money to work with, that’s not the balance I’m looking for. So, more flexibility and less, significantly less money doesn’t work for Alaska.”

Walker said he has spoken several times with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose vote could help determine the bill’s fate.

Walker said both he and Murkowski want to know how the bill will affect the state. Walker is an independent and Murkowski is a Republican.

“We’ve had very good discussions, the senator and I have,” Walker said. “We’re both, you know, receiving input and data, sometimes from the same people. And we’re just kind of comparing notes, trying to understand the impact on Alaska from what’s being proposed.”

The bill would discontinue federal financial support of the state’s Medicaid expansion. Walker said Congress may be moving too quickly to determine what will happen to Alaskans.

“It’s unknown really with any specificity what the impact on Alaska is going to be,” Walker said. “And so with that unknown, my concern again is that the process is one that concerns me a great deal.”

In a letter to Congress, Walker joined with nine other governors from both major parties in opposing the bill.

Republican leaders in the Senate are trying to pass the bill by Sept. 30. That’s the deadline for passing a budget bill that requires only 51 votes. After that, the threshold rises to 60 votes.

Categories: Alaska News

Should independents be able to run in a Democratic primary?

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 19 min ago
Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg observes Jon Choate, lawyer for the Alaska Democratic Party, on Sept. 21, 2017. Pallenberg heard oral arguments over whether the party can allow independents to run in party primaries. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

A Superior Court judge is weighing how to define who is allowed to run the Alaska Democratic Party primary. The party wants to allow independent candidates to run in the primary without registering as Democrats.

Judge Philip Pallenberg questioned both sides about the case during oral arguments Thursday.

“What makes this a Democratic primary anymore, when any independent can vote in it and any independent can run in it?” Pallenberg asked Jon Choate, the Democrats’ lawyer. “How is that still a Democratic primary?”

The Democrats already allow any registered voters to cast ballots in the primary. Now they want to allow nonpartisan and undeclared candidates to run in the primary.

State election officials rejected a proposal by the party to change its rules, citing state law.

Choate said the law violates the free speech guarantee in the Alaska Constitution.

“Questions of ideology, as to what constitutes a political party, I think those are best left – especially at the primary level – for the party to decide,” Chaote said.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said the proposed change could allow people who don’t share Democrats’ beliefs to win the primary.

“In any particular primary, you could have more non-Democratic voters voting than Democratic voters,” Paton-Walsh said. “And if they choose a candidate who is also unassociated with the party, you have a primary that is really not a Democratic primary at all.”

If the Democratic party wins the case, it could provide political benefits. Undeclared, nonaffiliated and Republican voters all outnumber registered Democrats.

The case could also have an effect in next year’s election. Gov. Bill Walker is running for re-election as an independent and has said he isn’t planning to run in a primary. But it would be an option for him if the Democrats win in court.

Proposed Democratic party rules say that winning independent primary candidates would appear on the general election ballot without the party’s name. But state officials design the ballot. If the party wins in court, the state could still require that ballots say that an independent candidate is supported by the Democratic party.

Pallenberg said he’ll try to reach a decision as quickly as he can, possibly as soon as next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, Sep. 21, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 18:15

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

VP Pence calls in to Anchorage talk radio

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.

The future of the Affordable Care Act appears to rest on how Sen. Lisa Murkowski will vote next week. Alaska is getting some extra attention for it, including a special caller to a local conservative talk show Thursday.

Significant layoffs hit ADN, with more changes ahead

Zachariah Hugehs, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

As it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy under new owners, the state’s largest newspaper has started making deep staff cuts.

New Hilcorp contract pushes Interior Energy Project along

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Interior Energy Project has achieved a major milestone. On Thursday, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board approved a plan advancing the state effort to increase availability of natural gas in Fairbanks.

Commercial pot growers paid GVEA more than $500,000 over the past year

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The commercial marijuana industry is increasing demand for electricity in the Interior. Golden Valley Electric Association membership includes 47 licensed marijuana growers, who paid the co-op more than a half-million dollars for power over the past year.

Flood watch for Kenai River drainage as dammed lake releases

Jay Barrett, KDLL – Kenai

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for much of the Kenai River drainage due to the release of water from a dammed glacial lake.

Spill reported at Valdez Marine Terminal

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The operator of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is reporting an oil spill at the Marine Terminal in Valdez.

Ft. Wainwright soldier charged with assaulting infant son

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Ft. Wainwright soldier is charged with assaulting his infant son. Fairbanks Police say 22-year-old Ronald L. McGriff was arrested Wednesday and charged with first degree assault for severely injuring his 8-month-old son in August.

Budget glitch could leave ferries without funding

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

One Southeast senator said that the possibility that the Alaska Marine Highway System could shut down this spring is an intentional attempt to damage the ferries.

Alaska could become climate change refuge for tropical fish

Elizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

Researchers from the University of Washington used 80 years of data to figure out how much warming fish could withstand. They discovered fish in the tropics are already living in water at the upper end of their threshold.

Sitka hatchery’s chum run funds improvements

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A strong chum salmon run is helping pay for upgrades to a Sitka hatchery. Returns are also good at a much larger aquaculture operation not far away.

Juneau’s Housing First prepares to open its doors

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Housing First project is opening its doors this week to the first eight residents. The $8.3 million Lemon Creek complex will soon house 32 of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

Gambell’s new health clinic now open to patients

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

After several years of providing community health services in an overcrowded building, Norton Sound Health Corporation employees in Gambell now have a bigger and newer space to accommodate the community’s needs.

Categories: Alaska News

VP Pence calls in to Anchorage talk radio

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 17:55

The future of the Affordable Care Act appears to rest on how Sen. Lisa Murkowski will vote next week. And that means Alaska is getting a lot of extra attention, including a special caller to conservative talk radio Thursday.

Listen now

“I believe joining me now …. is the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. Mr. Vice President, welcome to the Dave Stieren Show,” the KFQD host said.

“Hi, Dave. Mike Pence here,” said the man second in line to becoming leader of the free world, via telephone.

Pence called to make a pitch for Graham-Cassidy, the pending Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Supporters hope it will pass the Senate next week. Both sides, for and against, are vying for Murkowski’s vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Significant layoffs hit ADN, with more changes ahead

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 17:41
Ryan Binkley speaks with reporters following the court hearing on the sale of the Alaska Dispatch News (Photo By Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

As it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy under new owners, the state’s largest newspaper has started making deep staff cuts. The Alaska Dispatch News laid off a number of employees this week, but there’s no clarity from its new management on whether or not this is the end of reductions.

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Word spread quickly on Wednesday that staffers at the ADN were being let go.

“David Hulen, the executive editor, was tapping people on the shoulder and calling them into his office,” Jeanette Lee-Falsey said. She covered business at the ADN, and was one of the people tapped on the shoulder.

“If you’d walked into that newsroom and hadn’t known the state of things, you would not have known that people were being laid off,” Lee-Falsey said. “It was all very quiet and done discreetly. And that was to protect people’s privacy as much as possible.”

According to Lee-Falsey, the layoffs began at the end of last week, and by Wednesday the mood in the office was tense.

“You knew this big thing was happening in front of your eyes, but you couldn’t acknowledge it, which for people who are used to being open and communicative is a very difficult thing,” Lee-Falsey said.

In her reporting, Lee-Falsey tended to pick stories that were complicated and took a little longer to finish, which, she explained, is not necessarily the trend in daily newspaper journalism. And being a business reporter, she knew the new owners of ADN would have to shed employees to reduce costs.

“I saw this coming, and in these types of situations no one is safe,” Lee-Falsey said. Wednesday was her last day at the job.

The layoffs come as the paper is emerging from the brink of financial collapse.  Earlier this month, when a judge approved the sale of the paper to the Binkley family of Fairbanks for $1 million, staff were told layoffs would be part of the effort to reign in multi-million dollar annual deficits. In the first six months of this year, the paper reported a $4 million loss.

According to bankruptcy filings, ADN had 212 employees. Reached by cell phone, publisher Ryan Binkley wouldn’t comment on the full number of layoffs so far. He pointed to a short article on page five of Wednesday’s paper, saying it had all the information that would be released. The story calls the staff reductions “significant,” but doesn’t say how many people were let go. Binkley declined to answer any questions, saying “my Uber driver is waiting.”

“What’s really striking to me is how many of the people who were laid off have had a significant, long role in Alaska journalism,” Michael Carey said. Carey is a retired editorial page editor at the paper who still contributes pieces occasionally.

Carey believes the loss of institutional knowledge at the paper and in the state’s press corps is tremendous, adding that Wednesday was among the worst days in the history of Alaska journalism.

In the course of his career Carey saw plenty of layoffs, but none this big in such a short time.

“My guess is they wanted to do it all at once, and they did it all at once,” Carey said.

Carey rattled off the names of almost a dozen colleagues let go in the last week, some of whom had tenures more than three decades long with the paper as sports writers, editors, photographers and reporters.

The paper is still looking for ways to cut expenses, including changes to leased space and the operation of its printing press. The sole employee at the paper’s bureau in Bethel wrote on Facebook that she’s moving back to Anchorage, and the one staff writer based in Fairbanks was among those let go. A letter on the front page from Editor David Hulen this week notes the paper is scaling back to just two sections for most weekdays, with content focusing more on news in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

New Hilcorp contract pushes Interior Energy Project along

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 17:01
IEP logo (Credit Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority)

The Interior Energy Project has achieved a major milestone. On Thursday, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board approved a plan advancing the state effort to increase availability of natural gas in Fairbanks. The board action hinged on a recently secured Cook Inlet gas supply contract with Hilcorp. AIDEA Interior Energy Project team leader Gene Therriault said the gas supply is a key plan component required by enabling legislation.

”It basically means that now the project has access to all of the financial tools that were provided by the legislature,” Therriault said.

Therriault points to a $300 million mix of capital, loan and bonding capacity to help pay for project expenses, including Cook Inlet LNG processing plant expansion and additional gas storage in Fairbanks. The Interior Energy Project targets a consumer gas price equivalent to $2 a gallon heating. Therriault said the current contract alone does not get there, but projections indicate it’s achievable as new customers sign up for service.

”To spread these fixed costs, bring the costs down and make the delivered cost that much more attractive to businesses and more attractive to residential customers too,” Therriault said.

Still at issue for advancing the project is whether the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Interior Gas Utility will buy and merge operation with Fairbanks Natural Gas. AIDEA bought the private company, which currently serves over a thousand local customers. The plan calls incorporating its infrastructure into a single public utility to serve Fairbanks and North Pole.

Categories: Alaska News

Gambell’s new health clinic now open to patients

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 16:23
One of the blue and white exam rooms in the new Gambell clinic. (Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM)

After several years of providing community health services in an overcrowded building, Norton Sound Health Corporation employees in Gambell now have a bigger and newer space to accommodate the community’s needs.

 

At the new Gambell clinic, there’s a full waiting room of adults and about ten school kids who are taking time off from class to update their physicals.

Other patients are visiting the clinic to get a blood test.

Channa Koozaata, the lead health aide has been working with the Gambell clinic, in two different buildings, since 2011. As Koozaata showed the freshly painted, blue and white health facility, she exclaimed that the new clinic is significantly bigger than the old clinic.

“Oh my gosh, the space is…There was not much space (at the old clinic) and there were more exam rooms than what we have now at the new clinic,” Koozaata said.

Despite having fewer exam rooms, Koozaata said the new clinic building can better accommodate more patients, and many of those patients have generally reacted positively to the more modern clinic.

In fact, Koozaata recalls that some people when they walk in, forget they’re still on St. Lawrence Island.

“Whenever they come in they tell us they feel like they’re not in Gambell, because you know, new building,” Koozaata laughed.

Lucy Apatiki is the Vice President for Community Health Services with NHSC and has been living in Gambell her entire life. For Apatiki, the new clinic represents the fulfillment of a dream.

“It is a lifelong desire to actually work out of a new facility large enough to serve the population,” Apatiki said. “Yeah for a number of years we’ve had to work out of the old clinic which had very limited space and got really crowded especially when we had people come out – doctors’ visits, supervisors, instructors, providers from different departments”

Apatiki also mentioned that the main advocate for the new clinic, who put in about 20 years of time and effort to make this project happen, was June Walunga.

Walunga, who is the NSHC Board member for Gambell, was unavailable for comment before the airing of this story.

Even though the upgraded health facility is open for business, boxes still need to be unpacked and the old building needs to be decommissioned. As the transition phase is ongoing, Edna Apatiki who works in Behavioral Health Services at the Gambell clinic, has been struggling to complete the online portion of her work.

“Because I have some issues with downloading and the computer is locked,” Apatiki said. “We have to tell the technical folks over at Norton Sound, to request services from them”

In spite of technical difficulties, Apatiki said she still sees her clients in person and continues her daily activities in a new building that has more reliable water and sewer access.

“About transitioning over here, it’s amazing, it’s quite modern here and we don’t have that old carpet anymore, it would collect dust and we’d breathe it in. But we are very fortunate to be here and we’re very happy.”

Once the old clinic is decommissioned and the transition is completely done, Lucy Apatiki said she would like for Norton Sound Health Corporation clinics to become more integrated and shift their focus to a newer model of healthcare.

“I would like to see a lot more, instead of acute care, branching out to other prevention type healthcare – prenatal, women’s health, I’d really like to focus around that,” Apatiki said. “So that it’s not just all a reaction to what’s coming in, but you know a long term look at empowering the people to take ownership of their own health”

One of the 15 other clinics in the area is located in Savoonga, Gambell’s next door neighbor on the island. Savoonga’s new health clinic also officially opened within the last week – it began seeing patients on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget glitch could leave ferries without funding

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 16:16
Crew members stand on the front deck of the ferry Malaspina as it pulls away from Juneau’s Auke Bay Ferry Terminal Sept. 18, 2017. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

One Southeast senator said that the possibility that the Alaska Marine Highway System could shut down this spring is an intentional attempt to damage the ferries.

A little-known budget provision to make up for a shortfall in state health-care funding will pull about $23 million out of the system’s spending for this fiscal year.

The governor’s budget director Pat Pitney described the problem in a Sept. 19 letter to House and Senate finance leaders.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman told those attending the Southeast Conference’s annual meeting in Haines that lawmakers should fix the problem.

Otherwise, the ferry system will run out of money in April.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman says the ferry system is in financial trouble because of actions by his Senate colleagues. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“They will not have the authority to run the system if the Legislature does not appropriate the money, period,” Stedman said.

The ferry system will have to wait until the new budget year, which begins in July, to resume sailings if the funding isn’t replaced.

Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I think what we need to really focus on – and this is certainly what the administration is going to be focusing on – is how do we restore that funding. How do we make sure that that funding is there, so we can continue to fulfill that commitment that we have to coastal Alaskans?” Luiken said.

Pitney detailed the shortfall in her letter. She said a spending bill meant to plug budget holes called for a marine highway account to fill those gaps if there wasn’t enough money.

When Medicaid spending was higher than planned, the $30 million ferry account lost around three-quarters of its balance.

Pitney’s letter doesn’t assign blame.

But Stedman pointed to Senate budget-writers who think the ferry system is too expensive.

“Two years ago, roughly, there was some language put in the operating budget. I’ve got to hand it to the guys. They were very creative in the skullduggery and the downright sleazy budgeting that went on,” Stedman said. “It got by the Department of Law, it got by the administration, it got by my office and it was triggered this year.”

Stedman said the $23 million cut represents about a third of the direct ferry funding provided by the Legislature.

Other funds comes from ticket sales and other revenues.

Pitney said the governor will seek to restore the funding through a supplemental budget bill when the Legislature convenes early next year.

Stedman said it will take a strong effort by the governor and the state House to get the funds past the ferry system’s enemies in the Senate.

“We need two people with some balls to tell them in the House majority they’re not going to support the budget if they don’t put the damn money in the marine highway,” Stedman said. “If they don’t do that, my colleagues in the Senate will cut our throat. And I can’t put it any more plainly than that.”

Southeast’s four representatives are members of the House majority coalition. That caucus has a slim majority that needs all members’ votes to pass a budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Flood watch for Kenai River drainage as dammed lake releases

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 15:55
The Kenai River (Wikimedia commons image)

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for much of the Kenai River drainage due to the release of water from a dammed glacial lake.

The flood watch goes into effect Friday morning through Monday morning for Kenai Lake and the Upper Kenai River from Cooper Landing to Skilak Lake. In addition, water levels on the Lower Kenai River — from Skilak Lake to Cook Inlet — are expected to rise to bank-full conditions as well.

The cause of the flooding is the release of water backed up by the Snow Glacier, which began overnight. The weather service said there is “considerable uncertainty” of the volume of water being released and how fast it will drain, though it is coinciding with several days of forecast heavy rain.

The weather service projects that the Primrose campground on the east end of Kenai Lake and other low-lying areas will be flooded by Friday afternoon.

Water is expected to continue to rise on the Snow and Kenai rivers and Kenai lake into early next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska could become climate change refuge for tropical fish

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 14:35
Ocean sunfish is captured in research trawl in July 2015. (Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Scientists are trying to better understand how the world’s fish will adapt to climate change. One recent finding: as temperatures rise new species could move into Alaska waters.

Researchers from the University of Washington used 80 years of data to figure out how much warming fish could withstand. They discovered fish in the tropics are already living in water at the upper end of their threshold. Migrating to cooler waters could be their best option for survival.

As that occurs, Alaska waters could become a host to new kinds of marine life. Already, tropical species like ocean sunfish have been spotted in the state.

Scientists say they need more information to determine how local environments could be affected as new fish arrive and compete for food.

Categories: Alaska News

Ft. Wainwright soldier charged with assaulting infant son

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 14:27

A Ft. Wainwright soldier is charged with assaulting his infant son. Fairbanks Police say 22-year-old Ronald L. McGriff was arrested Wednesday and charged with first degree assault for severely injuring his 8-month-old son in August.

Police say McGriff admitted to kicking, shaking and throwing the baby, actions that resulted in severe brain bleeding and other injuries. They say the child remains hospitalized in Seattle, and is expected to have permanent damage.

Police ask that anyone with information about the assault to contact them.

Categories: Alaska News

New ethics complaint filed over Homer recall election

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 14:20
Homer’s canvas board counts absentee ballots in recall election. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

A new ethics complaint has been filed in relation to Homer’s recent recall election.

Three Homer City Council members were up for recall in June, but all three retained their seats. The complaint argues that the council members should have recused themselves from certifying the election results.

Larry Zuccaro, one of the original petitioners that sought the recall, filed the complaint on July 31 against council members Donna Aderhold, Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis.

Ethics complaints are required to remain confidential, but the council members waved their right to a private hearing, making the matter public.

The state Office of Administrative Hearings assigned an administrative law judge to be a hearing officer in the case, a process specific to cases involving city council and borough assembly members or mayors.

Council member Aderhold said she was made aware of the complaint in late August and that all three council members met Sept. 15 with the hearing officer.

“It was during that conference that we waved confidentiality,” Aderhold said. “We waved confidentiality because we believe this is an important issue to be able to clarify for council members moving forward and for the community to understand.”

Both parties are set to file briefs arguing their case on Oct. 2 and each will have an opportunity to respond to opposing briefs later that month.

Both sides will reconvene with the hearing officer Oct. 19, and an official decision is required by Oct. 29.

Elected officials found to have violated Homer city code can be subject to a range of consequences, from a private reprimand to vacating their seat.

When it comes to certifying elections, City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said city code states that the council is required to certify election results given to them by the canvass board.

“It doesn’t differentiate between special elections, or recall election, or runoff elections,” Jacobsen explained. “The city council certifies all elections.”

The council also would have not had a quorum if all three council members recused themselves from certifying the results.

The case follows a previous identical complaint that was filed July 3 by Heartbeat of Homer, the pro-recall political action committee.

Heartbeat shared documents detailing the complaint with KBBI via email, but it could have been thrown out because the documents were shared, violating the confidentiality requirement.

KBBI filed an information request with the city clerk’s office in late August to check on that case’s status, but the request was denied.

Zucarro could not be reached for comment in time for this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau’s Housing First prepares to open its doors

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 13:51

Juneau’s Housing First project is opening its doors this week to the first eight residents. The $8.3 million Lemon Creek complex will soon house 32 of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

The 32 apartments in the Housing First building are basic, almost institutional with low, single beds. But then there are the little touches that show how much community support has gone into the project.

The Gold Street Quilters donated 32 handmade quilts with the names of each resident embroidered inside.

The Juneau Housing First building. Taken Sept. 19, 2017, right before the facility opened. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

“Every unit gets a quilt and every quilt says who it’s for and their name and they’re all pretty awesome,” Mariya Lovishchuk said as she led a tour. She runs the Glory Hole downtown shelter and soup kitchen and has been project’s manager.

Similar facilities already exist in Anchorage and Fairbanks. It starts as no-strings housing for homeless people.

“The idea is just having housing, nice housing, in itself is a stabilizing force in people’s lives,” Lovishchuk said. “And what we know from other projects is that even though people don’t have to participate in services, they participate a lot more than when they have to do it as a condition of something.”

Essential services from medical care to counseling are available. There’s also a clinic downstairs to be completed. A physician’s assistant will be on site for urgent care. Mental health services will also be offered.

The Juneau Assembly has provided $2.7 million in public money to help finance the project. Other donors followed. Businesses provided in-kind services and materials.

Tenants pay rent on a sliding scale.

“You pay 30 percent of your income to rent and it gets reassessed every month by the landlord,” Lovishchuk explained. “So if your income is zero then your rent is zero. But if your income is $1,100 a month then you pay 30 percent of that.”

And, the thinking goes, as people become settled, productivity increases.

“And actually in the idea is that in this project is that people come in with very little income initially but once they stabilize they do bring more income in, their income increases,” Lovishchuk said.

So will it work?

Common area in the Juneau Housing First building. Taken September 19, 2017 right before the facility opened. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

“We want to do an evaluation of the program and demonstrate of benefits of Housing First in Juneau,” Jeanette Lacey said. She’s Bartlett Regional Hospital’s lead social worker and a Housing First board member. Lacey will also be working with researchers from University of Alaska Fairbanks which will be using this as a case study.

“The Housing First program in Juneau has obviously learned from the lessons of other programs throughout the nation and so what we’ve tried to do with our program is to take what’s been working and try to redesign some things that maybe didn’t go as well,” Lacey said. “So we want to just evaluate the process that we have here and also have something to give back to the community to demonstrate what we’re seeing as outcomes of the project.”

Dacia Davis is the newly hired program director who will oversee the complex’s eight staffers. She brings with her 14 years of experience in social work.

“I see it as a learning experience and we’re going to grow a lot this year,” Davis said. “And just every day kind of adjust and be flexible and meet the needs of the program and the tenants.”

The first 10 residents are set to move in in the next week. Organizers hope it’ll be quiet affair and under the radar as people settle in. Batches of 10 residents will move in every 10-14 days until all 32 apartments are filled.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial pot growers paid GVEA more than $500,000 over the past year

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-09-21 11:15

The commercial marijuana industry is increasing demand for electricity in the Interior. Golden Valley Electric Association membership includes 47 licensed marijuana growers, who paid the co-op more than half-a-million dollars for power over the past year.

Figures released this week by Golden Valley show a steady month-to-month growth in revenues from commercial marijuana cultivators who do business in the GVEA service area. The growers paid a total of about $7,600 in August 2016; and by last month, their payments had grown to a total of just over $92,000.

“Golden Valley has seen a continuous increase in the amount of kilowatt hours used by marijuana-grow operations,” Golden Valley President and CEO Cory Borgeson said. “And dollar-wise, the amount of revenues coming in from those growers has increased as well.”

Borgeson said some of the operations are fairly large and require industrial-scale components to handle the amount of electricity needed to run grow lights and maintain climate control.

“Many times, the customers will need to come in with engineer’s reports, because they’re fairly large loads and they take fairly large transformers,” Borgeson said.

Fairbanks grower Nathan Davis says that’s true – and that’s why he worked with an engineer from the very beginning, when he was first planning his 21,000-square-foot growing operation located in an industrial area on the city’s south side.

“You don’t build a facility of this size without have an engineering firm involved,” Davis said. “So, we had our ducks in a row – we knew what size transformers we needed, and we knew what they wanted from us and we provided it.”

Davis said he uses energy-saving technology when he can, like the LED fixtures that comprise about a quarter of his 300 growing lights. But he still runs up a hefty monthly light bill.

“We’re running at full capacity at our facility right now,” Davis said. “And our monthly power bill comes in just under $20,000.”

Borgeson said the co-op tracks the growers’ electricity use, based on the information they provide when they apply for service. And he said GVEA knows if the growers have been licensed. That information is readily available on the state Marijuana Control Board’s website. And Borgeson said so far the growers have been good customers.

“We’ve had no problems or any issues with our marijuana growers,” Borgeson said.

Borgeson talked about the revenue from pot growers during last month’s GVEA Board of Directors meeting. He provided a spreadsheet of those earnings over the past year upon request by KUAC.

Categories: Alaska News

Amid evolving Afghan mission, Alaska soldiers ready to deploy

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-20 18:46
Airborne Army soldiers practice roll-over drills in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

As the United States approaches the 16th anniversary of military operations in Afghanistan, thousands more troops are readying to deploy. One of the units heading there is the airborne infantry brigade based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

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News the unit would go was announced in April — before President Trump added another 4,000 troops to operations. Though some of these soldiers have seen multiple combat deployments, for many it’s their first time. The U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan is changing, but many service member’s expectations remain the same.

On a recent afternoon, five soldiers were locked inside the cab of an M-ATV armored assault vehicle suspended within big metal hoops. Then the apparatus spun them upside down, like some kind of military carnival ride.

“The paratroopers inside are conducting roll-over training to prepare themselves for the upcoming deployment to Afghanistan,” Staff Sergeant Dustin Ogden explained.

The point of the exercise is learning how to evacuate a vehicle if it flips, whether that’s from causes as varied as rough terrain to a roadside explosive.

“So in the event it does happen while deployed, they can react appropriately,” Ogden added.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division is sending about 2,100 troops for a nine-month deployment mostly at sites scattered across eastern Afghanistan. But unlike the last time the 4-25 deployed to the country from 2011 through 2012, their primary mission is no longer direct combat. Instead, they’re advising Afghan security forces and assisting in their training, which involves teaching a lot of military basics.

“How we fire our weapons systems, how we put together our weapons system, how do we conduct our patrols, things of that sort,” Sergeant First Class Aaron Cawthon explained. “That way they can take the lead and protect their country.”

Cawthon’s from San Antonio, Texas. He enlisted not long after 9/11, and his first deployment was the invasion of Iraq. This will be his fifth time deploying. But each previous stint focused more on direct engagement. Still, Cawthon isn’t treating it any differently. He’s taking the same steps to prepare his family. His packing list and mental expectations are like almost every other time he’s deployed.

“It’s just a different mission,” Cawthon said nonchalantly. “We’re still going to be over there in a combat zone.”

Cawthon is in charge of 26 other soldiers, and many of them have never deployed before. They have what are called “slick sleeves,” fuzzy patches of green Velcro on the their right shoulder where the insignia patch for a combat deployed unit will eventually go.

Originally from Nevada, Corporal Hank Thompson has been in the Army just a year-and-a-half, and his sleeve is slick.When he learned the unit would be sending personnel to Afghanistan, Thompson hoped he’d be tapped.

“I was pretty jovial,” Thompson said. “When you go to be especially an infantryman, it’s more of a right of passage. We didn’t join to sit on the side lines.”

Thompson’s job is as a radio telephone operator, but he has no idea whether that’ll be the kind of task he’s helping with day-to-day in Afghanistan. However, that doesn’t matter — he just wants to go.

“It’s one of those things that you’re kind of secretly hoping for, and then you’re secretly hoping that you do see some action,” Thompson said, adding that he and others wanted to become Army soldiers in order to “take part in the fight, versus sitting in garrison or doing the training rotations over and over and over again.”

In this he’s hardly alone.

Sergeant Nicholas Murray did a combat deployment once before in Afghanistan’s turbulent Helmand Provence, patrolling villages with Special Forces to beat back the Taliban. Though the Army’s role is ostensibly different this time around, Murray is still excited to be going back.

“I can’t wait to get over there. And do my job,” Murray said.

According to Murray, as an infantryman that job is straightforward.

“To close with and destroy the enemy,” Murray said.

This time he’ll be teaching his Afghan counterparts how to close with and destroy the enemy. Even though this isn’t strictly a combat mission, the prospect of engagement still looms large.

“It’s kinda hard to explain,” Murray said of his eager anticipation to re-deploy. “As infantrymen it’s an adrenaline rush, I guess you could say, that some people grow attached to.”

One fixture of deployments is separation from family. 27-year-old Murray is a father of three. He and his wife are expecting a fourth child to be born sometime in the months ahead.

Personnel with the 4-25 have already arrived in Afghanistan, with the remainder of those deploying set to depart in the next several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

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