Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: The connection between sea ice and global weather

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 15:17

Sea ice extent is near record low levels in the Arctic ocean and that has implications for weather patterns around the globe.

Brian Brettschneider says that in the past climate models have struggled to connect ocean conditions with what happens in the atmosphere. But he says two new studies (you can find here and here) do a much better job describing that link.

Brettschneider says what happens in one, really drives the other.

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Interview Highlights:

What we’re learning is that the reduction of sea ice is affecting the flow of the atmosphere. And we see the response is a deepening of low pressure in some areas and an increase of high pressure in other areas. That affects which direction the wind comes from and where the storm tracks are located, so lots of impacts that are more fine scale than the fact that it’s warming here, or cooling off there.

What are those specific impacts?

What we’ve come to understand is the response to this new state of the climate system is a deepening of the Aleutian low pressure system, a weakening of the Icelandic low pressure system and an increase in the Siberian high pressure system. These are semi-permanent features, they’re typically there for months at a time in the cold season and they drive the weather across the entire globe.

Why does this matter?

When we have this idea that we’re in a warming world, when we just paint that one broad brush, that’s very important over longer time scales. But understanding how these finer scale patterns are going to set up, matters more on more human time scales. We’re talking interactions that are much more complicated. And as we do more of these models and studies, we get a better idea of how things are going to change at the regional scale.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker appoints USAF veteran to Dunleavy Senate vacancy

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 14:38
Lt. Col. Mike Shower prepares for an F-22 Raptor training sortie. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Wolfe)

Governor Bill Walker has appointed retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Shower to fill the vacancy in Senate District E. Shower lives in Wasilla, and currently works as a pilot for FedEx.

Mike Shower is the third person appointed by Walker to fill the seat once occupied by Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy resigned from the seat in January to focus on his campaign for governor.

Governor Walker’s first choice was Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke. Kowalke submitted his name to the local branches of the Alaska Republican Party for consideration, but was not on the list sent to the governor. Senate Republicans rejected his appointment and insisted that Walker pick someone from the list provided by the party.

Walker’s second choice was Thomas Braund of Sutton, whose name was on the party list. Shortly after the appointment, various media outlets reported controversial social media posts by Braund. Thomas Braund removed his name from consideration for the seat shortly thereafter, citing the need to care for a sick friend. Governor Walker said he did not approve of any of the three original names submitted, which also included current Representative George Rauscher and teacher Todd Smoldon.

Mike Shower’s name was on a second list that the Alaska Republican Party sent to the governor. According to his resume`, Shower served for twenty years in the United States Air Force after graduation from the Air Force Academy. The appointment will now go to Senate Republicans for approval.

Shortly after the appointment was announced, Senate President Pete Kelley said Senate Republicans [QUOTE] “Appreciate the prompt selection of Mike Shower from the candidate list provided by the Republicans of Senate District E.” [END QUOTE] Kelly says Senate Republicans will meet in the near future to consider the appointment.

Categories: Alaska News

Protesters call for gun control at event featuring Murkowski, Young

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 11:13
Protesters at an event featuring U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young are quickly ushered out of the room on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

A Monday night Anchorage event headlined by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young was interrupted by a small group of protesters, calling for action on gun control.

“You’ve got blood on your hands! You’ve got blood on your hands!” one protester said.

The event was intended to be a victory lap for Murkowski and Young, who were at the Anchorage Petroleum Club speaking about successfully opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development.

“The thing that we really want them to know is that the blood money with NRA is not going to go over any longer,” protester Joni Bruner, who is with Alaska Grassroots Alliance, said.

One protestor refused to leave the building, and Anchorage police were called.

According to the protesters, no arrests were made.

After the event, Murkowski told reporters there aren’t easy answers when it comes to curbing mass shootings, such as the one that happened Feb. 14 at a school in Florida.

“I am so torn as a lawmaker, as a parent, as an Alaskan and clearly a supporter of the Second Amendment,” Murkowski said. “But I think we have not dealt with our present day reality, which quite honestly is an unacceptable reality.”

Murkowski added that dealing with mental health issues must be the first step in addressing mass shootings.

According to Murkowski’s spokesperson, the senator is planning on co-sponsoring legislation to provide grants for training in schools aimed at preventing future violent incidents.

Categories: Alaska News

District 38 Democrats select 3 candidates for Fansler seat

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 09:20

Alaska House District 38 Democrats selected three potential nominees Sunday night to replace state Rep. Zach Fansler, who resigned earlier this month following assault allegations.

All three candidates have deep ties to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and two of choices are Alaska Native women.

The party’s nominating committee interviewed a total of five applicants, then voted on their top choices and ranked them in the order that they preferred.

The committee’s first choice is Tiffany Zulkosky, an executive at Bethel’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

When she was in her 20s, Zulkosky also was elected to serve as the youngest mayor in Bethel’s history.

The committee’s second choice is Yvonne Jackson, who grew up in the Y-K Delta’s villages and now manages job training programs at the Association of Village Council Presidents, the regional Native non-profit corporation.

Their third choice is Raymond “Thor” Williams, a former Bethel mayor and current city council member.

A seven-person committee was looking for someone with the experience to hit the ground running when they arrive in Juneau, according to Diane McEachern, who serves on the nominating committee.

In a series of 30 to 40-minute interviews, they asked applicants about their views on tribal sovereignty and subsistence priority.

The committee also asked candidates whether anything of concern might come up after a thorough background check.

According to McEachern, the committee was asked to submit the three names by Wednesday, February 21.

Alaska’s state Democratic Party must submit the three names to Gov. Bill Walker by March 5.

Walker must select Fansler’s replacement by March 14, though he is not obligated to choose any of the candidates that the party organization recommends.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, Feb. 19, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 17:00

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

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More than $6 billion gap in state pension funding draws concern

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Some state senators are expressing concern about the projected shortfall in funding Alaska’s public employee pensions. But those who manage the pension funds say the shortfall will likely remain manageable.

Cheering from Alaska: Women’s relay 5th at the Olympics

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The U.S women’s cross-country ski team didn’t win their first medal but they finished 5th, their best relay result ever at the Olympics.

Mumps disease hits Juneau for first time in 20 years

Associated Press

Doctors have confirmed the presence of mumps in Juneau for the first time in more than two decades.

Mining industry leads charge against salmon initiative

Christine Trudeau, KYUK – Bethel

Mining companies are putting money into a campaign to defeat the “Stand for Salmon” fish protection initiative.

Kodiak puts hold on fisheries analyst services

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Kodiak may be without a fisheries analyst for a while.

Awards abound as Yukon Quest wraps up

Zoe Rom, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 2018 Yukon Quest is in the record book. Quest mushers and fans gathered over the weekend in Whitehorse to remember and celebrate the 2018 race.

Borough Assembly OKs Testing for promising woodstove emissions-control technology

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a resolution that supports and authorizes testing of a type of air-pollution control technology that local advocates say will clean smoke from woodstoves and help improve the area’s air quality.

Ask a Climatologist: Linking ocean conditions and the atmosphere

Annie Feidt, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Sea ice extent is near record low levels in the Arctic ocean and that has implications for weather patterns around the globe.

Betties ’bout to take you out

June Leffler, KSTK – Wrangell

Roller Derby’s popularity continues to rise across the country, and Southeast Alaska’s small towns are no exception. In Wrangell, local women organized the Garnet Grit Betties years ago, and the team is still going strong.

Categories: Alaska News

More than $6 billion gap in state pension funding draws concern

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 17:00
The Senate Finance Committee discusses the state retirement systems, Feb. 14, 2018. There is a $6.6 billion projected funding shortfall. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Some state senators are expressing concern about the projected shortfall in funding Alaska’s public employee pensions. But those who manage the pension funds say the shortfall will likely remain manageable.

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Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said it may be necessary to reduce retiree benefits in the future. She spoke during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on pensions on Feb. 14.

“To simply say, ‘make the payments,’ that crowds out public safety, education, among other things, as we’re seeing in our budget challenges that we have now,” von Imhof said.

It would take an amendment to the state constitution to reduce benefits. The Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution to protect both pensions and retiree health benefits from cuts.

The pension systems currently have $25 billion in assets. That leaves a gap of $6.6 billion between what the state has in pension assets and the projected future cost.

That gap could grow. State consultants have advised the state to expect lower investment returns in the future.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon said the Legislature should consider paying more into the fund in the coming years.

“That $6 billion is going to eat us alive over the next 10 years, if we don’t try to knock it down while we still have cash reserves,” MacKinnon said.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said it’s premature to raise the possibility of a constitutional amendment to cut benefits.

“I just want to make sure that we don’t fire off an alarm that has the people of Alaska believing our system is about to implode, when in fact, if we maintain it properly in the future, I think we avert that situation,” Micciche said.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed paying $263 million into the pension system in the budget that starts in July. That’s $80 million more than the current budget. Since 2006, new public workers have a different retirement system and don’t receive defined-benefit pensions. Instead, they receive a defined-contribution system.

Categories: Alaska News

Mining industry leads charge against salmon initiative

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 14:59
Mining companies are putting money into a campaign to defeat the “Stand for Salmon” fish protection initiative.
(Credit Dave Cannon)

Mining companies are putting money into a campaign to defeat the “Stand for Salmon” fish protection initiative.

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Five mining companies have contributed a total of $1 million to the opposition “Stand for Alaska” campaign, including Donlin Gold, which donated $200,000. Kurt Parkan is Donlin’s External Affairs Manager. He noted that mining companies aren’t the only ones opposed to the initiative, pointing to two Native corporations involved in large mining projects.

“It challenges the rights of Calista and the Kuskokwim Corporation to use their land the way they feel they need to, to develop,” he said. “And the case for Donlin Gold, they selected the site for resource development during the ANCSA process and this ballot initiative would prohibit them.”

The Anchorage Daily News reports that Stand For Alaska has raised $1.3 million dollars so far to finance its campaign, most of it coming from five companies with ties to large mining projects in the state.

The initiative, which is being challenged in the courts, would create stronger protections under state law for Alaska’s salmon streams and rivers.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Assembly OKs Testing for promising woodstove emissions-control technology

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 14:18
The Oekotube electrostatic precipitator, lower-left corner, and other components that Olson and a couple of friends installed on the stack of a woodstove that helps heat her veterinary clinic in North Pole. Sherman, Olson’s 1-year-old border collie mix, mugs for the camera.
(Credit Jeanne Olson)

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a resolution that supports and authorizes testing of a type of air-pollution control technology that local advocates say will clean smoke from woodstoves and help improve the area’s air quality. The advocates say they hope the data they’ll develop through their testing will convince federal environmental regulators to include electrostatic precipitators on its list of EPA-approved technologies that could enable homeowners and businesses to continue operating their wood- or pellet stoves during burn bans.

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All eight Assembly members present for the special meeting voted to support the resolution co-introduced by Mayor Karl Kassel and Assemblymen Matt Cooper, Van Lawrence and Lance Roberts. Cooper says they drew up the measure in response to requests by members of the public who say electrostatic precipitators could offer an alternative to more heavy-handed responses – like burn bans.

“It doesn’t solve all the problems,” Cooper said, “it doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s the first step, and we have to take the first step to start to look at alternative ways to do this.”

Cooper says the measure authorizes borough staff to participate in a study of electrostatic precipitator devices, which use an electrical charge to remove health-damaging fine particulates from smoke.

“This resolution directs the administration to start working toward finding a way to test them, see if they work,” Cooper said.

But clear-air advocate Jeanne Olson says the local group she heads up has already been testing electrostatic precipitators in North Pole, one connected to a wood stove at her veterinary clinic, another connected to a residential wood-pellet stove.

“When a pellet stove has one of these installed, it’s burning so clean that sometimes we can’t detect particulate,” Olson said.

Olson says the device she’s testing, called an Oekotube (pronounced “Ecotube”), cleans up emissions from her wood stove so thoroughly that it’s comparable to those of a cleaner-burning pellet stove.

“When I have the Oekotube on, it’s typically measuring about the same levels as a pellet stove without one of them on,” Olson said.

Patrice Lee was among several people who spoke in support of the technology during a public hearing on the resolution. Lee, like Olson, is a longtime member of Clean Air Fairbanks. And Lee says she was skeptical when Olson first asked her to help test the Eco-Tube – until she reviewed the data.

“I was blown away when I saw what wasn’t going into the air,” Lee said.

North Pole resident Wendy Mannan said she’s among many who believe the technology could help people who heat their homes mainly with wood and can’t afford more expensive fuels – and who often disregard restrictions against burning during air-pollution alerts.

“If there isn’t a way that this administration and the community can come together and find a way that people can burn cleanly and cheaply, then next year people are going to continue to ignore the burn ban,” Mannan said. “They just can’t afford the fuel oil.”

Borough Air Quality Manager Nick Czarnecki says he’s glad that advocates for electrostatic precipitators, also called ESPs, along with members of other community interest groups, will be working with borough on developing a testing regime for the technology.

“One of my biggest concerns is that we get all of the stakeholders on board,” Czarnecki said. “And that we figure out what is the test data that we need to show that these ESPs are going to work for an exemption to the burn bans.”

Olson says she wants to ensure citizens lead the effort, due to the level of mistrust many area residents have for the borough, because of its efforts to enforce the federally mandated crackdown on the area’s air pollution. And she says citizens groups are capable of accomplishing tasks more quickly than bureaucracies.

Categories: Alaska News

Industry leaders say salmon initiative would hinder development

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 13:29
A panel of industry leaders took up timber, mining and other topics Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, during the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit in Juneau. Josh Kindred of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, right, spoke against the Stand for Salmon initiative. (Photo by Heather Holt)

Industry representatives are telling Southeast leaders they need to oppose the Stand for Salmon initiative and related legislation.

The measure, which is being challenged in the courts, would create stronger protections for Alaska’s salmon streams and rivers.

During the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit in Juneau, power company and oil industry officials told about 100 regional officials Tuesday that the initiative would hinder development.

“What’s implied is that currently in Alaska, salmon or anadromous fish habitat isn’t protected,” Josh Kindred, environmental counsel for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said. “And nothing could be further from the truth,”

Kindred said the initiative and somewhat similar legislation would require unnecessary environmental reviews and its new regulations would be unenforceable.

“One of the fundamental problems here is that if this passes, you are basically giving the state five years of litigation,” Kindred said. “Given all the ambiguity in the proposal, all the gaps, all the contradictions, the state is going to be sued on this time and time again, because there is no clear path for the state to implement this without getting sued.”

That’s not the case, backers said. They said the Stand for Salmon initiative would update a 60-year-old law that does not give enough priority to Alaska’s fisheries.

The Alaska Power Association told the conference it also opposes the proposals.

Spokesman Michael Rovito said the legislation, House Bill 199, could hold up new and updated hydropower projects.

“It contains a grandfather clause to where if you already have an existing project, as long as you don’t make any significant changes, you fall under your past permitting regime,” Rovito said. “But as soon as you make a significant change, you can fall under this new major permit.”

Sealaska Corporation also is concerned about the additional limits on development.

CEO Anthony Mallott said it requires too much regulation. The regional Native corporation is Southeast’s largest private landowner.

Initiative opponents have organized a well-funded campaign through the group Stand for Alaska.

The business leaders urged the Southeast Conference to adopt a resolution opposing the Stand for Salmon initiative.

It’s already considering such a resolution, which will likely be approved.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak puts hold on fisheries analyst services

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 13:23
Kodiak downtown area. (Photo by
Raymond Bucko, SJ / Flickr)

Kodiak may be without a fisheries analyst for a while.

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That’s according to Kodiak City Councilman John Whiddon, one of the two city representatives who attended what was scheduled to be a meeting of the city and borough’s joint Fisheries Work Group on Wednesday.

Without a quorum, the meeting became more of an informational session instead, and one piece of information they shared was the end of fisheries analyst Heather McCarty’s contract.

The analyst in the past has provided representation for Kodiak on the regulatory side of fisheries and helped interpret that part of the fisheries world.

During public comment, fisherman Alexus Kwachka said it’s a bad time for Kodiak to lose someone to fill that role.

“We’re gonna have a constant battle of push and pull of what people’s needs are in the state. Southeast needs king salmon,” Kwachka said. “Western gulf’s talking about going into a bottom fishery to kind of replace the lack of [Pacific cod]. That gonna mean more interaction with king salmon. There’s just gonna be a constant struggle going on.”

City councilman Whiddon described the end of the contract as more of a hiatus than anything else.

“I fully agree we need somebody to guide us through this, and I don’t foresee this vacancy being a long-term thing. Our budget will be done by May,” Whiddon said. “I think the borough’s probably the same time frame. Something like that. So, it comes right down right now to just looking at really, really difficult decisions to how we allocate very, very limited resources.”

The city and borough have contracted with fisheries analyst Heather McCarty for the last four years. She attended the fisheries work group meeting yesterday, and it’ll be her last one until further notice.

Kodiak Island Borough Assemblymen Scott Smiley and Andy Schroeder were both absent.

Categories: Alaska News

Untold Capt. Cook stories

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 12:38
(Amazon.com screenshot)

It’s an untold story almost 250 years old – what really happened during Captain Cook’s contacts with indigenous people during his explorations in Alaska and the rest of the Pacific.  Two unpublished journals by Cook crew members have been found in an Australian store-room.  We’ll learn more of the untold story of Captain Cook, and what happened after he died.

LISTEN HERE

HOST: Steve Heimel

GUESTS:

  • James K. Barnett – editor of “Arctic Ambitions” (2015), and “Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: The Untold Story from the Journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts” (2018)

Participate:

  • Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast
  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to talk@alaskapublic.org (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 20, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by emailRSS or podcast.

Categories: Alaska News

Cheering from Alaska: Women’s relay 5th at the Olympics

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-19 11:44
Olympic skier Holly Brooks hosted at slumber party to watch the U.S. women’s cross-country relay at the Olympics. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. women’s cross-country ski team went into the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea with the hopes of winning a medal at the winter games.

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It’s never been done before, but early Saturday morning, four American women, including two from Alaska, had a chance at making history in the 4×5 kilometer relay.

In Anchorage, Holly Brooks hosted a party to cheer on the team.

Brooks comes to the door with her five-month-old in a festive, red and white striped onesie.

Brooks was on the U.S. cross-country ski team at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and now she’s a counselor for athletes.

What do you do when your team could make history but the race is after midnight and you’ve got a set of five month old twins?

You host a slumber party.

Brook’s friends Andrew and Calisa Kastning arrive with their three daughters, all of whom are decked out in red, white, and blue.

“Oh my gosh, you guys have great outfits on,” Brooks said.

Brooks’s husband, Rob Whitney, holds up their daughter, Ruby Joy. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The girls lift up their winter coats, revealing t-shirts sporting the stars and stripes.

“Oh how cool,” Brooks exclaimed. “And you have relay socks on!”

At the last Olympics and at World Cup races in Europe, the American women wore flashy red and white striped socks. Brooks has worn them in a few relays herself.

“You put the socks on and your’e transformed into this super powerful USA relay racer,” Brooks explained.

The American women’s relay team finished fourth at the last three world championships, so people here really believe tonight is the night.

They pile onto the couch. The NBC camera pans across the crowd. Fans wave little American flags in the air and one guy with a U.S. Ski Team hat dances in the stands.

“Who is that guy?” Brooks asked.

In Pyeongchang, the skiers jog out to the start line and snap into their skis.

“I have goosebumps,” Brooks said.

American Sophie Caldwell is first in the relay. She punches her poles into the snow, bounding forward.

There are fourteen teams in the relay and pretty quickly a pack of seven skiers pulls ahead. The camera shows Caldwell in that pack, but with every turn she falls farther behind.

“Come on Soph, come on Soph,” Brooks cheered.

The camera stays on the lead pack and finally we can’t see Caldwell at all. The leaderboard shows the gap when Caldwell hands off to Sadie Bjornsen to ski the second leg of the relay.

Brooks was on the U.S. cross-country ski team at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and now she’s a counselor for athletes. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

Brooks’s husband, Rob Whitney, shakes his head.

“We’re over a minute out,” Whitney said.

And these races are usually won by a seconds.

Bjornsen doesn’t lose more time, and hands off to Kikkan Randall who also holds steady. She then hands off to the American anchor Jessie Diggins, who is still a minute back.

In the end, it’s Norway that wins gold. Sweden crosses the finish line just two seconds back and an Olympic athlete from Russia earns bronze.

Brooks leans up against her husband.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Brooks said. “A little bit too reminiscent of Sochi, in a way.”

The same thing happened– the first American leg of the relay fell behind by more than a minute. The team got 8th place at the Sochi games.

“I mean, I definitely still have hope,” Brooks said.

Finally, Diggins crosses the finish line. The camera shows her being held up and hugged by her three teammates. These women– they’re smiling.

The U.S women’s cross-country ski team didn’t win their first medal but they climbed back up the leaderboard and finished 5th, their best relay result ever at the Olympics.

Categories: Alaska News

Last day for Y-K Delta residents to apply for Fansler’s seat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 17:29
Representative Zach Fansler meets with District 38 constituents at an open house meeting at the Kuskokwim University Campus on February 11, 2017. Fansler resigned earlier this month following assault allegations. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Today is the filing deadline for potential candidates who hope to replace Zach Fansler as House District 38’s State Representative. Fansler resigned after being accused of domestic violence related to alcohol.

Listen now

KYUK has been interviewing Bethel residents who know Fansler and asking whether they ever suspected that there might be trouble ahead for him. Whoever takes his place may face closer scrutiny than usual.

In a community that struggles with alcohol and domestic violence, Bethel residents expressed shock that their own legislator was forced to resign following assault allegations. Most people were surprised by the reported assault, and Fansler’s attorney has strongly denied the allegations. But when it came to Fansler’s alleged drinking, several people who knew him said that they were not surprised, and at least two of Fansler’s former employers suspected that he drank more than he should.

Myron Angstman, who worked with Fansler when he managed the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race, said that Fansler could be hard to reach. Sometimes he just didn’t show up where he was supposed to be.

“The fact that he had a little too much to drink is not a significant surprise to me,” Angstman said.

Mary Pete is the Director of UAF’s Kuskokwim University Campus where Fansler worked as an instructor. She said that she had heard, but not actually seen, more or less the same thing.

“I did hear that he’d shown up in meetings late or didn’t come to meetings. There was evidence of being ill-prepared or having been somewhere he shouldn’t [have]. But not for me,” Pete said, noting that Fansler was in many ways a dedicated employee. “I never saw that side of him.”

When KYUK hosted a live debate for the district’s primary in 2016, several residents requested that we ask Fansler about his drinking habits, but Fansler’s alcohol use didn’t make the Alaska Democrats’ radar when the party vetted him as a candidate. Alaska Democrats’ Communications Director Alice Kim said that the party screens potential candidates by going through publicly available records and that aside from two drinking-related misdemeanors from partying in his twenties, Fansler’s record is pretty clean. Beyond that vetting, Kim said, the Democrats defer to local voters.

“It’s kind of a trust thing, right?” Kim said. “If they just decide not to disclose some personal information and the community decides to elect that person to office, what more can we do?”

Fansler had been an integral part of Bethel’s community for a while. He was a first term City Council member and managed the K300 for five years. For three years he worked as a math instructor at the university, where Pete said that he went out of his way to train associate teachers and to volunteer.

Fansler also advocated against domestic violence in a community that struggles with it. As a Jesuit Volunteer, Fansler worked for the Tundra Women’s Coalition shelter’s Teens Acting Against Violence program and he later became TWC’s legal advocate. Coalition board member Monica Charles remembers seeing Fansler at TWC’s candlelight vigils over the years. She also voted for him.

“I think like a lot of people, I was shocked,” Charles said. “And then I was just vastly disappointed.”

For Charles, the assault allegations against Fansler play into some of the worst stereotypes about Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities. It’s another bad mark against Bethel, she said, and whoever replaces Fansler will have to cope with it.

“I think that they’re going to be scrutinized even more so than other people,” Charles said. “They’re going to be under the microscope for a while, and with the wave of these controversies coming up surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence across the nation, I think people are just are going to be hopefully more careful.”

“Or mindful,” Charles added. “Not just careful, but mindful.”

Potential candidates hoping to replace Fansler must submit their paperwork by 5:00 p.m. today.

Categories: Alaska News

Ravn begins flights between Bristol Bay and Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 17:23
Ravn Alaska prepares to board its inaugural passenger flight from Dillingham and King Salmon to Anchorage. (Avery Lill/ KDLG)

Fat snowflakes fell as passengers boarded the inaugural Ravn Alaska flight out of Dillingham and King Salmon, heading toward Anchorage. Flight attendant Diane Andrew Ross welcomed travelers aboard the full flight Wednesday morning. Ross is originally from Aleknagik, though she now lives in Anchorage. She said it was “heartwarming” to see friends and family at the airport in Dillingham.

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Bristol Bay residents who boarded the flight were enthusiastic for another airline to provide service between Anchorage and regional hubs. PenAir previously offered the only regular, year-round flights connecting Anchorage and Bristol Bay.

“It’s very expensive to live out in rural Alaska,” Georgette Baumgartener from Dillingham said. She summed up what she hopes to see with another airline servicing the region — “more competition. Prices should come down. More people flying again.”

It is not unusual for a round trip flight between Anchorage and Dillingham to cost $500 or more. Several other passenger’s on Wednesday’s Ravn flight echoed Baumgartener’s hope that increased competition will bring down airfare.

Ravn’s president and CEO, David Pflieger, called Bristol Bay an “obvious” choice for expansion. This is the first new route the company has added in six years.

“When we look at our network and where we fly in the state, we weren’t flying there, and some of the folks who’ve been with the company 10 plus years have said, ‘Hey, let’s get into these communities.’ So we looked at it. We ran the numbers, heard overwhelmingly from the community that they wanted more competition and more reliable service, and here we are,” Pflieger said.

Starting Wednesday, Ravn offers two roundtrip flights per day between Anchorage, Dillingham and King Salmon on weekdays. On weekends, they offer one roundtrip flight per day. It operates Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft on these routes, which can seat up to 29 passengers and make the trip between Dillingham and Anchorage in about 80 minutes.

Pflieger explained that ensuring local demand for another air carrier and securing facilities for operation were among the main considerations for expansion.

Rather than buying or building its own terminals, Ravn is contracting with local businesses to operate terminals for its flights. In King Salmon, King Salmon Ground Service is providing a terminal. In Dillingham, Ravn is operating out of Freshwater Adventures.

Freshwater Adventures’ owner and lifelong Dillingham resident, Jerry Ball, called PenAir and its operators “legends of Bristol Bay and good people.” Ball also repeated the sentiment that an additional air carrier will benefit Bristol Bay residents.

“It’s always good to have competition. Peninsula [Airways]’s been a good airline over the years and still is. I have nothing disparaging to say about anybody. Just an alternative service here, I think the people of Bristol Bay are going to enjoy it, and it’s going to be a good thing,” Ball said.

Perhaps the best image on Wednesday of the competition passengers hoped to see was the PenAir terminal and Freshwater Adventures terminal in Dillingham, next door to one another, both busy with passengers traveling form Bristol Bay to Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, Feb. 16, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 17:14

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

Last day for Y-K Delta residents to apply for Fansler’s seat

Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – Bethel

Today is the filing deadline for potential candidates who hope to replace Zach Fansler as House District 38’s State Representative. Fansler resigned after being accused of domestic violence related to alcohol.

Bill would exempt utility companies from pesticide pollution

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists discovered “concerning levels” of the pesticide Penta in soils around power poles running through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska Senate passes resolution to combat all-inclusive ivory bans and legislation

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

Senate Joint Resolution 4 passed through the Alaska Senate unanimously today.

Walker has early fundraising edge in Alaska governor’s race

Associated Press

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker holds an early fundraising edge in his bid for re-election this year.

Mushers finish off Yukon Quest 2018

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The last six, of the 13 mushers who completed this year’s Yukon Quest, finished the race yesterday in Whitehorse. Despite slower times, the back of the pack mushers completed a race in which half the field didn’t make it.

Alaska skiers Bjornsen and Randall to compete in four by five kilometer relay

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson again exceeded expectations at the Olympics last night. Patterson toed the line in the men’s 15 kilometer skate race alongside fellow APU teammates Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield. The Alaskan athletes were among the field of more than a hundred skiers.

Ravn begins flights between Bristol Bay and Anchorage

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

On Valentine’s Day, Ravn Alaska made its first regularly scheduled flight between Dillingham, King Salmon and Anchorage. Bristol Bay residents said they were excited for increased competition among airlines in the region.

AK: Rising populations, threat of disease prompt renewed interest in bat research

Ammon Swenson, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Bats are a pretty low priority for most Alaskan biologists, but that could be changing due to a recent uptick in the creature’s population. Add to that a disease that’s been killing millions of bats in the lower 48, and Alaska might be taking note with the rest of the nation very soon.

49 Voices: Yilli Ferati of Anchorage

Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Yilli Ferati in Anchorage. Ferati is a bartender at Fiori D’Italia, which his family owns. He claims to have the largest whiskey collection in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate passes resolution to combat all-inclusive ivory bans and legislation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 16:05
Ivory ring carved and signed by King Island carver John I. Kokuluk. (Photo by Emily Russell, KNOM – Nome)

Senate Joint Resolution 4 passed through the Alaska Senate unanimously today.

Sixteen senators voted yes to SJR4 which urges Congress to exempt legally obtained walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory from other laws that ban ivory. Currently, the states of New York, California, Hawaii and Washington have their own legislation that bans the possession and distribution of all ivory.

SJR 4 was sponsored by Senator Donny Olson of Golovin, who said in a written statement, “while I understand the intention of some states to stop the atrocious poaching of African Elephants for Ivory, there exists a distinguishing feature between Alaskans who use the byproducts of harvest and those who go out to poach elephants.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects Alaska Natives’ rights to harvest walrus and use the animal to create handicrafts for sale in the U.S. Despite these protections, local and regional, entities such as Kawerak, have pushed for this resolution to prevent what they see as harmful effects on the Alaska ivory market, due to a lack of understanding.

Senate Joint Resolution 4 has been sent to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill would exempt utility companies from pesticide pollution

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 15:59
Power poles in Anchorage. Most poles in the state are treated with a pesticide called Penta. A bill making its way through the Alaska Senate would protect utility companies from liability for pesticide pollution from power poles. (Photo by Antti T. Nissinen via Flickr)

bill that would protect power companies from liability related to a widely used pesticide is moving through the Alaska Senate. Federal wildlife officials have already alerted the state they’ve found “concerning levels” of the toxic compound on the Kenai Peninsula.

There are about a quarter million wooden power poles in Alaska. Most are treated with a pesticide marketed as Penta which is short for Pentachlorophenol. It’s been around since the 1930s.

SB 173’s sponsor is Sen. Peter Micciche. The Kenai Peninsula Republican told the Senate Resources Committee that protecting power companies from liability is important for consumers.

“The reason for bringing this forward is the financial protection of nearly every Alaskan ratepayer who depends upon a utility to have electricity delivered to their home, business or facility,” Micciche said.

In 2015, biologists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered what it termed “concerning levels” of the pesticide in soils around power poles running through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge manager notified the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in January 2016. State regulators then wrote to Homer Electric Association saying the utility would be responsible for any contamination since it owns the poles.

Homer Electric’s General Manager Brad Janorschke testified to the Senate committee that it would be expensive if they had to remove the poles, especially as they’d need to be barged south for disposal.

“The cost to remove a single utility pole from service and comply with a lengthy site cleanup process would be about $30,000,” Janorschke said “30,000 bucks a pole.”

Fish and Wildlife has yet to publish its findings, but its correspondence with the state – and raw data from the soil samples – were released to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

Pamela Miller is the Anchorage-based environmental group’s executive director. She says the group filed a Freedom of Information Act request when they found out about the studies on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Miller is alarmed that the power industry wants the law changed.

“This particular study by the Fish and Wildlife Service may have been at least the primary impetus for the utilities to seek a political solution to their problem,” Miller said.

There’s been push back on the Resources Committee. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said the bill would shift liability for contamination away from the utilities and onto property owners.

“I’m concerned that nobody’s going to be responsible,” Wielechowski said. “I mean, should the manufacturer possibly be responsible? Should the person who’s applying it be responsible? It would seem to me, there should be some responsibility somewhere other than the person who has absolutely no say about where these poles go.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is studying the issue.

“We know what the product does and its toxicity. That’s been clearly defined by EPA,” Kristin Ryan, who heads DEC’s spill response and prevention division, said.

Ryan told Senators that recent samples were taken to see whether the pesticide leaches power poles. She said DEC doesn’t expect results for at least several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Yilli Ferati of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 15:24
Yilli Ferati of Anchorage (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Yilli Ferati in Anchorage. Ferati is a bartender at Fiori D’Italia, which his family owns. He claims to have the largest whiskey collection in the state.

Listen now

FERATI: When I first got into it, I got thrown behind the bar, and people come in, they order whiskey and ask you questions of how does it taste, what do you think, this and that. I didn’t like whiskey at first, so throughout the days, I just started trying different things and came across a certain bottle, the Balvanie, and decided, “Wow, I really like this stuff.” It took me a while.

A couple years ago, say about five years ago, I had a guy from Diageo come in, and he was a master of whiskey. And he walked into the bar with their reps, and he takes a stop and he looks left and right.And the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t believe this is in a neighborhood bar in Spenard.

People come now and they want to try new things. I do classes and stuff like that. They just love it; they want to learn. They love to learn. And that’s kinda propelled my whiskey knowledge.

As far as I know, nobody’s ever came to say [otherwise], but we have the biggest whiskey collection in Alaska. I was just put in a Thrillist arcticle for top whiskey bar in the state. Pretty honorable. It’s still growing, there’s bottles added every week.

We want you to relax, enjoy, have a good time. Especially if you’re at the bar. Meeting my regulars, and everybody… it makes the bar seem fun. It makes my job fun to ee everybody else happy.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Rising populations, threat of disease prompt renewed interest in bat research

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 14:44
Myotis Lucifugus — better know as a little brown bat. (Photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Bats are a pretty low priority for most Alaskan biologists, but that could be changing due to a recent uptick in the creature’s population. Add to that a disease that’s been killing millions of bats in the Lower 48, and Alaska might be taking note with the rest of the nation very soon.

Listen now

Myotis Lucifugus — better know as a little brown bat. They’re the most widely dispersed bat species in North America. Only weighing about half an ounce, they’re also the most common bat in Alaska.

Research here has only started gaining traction within the last 10 years. Biologists are working to gather even the most basic data about the creatures — and now with the added urgency of a deadly threat knocking at the door.

Jesika Reimer is an assistant zoologist at the Alaska Center for Conservations Science, based out of the University of Alaska Anchorage. She studies bats in northern latitudes in the U.S. and Canada.

“I think that the spread of white-nose syndrome — this fungus that’s killing millions of bats out east — people have become more interested in bats and as more people start to look at bats in Alaska and realize that they’re here and that they’re surviving and persisting, there’s more interest in other people kind of jumping on the bandwagon and looking at them as well,” Reimer said.

Caused by a fungus growing and spreading in the confined spaces of bat colonies, white-nose syndrome can have a mortality rate of 90 or even 100 percent and little brown bats are especially susceptible to the disease.

Over the last decade, white-nose syndrome killed over five million bats in the Lower 48 and has been working its way across the U.S. and Canada.

In 2016, researchers found the fungus in Washington state and it might only be a matter of time before it reaches Alaska. With such minimal data available, it could be difficult to know if or when white-nose syndrome arrives and what the effects might be. Bats just haven’t been a high priority species to research.

“Alaska’s a huge place and so if you’re going to pick something to study, you’re gonna go for the ones that people are really interested in or that need to be harvested or that contribute to the local economy in some way,” Reimer said. “And so bats are kind of this novelty species that may be a luxury item — when money becomes available you can can look at them, but until then they’re not really on the radar for most people.”

A bat with white-nose syndrome (National Park Service photo)

Doing research in Alaska can be tough — access, weather, geography— but a little technology goes a long way. Using specialized recording devices that can pick up bats’ high frequency echolocation, researchers can collect all sorts of general information about their subjects.

“And so by putting out these passive recorders, we can record those high frequency echolocations, bring that back to the office and tell what type of bat was there, what were they doing, when where they there and start matching that with climate data to say, ok, what sort of environmental factors were dictating whether we were catching bat noise or whether we got radio silence,” Reimer said.

Bat audio can even allow researchers to determine some specific behaviors like drinking or hunting. There’s a steady consistent tweeting noise in the bat’s screech. That’s what’s called a search phase. The bat is flying around, sending out pulses of sound that might bounce off a mosquito or some other other insect.

There’s also what’s called the terminal buzz. At this point, the bat’s zeroed in on a meal and is essentially locking on with echolocation.

The recorders do have their shortcomings though. Jessica Faust is a masters student at UAA studying bats in the Chugach National Forrest.

“You know, they have a directional microphone, so it can’t pick up everything and just because we didn’t record a bat in a certain area, doesn’t mean that bats never use that area,” Faust said. “On that note, you can also have 100 sound files from one night and you can’t tell the difference between if it was 100 bats that passed by or if it was one bat that passed by 100 times.”

Faust says the recorders can’t really give researchers a solid population estimate, but the typical method of netting and tagging bats isn’t always that effective either. Since bats are nocturnal, the best time to find them is at night. Summers in Alaska provide a unique challenge for researchers.

“I’ve had so many nights in the field where I’ve seen so many bats just go by and you can see them flying near the net, they see it, and fly right around it,” Faust said.

Not to mention when they do catch a little brown bat, they need to tag the tiny thing.

“I thought it was so funny, when I first held one, it’s like they’re holding their mouth like wide open and they look like they’re just like smiling and happy and then you realize that they’re screaming, but it’s too high pitched for you to hear,” Faust said. “I think they’re hilarious to handle.”

While researching bats in Alaska can be an uphill battle, organizations like the Alaska Center for Conservation Science and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been enlisting the public’s help. In Southeast where bats are more abundant, Fish and Game have a program where the public can borrow a recording device, attach a microphone to their car and record bats while driving along an established route.

Citizen scientists can also get involved by turning in dead bats to Fish and Game or letting the Center for Conservation Science know if you have bats roosting in your house.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate appointee drops out after controversial Facebook comments scrutinized

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 18:19
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker listens during a press availability in June 2017. Walker’s second choice to fill the vacant Senate District E seat withdrew on Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Sutton resident Tom Braund withdrew Thursday from consideration to fill the vacant Senate District E seat, a day after he became Gov. Bill Walker’s second choice for the position.

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The appointment touched off criticism of Braund’s history of social media posts about women, abortion and immigration.

Braund’s posts to Facebook received scrutiny after Walker appointed him.

They include a response to a post in 2017, where Braund said if he “had the reins … abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”

Another post compared women and dogs. Braund didn’t respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.

Jessica Cler works for Planned Parenthood’s lobbying organization in Alaska. She said Walker shouldn’t have appointed Braund.

“I think it’s unacceptable and shocking that someone with a history of disparaging women and making violent remarks about reproductive health care providers would be nominated to fill a vacant Senate seat,” Cler said.

The governor’s staff attempted to steer the criticism to Republicans who rejected Walker’s first choice, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke. Walker said multiple Senate Republicans recommended Kowalke’s appointment.

A new possibility to fill the seat emerged Thursday afternoon. The Republican Party advanced retired Palmer small business owner Vicki Wallner to replace Braund as one of three nominees. Once Walker makes a new appointment to replace Mike Dunleavy, Senate Republicans will decide whether to confirm the person.

The other nominees for the seat were Rep. George Rauscher and teacher Todd Smoldon.

A Walker spokesman said that Rauscher disqualified himself by making light of an alleged violent attack on a woman.

Rauscher said he wasn’t make light of anything. The dispute is over a sign Rauscher posted on his door after he read about an alleged assault by former Rep. Zach Fansler. The sign said Rauscher’s office was a “BDSM-free zone.” Fansler reportedly used the initials in a text to the woman.

Rauscher said the sign wasn’t intended as a joke, but was a message directed at Fansler.

“There was really nobody in the Capitol at all that day,” Rauscher said. “It was on the door for approximately 40 minutes as a statement to the representative across the hall.”

For his part, Smoldon said before Braund withdrew that he could be the only one of the nominees who isn’t disqualified.

But late Thursday, the governor wrote to Republican party leadership that he was rejecting both Rauscher and Smoldon. He asked district Republicans to submit two more names.

Categories: Alaska News

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