Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 18:12

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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Murkowski, Sullivan split as immigration reform mires in Senate

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

The future of immigration reform was in doubt Thursday, after two proposals failed to win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s U.S. senators split their votes, on both measures.

Senate appointee drops out after controversial Facebook comments scrutinized

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

A new possibility to fill the seat emerged. The Republican Party advanced retired Palmer small business owner Vicki Wallner to replace Braund as one of three nominees.

Mallott lambasts Juneau’s annexation bid

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Juneau is not behaving like a good neighbor. During a Wednesday speech to the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit, he lambasted officials for trying to annex parts of nearby Admiralty Island.

Air Force completes another round of cold-weather tests on F-35s at Eielson

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Air Force has completed another round of cold-weather testing on the F-35A that has been undergoing a series of tests at Eielson Air Force Base since it arrived in October. The testing is being conducted in preparation of two squadrons of F-35s that’ll be based at Eielson beginning in 2020.

Juneau Assembly approves 24-hour anchor rule

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

Vessels outside Juneau’s harbors in city waters will need a permit if they drop anchor for more than 24 hours. Port officials say the rule change is designed to prevent derelicts.

Unalaskans want to follow other Alaska communities by banning plastic bags

Zoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Unalaska

This is not Unalaska’s first attempt to ban single use bags. In 2013 a petition asking the city council to “eliminate the use of plastic bags by Unalaska stores” circulated around the community, but went nowhere.

Kenai Borough may ask tax payers to help pay for a new Kachemak Selo school

Renee Gross, KBBI – Homer

Kachemak Selo, a small Russian Old Believer village at the head of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, has been dealing with deteriorating school buildings for years. The school, built about 30 years ago, has cracks in the walls and students have testified at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly that they feel they’re at risk every time they enter the buildings.

Meet Utqiaġvik’s Arctic Youth Ambassador, Eben Hopson

Ravenna Koenig, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Fairbanks

“I feel like me carrying his name is a big deal for me because he did things for our people during his time. And I feel I need to do something for our people during this time,” Hopson said about his grandfather.

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson exceeding his Olympic expectations

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Scott Patterson, Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield will compete in the men’s 15k skate race tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Meet Utqiaġvik’s Arctic Youth Ambassador, Eben Hopson

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 17:01
Eben Hopson, standing in the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik, Alaska in January, 2018. The photo behind him is of Nalukataq, the spring whaling festival. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk).

A new cohort of Alaskan teens started as Arctic Youth Ambassadors this past fall. Among other things, the program provides an opportunity for young people across the state to represent the concerns of their communities on an international level.

One of those ambassadors is Eben Hopson, a 17-year-old in Utqiaġvik who’s worried about how changes in the environment are already transforming his hometown.

It’s five o’clock on a school night and Eben Hopson is standing in the lobby of the Iñupiat Heritage Center pointing to a huge photo in the middle of the room.

“Here’s a 360-degree wide shot of the spring whaling festival called Nalukataq,” Hopson said. “What they do is they distribute every part of the whale. Here’s my sister Jessica right there, my brother Jonathan, and me.”

This is not the only piece in the museum that Hopson has a personal connection to. An intricate baleen ship that Hopson’s father made sits in a glass case just behind us. And a few steps further into the lobby is the expansive wooden desk that belonged to his grandfather — Eben Hopson Sr., the hugely influential first Mayor of the North Slope Borough.

An exhibit in the Iñupiat Heritage Center dedicated to the first mayor of the North Slope Borough, Eben Hopson Sr. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“I feel like me carrying his name is a big deal for me because he did things for our people during his time. And I feel I need to do something for our people during this time,” Hopson said.

When Hopson thinks about the future of the North Slope, the thing that weighs most heavily on his mind is climate change. Like many places in Alaska, Utqiaġvik is experiencing coastal erosion, and Hopson says he worries that by the time he’s 50, they might have to move the town.

Last year Hopson actually made a short movie about climate change that he shared online — featuring interviews that he did with town residents, including the city mayor.

Eben Hopson, livestreaming one of the high school basketball games in Utqiaġvik in January, 2018.(Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Hopson loves photography and video; part of his current after-school job is filming the high school basketball games for the coaches and the community. He says that in the future he’d also like to make movies about whaling from an insider’s perspective. He thinks that what most of the media represent about this place to the outside world doesn’t show the whole picture.

“What they see up here, and what they do with their cameras…. Like during whaling season, they only focus on the blood; they only focus on what they see as bad,” Hopson said. “And me being a native kid in this community, I feel like I’ll bring out what I see, traditionally.”

Hopson says that after high school, he hopes to get his bachelor’s degree in either film or journalism so he can be part of shaping the stories that are told about the place he calls home.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Sullivan split as immigration reform mires in Senate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 16:15
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been hashing out an immigration bill with senators of both parties. (Image: C-SPAN)

The future of immigration reform was in doubt Thursday, after two proposals failed to win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s U.S. senators split their votes, on both measures.

One was President Trump’s plan to grant legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants and spend at least $25 billion on border security.

The other was a bipartisan compromise that would have legalized the same number of immigrants and spent $25 billion on border security, but over 10 years. And the bipartisan plan did not curtail family-based immigration as much as Trump wants. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group that’s been trying to get a compromise bill on immigration for weeks. She says it was uplifting to see Republicans and Democrats sit down and come to an agreement on tough issues.

“We worked hard. We got a product,” Murkowski said. “It’s not a product that we are all in love with, but it’s a product that we can support.”

Earlier in the day, Murkowski stood with 15 of her colleagues at a press conference to promote their compromise.

One of Murkowski’s closest Senate allies, Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-chairs the group. They call themselves the Common Sense Coalition. When a reporter asked about the White House reaction to their solution, Collins turned the mic over to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It’ll be more colorful,” Collins promised.

Graham was not shy.

“So you got the president, who is, most days, pretty good on this. The Jan. 9th-Tuesday-Trump was awesome,” Graham said. “Show back up. Get us to a solution. Obama tried. Bush tried. Mr. President, you can do this.”

But Trump tweeted vehemently against the bipartisan measure. He said it would be a catastrophe, amnesty for criminals and result in open borders. His cabinet lobbied Capitol Hill, urging senators to vote no. Trump said Democrats who want to help the young immigrants known as DREAMers should support his plan instead.

In the end, neither measure passed the 60-vote threshhold. The bipartisan compromise got 54 votes. Most of the nos came from Republicans, but three Democrats also voted no. (Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said it went too far toward Trump’s goal of a border wall.)

A grim Sen. Graham blamed both sides.

“Well, I don’t think the president helped very much,” Graham said. “But the bottom line is: The demagogues won again, on the left and the right.”

The Trump plan got only 39 votes.

Among them: Sen. Dan Sullivan’s. In a statement afterward, Sullivan called the bipartisan plan well-intentioned but said it would have weakened border security and rewarded people for entering the country illegally. A spokesman said the senator talked with the Homeland Security secretary beforehand.

Sullivan called America “a nation of immigrants,” but said immigration must be based on the rule of law.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson exceeding his Olympic expectations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 15:20

Alaska sent a record number of athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. Alaskans can tune in live to the men’s 15 kilometer skate race. There are three cross-country skiers from Alaska in that race, including Scott Patterson, who sent an update from the Olympic Village.

https://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Scott-Patterson-video.mp4

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson joins his fellow APU teammates Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield on the start line of the 15 kilometer skate race, which can be streamed live in Alaska tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott lambasts Juneau’s annexation bid

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 11:40
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott addresses the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Juneau. He urged capital city leaders to talk more with its neighbors about annexation plans. (Photo by Heather Holt)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Juneau is not behaving like a good neighbor.

During a Wednesday speech to the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit, he lambasted officials for trying to annex parts of nearby Admiralty Island.

Leaders from Angoon, the island’s only city, oppose what they call a land grab.

“Juneau needs to recognize that it’s the capital of Alaska but also the regional center of Southeast,” Mallott said. “And it has a responsibility and an obligation to reach out affirmatively to every other community in Southeast and say, ‘Let’s be neighbors and let’s work together and let’s build a place that is unassailable by the Legislature or anyone else who would seek to divide us.’”

The Juneau Assembly voted in January to add four parcels to its borough, including parts of northern Admiralty Island.

It later dropped one parcel after hearing objections from cabin-owners, most of whom live in Juneau.

A former Juneau mayor, Mallott said officials should respond similarly to objections from the island’s traditional residents.

“The people of Angoon feel so passionate and spiritual about all of Admiralty Island,” Mallott said. “They’re concerned about economic development on that side of the island now. What’s the future of their island, that they share with the rest of our country as one of the most beautiful places on the face of the Earth.”

Most of Admiralty Island’s million acres are protected as a national monument.

It’s used for subsistence hunting and fishing. But it also has a mine on its north end that has already been annexed by the capital city.

Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch said Mallott is wrong about officials not reaching out to its neighbors.

“We attempted to go over to Angoon several times and were not able to find one (time) that was acceptable to the mayor and the group over there that we were trying to meet up with,” Koelsch said.

Koelsch said he’ll continue to try to set up a meeting. He also noted that Angoon Mayor Pauline Jim has since come before the Assembly.

Angoon residents cite their traditional ties to the island.

Koelsch said Juneau also has longtime connections to the land it’s trying to annex. The land includes historic trade routes and areas are claimed as traditional territory by Juneau’s Aak’w Kwáan and Taku Kwáan.

The annexation process can take a least a year.

Koelsch said that gives Angoon and other opponents more chances to object.

“The Local Boundary Commission that’s set up by the state has public hearings once we put the application in and it involves everyone possible that could be affected by it,” Koelsch said.

Juneau began looking at the parcels after losing a boundary battle with Petersburg.

Both boroughs claimed rights to absorb acreage on the mainland between the two communities.

Juneau lost, in part because Petersburg petitioned for the property first. So it began looking at other areas within model borough boundaries set years before.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker chooses Sutton resident for Senate after Republicans reject top pick

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 11:13
In this screen capture from Facebook taken Feb. 14, 2018, Tom Braund used graphic language describing his views on abortion in a comment made last year. Gov. Bill Walker announced Wednesday night that the Sutton resident is his second pick to fill a vacant state Senate seat.

Gov. Bill Walker appointed Sutton resident Tom Braund on Wednesday night as his second choice to fill the vacant Senate District E seat.

Braund is a retiree who has said he worked in public safety for more than 30 years. He declined to give an interview to Alaska Public Media last month, saying that he distrusts the media. His Facebook page said he works at Ripe Harvest, a Christian-based organic food business.

The appointment follows the Republican members of the state Senate voting Wednesday to reject Matanuska-Sustina Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke.

Kowalke was Walker’s first choice to replace Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy resigned from the seat in January to focus on his run for governor.

In a letter to Senate Republicans, Walker said members of the Republican-led Senate majority actually encouraged Kowalke’s appointment.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process. That process involves appointing someone who has support from district parties.

The district party nominated three people: Rep. George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon and Braund.

Walker said in the statement announcing Braund’s appointment that he believes Senate Republicans “will continue to reject anyone I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person’s name is on the list provided to me by the Republican Party.”

Braund’s posts on Facebook contain potentially controversial material. They include a response to a post in 2017 saying if Braund “had the reins …  abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”

Braund wrote in another post that unauthorized immigrants who bring children to the country are trying to bring the United States “back under Mexican authority by continuing the Mexican-American War.”

Rauscher’s Senate chances may have been set back by a recent incident.

After a woman alleged former Rep. Zach Fansler repeatedly slapped her, a sign appeared on Rauscher’s office door saying the office was a “BDSM-free zone.” The phrase refers to various sexual practices. The sign referred to a Juneau Empire newspaper report that Fansler used the initials in a text message he sent to the woman after the alleged assault.

Smoldon has said that not enough has been trimmed from the state budget. Two other Mat-Su senators – Dunleavy and Shelley Hughes – left the majority caucus over differences over the budget and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 10:33

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

Senate Republicans reject Walker’s Senate pick, Kowalke

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process.

Seavey attorney: Report shows musher didn’t drug dogs

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process.

To get good credit, Alaska’s fishing towns may have to factor in climate change

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

While the state’s credit rating may be safe as climate changes, fishing communities in Alaska face uncertain economic futures.

Unalaska pays thousands to sink already sunk boat

Zoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Unalaska

The state scuttled the F/V Akutan last month with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, but they moved forward before collecting funds from the city.

Panel to ensure inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility for all UAF workers, students

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new group has begun work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to help ensure all people who work or study at the UAF are treated equally. The Chancellor’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Task Force will study the institutional barriers that hold back women and other under-represented groups from advancing up the ranks of faculty or administration, and to propose solutions to those problems.

Training accident ends Anchorage snowboarder Mancari’s Olympics

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The Anchorage snowboarder revealed she ruptured both Achilles tendons. Mancari was set to compete in the women’s snowboardcross event on Friday.

Sadie Bjornsen is “knocking on the door” of an Olympic medal

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The women’s 10 kilometer skate race airs Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 9:30 p.m. and the 4×5 kilometer relay airs in Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 12:30 a.m.

Two lives that came together at the top of the world

Ravenna Koenig, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Fairbanks

“He does not remember meeting me,” Nancy Grant says of her first encounter with her now-husband, Andrew Grant. “I do, too!” he insists.

Categories: Alaska News

To get good credit, Alaska’s fishing towns may have to factor in climate change

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 18:40
Fishing trawlers lined up in Dutch Harbor, on Sep. 24, 2013, in Unalaska, Alaska. (Photo courtesy/James Brooks)

Late last year one of the world’s largest credit rating agencies announced that climate change would have an economic impact on the U.S.

Moody’s suggested that climate risks could become credit risks for some U.S. states.

Even though Alaska is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., its credit rating doesn’t seem to be in danger. But take a closer look at some of the state’s coastal communities and the story changes, especially when Alaska’s fishing towns consider adding climate risks to their balance sheets.

Frank Kelty is the mayor of the Unalaska, a tiny town is on an island sandwiched between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, near some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

Kelty has been there for 45 years, and lately, he’s seen a lot of changes.

“We’ve had a huge increase in humpback whales coming right into the inner harbor by the road system. Just hundreds of them hanging around,” he said.

People have been pulling off of the road to watch what he calls the “whale show.”

“Traditionally, the whales would be out in the pass and we’d hardly ever see them in town. But now they’re coming into the inner harbor,” Kelty said. “They must be feeding on something. I don’t know if it’s krill or salmon smolt, or what … maybe their cycle’s off too. I don’t know.”

Some of the other changes in the Bering Sea aren’t as entertaining.

“Two years ago we missed our herring season because the herring had already moved into the area and left when the fishery opened in July,” Kelty said.

In Unalaska, fishing is a primary driver of the economy. When the fish don’t show up, Kelty said the city starts to lose money.

“It’s our only industry in this area,” he said. “And the trickle-down effect you get for jobs throughout the community, be it the clinic, city workers, State of Alaska workers that work for fish and game and maintain the airport, things like that, it’s all driven by the health and well being of the seafood industry.”

It’s really not surprising that some of Alaska’s communities rely on one industry to keep them afloat. The whole state has traditionally relied on oil to pay for almost everything.

The state’s treasurer and debt manager, Deven Mitchell, said even though Alaska is at the forefront of visible effects of climate change these things really aren’t a risk to the state’s credit.

But, the state isn’t the only entity that needs a credit rating. Sometimes, cities need them too. Valdez and Kodiak have had them in the past. The rating helps determine how cheaply a community can borrow money to finance things like big infrastructure projects.

In Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, climate change is a very real, if not somewhat unpredictable, threat to the economy.

Like, there has been this massive decline in the population of cod in the Gulf of Alaska. That’s a big money fish in places like Kodiak. Commercial fishermen land millions of pounds in Alaska each year. This year, the amount they’re allowed to catch has been cut by 80 percent.

Mitchell says that’s where he sees the most economic risk for communities in Alaska.

“Is it…just a normal cycle in the fishery? Or is it something that you know, this ocean acidification issue, or warming, the blob, whatever is going to create a permanent situation?” Mitchell said. “Is there an alternative fishery that might develop as a result of that? From, you know, tuna moving in or something that’s a warmer water fish that the people in Kodiak are going to be able to rely on? Or is it, you know, the end of a community’s economy?”

This is something that fisheries scientists have been trying to get a grasp on in Alaska. Beyond asking what will happen to fish, what will happen to fishermen and the fishing communities that rely on them?

Stephen Kasperski is an economist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said researchers are trying to model the impact on fishermen as the fleets move around to keep up with the fish.

He said they build these economic models with information they have on fishing revenues by vessel, where vessels deliver and where fishermen are catching.

Kasperski said the researchers take that catch data and then model where the fishing fleet might end up.

“And then, you know, tying that back to where do we think the economic impacts are happening? Saying, for this change in fisheries landings in these given communities, how much does that mean for fisheries support business? For processors? For people who support that industry, and kind of get a sense of the total economic impact from those changes,” he said.

When considering economic impact to the city, Mayor Kelty brings up pollock. Unalaska is the top fishing port in the country and the vast majority of that volume comes from pollock that fishermen bring in from the Bering Sea.

Every year, those fishermen come to Unalaska and spend millions of dollars on fuel and groceries.  There’s this whole industry built around what happens to the pollock they catch. Some of it comes into the port and goes into these huge multi-million dollar processing facilities. That means jobs and property taxes for the city.

But there’s evidence that pollock are sensitive to sea temperatures. Kelty said there’s this concern that with warmer water, they could move farther offshore.

It’s going to have a major impact to our shoreside facilities because of the distance the catcher vessels have to run and cause a major problem for the products that we produce in this town,” he said.

Members of Kasperski’s team have modeled the economic impacts of climate change on pollock in the Bering Sea.

They’re expecting a drop in pollock catch in the region through the next half a century. Their modeling showed economic losses that, while relatively small percentage-wise, could add up to billions of dollars.

But, there are other factors. Like, if there are fewer pollock — will the price go up? What happens if fuel prices spike? Kasperski says all of these studies have caveats. It’s hard predict what fish or fishermen are going to do in response to a changing marine ecosystem.

He also says there’s no conclusive evidence that any fleet in Alaska is going to need to move — leaving a community high and dry anytime soon.

“Nothing has come up that clear,” he said. “I think the mayor is right. That these are big boats that are capable of doing that, especially the pollock fleet. Whether or not we get more fish processing farther north — that’s kind of an open question depending on, you know, if it makes sense to open a bigger plant in Nome if the species are closer there.”

Back In Unalaska, Kelty said it’s not really a pressing concern for the city’s bottom line right now.

“We just did a $40 million bond for upgrades to our main port facility,” he said, “and we were able to get the bonds, so at this time I don’t think we’re worried about our credit rating.”

Categories: Alaska News

Seavey attorney: Report shows musher didn’t drug dogs

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 17:51
Defending Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey greets his leaders prior to the ceremonial start of Iditarod 2016. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.) An attorney for four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey released a toxicology report Wednesday that he says proves the musher did not drug his dogs in last year’s race. Seavey has claimed innocence since the Iditarod announced in October that dogs on his team tested positive for the banned painkiller Tramadol. And according to the new toxicologist’s review, Seavey’s dogs did not receive Tramadol until hours after reaching the finish line in Nome. Clint Campion, a former District Attorney, said that proves Seavey did not give the drug to the dogs and that someone else did. Campion revealed the new information at a press conference organized by a Bay Area public relations firm. Seavey has hired both Campion and the firm to represent him. “He doesn’t want to speculate about why someone would do that or who might’ve done that,” Campion said. Still, some have speculated that a rival musher or someone opposed to dog mushing tried to sabotage Seavey. Seavey finished second in the race and was away from the dog yard when he says the doping occurred. The Iditarod did not penalize him for the positive tests. The race’s board said they made that decision because of an ambiguous rule that has since been rewritten. But Seavey withdrew from this year’s race in protest after the Iditarod named his dogs as those that’d failed the tests. On Wednesday, Campion said the Iditarod should admit it made a mistake.

“We’d like them to say that we mistakenly released Dallas’ name, that the evidence shows that it’s completely unclear or it’s impossible to believe that Dallas would’ve this and that we want to remove any suspicion about Dallas’ involvement in drug doping,” Campion said.

Seavey’s evidence comes in the form of the 20-page report, written by Patricia Williams, an expert toxicologist who lives in Louisiana. Williams described herself as a huge fan of the Iditarod. Williams said she offered to conduct the review for free after hearing what’d happened. “I was shocked, and I said, ‘Whoa.’ I said, ‘Look, let me get all the lab work and let me see what I can see,'” Williams said. Williams said she saw a lack of understanding on the part of the Iditarod’s toxicologist in how quickly dogs metabolize Tramadol, as well as evidence the testing instruments were not calibrated correctly. Williams also said the high levels of Tramadol found in the tests indicate the drug was given well after Seavey arrived in Nome. “This is definitely a dosing after the trail,” Williams said. “Every musher should be worried about this. Every sponsor should want to tighten security and make sure this never happens again.” Campion, Seavey’s attorney, agrees that security needs to be improved and said the Iditarod should adopt anti-doping regulations more in line with the International Federation of Sleddog Sports. He said that would bar the release of a musher’s name if a confidential investigation finds doping rules have not been broken. Asked if Seavey is considering legal action in regards to the release of his name, Campion said the musher is not ruling anything out. “I mean, his goal is to move forward from this, but he hasn’t taken anything off the table,” Campion said. “As to the next steps, we’re not ready to talk about that yet.” In a written statement, the Iditarod Board of Directors said it’s not ready to talk about the report, saying the board is still reviewing the new information. But the board’s news release Wednesday repeated earlier statements that the board never blamed Seavey directly for the positive drug tests. The 2018 Iditarod starts March 3.
Categories: Alaska News

Senate Republicans reject Walker’s Senate pick, Kowalke

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 17:46
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, vice chair of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee at the time, discusses the state operating budget in April 2015 as Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, Sen. Pete Kelly, left, R-Fairbanks, and then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, right, listen. The Senate Republicans voted to reject Gov. Bill Walker’s appointee, Randall Kowalke, to replace Sen. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Republican members of the state Senate voted Wednesday to reject Matanuska-Sustina Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke to join the body.

Gov. Bill Walker appointed Kowalke to replace Mike Dunleavy, pending the senators’ confirmation.

Dunleavy resigned from the District E seat in January to focus on his run for governor.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process, which process involves appointing someone who has support from district parties.

“This is no reflection on the quality of the human being that Randall Kowalke may or may not be,” Micciche said. “He seems like a fine man. The reality of it is we feel that there is a process and we request that the governor respect that process.”

Kowalke said he was about to enter an Ash Wednesday service at church when Walker called him to tell him the news.

Kowalke said he hopes that whoever joins the Senate caucuses with the Republican-led majority. Dunleavy had left the caucus.

“I wanted to see us be able to work in a collaborative way to get what needs to be done for the citizens of District E specifically and for the state generally,” Kowalke said.

The district party nominated three people: Rep. George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon and organic food worker Tom Braund.

Walker, a former Republican turned independent, said members of the Republican-led Senate majority encouraged Kowalke’s appointment.

Walker spokesman Austin Baird says Walker planned to announce his second choice Wednesday evening.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska pays thousands to sink already sunk boat

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 16:55
The F/V Akutan was moored in Unalaska’s Captains Bay for six months. (Photo by Zoë Sobel/KUCB)

The City of Unalaska will pay $36,000 to help sink a boat that’s already on the ocean floor.

The state scuttled the F/V Akutan last month with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, but they moved forward before collecting funds from the city. That’s left councilors debating whether they should chip in at all. The final vote was almost unanimous.

Councilor James Fitch was all for it.

“We are obligated to pay this because the job has already been done,” Fitch said.

The F/V Akutan was abandoned in Captains Bay in September – following a disastrous fishing season in Bristol Bay, in which the ship’s owner went broke, the crew went unpaid and its 80-ton haul of salmon was declared unfit for human or animal consumption. The Coast Guard assisted the state in performing an emergency scuttle of the processor in late January.

Councilor Roger Rowland was the sole objector — a position he has held for weeks. He says funding this will set an expensive precedent if other mariners decide to abandon boats near Unalaska.

Plus, he says state officials hired Resolve Magone Marine to help with the scuttling before securing municipal funds.

“This contract was let without any guarantee from the city,” Rowland said. “We are not obligated to pay this money.”

It’s unclear how much the disposal cost. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Councilors are also taking steps to avoid future problems with abandoned vessels. They unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting Senate Bill 92, which would create a statewide derelict vessel prevention program and fund.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson also expressed interest in reviewing the city’s status as a “potential port of refuge” — the designation that brought the Akutan to Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Two lives that came together at the top of the world

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 16:30
Nancy and Andrew Grant, pictured behind the front desk of their hotel in Utqiaġvik in January 2018. (Alaska’s Energy Desk/ Ravenna Koenig)

“He does not remember meeting me,” Nancy Grant says of her first encounter with her now-husband, Andrew Grant. “I do, too!” he insists.

They can both agree, however, that they met while working for the North Slope Borough School District back in 2002. Today, they own and run the Airport Inn in Utqiaġvik — which, as you might guess, is just a few blocks from the town’s runway.

Neither Nancy nor Andrew grew up on the North Slope. Andrew is a self-described Army brat; his family moved around a lot. And while Nancy’s father is from the North Slope village of Wainwright, she grew up in California. She came to Utqiaġvik for the first time as an adult, to attend her grandmother’s funeral.

“At that point in my life, I had just completed college and I had a dead-end job,” Nancy said, “I was providing for me and my son, and I was a single mom.”

After changing her mind a few times about whether it made sense, Nancy decided to stay.

Her husband Andrew attributes his own decision to move up here to a manager he had at a job in Arizona. The manager had worked at Prudhoe Bay, and had met his own wife there. And for months he pestered Andrew to apply for jobs on the North Slope.

“He said, ‘you’re a young man, you need to go to the Slope!’” Andrew remembered. “’You need to get a job up there; meet your wife.’”

Andrew eventually did apply for a job in Utqiaġvik, and got it. Just like that, he found himself moving to the northernmost town in America.

Even though Nancy and Andrew first met at work, they started to get to know each other through a group of singles that attended the same church.

“I’m just not the real hostess type but these other ladies in the group were, so they would woo us with food — you can’t go wrong with food, especially up here — and games, and just fellowship,” Nancy said. “And that was during the winter and spring, and come summertime, they all left and Andrew and I were the only ones here.”

While everyone else was on vacation that summer, Nancy and Andrew spent a lot of time hanging out one-on-one. Pretty soon, they fell in love. And by that winter, they were engaged.

Together, they bought the Airport Inn back in 2015.

It’s hard to capture the sheer number and diversity of the people passing through this small arctic town. But looking through Nancy and Andrew’s guest book is a pretty good way to do it. Under the heading “To See” people have written “polar bears,” “for work,” “a football game,” “family,” “climate change,” and “just to say we’re here.” Nancy and Andrew say that the flow of people includes tourists, arctic researchers, oil and gas industry people and journalists among many others.

The Grants say that one of their favorite things about working in the hospitality industry here is that this place often leaves a lasting mark on the people who visit. For instance, they still get calls from one man who came up from the Florida Keys years ago, and is now a fan of the high school’s football team.

“When we have a football game going on, sometimes he’ll call the hotel and say ‘hi this is so-and-so from down in the Keys. Who’s winning? What’s the score?’” Andrew said. “I just thought that was the neatest thing.”

Valentines Day is Nancy and Andrew Grant’s 14th wedding anniversary.

Categories: Alaska News

Sadie Bjornsen is “knocking on the door” of an Olympic medal

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 16:21
Sadie Bjornsen grew up in Winthrop, Washington and moved to Anchorage to focus on her ski career.
(Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. women’s cross-country ski team has four more shots to make history and earn their first Olympic medal. One skier that could help the Americans get there is Alaskan Sadie Bjornsen.

Bjornsen remembers the first time she felt like a star. She was skiing in Europe at the time.

“I was racing out of the stadium and they have these giant screens above you so that the spectators can watch and I saw myself on the TV for the first time,” Bjornsen explained.

Bjornsen said she was shocked to see herself on the big screen.

“But the problem was I was in the race, so I was trying to focus on my race,” Bjornsen said. “At the same time I realized, ‘Wow, that’s me. I’m doing this. This is real. This is what I dreamed of forever as a kid.’”

Bjornsen grew up in Winthrop, Washington– a town of about 400 people, but Bjornsen had Olympians living on either sides of her family’s home.

With that Bjornsen started dreaming of skiing on the big stage at a young age.

“I was in middle school and high school telling all my friends I’m going to go to the 2010 Olympics,” Bjornsen said. “It was kind of the going thing, like, ‘Okay, you’re a little crazy, but okay.’”

Bjornsen took that craziness one step further after high school and moved north to ski for the University of Alaska Anchorage. She skied for UAA for one year and then took a year off to train for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

But Bjornsen missed that mark. She was 21 and devastated. She said she even thought about quitting, that was until she talked to Holly Brooks.

“Sadie and I are both from Washington state and there’s a big age difference between us,” Brooks explained, “but Sadie has kind of been a phenom since she was born.”

Brooks skied at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and explained that Bjornsen’s legacy as a star stared when she was young.

“She was the one who was beating all the boys and everyone was like, ‘Wow, Sadie Bjornsen, Sadie Bjornsen!’ She’s always been good,” Brooks said.

So good, that Brooks told her to join the elite team at Alaska Pacific University. Brooks was skiing for APU at the time along with fellow Olympian Kikkan Randall.

And Bjornsen did. She got back on track earned a spot on the U.S. Ski team, which meant financial support and better access to training sessions.

“And that was kind of enough positive feedback that I was back on the path to my dream of becoming an Olympian,” Bjornsen explained.

Still, that path has been anything but easy.

Bjornsen has had tendinitis since she was 16 years old. She says just this past summer a few different injuries had her doubting her future.

“Here I am having these dreams of winning Olympic medals,” Bjornsen exclaimed, “and I can’t even get out the door and functionally walk around.”

But, Bjornsen got healthier, she got stronger, and this season she’s done better than ever. Bjornsen has podiumed multiple times in World Cup races this season.

As far as the Olympics go, Bjornsen has her sights set on the 10 kilometer skate race and the 4×5 kilometer relay.

“Our women’s team has been 4th place now for four [World Cup] championships,” Bjornsen explained, “so we’re knocking on the door of that medal.”

The women’s 10 kilometer skate race airs Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 9:30 p.m. and the 4×5 kilometer relay airs in Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 12:30 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Training accident ends Anchorage snowboarder Mancari’s Olympics

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2018-02-14 10:11

Rosie Mancari’s Olympics are over before they began. Mancari suffered injuries during a training run on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Ski Team.

The Anchorage snowboarder was training at Phoenix Snow Park, which hosts freestyle skiing and snowboarding events at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The U.S. Ski Team said she injured both her left and right ankles in a training run. Mancari was taken to a local hospital, where she was treated and released.

In a post on Instagram, Mancari revealed she ruptured both Achilles tendons. She said she’s taking time to process the news, but is trying to stay positive and focus on the future.

Mancari will stay in PyeongChang and said she’ll be cheering on her teammates in the coming days.

Mancari was set to compete in the women’s snowboardcross event on Friday, Feb. 16.

Everyone’s Olympic dream has a different outcome, and unfortunately mine was cut a little short when I ruptured both of my Achilles in training yesterday. I appreciate all the love sent my way already, sorry if I haven’t responded, definitely taking some time for myself at this moment in time. However I’m staying SUPER positive and optimistic and excited to get even better and stronger this summer. Thankful I get to stay and cheer on my teammates as they show the world what they’re made of the next two days. You know I’ll be cheering the loudest from the sidelines ❤️

A post shared by Rosie Mancari (@rosiemancari) on Feb 14, 2018 at 1:36am PST

 

Categories: Alaska News

House bill will need Senate rewrite to fund schools early

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 18:07
Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, talks to reporters at a Senate Majority press availability in April 2017. Kelly says he thinks House leaders were “knowingly misleading” in saying that an education bill would fund schools early. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The fate of an education funding bill is now up to the state Senate. The House passed it last week.

Listen now

House Bill 287 provides early funding for student transportation across the state and for Mount Edgecumbe High School.

But the bill as it’s currently written no longer accomplishes its original primary purpose.

More than $1 billion to fund per student funding for all Alaska schools was stripped out of the bill. That happened because the House failed to fund the bill.

Mount Edgcumbe and transportation were funded through a separate source of money.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he thinks House leaders were “knowingly misleading” in saying that the bill would fund all schools early.

“I don’t want you to think that the Senate doesn’t have a desire to early fund education, because we do,” Kelly said. “We’re just very disappointed that in a discussion about early funding that three weeks were completely wasted in the House.”

The House bill would have funded schools drawing from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. But three-quarters of each chamber must approve drawing money from the CBR. And only 20 of the 36 House members who were present voted for the draw.

Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton, the House Finance Committee co-chairman, said the Senate could vote for a CBR draw or fund the school money by drawing from Alaska Permanent Fund earnings.

“It just depends on the priority of your funding source,” Seaton said. “And so the options are all on the table for the Senate to put whichever funding source that they think is best in that.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which hasn’t announced a hearing on it.

Categories: Alaska News

Republican senators request local party suggestion to fill vacancy

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 18:03
Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke is pictured in the assembly portrait. Gov. Bill Walker named him to the vacant state Senate seat vacated by Mike Dunleavy, but Senate Republicans want someone suggested by local Republicans. (Photo courtesy of Matanuska-Susitna Borough)

The Republican members of the state Senate said Tuesday they want Gov. Bill Walker to ask Senate District E Republicans for more suggestions on who should replace Mike Dunleavy if he won’t pick one of the existing three nominees.

Listen now

Senate President Pete Kelly and Majority Leader Peter Micciche said in a letter to Walker that it would unfair to either confirm or reject Walker’s appointment of Randall Kowalke to replace Dunleavy.

Walker responded in a letter by saying he has no intention of delaying the process by requesting more names while Kowalke’s appointment is still pending. Walker, a former Republican turned independent, said members of the Republican-led Senate majority urged Kowalke’s appointment. The governor also said that if the Senate Republicans reject Kowalke, he would forward another name.

Walker appointed Kowalke on Friday, instead of one of the district party nominees. They are Rep. George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon and organic food worker Tom Braund.

Traditionally, governors have filled vacancies with one of three nominees nominated by district parties. But Walker also didn’t pick one of House District 40 Democrats’ original nominees after Dean Westlake resigned.

If the Senate Republicans don’t act on Kowalke, the position will remain vacant.

State law gives the governor 30 days to appoint someone to fill a vacancy. The person must be from the same political party as the previous office holder, and the sitting members of the chamber from the same party must approve them.

State law doesn’t limit the amount of time Senate Republicans have to confirm Walker’s appointee.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 17:58

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

Republican senators request local party suggestion to fill vacancy

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

They said in a letter to Walker that it would unfair to either confirm or reject Walker’s appointment of Randall Kowalke to replace Dunleavy.

New EPA head for Alaska talks Pebble, budget cuts and climate change

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Hladick said his boss — EPA administrator Scott Pruitt — recently called him up seeking some local knowledge, on a hot topic for many Alaskans: the proposed Pebble Mine.

Ouch! 5 ways Trump’s budget could pinch Alaska

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

President Trump’s 2019 budget would cut a lot of line-items that benefit Alaska. Ultimately, it’s up to Congress, but here are some of the ways the White House plan could sting.

House bill will need Senate rewrite to fund schools early

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

The bill no longer accomplishes its original primary purpose. Senate President Pete Kelly said he thinks House leaders were “knowingly misleading” in saying that the bill would fund all schools early.

Eighteen months after backing Westlake and Fansler, Democrats look toward future

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Anchorage Rep. Ivy Spohnholz said the Democratic party will more closely scrutinize candidates’ past conduct in the future.

Allen Moore wins 2018 Yukon Quest

Zoe Rom, KUAC – Fairbanks

Allen Moore is the 2018 Yukon Quest champion.

Alaska sprinters don’t make the cut in PyeongChang

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Logan Hanneman did not advance out of qualification in the men’s classic sprint at the Olympics in South Korea.

Ask a Climatologist: Winter weather makes a comeback at the Winter Olympics

Annie Feidt, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

You have to go back over twenty years to find a colder winter Olympics.

A good sign for Native artist after Etsy relists his sea otter crafts

Tripp Crouse, KTOO – Juneau

Etsy says it’s moving away from local and national laws — such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act — and toward international standards. But that means it’s excluding items made by Alaska Native artists that might use walrus ivory or certain animal pelts.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: Winter weather makes a comeback at the Winter Olympics

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 16:55

The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea feature a key ingredient: winter weather. That’s a departure from the last Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, where high temperatures strayed into the upper 50’s.

Brian Brettschneider, with our Ask a Climatologist segment, says PyoengChang is at about the same latitude as Washington, D.C. But he says the climate there this time of year is very similar to Anchorage.

Interview Highlights:

Why is it so cold in PyeongChang?

They’re on the eastern part of the Asian continent and in the winter months they’re subject to the dominant Siberian high pressure system. That’s an area that gets very cold in the winter and they normally have winds that come out of the north. So they’re going to get a cold, dry flow coming in from Siberia and it’s going to functionally make them feel like they’re much farther north than they are.

Is it true that for its latitude, it’s the coldest spot in the world?

It basically is true. There are a couple of spots, like in Colorado, that are at the same latitude or even farther south, at something like 11,000 feet, that are going to be colder. But it really is, for its latitude, about as cold as you can get anywhere on earth.

How does the cold at this Olympics in PyeongChang stack up to previous Olympics?

It’s looking like it will be an average temperature of about 30. That’s going to put it as the coldest winter Olympics since Lillehammer, in 1994. The Sochi Olympics were famously warm, with highs near 60 and lows near 40. Before that, Vancouver was quite warm and even Salt Lake City was fairly warm. So you have to go back over 20 years to find a colder Olympics.

Categories: Alaska News

A good sign for Native artist after Etsy relists his sea otter crafts

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 16:52
Marcus Gho hunts for sea otters on June 8, 2013, near Pleasant Island in Icy Strait. Gho, who is Inupiaq Eskimo, lives in Juneau and creates items using sea otter fur. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

An international e-commerce retailer has relisted items that a Juneau resident crafted from sea otter fur.

It happened on Saturday, after the Alaska Native artist petitioned Etsy to relist the items, and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan exchanged some letters with the company.

Etsy says it’s moving away from local and national laws — such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act — and toward international standards.

Those standards don’t include an exemption for Alaska Native artists. So the company says it removed ivory items from its website. Items made from endangered species, such as some populations of sea otters, were also removed.

Marcus Gho is Inupiaq Eskimo. He hunts sea otters in Southeast Alaska and uses the pelts to create scarves, gloves, vests and other items. He heard of Etsy delisting other artists’ items and reached out to his Etsy customer service representative out of concern.

That’s when the representative noticed his sea otter items.

“After awhile she told me that because sea otters were endangered, my items would be delisted,” Gho said. “This confused me, because they’re not, we have so many sea otters here.”

Marcus Gho poses with his daughter at his craft table at the Native Artists Market in November 2016. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

The two began exchanging links. Gho said the confusion on Etsy’s part comes from geography and the distinct populations across Alaska.

“I have sold some things on Etsy, it’s not the biggest source of the revenue that I have for my sea otter fur business,” Gho said. “Most of the stuff that I sell goes to other stores for resale.”

Gho said he uses Etsy to reach customers that he otherwise couldn’t. He petitioned Etsy saying that the population of Southeast sea otters aren’t endangered. And eventually his items were relisted.

That was good news for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office.

“I think it’s important to recognize that there has been some movement or conversations between Etsy and Alaska Native artists,” Sullivan spokesman Matt Shuckerow said. “The senator and the office is hopeful that we can find a possible solution for those that may not have been able to relist their items, and we can find some resolution for those artisans.”

Earlier this month, the Alaska Republican had sent a letter to Etsy following reports of walrus ivory and sea otter items being delisted from the online retailer.

Etsy did not respond to a request for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Ouch! 5 ways Trump’s budget could pinch Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 16:42
President Trump’s proposed budget for 2019. (Image: GPO.gov)

President Trump’s 2019 budget would cut a lot of line-items that benefit Alaska. It’s more of a statement of values than a spending plan, since Congress ultimately decides. But here are five programs the administration wants to cut that might pinch in Alaska.

  • The budget proposes to eliminate the Denali Commission. That’s an independent agency that awards federal grants for infrastructure projects in rural Alaska.  President Trump would reduce the funding from $17 million to $7 million, just enough to allow for an orderly shutdown. The administration says the commission is hard to justify in a state that can afford to dole out dividends to each of its citizens. The budget would also cut two other regional commissions in the Lower 48.
  • Trump wants to trim Native American housing grants. The changes would mean a loss of about $15 million for Alaska construction projects.
  • The White House would cut a USDA grant program that has sent millions to Alaska each year to fund water and wastewater projects in rural Alaska, where some 3,000 homes lack running water and flush toilets.
  • The budget would reform Essential Air Service to save $57 million. It’s not clear whether Alaska’s share of the pot would grow or shrink under this reform. Essential Air Service now pays air carriers $22 million to subsidize passenger service to 61 Alaska communities.
  • The administration wants to eliminate funding for LIHEAP – That’s the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program – and also end Weatherization Assistance Program. Together, the two sent nearly $19 million to Alaska last year.

If these proposed cuts alarm you, Sen. Lisa Murkowski suggests you remain calm, because the president’s budget is just one step in a long process. The Trump administration tried to make cuts like these last year. But instead of eliminating the Denali Commission, for instance, Congress decided to increase its funding some 13 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

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