Alaska News

49 Voices: Don Allen on the MV Columbia

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 16:00

This week we’re hearing from Don Allen aboard the ferry, the MV Columbia. Allen has been the officers board and room steward there for 14 years.

Listen now

ALLEN: Why am I here? It’s because we love the job. That’s number one. Not just board and room steward. We take care of the officers’ quarters upstairs, make sure their bed’s made, hall stock, head’s clean. Take care of their public areas. Then I take care of the public areas for the crew down below. Showers are down the hall, I make sure those are all clean. The linen lockers are all stocked up. Break room’s habitable. Laundry room’s not gonna catch fire. That’s what I basically do.

You do do your work all on one week. We’ll do an 84-hour work week, and then, we’re off for a week. So, you have time to pursue your other interests. I’m a firefighter and EMT with Capital City Fire and Rescue in Juneau. I’m a grandfather. I love to hunt and fish. That’s why I came to Alaska. And I’ve got a dachshund. So that’s a pretty full plate right there. On board right now we have military that are leaving Alaska from going off to a different station. We’ve got several retirees on board. Before we hit Juneau, we were wall-to-wall packed with high school. Paint us yellow, call us the Magic School Bus.

One of my jobs in case of an emergency is to hunt for lost kids. I try to get face to face with every kid on board, get them to know that I’m friendly. We had a young lady who had lost her mother this morning. Just take her to the purser’s counter, page the mom, give them something to play with behind the purser’s counter. I let her help me empty the trash, til mom and dad get’s with them.

If you want to know what you’re doing in the morning when you wake up, go somewhere else. If you want to have an interesting time and you’re willing to stretch out and grow, come here. I’ll teach ya. We’ll train you.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Talking Trash: Composting startup tackles Juneau’s green waste

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 15:29
Lisa Daugherty, owner of Juneau’s sole composting service, empties residential green waste into her truck on Aug. 25. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

Compostable waste makes up nearly a quarter of the waste that ends up in Juneau’s landfill. Yet the food scraps, green waste and other organic material could be put to better use.

As part of CoastAlaska’s series, Talking Trash, a small Juneau venture is already demonstrating how it can be done.

Listen now

Juneau Composts! is a woman-and-her-truck kind of operation: Lisa Daugherty and a green Chevy pickup.

Each Friday the commercial fisherman and small business owner drives from one end of Juneau’s road system to the other collecting compost bins set out by her customers.

“And so I pull up to people’ss houses, grab their bucket, dump the contents in my truck and then leave their bucket at the curb,” Daugherty said.

This is her first year in business. Households and businesses separate their compostables and pay a monthly fee for her to haul it away.

“Community composting is something that goes on all over the country,” Daugherty said. “It’s actually shocking that it hasn’t happened here yet.”

Juneau’s landfill accepts conventional recyclables such as aluminum cans and plastics. But stuff like food waste otherwise gets lumped in with the rest of the trash.

Most of her clients already pay for curbside trash and recycling pickup — so why pay for another service?

For one, it’s keeping material out of the landfill.

Juneau’s privately run dump is projected to fill up in the next 20 years. That may seem like a long time away but finding another site won’t be easy.

Juneau has even talked about shipping its waste south, as five other Southeast cities do.

The city is working on a diversion strategy to extend the landfill’s lifespan, which could one day include a city-run composting operation on a large scale.

The City and Borough of Juneau’s solid waste official says composting food, paper scraps and green waste makes sense — on a number of levels.

Juneau Composts! owner Lisa Daugherty unloads residential food scraps on Aug. 25. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

“Diverting that waste stream from going into a landfill, that’s a huge benefit,” Jim Penor, the city’s solid waste coordinator, said. “Another benefit is to actually compost it into a marketable product or a usable, beneficial use product, namely being a good topsoil.”

Juneau Composts! is already working the topsoil-production angle.

At an 8-acre property in an area north of town, Daugherty unloads the day’s pickups.

Under a tarp, there’s a compost heap she’s been tending since her operation started in April.

“Your compost pile is alive, it’s full of billions of organisms per gram — it’s crazy,” Daugherty said as she turns the pile with a pitchfork. “Basically when you create the right sort of environment, all those bacteria are colonizing and they’re working and they’re producing heat.”

Daugherty produces something that resembles an oversized meat thermometer to take its temperature. She checks to make sure it reaches 131 degrees, to kill pathogens and making it safe to handle.

Eventually the bacteria breaks down the food waste, old paper and green matter into a dark mealy material called humus. It takes months to mature and smells faintly sweet — plants love it.

“It looks like soil, it’s high in organic matter, it’s full of nutrients and it’s definitely a good nitrogen boost,” Daugherty explained. “You can use it as a growing medium. When I make new raspberry beds, I mix in compost, sand and seaweed and that’s it – I don’t buy topsoil or get bagged topsoil or anything.”

Daugherty keeps track of how much compost is collected from each client. The tally will eventually be a credit towards buying the nutrient-rich mix she’ll sell for home gardening. Her operation doesn’t approach the scale envisioned by the city’s municipal planners, but it demonstrates that it can work in Juneau, and that’s already earning praise.

“I think it’s wonderful what Juneau Composts! is doing,” Darren Snyder, agriculture agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Cooperative Extension Service in Juneau, said. “Lisa has provided, essentially a truth-in-concept that people will participate and people will pay to participate. She’s able to successfully compost moderate quantities of waste and it certainly is doable, there’s no question that we can compost our waste here.”

It’s still small scale; Juneau’s privately run landfill takes in about 32,000 tons of garbage annually.

During the past six months, Lisa Daugherty’s personally diverted about 10 tons. But for Snyder there’s a moral imperative, especially when it can be put to good use.

“We can turn this stuff into something that’s beneficial and it just should be done – I don’t know how else to put it,” Snyder said.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S., Russia, and others agree to ban fishing in the Arctic Ocean

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 14:11
Fishing off of Denmark’s Faroe Islands. Denmark and 9 other nations agreed to ban fishing in the Arctic’s high seas. (Erik Barfoad/ Flickr Creative Commons)

Ten nations, including the U.S. and Russia, have agreed to ban commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean for at least sixteen years.

Representatives from Arctic nations including the U.S., Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark were joined by representatives of China, Japan, South Korea, Iceland and the EU to negotiate the terms of the agreement in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 28-30.

A statement from the Chairman of the meeting explained that it will prevent commercial fishing in 1.1 million square miles of the Arctic Ocean, allowing time to study the region’s resources.

Along with banning commercial fishing, the agreement also establishes a joint scientific research and monitoring program to improve the understanding of the ecosystem and determine whether sustainable fish stocks could be harvested in the Arctic Ocean in the future.

Scott Highleyman is vice-president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy and served on the U.S. delegation negotiating the agreement.

“For the first time, nations are committing to scientific research in a high seas area before commercial fishing begins,” Highleyman said in a release. “This precautionary action recognizes both the pace of change in the Arctic due to climate change as well as the tradition of Arctic cooperation across international boundaries.”

Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc said in a release that the negotiation process involved Native organizations including the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

“The final text recognizes Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ interests, the value of Indigenous knowledge in decision making, and provides for their inclusion in the process moving forward,” LeBlanc said.

The five Arctic nations signed a similar moratorium in 2015, but it did not involve major fishing nations like China and Japan, both of which have the capability to trawl in the Arctic’s high seas.

Once the new agreement is signed, the ban will be in place for 16 years, after which it will automatically be extended every five years unless a signatory country objects.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan defends tax cuts, disputes cost

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 13:58
Protestors waited on the Capitol lawn for the Senate vote on taxes. Photo: Liz Ruskin.

Sen. Dan Sullivan on Thursday ardently defended the Senate tax cut bill, saying the pending bill won’t add as much to the national debt as projected.

Sullivan told reporters he believes the economy – specifically, the growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product – will do better than what the Congressional Budget Office and other analysts predict.

“The Obama administration left saying ‘Hey, we did as good as we could. One and a half (or) two percent. That’s the new normal. That’s America hitting on all cylinders,'” Sullivan said, referring to GDP growth. “I fundamentally reject that, and all kinds of economists do.”

Sullivan says he’s met with dozens of business people and economists in the three years he’s been a senator, and he says he asks all of them about GDP growth.

“And almost every single person I’ve asked, smart people, have said, ‘Of course we believe we can get back to 3 percent growth,'” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says he doesn’t believe the economists who predict weaker growth.

And look, if we’re destined to grow at one and a half percent, we’re going to have enormous challenges over the next 10 years,” Sullivan said.

As Sullivan spoke, another nonpartisan report, this one by the Joint Committee on Taxation, was making the rounds. It concludes the tax cuts won’t fuel enough growth to pay for themselves and would increase budget deficits by $1 trillion. The Joint Committee acts as a referee for the Senate on tax matters, and the report slowed momentum on the tax bill Thursday. As of Friday afternoon, Senate leaders were still working to revise the bill, in part to address concerns about the deficit.

In addition to tax cuts, Sullivan said it will take permitting reform and a military build-up in Alaska to boost GDP growth.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA graphic design student wins artistic license plate competition

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 10:14
Anita Laulainen, a UAA graphic design student from Palmer, submitted the winning design for the artistic license plate competition.

In a state where vanity plates are aplenty, Alaskans now have one more way to get creative with their cars– the new artistic license plate.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts announced that Anita Laulainen, a UAA graphic design student from Palmer, submitted the winning plate. Her design showcases spruce trees, tall, snowy peaks and a teal green blend of aurora lighting up the night sky.

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, whose office helped organized the competition, congratulated Laulainen on her winning design.

“I’m excited that Alaska’s hundreds of thousands of license plates have the potential to transform into miniature six inch by twelve inch canvases of beautiful aurora borealis-inspired art,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

There were 142 design submissions from Alaskans of all ages and locations around the state. A panel of celebrity judges then whittled those submissions down to just five.

According to the arts council, more than 17,000 people voted for their favorite.

The winning design will be in circulation by the Department of Motor Vehicles for the next four years until the next competition. The plates will be available to purchase in early summer of 2018, with proceeds going to artistic and cultural programs by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

Categories: Alaska News

Russian Unangax reconnect with Alaska neighbors during St. Paul trip

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-01 09:22
Aleksander “Sasha” Petrov and Polina Avdeyenko of the Komandorski Islands visited St. Paul Island this summer. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Look to the farthest end of the Aleutian chain, so far west that it’s actually east, and you’ll find the Komandorski Islands of Russia.

In 1867, the Alaska Purchase separated them from the rest of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. But today, people across the archipelago are still connected by a common history.

A recent cultural exchange helped to renew those ties, bringing Russians and Alaskans together on St. Paul Island.

Listen now

The potluck is packed and the mood is lively, but the chatter fades as four Russian visitors start to sing. With help from a translator, they explain that this is an Aleutsky song, sung in the Russian dialect of the region’s Native language.

TRANSLATOR: “It talks about how important it is to dance and to listen to music, and I think that’s really appropriate for today. We have all these Unangan people who are together after a lot of years of separation.”

Even though the Komandorski Islands are only a few hundred miles from the Alaska side of the chain, it takes a lot of time, money and effort to bridge that gap across the Bering Sea.

PETROV: “We started out in Nikolskoye and flew to Petropavlovsk …”

Aleksander Petrov is one of the Russian visitors. He’s 15 years old, and he goes by Sasha. He said it took three weeks for his group to make the trip. They traveled through the Russian Far East to Seoul, South Korea, before landing stateside and hopping from Seattle to Anchorage to St. Paul.

PETROV: “At least I got to see the insides of a lot of airports and the electric trains they have in each one!”

Now that he’s finally here, Sasha joked that he’s disappointed because St. Paul looks just like home. It’s foggy and windswept, green and beautiful. Sure, most people live in their own houses, as opposed to the Soviet-era apartments that Sasha’s used to. But for the most part, his life isn’t very different from a kid in the Pribilofs.

PETROV: “I like to walk around and go ride my motorbike and collect mushrooms …”

The similarities do nothing to diminish the significance of the exchange. On the contrary, Aquilina Lestenkof says the islands’ connection is everything.

LESTENKOF: “This is an historic event. I put today in the timeline I maintain for St. Paul history.”

Lestenkof is a teacher and tribal leader in St. Paul. At the potluck, she takes locals and their Russian visitors back to the beginning of that timeline, when their homes were still uninhabited.

LESTENKOF: “In the early 1800s, Unangax were placed on both islands. Both sets. Komandorski Ostrova and Pribylov Ostrova.”

Artyem Popov, Avdeyenko, Petrov, and Natalya Sergeevna Fomina perform Aleutsky music for Aquilina Lestenkof of St. Paul. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Lestenkof says Russian fur traders moved the Unangax to feed a system of forced labor. A system the American government would later continue. People from Attu and Atka were sent to the Komandorskis to hunt the northern fur seal, while those from Unalaska and other islands did the same in the Pribilofs.

LESTENKOF: “It began a loss of Unangan culture [and] Aleutsky culture. Same time over there and here.”

The long history of oppression has left a lasting mark on all Unangan people, but Lestenkof says it’s part of their shared strength as well.

LESTENKOF: “Who here is of the Bourdukofsky or Lestenkof family lineage? How did you get your last names? Russia!”

PETROV (in Russian pronunciation): “Russia!”

LESTENKOF (in Russian pronunciation): “Russia!”

Beyond celebrating their heritage, the people of the Komandorskis and the Pribilofs are using this time to discuss a common challenge: the changing environment.

FOMINA: “The climate is similar.”

Natalya Sergeevna Fomina is the leader of the Russian group. She works in ecotourism and environmental education on Bering Island.

FOMINA: “The most interesting place is the fur seal rookery.”

The exchange coincided with St. Paul’s 2017 Seabird Camp, organized by the Seabird Youth Network. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Fomina says her community is seeing fewer and fewer seals, just like in St. Paul. They’re also noticing changes to their salmon streams, seabird populations and snowfall. That’s why she was so determined to make this trip a reality. She says it’s important to show young people like Sasha what’s at stake across the region.

FOMINA: “[I] want to inspire them to protect their nature, and the only way to do that is to get them to see it.”

Thanks to the exchange, which was organized by the Seabird Youth Network and National Parks Service, Fomina says she’s collaborating with Alaska educators on a seabird curriculum.

It’ll be taught in the school on Bering Island and in the Pribilof Island School District, educating students about species they share across the archipelago.

TRANSLATOR: “Do you guys remember his name?”

STUDENTS: “Sasha!”

Towards the end of the exchange, Sasha gives a short preview to the students of St. Paul. He teaches them the Russian word for “seagull,” a bird they all know very well.

PETROV: “Chaika.”

STUDENTS: “Ch … ?”

PETROV: “Chaika.”

TRANSLATOR: “Say it again! Chaika!”

STUDENTS: “Chaika!”

Categories: Alaska News

With future once uncertain, veterans memorial wall to get new home in Wasilla

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 17:04

A memorial in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough honoring Alaska veterans is on track to get a new home in Wasilla.

The Veterans Wall of Honor features thousands of veterans’ names and sits on a bluff just off the Parks Highway near Mat-Su Regional Hospital. It’s been there for more than 20 years, but the land beneath the dark granite panels has been sold — twice.

First, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough sold the land to a developer. Then the developer sold the land to the Mat-Su Health Foundation, which did not commit to leaving the wall at its current location.

During the initial process of selling the land, the borough had set aside $150,000 dollars to help offset the costs of moving the wall, and the Mat-Su Health Foundation has also agreed to contribute.

The uncertainty prompted veterans groups in the area to discuss moving the wall, and it appears they now have a solid plan.

Pending approval by the city council, Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said the wall will be moved to city land under a long-term lease for the not-so-hefty price of $1 a year.

“Sometimes I think we forget the people who have paid the ultimate price and who are paying the price every day. And I think this is a good reminder of how we got to where we are,” Cottle said. “It’s always been about getting closure and doing the right thing on the wall.”

Cottle said the city has identified a suitable piece of land next to where the Wasilla Police Department will be headquartered, off Wasilla Fishook Road at the site of the old Iditarod School.

However, moving the wall may prove to be a challenge.

It’s made up of dozens of panels, some that are six feet tall, weighing nearly 700 pounds, and others that are half that size. Some of the specifics on how to move the panels are yet to be determined. They’ll likely be separated from a concrete base and trucked to the new site, Cottle said.

J.R. Hackett is an Air Force veteran who serves on the Mat-Su Honor Wall Foundation board of directors. He said a concept design for the new location has been drawn up and the hope is to have the wall in place in time for Veterans Day next year.

“We wanted to put this thing to rest once and for all. We were hoping that, obviously, in the beginning that we could come up with some type of a way to keep it up there, but things change and as time progresses, you know, the community evolves and those types of things happen,” Hackett said. “So we’ve got some pretty ambitious ideas and probably an ambitious timeline, but we’re hoping that the November 11th, 2018 ceremony can be held at the new location.”

Categories: Alaska News

Officials look to reform cannabis testing after disputes over potency

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 17:01
Cannabis plant (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

How strong is the legal pot Alaskans buy over the counter? That’s a question that’s been raised in a dispute about potency levels among various cannabis businesses. Now, the state’s regulatory body is considering extra steps.

In her report during the November 14th meeting of the Marijuana Control Board, Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell announced it was time examine how businesses are testing legally grown cannabis.

“Testing is the foundation of the regulated industry and it is what allows consumers to have confidences that they’re getting safe and uncontaminated product at a potency level that they’re comfortable with,” McConnell said Thursday in an interview.

“Potency level” refers to how much THC is in a cannabis strain or product, similar to the percentage of alcohol per volume listed on a bottle of beer, wine or liquor. Generally more potent products command a higher price. Which can create a profit incentive for growers, who may get a benefit from higher potency results returned by the testing labs they send samples to. And, some allege that also gives testing labs an incentive to return more favorable results in pursuit of more clients. In a report by KTVA News, one business owner documented discrepancies between the same cannabis strains evaluated at Anchorage’s two licensed testing facilities.

As the relatively new industry continues taking shape, regulators say that’s a problem that  needs to be fixed.

“Testing can deviate, and so we’re looking to our processes to make sure they’re as standard and consistent as possible so that there aren’t deviations when the same product is tested by various labs,” McConnell said.

To do that, the Marijuana Control Board is convening a working group made up of stakeholders from public health, the sciences and businesses in different sectors of the cannabis industry. The goal is that by the summer of 2018, there will be more consistent protocols for how to test cannabis. Under the existing regulations, there aren’t clear rules dictating consistent methods for evaluating samples. In fact, according to McConnell, AMCO isn’t aware if there’s even a scientific consensus or set of industry best-practices over the best evaluative techniques in a laboratory setting for determining potency.

That might explain why two different businesses could return different results from similar samples.

Categories: Alaska News

Talking Trash: Once a bear attractant, Yakutat’s dump now award-winning

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 15:45
Yakutat’s dump was out of state compliance for decades, attracting bears at all hours. Through new staff, a 1 percent sales tax, and grant money from the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, the city now operates one of the tidiest dumps in the state without barging their trash off-site. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)

As far as dump make-overs go, Yakutat has the ultimate Cinderella story.

The remote fishing community is hundreds of miles from any other city.

Barging trash away is too expensive. So, as the dump filled to the brim, what was Yakutat to do?

There was a time when dumping your trash in Yakutat meant dodging bears.

Kris Widdows describes it as part of the evening’s entertainment.

“You’d come out to the dump at night and watch the bears get in the garbage. It was like going to the movies,” she said, a movie where a burning pit of garbage became a watering hole for bears.

Locals and visitors alike would pull their cars up to the edge and toss everything — their plastic bottles and dirty diapers, food scraps and oil — into the same pile.

The town bears would feast.

Widdows, who helped form Yakutat’s solid waste committee, remembers one encounter in particular.

“We were out here watching the bears and had one climb in the back of our pick-up truck looking for garbage,” she said. “That was common.”

This is how it was in Yakutat for decades.

The Department of Environmental Conservation wasn’t happy, but the city didn’t have the necessary funds to bring the dump into compliance.

That started to change in 2006 with federal grant money through the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe.

Widdows recalls how tribal environmental officers Maryann Porter and Violet Sensmeier worked with concerned citizens like herself to tidy up the dump.

That also meant finding a way to pay for it.

“In villages and small towns like this, everybody has a unique challenge. You can’t send it out and you don’t have as many people to help with the cost,” Widdows said.

To bring revenue into the solid waste fund, Yakutat now dedicates 1 percent of its sales tax to the solid waste fund.

This boost, combined with new staff phasing in safer practices, created the award-winning landfill you can see today.

Inside a wide open yard, there’s trucks busily sorting trash into piles: one for washers and dryers, one for refrigerators, one for cars, all squished and neatly stacked like Jenga blocks.

Everything is marked with a hand painted sign, as if we are inside a trash museum.

Widdows and I are sitting at the bottom of a mountain of giant tires. There are flies circling our heads, but otherwise, it doesn’t smell at all.

Into the future, Yakutat will have to contend with scrap metal, e-waste, and tires that continue to accumulate in the landfill. The city recently spent $17,000 to recycle e-waste in Seattle. Alaska Marine Lines shipped it for free. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)

KCAW: “This is quite a dump, but I mean that in a good way!”

Widdows: “(Laughs) That could have come out two ways!”

KCAW: “How is it not stinky?”

Widdows: “It doesn’t sit there where the public has access to it. Half an hour and he takes it away.”

The “he” in question is manager Aaron Gray, who drives one of the trucks moving boxes into a trench for burning later that night.

Widdows tells me he lights the match when certain weather conditions align, so smoke won’t hang in the air.

Wearing a baseball cap and layers of T-shirts, Gray said he’s not a neat-freak person by nature.

“I’m just getting paid to do my job and do my work, so that’s what I do,” Gray said. “There’s a lot of little things out here to keep you busy.”

When we spoke it was August, with sport fishermen and summertime construction creating more waste for Gray and his team to organize.

They have their system down pat: cardboard is burned daily; glass is crushed; and recyclables are sorted in marked shipping containers.

Everything is dealt with in-house, except for the occasional shipment.

The City and Borough of Yakutat makes money from batteries and aluminum, but Gray says that’s the only trash of value.

“The glass and the cans and the plastics and stuff like that, we don’t make a profit,” Gray said. “It’s going to cost us money to send it out.”

The city recently paid for a decade’s worth of e-waste, or electronic waste, to be barged out of Yakutat.

Alaska Marine Lines shipped it to Seattle for free, but it still cost $17,000 to recycle.

“Particularly where we’re located there’s nothing free,” City and Borough Manager John Erickson said.

Leaning back in his chair, Erickson lays out the challenges for budgeting solid waste removal into the future.

The city will have to dig a new cell for the landfill in five years, a $200,000 cost, he estimates.

Yakutat also will run out of space to house old cars.

The city used to get its scrap metal picked by for free by the Juneau-based Channel Construction.

With the price of scrap metal in decline, they stopped coming. Yakutat is an expensive trip for a barge.

“We’re 225 miles from Juneau. 220 miles from Cordova. We’re very remote,” Erickson said, lightly knocking his knuckles against the desk. “We just have to wait. Those cars piling up out there at the dump, they’re going to be there a long time I think.”

Yakutat is definitely on the map for Sandra Woods, the state landfill inspector for Southeast.

When she first came to Yakutat in 2008, she was afraid to get out of the car for the sheer volume of bears.

She gave it a failing grade of 44 percent (080804 inspection).

Now, the landfill is close to full compliance with a score of 87 percent (2017 Inspection Report) and has earned two awards from the Department of Environmental Conservation’s solid waste program for its meteoric improvement.

Woods said it’s people on the ground like Gray who make all the difference.

“I just remember meeting him and knowing that he was the one that put this into place,” Woods said over the phone. “Yakutat has really changed the way they do things without having to really ship their waste out.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks woman arrested, charged with murder of half-brother, partner

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 15:18

A woman wanted in connection with a Fairbanks murder, and other crimes, is in police custody.

Fairbanks Police Deputy Chief Dan Welborn said Lindsay Preshaw has been detained for the Tuesday killing of John Preshaw, who also went by “Jack”.

”We consider her to be the primary suspect in the death of Jack Preshaw,” Welborn said.

Welborn says Jack and Lindsay Preshaw were half siblings, and also a couple. Jack Preshaw was found dead at a South Cushman Street residence early Tuesday. Police have not released how he was killed, but were drawn to the residence by a report of man unconscious and bleeding.

Lindsay Preshaw was taken into custody Wednesday evening by Alaska State Troopers, on a charge unrelated to the Jack Preshaw murder. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says Lindsay Preshaw was picked up along the Parks Highway outside Nenana, for a vehicle theft and an attack near Fairbanks Wednesday afternoon that severely injured a driver.

“The victim was identified as Lisa Behr, 66 of Fairbanks. She was transported to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and underwent surgery for life-threatening injuries. Investigation led us to a woman by the name of Lindsay Preshaw, 35 of Fairbanks. She was contacted and arrested at milepost 309 of the Parks Highway and we have charged her in this case with one count of murder in the first degree, assault in the first degree and also vehicle theft in the first degree.”

Fairbanks Police had issued a bulletin Wednesday asking for the public’s help locating Lindsay Preshaw, and a man named Simeon Kittick, as part of the Jack Preshaw murder investigation.

Deputy Chief Welborn said Kittick has been located, and is NOT a suspect. Jack Preshaw’s killing followed another murder in the same area of the city, less than a day earlier. Police found Jeannette Miller at the Alaska Motel, after receiving a report of a fight between two women, and a possible stabbing. Welborn says the cases may be related.

”We’re still currently investigating that one as well, and so we’re not ruling out the fact that there could be a link there, but as of right now, we’re currently investigating each of them individually,” Welborn said.

Fairbanks Police and Alaska State Troopers are both investigating Lindsay Preshaw, relative to the crimes committed both inside and outside city limits. Fairbanks Police expect charges to be filed soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Educational partnership mixes math with Native design

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 14:45

A program mixing Alaska Native art with high school math is part of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s latest efforts to promote culture and foster the next generation of Native artists.

The partnership seeks to encourage the next generation of artists in the Northwest Coast art traditions of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Sealaska Heritage Institute, the University of Alaska Southeast and several Southeast school districts have signed on.

Funded by a federal grant, Sealaska Heritage is calling the program “Sharing our Box of Treasures.” Partners will work to incorporate the geometry and algebra concepts involved in formline design into high school math classes.

It also establishes an associate degree program in Northwest Coast arts at UAS. The goal is for students studying Native art at UAS to then be able to transfer to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to complete four-year degrees. This partnership is a continuation of one that began last year.

“It’s a way that we may not be able to offer the full four-year degree but by offering the two-year degree it creates a pathway for someone who is interested in that topic,” UAS spokesperson Keni Campbell said.

At the same time, high school students in Juneau, Hoonah and Klawock will eventually be able to take courses in formline design at their schools while receiving dual credit at UAS.

The Juneau School District and UAS will be hiring coordinators to start working on classes next spring.

Categories: Alaska News

Army Corps requires less wetlands mitigation in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-30 10:24
Aerial view of braided wetlands and tundra that is typical of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, July 26, 2010. Upper Talarik Creek, shown here, flows into Lake Iliamna and then the Kvichak River before emptying into Bristol Bay. (Public domain photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

When a wetland is converted to something other than a wetland, federal law requires that the developer make up for the loss in some other way.

For big projects, that often means creating or protecting wetlands in other places. But, over the last three years, this hasn’t been happening as often as it used to, and conservation groups are concerned.

Whether the mitigation change is intentional or incidental is disputed.

Brad Meiklejohn has been involved in wetland mitigation projects in Alaska for 20 years, as director of the Conservation Fund. He’s concerned that there’s been a change in direction.

“Alaskans have a lot to be proud of,” Meiklejohn said. “We’ve done a lot of things right. We haven’t screwed up our waterways and our wetlands. That’s why we have the quality of life that we are afforded here: lots of salmon, lots of moose, lots of birdlife.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides what wetland development projects require mitigation plans — such as restoring or preserving wetlands on another part of the same property or wetlands being preserved or restored on another property — like the ones Mieklejohn works on.

The corps has required a lot less of this kind of mitigation and in the past three years than it did in the previous several years.

For example, for one large category of project permits – known as individual permits – the share of permits for which the Corps required mitigation was 55 percent from 2010 to 2013. That fell to 24 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Meiklejohn said he believes the corps has lowered its standards.

“We’re seeing a pattern where permittees are being encouraged to lowball their mitigation expectations and basically getting away with it,” Meiklejohn said.

Steve Brockmann in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Juneau office said he’s also seen a change.

“In recent years, we’ve been less successful in getting what we consider adequate mitigation for substantial impacts, and we’re not quite sure why that is,” Brockman said.

Corps officials deny there’s been a change.

Sheila Newman, who oversees wetlands regulation for the Corps in Alaska, said there have just been fewer projects in wetlands in recent years.

“I think it would be unfair to look at those numbers and say that there had been a change, because those numbers don’t reflect the type of projects,” Newman said.

The Southeast Alaska Land Trust helps preserve land to offset wetlands development. For several years, it worked on mitigation estimates for roughly 15 to 20 wetland projects a year.

But since May 2015, it’s been asked to only look at one.

Land Trust Director Allison Gillum said she doesn’t know – other than the slump in the economy and state spending — why the drop happened.

“To see the decrease that we’ve seen, I think, potentially, there’s something else kind of also driving the change that we’ve seen here,” Gillum said. “I don’t think we 100 percent know what that is.”

One thing that appears to have changed is the direction the corps gives the project managers who make decisions about compensatory mitigation.

KTOO obtained a 2014 document labeled “For Internal Use Only” that gave examples of cases that would require offsets.

These examples were more limited than those in an earlier guide that was publicly available.

Meiklejohn said appropriate mitigation is crucial for future projects, like the proposed natural gas pipeline.

“We’re talking about a project that crosses basically the heart of Alaska – countless rivers, wetlands throughout, a lot of those rivers are anadromous fish rivers,” Meiklejohn said. “They’re rivers that Alaskans use, that Alaskans live on and rely on the water quality thereof and the fish and wildlife that those rivers provide.”

Corps officials said it’s too soon to talk about the potential effect of the pipeline on wetlands.

The corps recently ended the Conservation’s Fund participation in the mitigation program citing the Fund’s failure to meet federal deadlines.

And with the end of the Conservation Fund’s mitigation program, there are no active mitigation programs in northern or western Alaska, or in much of the interior.

Just who will be responsible for mitigation in those areas is not clear now.

One more unknown for the future of wetland preservation in Alaska is the Trump administration.

Conservation groups don’t know what changes might be in store for the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate votes to take up tax bill, bringing rigs closer to ANWR

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 17:46
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan take questions from reporters in the tunnel under the Capitol. Photo: Liz Ruskin

Every Republican in the U.S. Senate, including both Alaskans, voted a few Wednesday to officially begin debate on a tax-cut bill that would also open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

“On this vote, the yeas are 52, the nays are 48 the motion is agreed to,” the Senate’s presiding officer announced.

The procedural vote allows the Senate to vote on the tax bill itself later this week.

Opening the Arctic Refuge to oil development has been the dream of Alaska’s congressional delegation since the 1970s. That portion of the bill, though, has hit a technical snag: The Senate parliamentarian has reportedly ruled that part of ANWR language exceeds the limits on what can be included in a budget bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the problem is easy to fix.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to wrap things up in a curative amendment,” Murkowski said. “I’m not worried at all.”

Murkowski issued a statement to announce her support for the tax bill. Among the features she likes: Murkowski says it will lower taxes for many Alaska families by doubling the child tax credit and the standard deduction. She also likes that the bill would end the mandate that everyone have health insurance. She says people shouldn’t have to buy policies they don’t want or can’t afford.

Critics say ending the mandate will drive up premiums because healthy people will leave the market.

Sen. Dan Sullivan supports the tax bill, too. He says the tax cuts will spur economic growth.

“The way to address the deficit is to grow the economy,” Sullivan said after the vote. “You can grow the economy and you bring in more revenues, without having to raise taxes.”

Democrats say the tax cut is a give-away to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

“It’s fairy dust economics to suggest that all this wonderful growth is going to occur and it will trickle down and help everyone else,” Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said in an interview with Alaska Public Media.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., did not sound optimistic after today’s vote that she and fellow Democrats will be able to block drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

“Well, it’s in this bill and it looks right now that people are continuing to move it forward,” Cantwell said, adding there’s still a long process ahead.

Cantwell says Democrats will try to raise awareness about the refuge and its value as a place for nature, not drilling rigs.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks sees 9th and 10th homicides of the year

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 17:03

Fairbanks police have identified a man found dead Tuesday morning at a residence on the city’s south side. Police say 44-year-old John Thomas Preshaw death is being investigated as a homicide.

Police spokeswoman Yumi McCullough says officers found Preshaw after responding to a report they received just after 6 a.m. Tuesday of an unconscious man who was bleeding at a residence on South Cushman Street. She says paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

“Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of death for Mr. Preshaw,” McCullough said.

McCullough says investigators ask anyone who has information about the homicide to contact the police department. She says investigators are not providing information about suspects at this point.

“We don’t have any suspect information to release at this side,” McCullough said. “Investigators have been working this homicide as well as the one from yesterday, so they’ve been pretty busy.”

McCullough said no additional information about the Monday stabbing death of 57-year-old Jeannette Miller of Fairbanks is being released at this time. Miller was pronounced dead shortly after being transported by paramedics to the hospital early Monday afternoon.

Police found her body at the Alaska Motel on the city’s south around noon Monday after receiving a report of a fight between two women, and a possible stabbing.

The cases are being investigated as the 9th and 10th murders in the city this year, far more than have occurred in Fairbanks in other recent years.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: Chukchi Sea ice at record low

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 17:01

The Chukchi Sea should be almost fully covered in sea ice by now. Instead, it’s mostly open water.

Brian Brettschneider, with our Ask a Climatologist segment, says the ice coverage right now in the Chukchi is typical for mid-October, not late-November.

Interview Transcript:

Brian: Normally by this date, it’s 88 percent covered in ice. This year, it’s only 46 percent covered in ice. And that’s dramatically lower than even the second lowest year, which would be 2014, so very, very low ice coverage for this region… unprecedented.

Annie: And a record low by a wide margin…

Brian: By a very wide margin. I should say we’re talking the satellite era, which would be 1979 through present. But it’s fair to assume, and we have historical data that goes out to the late 1800s. It’s not as complete as the satellite era, but there’s really nothing even in that data set that comes close to where the sea ice is for 2017 through the end of November.

Annie: What does that mean for weather in Alaska?

Brian:  Of course all the Arctic is very important, but because this area is adjacent to Alaska and because of the direction of the prevailing flow through much of the winter, it’s really important. Because that area, when it’s open water and it’s about 30 degrees, it’s providing a lot of warmth to the atmosphere. When it’s covered in ice, that warmth is locked in underneath it. So if you have a flow of air that’s moving from say the Northwest, as it’s crossing over that water it’s going to be a lot warmer, if it’s locked in ice, it’s going to be a lot colder. It’s also going to be picking up a lot more moisture as it’s moving over the open water. So there’s a lot of local, near term weather impacts from having that open water.

Annie: Is there any ice near Utqiagvik?

Brian: Looking at the Geophysical Institute sea ice web cam, at least this morning there was no ice. There’s been a little bit of ice here and there, at the very nearshore. But basically there’s no ice up there at Utqiagvik. And talking to Rick Thoman, from the National Weather Service office, he’s indicated that in the last number of decades, the latest that it’s taken for the ice to fill in there is mid-November. So at least for the past 30, 40 and probably more years than that, this is the latest it’s ever taken to fill in the ice there in the nearshore areas.

Categories: Alaska News

Why nobody likes Anchorage’s potential alcohol tax but its powerful sponsor

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 16:56
Anchorage Assembly Chair Dick Traini (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Anchorage)

In an effort to help pay for growing costs from substance abuse, Anchorage could weigh a potential new tax on alcohol. The measure is an ambition of the long-serving chairman of the Anchorage Assembly. But it faces an uphill battle, with criticism coming from multiple sides.

Since first getting elected in 1991 to represent a district in Midtown Anchorage, Dick Traini has spent the majority of the last 26 years on the Assembly.

In between election defeats and stints away, Traini has chaired the 11-member body five separate times. And one of the most frequent targets of his criticism is all the ways the city ends up paying for extra expenses associated with alcohol.

“It does not even begin to cover its costs on society,” Traini said during a recent interview.

In meetings on homelessness, public safety, downtown renewal, budgets, parks and trails, Traini and the Assembly hear a consistent chorus of complaints and consternation about all the ways residents pay for services directly related to problems that arise from drinking.

“My tax dollars still go to support the police department that deals with the problem of alcoholism. My tax dollars still go to support Health and Human Services to clean up a problem that alcohol creates,” Traini said, rattling off some of the most frequently deployed municipal resources.

In a town, and a state, where alcohol plays a big role, Traini does not drink.

“I grew up with a family that drank constantly,” Traini explained. “Every Saturday and Sunday night, the family would get together at my grandparents’ place, where I would watch my aunts and uncles and my grandparents play poker and drink all weekend.”

Traini grew up in Washington, and came up to Anchorage with the Air Force in 1971. He spent a career in the military and civil service, and with his wife raised eight kids in Alaska. He concedes that his abstinence probably guides some of his policies aimed at prohibitions on alcohol and drugs — he is a frequent critic of commercial cannabis, even as he helped shape the local rules over the industry as it has come into existence. But he also insists that the city’s relationship with booze has lead to an irresponsible financial burden on public resources.

Which is why he wants to add a new wholesale tax on alcohol to raise extra revenues.

“We could use it for the police department,” Traini offered as an example of where funds might go. “It could be treatment beds. It could be anything we can do to stem the tide of alcoholism or its effect on society.”

Alcohol sales are already taxed by the state. In fiscal year 2016, more than $42 million was taken in. But it’s a perennial source of frustration for Traini and many other officials in Anchorage that the tens of millions of dollars collected each year can’t be specifically dedicated to pay for treatment options in particular communities, even though roughly half the money goes into the Treatment and Prevention Fund. A frequent perspective voiced at Assembly meetings is that of the money spent by the state Anchorage isn’t getting a proportionate share of what it chips in.

Traini wants a local tax so officials can designate the money. His proposal would introduce a two percent tax that could eventually go as high as six percent in the future if the Assembly chooses to raise it.

But the politics are not on Traini’s side. Because it proposes to add new taxes above the city’s charter-mandated tax cap, it will take a super-majority of eight Assembly votes to put the measure on the April ballot. Then it needs to get a majority from voters. Traini’s similar efforts in the past have failed. But he insists the municipality cannot adequately address a worsening problem at current funding levels.

“Our population has grown dramatically over the years,” Traini said. “There’s just not the money out there to take care of this problem.”

According to Traini, if approved, the tax would raise about $1.4 million in its first year.

But industry groups don’t plan on letting things get that far. The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association and other similar groups have a war-chest ready to fight the tax proposal if it advances.

“We have $100,000 coming from Alaska CHARR,” Darwin Biwer, owner of the downtown Anchorage bar Darwin’s Theory, said. “Then we have the manufacturers, we have the distributors, we have the whole alcohol industry against this sort of thing.”

Biwer believes the tax places an unfair burden on businesses and employees in a broad swath of the Anchorage economy. And he says it would penalize bars and restaurants for behavior that’s happening mostly in the streets by a small subset of drinkers dealing with dysfunction and mental health issues. Biwer thinks taxing alcohol to curb social problems is misguided.

“Alcohol is not the cause, it is an effect,” Biwer said.

That’s not a view shared by public health advocates, many of whom say the industry has too much influence in developing alcohol-related policy in Anchorage. Some advocates point toward the upcoming bill revising Title 4, the state’s legal code on alcohol that is set to go before lawmakers during the next legislative session as their primary focus for reforms.

Jeff Jessee is the former CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and has spent years working on alcohol policy in Alaska. According to Jessee, the pending changes to improve state alcohol laws represent years of work getting regulators, public health advocates and the industry all in the same boat.

“This is as close to a consensus bill as you’re going to get in an area where there’s a variety of strongly held positions,” Jessee said.

The worry in some corners is that Traini’s tax proposal could court a fight with the industry that damages a fragile relationship between stakeholders typically at odds with one another just before a big legislative lift in the coming session.

The measure goes up for public testimony before the Assembly on December 19th.

Categories: Alaska News

Prudhoe Bay job numbers fell to lowest since 2007 this year

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 16:12
A ConocoPhillips worker at one of the company’s North Slope facilities last winter. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk.)

This year, job numbers in the Prudhoe Bay region dropped to the lowest levels in a decade, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

State data shows that in May, 8,923 workers were employed in the region, which is dominated by the oil sector and the industries that support it. The last time numbers were that low was in May 2007, when 8,836 workers were employed there. That’s compared to record-high of 13,485 jobs in March 2015.

Oil prices have gone up a bit recently, but state economist Neal Fried said it’s hard to predict whether the industry will stop shedding jobs any time soon.

“We’re not quite sure whether those numbers are beginning to flatten out or not,” Fried said. “We can’t answer that question.”

Fried estimates that in the first half of this year, 2,100 people lost their jobs in Alaska’s oil sector. Fried introduced the data at a recent Resource Development Council conference in Anchorage.

The oil price crash that began in 2014 — and the industry layoffs that followed — are at the root of Alaska’s current recession.

But Fried said an economic recovery for Alaska doesn’t have to lean entirely on the oil industry.

“It’s not going to take a recovery in the oil sector to necessarily cause the recession to come to an end,” Fried said. “There could be other industries that even are just growing marginally.”

For the first half of 2017, overall job losses in Alaska slowed. Fried said sectors like fisheries, tourism and the military could help pull the state out of the recession, even if the oil industry doesn’t start adding jobs again.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka installs LED lights for a brighter, safer skate park

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 15:15
Chris Cropley, Joshua McGraw, Tyson Bartolaba, Dylan Sulser and Leon Barclay at Turnaround Skate Park on Friday (11-24-17), where the city just installed overhead lights. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

There’s a new light display in Sitka and no, not the kind that twinkle. The city recently installed overhead lights at the Turnaround Skate Park, a popular hang-out spot for skaters and scooter riders looking to catch some air.

A group of elementary school boys was all too happy to re-create their reaction to the lights coming on for the first time. Chris Cropley, Joshua McGraw, Tyson Bartolaba, Dylan Sulser and Leon Barclay joyfully screamed and tossed their scooters into the air. They quickly requested pictures to be taken of their “tail whips,” a trick that involves jumping in the air as the scooter turns a full revolution before sticking the landing.

The sun set hours ago, but the four LED lights are bright enough to light the bowl, a concrete oasis for those on wheels. With the sun setting earlier these winter months, the addition of lights buys the skaters hours of time and parents some peace of mind.

Jane Bradley has two sons who like to skate at Turnaround.

“The kids hate the winter because it gets dark out. We can’t go certain places, but this I am comfortable with. It’s well lit and we can see it even from the roadside,” Bradley said.

With these four LED lights, the Sitka Police Department hopes Turnaround Skate Park will not only be a brighter place, but a safer one too. SPD has received calls over the years about drunk and disorderly adults gathering at the skate park. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

The lights were installed by the city’s public works and electric departments, with multiple permits from the state Department of Conservation. That’s because the park was built near an old turnaround for amphibious planes. Built in 2007, skater Kevin David says that Turnaround Skate Park is the place where he pushes himself in positive ways.

“This is where I learn new stuff and push out my boundaries and set a goal,” David said.

And if the skate park wasn’t around…?

“Um, I don’t know, probably hanging out with some bad people if the park wasn’t here,” David said. “The park gets a bad rep, but it’s not a bad place.”

David is talking about the fact that in recent years, non-skating adults have gathered at the park to drink or smoke. Their drunk and disorderly conduct unnerved skaters and parents, many of whom filed complaints with the Sitka Police Department.

Two years ago, Lieutenant Lance Ewers began pushing for the installation of video cameras, but is even more confident that finally installing lights will help prevent future crime.

“By putting the lights in, in combination with the cameras, we can give that skate park back to what it was originally designed to be – a safe place for children to hang out and have a good time in a nice, safe environment,” Ewers said.

Right now, the lights are illuminated 24 hours a day, though Ewers added they may run on a timer in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Man fatally struck by tanker truck trying to aid snowmachiner on Parks Highway

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 12:45

An Anchorage man died in an accident along the Parks Highway south of Anderson. An Alaska State Trooper dispatch says 22-year-old Sylvester Smith got out of his vehicle to help a snowmachiner along the highway Monday night, and was hit by a tanker truck. Troopers say the truck driver, 65-year-old Robert Smith of Anderson was not injured in the crash.

The accident occurred after 6 p.m. Monday, near Parks Highway milepost 280, 3.5 miles south of the junction with the access road to Anderson and Clear Air Force station. Work to clear and map the crash scene reduced traffic flow along the section of highway for several hours Monday night. Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement also responded to the accident, which is being investigated.

A message sent to the University of Alaska Fairbanks community from UAF Chancellor Dan White says Smith was a petroleum engineering major, and a longtime student employee with the Office of Information Technology. The letter offers condolences to Smith’s family, colleagues and friends, noting free counseling and support are available to students and staff coping with the loss.

Categories: Alaska News

Members named to Capitol sexual harassment policy subcommittee

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-29 11:49

Six lawmakers have been named to a subcommittee reviewing sexual and other workplace harassment in the Alaska Legislature.

The House members are:

  • Anchorage Democrat Matt Claman
  • Anchorage Republican Charisse Millett
  • Kodiak Republican Louise Stutes

The senators are:

  • Anchorage Republican Cathy Giessel
  • Eagle River Republican Anna MacKinnon
  • Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche

The subcommittee has been asked to provide recommendations to the Legislative Council before the start of the legislative session in January. It hasn’t announced its first meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

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