Alaska News

Allen Moore wins 2018 Yukon Quest

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 15:36

Allen Moore is the 2018 Yukon Quest champion.

Allen Moore has mushed himself into elite class of Yukon Quest champions. Moore joins John Schandlemier, Hans Gatt and Lance Mackey who have all won the Quest three or more times.

Last year’s Quest winner Matt Hall crossed the finish line in second place this afternoon, followed by fellow veteran Laura Neese in 3rd. Musher Paige Drobny, who had maintained a strong second place for much of the race, dropped out in Carmacks this morning after attempting to travel to Braeburn yesterday. A Quest press release says she decided to turn back to keep her team happy and healthy. That brings the total number of mushers who have either scratched or been withdrawn from this year Quest to 12. The red lantern spot currently belongs to rookie Nathaniel Hamlyn, who left Pelly Crossing, over 200 miles from the finish, early this morning.

Categories: Alaska News

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

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 15:16
Chris Hladick was appointed as EPA Region 10 administrator in October. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a big part to play in some very controversial issues in Alaska and beyond, from the proposed Pebble Mine to national climate policy.

The Trump administration recently appointed Chris Hladick to lead EPA Region 10. Hladick will oversee EPA’s work in Alaska, as well as in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Alaska’s Energy Desk got a chance to catch up with Hladick at the Alaska Forum on the Environment conference in Anchorage this week. In a wide-ranging interview, Hladick answered questions about the agency’s recent Pebble Mine decision, EPA’s budget and climate change.

Before landing his federal post, Chris Hladick spent a lot of time at various levels of government in Alaska. Most recently, Hladick was a member of Governor Bill Walker’s cabinet, serving as commerce commissioner. Before that, he worked for the cities of Unalaska, Dillingham and Galena.

Hladick thinks that experience will come in handy:

“I bring to the table local knowledge of how things can actually work on the ground here in Alaska,” Hladick said.

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

“He was interested in knowing how many people the commercial fishing out there employs, as opposed to what the mine will employ. I think he went through a process in his mind of weighing all the issues together,” Hladick said.

Shortly after that conversation, Pruitt made news: he decided to keep in play EPA’s proposal to put environmental restrictions on the mine, a move that surprised and thrilled Pebble’s opponents.

Hladick declined to speculate how Pruitt came to the decision.

“I think you’d have to ask him that,” Hladick said.

Hladick said despite Pruitt’s decision, EPA is keeping busy with Pebble. The company still aims to get its permits, so EPA is working with the Army Corps of Engineers as it prepares an environmental impact statement for the mine.

That’s just one of many big projects EPA is involved with in Alaska. Others include the Donlin mine and the Nanushuk project, a big North Slope oil development. EPA also provides millions of dollars in grant funding for projects in Alaskan communities and tribal villages, including grants to help with drinking water infrastructure and cleaning up Superfund sites.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration just proposed steep budget cuts for EPA as a whole, reducing its funding by more than a quarter and eliminating thousands of jobs at the agency. Hladick didn’t criticize the cuts, saying part of his job is to figure out how to do “more with less.”

“Our workload is expanding while our budgets are decreasing, so we have to make sure we focus on the right things,” Hladick said.

Hladick noted that last year, Congress didn’t go through with all the cuts the Trump administration requested, and he expects the same thing to happen again this year. But Hladick did acknowledge that if Congress went through with budget as proposed, it would impact EPA’s work in the region.

“If there’s a 30 percent cut, I think everybody will feel it. That’s a lot of money,” Hladick said.

In the document outlining its proposed budget, EPA touts the cuts, saying it’s “proud to be a good steward of taxpayer resources and to efficiently deliver environmental protection.”

Environmental groups, on the other hand, criticized the budget proposal, saying it would endanger the environment and public health.

Environmental groups are also slamming Trump’s EPA for its approach to climate change.  Pruitt questions the extent to which human activity is causing climate change, and under him, EPA is walking back Obama-era proposals to regulate greenhouse gases.

Being from Alaska, Hladick said he can’t deny climate change is an issue.

“I’ve been involved in Arctic issues since at least 16 years ago, and there’s no doubt the Arctic is changing,” Hladick said.

EPA may be stepping away from its Obama-era focus on regulating greenhouse gases, but Hladick said he wants the agency to continue working with communities seeing on-the-ground impacts from global warming.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaskans want to follow other Alaska communities by banning plastic bags

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 14:56
Currently customers at Unalaska’s Safeway can choose to have their groceries packed in plastic bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes, or purchase reusable bags. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Some Unalaskans want the city to ban single use plastic bags. Twenty-five residents met last week to strategize on how best to make their case to the city.

Mary Heimes says for a community that relies on the ocean, eliminating the bags should be a no-brainer.

“You know, we pull a lot of money out of the ocean in this community, and we have a social responsibility to take care of the environment,” Heimes said.

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. In Alaska, the bags have been banned in KodiakWasillaBethelCordova and Hooper Bay. Homer briefly prohibited the bags, but the ban was overturned by voters.

This group is prepared for pushback against their efforts — from stores and restaurants.

“I’m all for the environment,” Safeway store manager Abe Palmer said. “I’m not against the plastic bag ban, but when you look at the overall picture the people who are going to suffer are the people in the community.”

Without plastic bags, Palmer worries it will be difficult for people who walk with their groceries. He says rainy weather would destroy paper bags. And Palmer says a plastic bag ban would make groceries more expensive.

“The elevated cost of what a paper sack is is five times what it is for a plastic sack,” Palmer said. “All those costs would not be absorbed by the company. It would be absorbed going out into the customers’ market.”

Palmer thinks education and reestablishing the recycling program could have the same effect as a plastic bag ban.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson says whether it actually is more expensive to eliminate single use bags is a matter of weighing immediate versus future costs.

“It may be expensive to me to get rid of my garbage, so I’m going to pass that on to future generations,” Robinson said. “That’s what we’re faced with on this island. [Our] landfill is filling up a bit quicker than they expected.”

Robinson says he has asked for the issue to be scheduled for discussion at a city council meeting next month.

Categories: Alaska News

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

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 12:35
In July 2016, Democrats turned out to support Dean Westlake and Zach Fansler. Now, they’re looking toward the future. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

In the summer 2016, Alaska state Democratic leaders supported the primary campaigns of Dean Westlake and Zach Fansler.

Eighteen months later, both have resigned: Westlake over sexual harassment allegations, Fansler after a woman alleged he assaulted her.

Democratic legislators and one of the women who raised concerns over harassment are considering what should happen next.

At a July 2016 party, many of the leading Democrats in Alaska gathered at an Anchorage house for a fundraiser to benefit two primary challenges – Westlake in District 40 – which covers North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs — and Fansler in District 38, which includes the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Anchorage Rep. Ivy Spohnholz was among those at the party.

At the time, Spohnholz had this to say about Benjamin Nageak and Bob Herron, who then represented the districts.

“What we’ve had are representatives in these two communities that are Democrats in name only,” Spohnholz said.

Westlake and Fansler won their primaries and joined the House last year.

Westlake resigned in December after women inside and the outside of the Capitol accused him of sexual harassment.

Fansler resigned earlier this month, after a woman accused him of repeatedly slapping her, bursting one of her eardrums. His lawyer said Fansler denies the allegations.

After the resignations, Spohnholz said the party will more closely scrutinize candidates’ past conduct in the future.

“I think that what we know now is that in 2018, we have a higher standard for behavior than any of our processes have reflected in the past,” she said, later adding: “In the past the Legislature and political parties have been more likely to hide these problems and to sweep them under the rug.”

In the case of Westlake, some of those who came forward say the harassment occurred before he ran for the Legislature.

News organizations reported in December that he had fathered a child when he was 28 with a girl who was 15 when the child was conceived.

Olivia Garrett is a former legislative aide who said Westlake harassed her after he joined the Legislature.

“They didn’t really do their homework on this guy and it wasn’t like there were just rumors of past misconduct with him,” Garrett said. “There was a whole mountain of evidence of some pretty terrible things he’s done to much younger women. That’s pretty unacceptable, that nobody stopped to say, ‘Hey, maybe we should re-evaluate who we’re giving all of our time and resources to?’”

There’s no public record of harassment involving Fansler.

But community members had expressed concern about his alcohol use before he was elected.

Kuskokwim 300 Chairman Myron Angstman said that while Fansler did a decent job when he was the race’s manager, Angstman also was concerned that Fansler’s drinking may have affected how he did his job on multiple occasions.

Garrett said this is an opportunity for the political parties to more closely scrutinize candidates.

Garrett said one step that could reduce sexual misconduct is increasing the number of women in the Legislature.

“I think that more women in leadership will not solve it entirely, but will make the workplace a lot better for a lot of other women,” Garrett said.

Spohnholz also said have more women would be beneficial.

The District 38 Democrats have started taking applicants and Spohnholz said it would be positive if a woman stepped forward.

“There’s been a great deal of management and leadership research that shows that having more women involved in leadership results in more productive organizations, more effective organizations and, certainly, more professional organizations,” Spohnholz said. “I would welcome an Alaska Native woman to come in from rural Alaska to take the seat.”

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon expects that both political parties will examine candidates’ pasts more closely, including questions about sexual misconduct.

“I think that should be part of the vetting process – there’s no question about that,” Edgmon said. “I would have to say the political parties the major political parties in Alaska, certainly have been watching this very closely and like those of us in the Legislature, don’t want to have to undergo this again in the future.”

Edgmon said the Legislature already has taken steps to become a safer place, including making it mandatory for lawmakers and staff to attend training to prevent sexual and other workplace harassment.

“I think there is a concerted effort to change the culture here in Juneau, and I hope across the state and across the country as well,” Edgmon said. “I view this as a watershed moment and I think we in the Alaska Legislature are doing our best to be part of that.”

In addition, the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy subcommittee has been meeting to discuss changes to the policy.

Rachel Waldholz of Alaska’s Energy Desk and Teresa Cotsirilos of KYUK contributed to this report. 

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg teens charged for harassing deer

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 12:23

Charges have been filed against two Petersburg teenagers who allegedly hit multiple deer in town with their truck last week.

The teenagers both say what happened February 5th was an accident. In court documents, they say that they were trying to scare the deer for fun, they were not trying to hit the deer. But a video recording of the incident could paint a different story, showing the teens hitting the deer with their truck and laughing about it.

The teenager in the passenger side of the truck recorded the incident on video and posted it on the social media app, Snap Chat. Both of these teens are 17 years old.

The video is taken from inside the truck and shows the vehicle approaching and then hitting two deer with a third one further up the road.

It takes place in broad daylight on Wrangell Avenue in a residential neighborhood.

Alaska State Wildlife Troopers in Petersburg received the video Feb. 7 and investigated. On Feb. 12 troopers charged each of the teens with harassing game and one of them for reckless driving. Misdemeanor charges of harassing game could bring a $400 fine per deer. Reckless driving is also a misdemeanor. The troopers say according to the video, the teens drove directly at the deer and did not try to avoid them.

The District Attorney’s Office in Sitka is handling the case.

The teenagers admitted to hitting a third deer the night before. They say the deer jumped out in front of their truck. Troopers found deer hair on the truck and a broken headlight on the driver’s side.

The third deer was on Sandy Beach Road. A dead deer was found on that road the same night by a resident.

There were no other witnesses to the actual act of the teens hitting the deer. The teens say the deer did not die from what they saw. They say the two deer they hit in the video ran off into a yard. They say the third deer they hit the night before laid down in the road and then got up and walked towards the beach.

In an e-mail, Trooper Spokeswoman, Megan Peters, says that blood was found near the scene of the two deer that were hit but no deceased animals were found. She says the charges reflect what troopers believe they have evidence to support.

The arraignment for the teens is scheduled for Feb. 26, at 3:15 p.m. at the Petersburg Superior Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Now that the blob is over, scientists are eager to assess its impact

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-13 11:42
Kasitsna Bay Laboratory sits on the east side of Kachemak Bay. (Courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Over the last year, warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska, infamously known as the blob, have dissipated. Warmer water temps are thought to have a hand in massive bird die-offs and a decline in Pacific cod stocks. Now that the three-year period of summer-like marine conditions is over, scientists and fishery managers are eager to assess the full impact of the blob.

Listen now

The blob first showed up back in the winter of 2013-14 after a high pressure system anchored itself off the West Coast. That led to fewer blasts of cold arctic air from the jet stream, and National Weather Service Climatologist Rick Thoman said that also meant fewer storms in the Gulf of Alaska.

“Actually, hardly any storms moving through that part of the northeast Pacific,” Thoman added “So, we didn’t get that mixing of the ocean layers that occurs when you get strong winds and big waves. So, that lack of mixing helped the water to wind up warming over a fairly large area.”

The blob gathered plenty of headlines during the three years it stuck around. It’s thought to be responsible for declining stocks of forage fish that sea birds depend on, leading to massive murre die-offs. It’s also known to have increased the prevalence of harmful algal blooms that can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

But there’s plenty we don’t know about what the blob did and didn’t do, and scientists like Kris Holderied are now trying to put the pieces together.

Holderied works in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory near Homer.

But she also works with Gulf Watch Alaska, a program that began monitoring marine conditions and marine life in the northern Gulf just a couple of years before water temperatures rose.

“To understand how these changes in marine conditions affect the species, you know everything from plankton, to fish, to birds, to whales, you really want to see it happen when it’s cold, when it’s warm, when it’s normal,” Holderied explained, “and in a pretty short period of time, we’ve gotten to see all of that. That part is luck.”

Holderied said the data collected by Gulf Watch and other scientists from the start to the end of the blob will help determine if and how other events, such as sea star wasting disease, are connected to warming waters.

Piece by piece, scientists hope to get an idea of what to expect next time a blob-like event occurs.

This big-picture approach isn’t just of interest to the scientific community. Fishery managers are also changing the way they do things.

Steve Barbeaux is a research fisheries biologist with NOAA who collects data on Pacific cod, which saw a roughly 70-percent decline over the past two years.

“In management say prior to 2010, we really were focused on single species,” Barbeaux said. “But since then our program has really developed to kind of look at everything that’s in the ecosystem to tell us the story of what’s going on, and I think this event has really helped us focus on, for cod specifically, what those things in the ecosystem we need to keep an eye on.”

Barbeaux said among those other factors to keep an eye on is competition from different species. While the blob seemed to diminish the food supply for cod, leading to the decline, it may have actually increased the supply for pollock and sablefish.

“And pollock happened to be up in the mid-water column, and there were particular types of zooplankton that were abundant during that time period, and they seemed to do well,” Barbeaux explained. “For sablefish, it might have been the same issue, they don’t go down to the bottom, they were pelagic at those year classes. Those things may have helped out the sablefish and pollock equally.”

Those species’ success could make it more difficult for cod and other impacted species to recover. But the big-picture answers scientists like Barbeaux and Holderied are hoping for may take longer in some areas than others.

It may be harder to tease out impacts on fish with longer life spans, such as halibut, and even fish with shorter life spans will be impacted differently depending on where they were in their life cycle.

“If you were a sockeye salmon in 2014 and just heading out into the ocean, maybe you’re just going to be coming back now or if you were a king salmon, you were affected by the warm conditions early on, you were affected out in the ocean,” Holderied said. “Well, what did that all mean? We’re not going to totally understand that until we see what’s coming back in. Some of these things have longer effects and are lagged, but I think it’s exciting that we have all this information to put together and people working on it.”

Near-normal water temperatures are forecasted to stick around through the summer and for now, most scientists can agree cooler water temps bode well for the ecosystem.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans at the Olympics

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 18:31

More than a dozen Alaskans are representing the U.S. in the winter Olympics that recently kicked off in South Korea. They’re competing in traditional sports like ice skating and nordic skiing. And newer events, like snowboard cross- where snowboarders race down a mountain course that includes jumps.

HOST: Annie Feidt

GUESTS:

  • Nina Kemppel – former Olympian, current member of the U.S. Olympic Committee
  • Calisa Kastning – spokesperson for APU Nordic program

Participate:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 13, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Another year, another round of proposed Trump cuts for marine mammal programs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 18:23
The bearded seal was released back into the wild at Nome’s west beach. (Photo by Gay Sheffield/University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Sea Grant)

There was good news for some marine mammal advocacy groups Monday. An appeals court upheld an Endangered Species Act listing for ringed seals. But with the release of President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget, the entire day wasn’t a victory.

Listen now

Trump proposes eliminating federal dollars for several programs with a presence in Alaska. One of them is the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent oversight agency that reviews the federal management of marine mammals.

Peter Thomas, the executive director, says he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the cuts. Trump proposed zeroing out the funding for last fiscal year.

But Thomas says the work the Commission does in Alaska is especially timely and important. It focuses on issues like subsistence hunting and climate change.

And Thomas says the Commission helps communicate Alaskans’ concerns to policy makers in D.C.

“I mean, we’re in Washington, we’re a long ways away,” Thomas said. “And just having a better understanding of how things operate in Alaska and Alaska Native communities can only help to bring understanding here to Washington.”

The Commission has brought Alaskans to the nation’s capital to advocate and held “listening sessions” in the state to learn about climate impacts on marine mammals.

Trump’s 2019 budget also proposes nixing federal dollars for Alaska Sea Grant, which supports research funding at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, among many other things.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski had this message for those worried about the proposed cuts:

“Don’t get too exercised about things if you see it’s been zeroed out,” Murkowski said. “This is just the first step in a very multi-step process.”

Murkowski stated she hopes Alaskans will make it clear to the delegation what the funding priorities should be.

Liz Ruskin contributed to this report. 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, Feb. 12, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 18:19

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

Trump infrastructure plan has rural money, but can Alaska have some?

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

The White House has presented its long promised infrastructure plan. It’s getting mixed reviews from Alaska’s U.S. senators.

Kowalke senate appointment receives pushback from fellow Republicans

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke has been appointed by Governor Bill Walker to fill a vacant Senate seat, but Mat-Su Republican legislators are opposing the appointment.

Another year, another round of proposed Trump cuts for marine mammal programs

Elizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’ Energy Desk – Juneau

Sen. Lisa Murkowski cautioned: “Don’t get too exercised about things if you see that it’s been zeroed out.”

Gold Star in the Chugach: Iraq vet honors survivors

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

A mountain on the edge of Anchorage has a new name, Gold Star Peak, thanks to Army vet Kirk Alkire. Talking to Gold Star families “means the world to me,” he said.

Petersburg teens charged for harassing deer

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Charges have been filed against two Petersburg teenagers who allegedly hit multiple deer in town with their truck last week.

North Pole man illegally shoots wolf off Parks Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A North Pole man is in trouble for shooting a wolf from the Parks Highway. Alaska State Troopers report that 29-year-old Samuel Kendall was contacted by Fish and Wildlife Troopers on February 9th, near milepost 258, north of Healy, while he was dragging a dead wolf across the highway to his truck.

Washington State looks to follow Alaska’s lead in prohibiting salmon farming

John Ryan, KUOW – Seattle

Alaska law prohibits salmon farming in state waters. That’s because the farms, and escaped fish, could threaten natural salmon populations. Now, Washington state is following suit in the wake of a massive escape of farmed fish.

Moore maintains Quest lead heading into Braeburn

Zoe Rom, KUAC – Fairbanks

Allen Moore appears on track to claim his 3rd Yukon Quest title tomorrow. Moore arrived at the race’s last checkpoint at Braeburn, hours ahead of the nearest competitor.

Fairbanks skier takes to snow in Olympic Games

Dan Bross, KUAC -Fairbanks

Alaska cross country skier Logan Hanneman takes to the snow at the Olympics in South Korea tonight. The 24-year-old, who grew up in Fairbanks, is one of four athletes the US has selected to race in the 1.4 kilometer classic sprint.

“The Price Is Right” will pay shipping costs from Lower 48 after all

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel resident who won big on “The Price Is Right” will not be paying hefty shipping costs after all.

Now that the blob is over, scientists are eager to assess its impact

Aaron Bolton, KBBI – Homer

Over the last year, warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska, infamously known as the blob, have dissipated. Warmer water temps are thought to have a hand in massive bird die-offs and a decline in Pacific cod stocks. Now that the three-year period of summer-like marine conditions is over, scientists and fishery managers are eager to assess the full impact of the blob.

Categories: Alaska News

Gold Star in the Chugach: Iraq vet honors survivors

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 17:13
Kirk Alkire carries dogtags of 53 Fort Richardson soldiers who died in Iraq, on Alkire’s final deployment. Photo: Murphy McCollough/Office of Rep. Don Young

A 4,000-foot mountain on the northern edge of Anchorage has a new name: Gold Star Peak. That’s thanks to an Army veteran from Eagle River who has been campaigning for the name since last year. He’s driven by an especially tragic day in Iraq.

For years, when he was a soldier based at Fort Richardson and after he retired, Kirk Alkire has hiked up a mountain near Eklutna, called Mount POW/MIA. It has a flag that he tends to.

“We climb it and we replace the flag, every time we go up,” Alkire said. “The weather that blows off Eklutna Glacier through that valley, it’s punishing for the flags.”

Mount POW/MIA was named in 1999. Alkire didn’t know when he started climbing the mountain that he would have a deeply personal connection to that ritual.

“My last deployment that I did in 2006 and 2007 to Iraq is what kind of changed everything for me,” Alkire said.

Four soldiers from Fort Richardson, from his unit, were abducted in a raid of their guarded compound in Karbala, Iraq. The bodies of Jonathan Chism, Shawn Falter, Jacob Fritz and Jonathan Millican, were found soon after.

Alkire says the four were posthumously awarded the medal for Prisoners of War.

“During that process the families were presented with those medals, and that was the very turning point for me, in climbing that mountain,” Alkire said.

Those were not the only soldiers from the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry to die on Jan. 20, 2007. Four others were killed that day by an improvised explosive device. In all, 53 soldiers from Fort Richardson’s 4/25 were killed in Iraq over the 15-month deployment.

Kirk Alkire, on a visit to Rep. Don Young’s office. Photo: Murphy McCollough/Office of Don Young.

Alkire had 53 stainless-steel dog tags made with their names. He carries the set with him almost everywhere.

“Pretty much. Especially when I’m out on an adventure,” Alkire said. “If I’m climbing or skiing or whatever I’m doing, adventure-wise. I took them with me to the Grand Canyon. I was just in Arlington, in the cemetery visiting friends and I took them with me.”

Alkire retired as a first sergeant in 2008 and now works as a civilian on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in the protocol office, handling VIP visits. Alkire says meeting the survivors of deceased soldiers is especially meaningful to him. They’re called Gold Star families.

“It’s therapeutic for me to be able to talk to them and share a climb up the mountain with them. It means the world to me,” Alkire said. “It helps me, and many others like me, to kind of continue on.”

The newly named Gold Star Peak is near Eklutna Lake. (Image via Google Maps)

About a year and half ago, on top of Mount POW/MIA, it struck Alkire that the peak just to the west should be named in honor of the Gold Star families. So he set out to make that happen. He filed an application with the federal government. He collected signatures and local support. Thursday he presented his case to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in Washington, D.C. The board approved it unanimously.

Then it was on to the Capitol, where Sen. Dan Sullivan honored Alkire and his effort.

“Families who have lost loved ones, who made the ultimate sacrifice serving their nation, will now be able to look up at Gold Star Peak as they drive up the busy Glenn Highway in Alaska, and they will see that 4,000-foot peak soar into the sky,” Sullivan said in a speech from the floor of the Senate.

Gold Star Peak and Mount POW/MIA are connected by a ridge and accessed from the same trailhead on Eklutna Lake Road.

Categories: Alaska News

Trump infrastructure plan has rural money, but can Alaska have some?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 16:15
2016 photo by Desiree Brandis/Blue Lake Expansion

The White House has presented its long promised infrastructure plan. It’s getting mixed reviews from Alaska’s U.S. senators.

“You’ve got a specific set aside for rural infrastructure. That’s good,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “But the devil is going to be in the details here.”

Murkowski says she’ll examine the funding rules to make sure Alaska can benefit from the $50 billion intended for rural areas.

Nationally, President Trump’s plan is to build $1.5 trillion in transportation projects and public works, but the federal government would put up just $200 billion. The rest would come from state, local and private funds.

Murkowski has her doubts about private investment.

“We know that in Alaska, trying to pay for things by way of a toll road, that’s not going to work for us,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski also cast doubt on the state’s ability to provide significant matching funds. More subtly, she says she’ll be on the lookout for requirements that include cost/benefit ratios. Alaska projects cost a lot and benefit relatively few people. Alaska doesn’t do well when federal funding requests are judged on per-capita costs, Murkowski said.

“It’s criteria like that, that for me could be not only very worrisome, that could really be a death knell for a state like Alaska in our ability to be treated fairly,” Murkowski said.

Murkowskisaid she’ll learn more about the infrastructure proposal at a White House meeting Wednesday for committee chairs. The top Democrats on each committee were invited, too. Murkowski took that as a good sign, indicating the White House isn’t intending the proposal as a partisan exercise.

Sen. Dan Sullivan is pleased the plan includes environmental permitting reform, to speed up the time it takes to get a project started. He says regulatory efficiency is an idea that appeals to Republicans and Democrats.

Environmental groups, though, say the plan would weaken environmental safeguards.

Categories: Alaska News

Moore maintains Quest lead heading towards Braeburn

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 16:12

Allen Moore is maintaining a big lead in the Yukon Quest, but last year’s winner Matt Hall is making a push, as the race heads toward the final checkpoint at Braeburn. The only musher still running a full team of 14 dogs, Moore left Carmacks before midnight for the 77-mile run to Braeburn. Hall departed over five hours later with 11 dogs. Teams must rest 8 hours at Braeburn, so teams typically run hard to get there. It’s 100 miles from Bareburn to the finish line in Whitehorse.

Paige Drobny and Ed Hopkins are several miles behind Hall, in the three and four spots. Laura Neese is 5th, with top rookie Vebjorn Reitan close in 6th. Ten other mushers are strung out along nearly 150 miles of trail. Dave Dalton has taken over the red lantern and 15th place, after rookie Severin Cathry decided to scratch yesterday in Dawson City.

Categories: Alaska News

“The Price Is Right” will pay shipping costs from Lower 48 after all

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2018-02-12 16:09
Wearing a blue, flowered qaspeq, Bethel resident Joni Beckham poses outside The Price Is Right studio on November 13, 2017 after winning $63,000 worth of prizes as a Double Showcase Winner. The game show episode aired on January 29, 2018.
(Photo courtesy of Joni Beckham)

The Bethel resident who won big on “The Price Is Right” will not be paying hefty shipping costs after all. In an email to KYUK, the television game show says that it will cover all of the delivery fees.

The message comes after KYUK reported that game show winner and Bethel resident Joni Beckham would have to pay to ship her prizes from the lower 48.

Beckham won $63,000 worth of prizes as a Double Showcase Winner during an episode of “The Price Is Right” that aired in late January. Her winnings include two cars, a washer and dryer, a refrigerator, an oven and more.

Beckham had paid the taxes on the items and was calculating the shipping costs when the show contacted her to say that they had it covered.

FremantleMedia is the production company behind “The Price is Right.” Vice President of Communications Kristina Kirk wrote in an email that “previous language notated that there was a possibility that residents of certain states may have to pay for some of the shipping fees, but this is currently not the case.” Kirk would not clarify when the policy had changed.

Categories: Alaska News

International “range states” meet to discuss polar bear conservation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 18:04
A presentation being given at the 2018 Polar Bear Range States Meeting in Fairbanks, AK. (Alaska’s Energy Desk/ Ravenna Koenig)

Representatives from Norway, Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States met in Fairbanks Feb. 2-4, 2018, to talk about polar bears. Those countries are all part of a treaty signed in 1973 to coordinate protection of the species. And for about a decade now, those same countries have been holding meetings every two years to address the threats that polar bears are facing, especially from climate change.

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At Pike’s Waterfront Lodge on the Chena River in Fairbanks, dozens of people mill about a cavernous meeting room, different languages echoing off the walls. A weekend-long meeting of what’s referred to as “the range states” — or the five nations where polar bears live — has just ended.

When the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by these countries in 1973, the main issue they were trying to deal with was the dwindling numbers of polar bears in many areas, largely due to sport hunting. Not anymore.

“The number one challenge is loss of polar bear habitat, meaning sea ice,” James Wilder, the polar bear program leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. He’s one of several people representing the United States here.

A few years ago the range states finalized an initiative called the Circumpolar Action Plan, essentially a way for the different countries to coordinate their efforts to address things like human-bear conflicts, climate change and bear management with oil and gas development.

This meeting is, in part, a way for the group to catch up on the work they’ve done under that plan since they last met in 2015. One example: an update on an ongoing study on the effectiveness of bear spray on polar bears in Arctic temperatures. As sea ice disappears, polar bears are spending more time on land, leading to more conflicts with humans.

“It can range from polar bears raiding fishing camps on the coast, to getting into landfills in coastal villages, to traveling through and inhabiting oil and gas fields,” Wilder said. “It can also go to the other extreme of attacking people.”

The delegates for the U.S. include the State of Alaska, the North Slope Borough, the U.S. State Department and USGS, among others.

Nicole Kanayurak spoke for the North Slope Borough at the end of the meeting. She thanked the range states for recognizing that indigenous knowledge is an important part of managing and researching polar bears. But she also urged them to include native communities to a greater extent in that work.

“What we have drawn from the last two days is that there may be missing variables and a void that the intricacies of our indigenous knowledge on the ground may inform,” Kanayurak said.  “It is important for our people that we are equitably involved in polar bear affairs.”

Other groups representing indigenous perspectives at the meeting echoed this push for more inclusion.

James Wilder says that this has been and will continue to be a point of focus for the range states.

“What we heard repeatedly during this meeting — and the range states are committed to doing a better job with — is working more closely with the native people,” Wilder said, “incorporating traditional ecological knowledge and subsistence users concerns and knowledge into the management and scientific processes that govern what we do.”

Wilder says that one example of how the U.S. is working towards more inclusion is a scientific working group they have with Russia. The group is designing studies on polar bears in the Chukchi Sea, and includes native hunters from both countries.

The range states will next convene in Norway in 2020.

Categories: Alaska News

Ben Anderson-Agimuk resigns from legislative position

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 18:01
Ben Anderson-Agimuk, age 25, was selected to chair House District 38’s local Democratic Party on Tuesday. (Christine Trudeau/KYUK)

On Thursday, Ben Anderson-Agimuk resigned from his position as a House District 38 legislative aide in order to dedicate more time to filling former Representative Zach Fansler’s seat.

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Anderson-Agimuk once worked closely with Representative Fansler. Now, he’s overseeing the search for Fansler’s replacement after his old supervisor resigned following assault allegations.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Democrats selected Anderson-Agimuk to serve as their district’s chairman earlier this week, and he said he felt that it would be inappropriate for him to hold both positions at once. In an interview with KYUK on Thursday afternoon, he said that he wanted to dedicate more time to party matters, and that he wouldn’t be permitted to discuss his own party’s business during work hours at the Legislature.

The new district chair’s first job is to help find nominees to fill the remainder of Fansler’s term. As part of that process, Anderson-Agimuk will pick a handful of local Democrats to serve on a selection committee that will evaluate potential candidates for the seat. There is not an actual application process for those interested in serving on the selection committee.

Within the next three weeks, the committee will pick three potential candidates for Governor Walker’s review, though the Governor might request additional nominations. He must select Representative Fansler’s replacement by March 14.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod mushers demand board president resignation, don’t get it

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 17:56

With only three weeks until the 2018 Iditarod, there’s more drama swirling around Alaska’s premier long-distance dog mushing event.

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This week, the Iditarod Official Finisher’s Club called for the immediate resignation of Iditarod Board President Andy Baker. The club’s letter to the board, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, said Baker has “jeopardized the integrity of our whole livelihood through his poor leadership.”

The club calls itself the “players’ union” for Iditarod mushers.

The letter comes after controversy surrounding a dog-doping scandal that caused four-time champion Dallas Seavey to withdraw from this year’s race and a confidential consultant’s report, leaked to news media, that recommended board members with conflicts of interest step down to avoid losing sponsors and trust.

Despite the Finisher’s Club demand that Baker resign to avoid what the letter says will be “negative discourse” overshadowing this year’s race, Baker did not step down.

After the Board of Directors’ meeting in Anchorage on Friday, the board released a statement saying its members had decided unanimously to make no changes.

Shortly thereafter, Baker spoke to reporters about his reaction to the letter.

“There’s so much emotion and there’s so much emotion this time of year, with, the mushers are getting ready for the race,” Baker said. “Everybody wants the race to do well. So I took it very positively. Everybody wants the race to do better, and the board, our whole focus is we want to have a safe race, we want dogs to be safe, we want mushers to be safe and we want a successful race.”

However, Baker said there may be changes coming after this year’s Iditarod that will be in line with recommendations from a December report by consultants with the Foraker Group. Among other things, the report said the Iditarod should replace board members with conflicts of interest to restore trust with mushers, sponsors and race fans.

Baker, brother of Iditarod musher John Baker, says the board agrees but has not yet made a formal decision on the matter. He added that having board members with close ties to mushing has always been seen as a benefit to the race.

Finisher’s Club President Wade Marrs did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.

Meantime, the Iditarod announced  the race would restart in Willow on its normal southern route after the March 3 ceremonial start in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, Feb. 9, 2018

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 17:55

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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Walker picks Mat-Su Assembly member Kowalke for state Senate

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke has been appointed today by Governor Bill Walker to the state Senate.

More layoffs announced at Prudhoe Bay

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Over 260 Alaska workers in Prudhoe Bay will be laid off March 31 as a result of a contract change with oil company BP.

Ben Anderson-Agimuk resigns from legislative position

Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – Bethel

On Thursday, Ben Anderson-Agimuk resigned from his position as a House District 38 legislative aide in order to dedicate more time to filling former Representative Zach Fansler’s seat.

Alaska sends a record-breaking number of athletes to the Olympics

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in PyeongChang, South Korea on Friday and a record number of Alaskan athletes competing for medals over the next few weeks.

International “range states” meet to discuss polar bear conservation

Ravenna Koenig, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Fairbanks

“The number one challenge is loss of polar bear habitat, meaning sea ice,” says James Wilder, the polar bear program leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Iditarod mushers demand board president resignation, don’t get it

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The Iditarod Official Finisher’s Club called for the immediate resignation of Iditarod Board President Andy Baker. The club’s letter to the board said Baker has “jeopardized the integrity of our whole livelihood through his poor leadership.”

As Yukon Quest enters second half, two more racers drop out

Dan Bross and Zoe Rom, KUAC – Fairbanks

Yukon Quest leader Allen Moore departed Dawson City this morning for the second half of the thousand mile race.

AK: UAA’s Earthquake ’64 brings historic disaster to the stage

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

UAA’s Earthquake ’64 shows how the 1964 Alaska Earthquake affected ordinary citizens in Anchorage. It’s not a traditional natural disaster play.

49 Voices: Hannah Dorough of Anchorage

Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Hannah Dorough in Anchorage. Dorough is an English graduate from UAA who is a ski coach for Junior Nordic.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska sends a record-breaking number of athletes to the Olympics

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 17:50
There are five Alaskans on the women’s cross-country ski team competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Pacific University)

The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in PyeongChang, South Korea on Friday and a record number of Alaskan athletes competing for medals over the next few weeks.

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CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

Erik Bjornsen
Sadie Bjornsen
Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, from Winthrop, WA, made their Olympic debuts at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Erik finished 6th in the team sprint and Sadie finished 9th in the 4×5 km relay. Both are going into the games with medal hopes.

Rosie Brennan
Rosie is from Park City, Utah. She didn’t start skiing until she was 14, but for the last two years, Rosie has skied on the World Cup circuit in Europe. She was on the 4x5k relay team that finished 3rd in 2015 at the World Cup races in Lillehammer, Norway.

Rosie Frankowski
Rosie, born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, earned her Master’s degree in Business Administration from APU, where she has skied professionally for the last few years.

Logan Hanneman
Reese Hanneman
Logan and Reese Hanneman are from Fairbanks. After graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Logan and joined his brother in Anchorage to ski for APU. Both have won Super Tour races in the U.S.

Tyler Kornfield
Tyler was born and raised in Anchorage. He skied for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he won multiple national championships. Skiing professionally, Tyler has continued to climb to the top of national podiums.

Caitlin Patterson
Scott Patterson
Siblings Cailtin and Scott Patterson are graduates of Anchorage’s South High School and are former members of Alaska Winter Stars ski program. They also both skied for the University of Vermont. Caitlin then joined Vermont’s Crafstbury Green Racing Project, while Scott moved back to Alaska to ski for APU. They have both won multiple national championships and skied on the World Cup.

Kikkan Randall
Kikkan Randall made her Olympic debut at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was the first American woman to both podium and win in World Cup Races. She was also the first American woman to finish in the top 10 at the Olympics. This will be Kikkan’s fifth and final Olympics.

Casey Wright (competing for Australia)
Casey is from Melbourne, Australia. She started skiing for the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2016. She was voted “most improved skier” by her teammates in 2017.

Jessica Yeaton (competing for Australia)
Jessica was born in Perth, Australia and moved to Alaska when she was 12. After graduating from Montana State University, Jessica moved back to Alaska to ski professionally for APU.

SNOWBOARDING

Rosie Mancari
Rosie started snowboarding at Alyeska when she was just three years old. The 24-year-old graduated early from South High School to snowboard full-time in Colorado. Rosie is competing in snowboard cross.

Ryan Stassel
Ryan is a graduate of Service High School. He competed at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and, in 2015, won gold at the World Cup Championships in Austria. The 25-year-old will compete in two snowboarding events: big air and slopestyle.

FIGURE SKATING
Keegan Messing (competing for Canada)
Keegan is a figure skater from Girdwood. The 26-year-old grew up in Alaska, but his moms is from Alberta, Canada, so Keegan is competing for Canada. Keegan’s great-great grandfather was the first person ever recorded to immigrate from Japan to Canada.

HOCKEY
Mat Robinson (competing for Canada)
Mat is from Calgary, Alberta. He was a defenseman for four years at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Luka Vidmar (competing for Slovenia)
Also a former Seawolf, Luka is from Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is a defenseman and played for for four years for the University of Alaska Anchorage.

ALPINE SKIING

Alex Hall
Alex was born in Fairbanks, but when he was one he moved with his family to Zurich, Switzerland. Alex relocated to Park City, UT when he was 16. He will compete in slopestyle skiing.

Categories: Alaska News

More layoffs announced at Prudhoe Bay

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 15:40
As a result of a contract change with BP, over 230 Prudhoe Bay workers will be laid off in March, although they can pursue employment with the new contractor (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Over 260 Alaska workers — including over 180 union employees — will be laid off March 31 as a result of a contract change with oil company BP. Most of the employees were working at Prudhoe Bay.

That’s according to a report to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, sent by the contractor, New Jersey-based Mistras Group, Inc.

According to BP spokesperson Dawn Patience, the decision to end the contract was made to reduce costs amid continued low oil prices. Mistras performed inspections on pipelines and other infrastructure for BP.

BP instead awarded the contract to Anchorage-based Kakivik CCI, a subsidiary of Bristol Bay Industrial. Kakivik is non-union, according to BP. Kakivik was already doing a large portion of BP’s pipeline inspection work.

Kakivik spokesperson Sheila Schooner said the company is now seeking over 200 workers to fill the contract, although Schooner could not say whether the contract change would result in a net loss of jobs. Schooner Kakivik is encouraging Mistras workers to apply for the jobs.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Hannah Dorough of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-09 15:25
Hannah Dorough of Anchorage (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Hannah Dorough in Anchorage. Dorough is an English graduate from UAA who is a ski coach for Junior Nordic.

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Dorough: I really enjoy having a flip phone. I lost it on an airplane and I had to get a different phone, but they didn’t sell the Razrs anymore, because everyone moved into the smartphone era. So I had to go to GCI and I got one of those drug dealer phones that are prepaid, and you put $50 on them every month and you drop them in the garbage bin when you’re done, and move on with life.

So now I have a different black, shiny flip phone that is not a Razr. But I recently dropped it down, like 15 different stairs and it hit each one on the way down. And it survived perfectly fine. A lot of people like it because they think it’s like a throwback. And they always want to play on it. And they ask if I have games. I don’t have games.

And then some people really don’t like it, and they tell me multiple, multiple, multiple times in conversation that I need to get a different phone. I’m like no, shush.

People keep telling me I need to get Snapchat. I don’t want to get Snapchat. I don’t want Instagram. I don’t want these things. They sound so complicated.

Categories: Alaska News

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