Alaska News

Ketchikan police seize meth, heroin, weapons, cash in Tuesday drug bust

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 10:02
Methamphetamine, heroin and cash seized in a Tuesday night drug bust are seen on display at the Ketchikan Police Department. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Three people were arrested in a drug bust in Ketchikan Tuesday night. During the bust, Ketchikan police seized a pound of meth, 2.75 ounces of heroin, a handgun and a semiautomatic assault rifle loaded with armor-piercing bullets.

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Charged in the bust were 31-year-old Arthur Castillo, 52-year-old Loretta Garcia and 31-year-old Alfonso Sandoval.

Also during the raid, police seized about $16,500 cash, paraphernalia they say is related to drug sales and some pot. The bust was the result of a months-long investigation.

During a news conference at the police station hours just after the raid, the drugs, cash and weapons were laid out on display in the briefing room. Sgt. Mike Purcell estimated the street value of the drugs, starting with the methamphetamine.

“Two-tenths of a gram will sell for about $100. This is a little over a pound, so you’re looking at well over $200,000 worth of methamphetamine alone,” Purcell said. “The heroin, if you break it down to street level, one-tenth of a gram typically goes for $100, so total value of that was, I think over $70,000.”

Sgt. Andy Berntson said the three suspects were contacted downtown, on Main Street. He said police knew ahead of time about the firearms and made sure to make the arrest away from where those weapons were kept.

Berntson said the cash and firearms were found at Garcia’s home on North Tongass Highway.

“The AR-15, the assault rifle, which was loaded, was propped up inside, leaning against the side of her closet,” Berntson said. “Right up above it was a large stack of over $5,000 of the cash, literally sitting on top of that 44-magnum revolver you can see right there. In the middle, behind the divider of the closet was a locked safe that contained the bulk of the rest of the cash.”

Berntson said the drugs and more cash were seized from Castillo’s apartment. He said this is the largest drug bust at a residence in Ketchikan that he can remember, and is the first time that they seized an assault rifle with armor-piercing bullets. The guns are not illegal to own, but if guns are used in connection with a crime, they can be forfeited.

So far, the defendants have not been charged with weapons misconduct. Berntson said more charges are possible as the investigation continues. He says the defendants were charged initially with crimes police felt confident they had immediate evidence to support.

Bernston said about 10 officers, including Alaska State Troopers, participated in the drug bust.

“It was kind of a rolling event that started early in the evening and went until about 1:30 in the morning before we all left,” Bernston said.

Garcia, Castillo and Sandoval were each charged with two counts of second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Castillo faces an additional charge of third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.

All three defendants had their first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Critics call Pebble’s concept an investment ploy, not a real plan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 09:54
(KDLG photo)

Pebble’s critics are not showing an interest in the company’s new concept to mine the copper and gold deposit northwest of Iliamna. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay has called the plan a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” another attempt at bribery, and the “latest in a long list of lies.” Another longtime opponent sees this week’s news as more an investment ploy than serious attempt to put a mine into permitting.

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Rick Halford is a Republican former state senate president, and these days spends a lot of his time working to protect the PFD. But he has also been one of Pebble’s staunchest opponents, and has worked closely with Trout Limited, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and others to block this and any mine from being developed in the Bristol Bay watershed. He spent some time looking at the new concept Pebble put out Thursday.

“My first question is, how are they going to, before the end of this year, actually apply for a permit?” Halford said. “That’s the core promise that was announced. There’s a lot of slides, and a lot of promises, but that’s not a plan.”

Halford said this is certainly more interesting than some “back of the pizza box plans” from the past, but he’s still skeptical the company is even serious about taking the project through. He thinks this conceptual rollout is aimed investors, not regulators.

“I mean that’s their real experience is more mining in the stock market than mining in the ground,” Halford said. “The big mining interests have walked away from the project at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars. So they’re looking for another large mining interest, and anything they can do to make the project look viable is to their advantage.”

Halford is also suspicious that the public is seeing the same presentation that investors are looking at, especially after Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ron Thiessen was quoted in Denver recently talking about a project that will last for many generations, not just the 20-year project Pebble said it will take into permitting.

“It’s very difficult to see how you could ever enforce a small mine limitation,” Thiessen said. “You have a combination of multi-national interests that it would take to develop it, and it’s not going to be ‘we’re going to do this partly.’ Once you start, you have opened and empowered a mining district with infrastructure, and it’s going to go as far as they can find resources.”

Pebble agrees that an increase in the size or scope of mining at the deposit is certainly possible after the first mine, but says that all new efforts will require separate and extensive permitting. There’s no illusion by anybody that there is a lot of copper and gold northwest of Iliamna, and several companies – Pebble included – are interested in going after those minerals eventually.

Halford said some of Pebble’s new concepts did move in the right direction, but he’s also very skeptical about some of the company’s claims.

“One of those being that you can somehow separate the impact on the Nushagak drainage and the Kvichak drainage, when in fact the project sits in a saddle that straddles both of them, and it’s pretty hard to separate when you have subsurface exchange between drainages,” Halford said.

The ball is in Pebble’s court to put an actual plan together and file a permit application, said Halford, something he doesn’t think may ever happen, let alone by December.

Of the opposition and its plans, Halford said they are growing and their mission is clear. He was heartened to see Governor Bill Walker come out as “unconvinced” and “not supportive” of Pebble on Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Perceptions and assessment of risk

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 09:20
(Creative Commons graphic)

There’s been a lot of bad news in recent weeks. Devastating hurricanes, tension with North Korea and a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. We face risks each day. How should we manage the stress that accompanies them without becoming overwhelmed and how should we talk to children about it all?

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Kevin Berry – ISER Researcher
  • Statewide callers 

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

AK: At Wales’ Kingikmiut Festival, dancing to heal

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-10-06 15:05
the 2017 Kingikmiut Dance Festival in Wales. (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM)

Last month, the community of Wales, in Western Alaska, hosted one of the biggest Alaska Native dance festivals in the state. 10 groups from around the region and as far as Anchorage flew in to the village over Labor Day weekend, to sing, dance, drum, talk — and heal.

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It’s 2 a.m. at the western tip of the Seward Peninsula. The Northern Lights dance outside in the starry autumn sky above the community of Wales, and inside the school gymnasium, the Shishmaref Kigiqtaq Dancers show no signs of letting up, either.

The Wales Kingikmiut Dance Festival is now in its 18th year. It was started in the 1990s, when the Native dance tradition in Wales was revived after decades of absence. This has since grown to be one of the largest Alaska Native dance festivals in the state. It’s a high-energy, late-night celebration of family, community and cultural heritage.

Anna Oxereok is president of the Native Village of Wales, which organizes the festival. Throughout the weekend, she’s running around town and the school, making sure everything goes smoothly. When she has a few moments to talk, she explains the festival is about more than dance:

“To me, it’s a healing process. If you look, they’re visiting,” Oxereok said. “They don’t get to see each other but once a year. A lot of relatives that never see each other are getting to see each other, or meeting our relatives that we didn’t know.”

Across the room, a group of women are singing songs in Inupiaq. Oxereok commented on the significance of this sort of rite of collective memory.

“Our language is so much deeper than the English,” Oxereok said. “We can’t seem to get it across with enough passion in English compared to Inupiaq.”

One of the singing women is Sophie Nothstine, a member of the Anchorage Kingikmiut Singers and Dancers. Nothstine said it was difficult to see her culture suppressed by white missionaries in the 20th century. Dancing, she says, helps overcome some of those negative feelings. She asks not to be recorded, but said, “Coming here makes us feel whole.”

Edward Tiulana, with the King Island Dancers, said he can feel that when he’s performing.

“We have to work together as a partnership,” Tiulana said. “You can’t try to sing over someone. And when you hit that note where everything is in harmony, it’s like … it’s hard to explain.”

But Tiulana tried to put his feelings into words.

“And then, keeping the drumbeat, the heartbeat: I look into my skin on the drum, especially when we really get going, because that vibration — you can see it, and it’s alive, it’s a real thing,” Tiulana said. “When you’re able to reach that level, it’s mystical. It’s like the songs are alive and they take over your body.”

Many of the songs he sings originated in a place that’s been uninhabited for about half a century. King Island lies due south of Wales and northwest of Nome. Tiulana describes it to me:

“It’s like a fortress sticking out the water,’ Tiulana said. “There’s no beach. It’s all huge boulders, and it’s like a mile long and a mile and a half wide.”

Tiulana said in the 1930s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioned a school there but the Lower 48 teachers weren’t cut out for the weather, and the school closed in the 1960s. At that point, families started to move off the island, settling in places around the state.

Tiulana used to live on the island. His grandfather, who started the dance group, began teaching him how to drum when he was five. Today, he lives in Anchorage and works as a dance instructor at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Tiulana said it takes dedication and passion to preserve the tradition.

“I sit there and I listen to recordings all day long, hundreds and hundreds of times — get the song right, to sing it right, just how I’m hearing it,” Tiulana said. “Because some of these old recordings from the 20’s, to listen to those guys: they’re on-point, every single time. No mistakes, their voices are all matching. They’re on that other level. We haven’t even gotten halfway in my generation, so we’re still working to reach that.”

The King Island Dancers is one of the largest groups at the festival, with nearly 15 drummers who fill the gymnasium with thunderous sound. Dancers don traditional head- and arm-pieces and animal masks. One drummer, an older man, closes his eyes, submerged in the song. The group even brings out oars and performs a rowing dance.

Beneath the dances, there’s an undercurrent of mourning — for lost homeland like King Island, and lost community members. The festival is dedicated to three elders and three youth who died in the past year: one elder originally from King Island, the other five all from Wales.

Samuel Johns is visiting the festival to give a keynote talk on his project, Forget Me Not. It started as a Facebook group that helps homeless Alaskans in Anchorage, who are mostly Alaska Native, connect with family around the state.

“I could feel the grief — just from that King Island over there,” Johns said. “I looked at it, and I was like, man, something about that island over there. And then I asked the lady, ‘Where’s King Island at?’ and she pointed right at that island. And then the first thing she says to me is, ‘I’m from Little Diomede. You want to know the history of Wales?’ And she starts talking to me about historical trauma. I’m like, ‘You’re reading my mind right now.’”

Johns said his work is very much motivated by that trauma.

“For the last 10,000 years, my people have had a sustainable way of life, and we were fine, we survived,” Johns said. “And then, out of nowhere, contact happens. I mean no disrespect to anyone’s religion, but as soon as the religion came in and we were forced to lose our identity, that’s when things started happening to my people — alcoholism, diabetes, drug addiction, the list goes on and on. Those things didn’t even exist. We never even had words for any of those things. That means something. So now, now is the time for me to do what I can do to help bring culture back into our lives.”

Johns said doming here gives him hope for the future.

“It’s beautiful seeing that they still have this festival going on,” Johns said. “It’s beautiful seeing that people are still walking around here with kuspuks on, and they’re drumming and singing inside right now in the school, probably the same school where, once upon a time, they told them they weren’t allowed to drum and sing.”

Throughout the festival, the younger generation seems energized by the tradition. A young boy from King Island, no older than 4 or 5, dons armpieces and dances with the men. The Wales Kingikmiut Dancers are a young group: maybe half of them are under 25. And in all the groups, children, adults and elders dance together.

Among the many who tell me how crucial the mix of ages is, is Annauk Pollock, also known as Denise. It’s her first time at the festival, where she’s dancing with the Anchorage Kingikmiut. She’s originally from Shishmaref, and many of her family there dance and sing. But she grew up between Utqiagvik, Fairbanks and Massachusetts. After time in Washington, D.C., Pollock moved back to Alaska to work with her native town on facing the effects of climate change.

“After everything I’ve experienced, and all the places I’ve lived or traveled, this is where I feel the most connected,” Pollock said. “What’s most meaningful to me is being connected to my Inupiaq community, speaking the Inupiaq language, and working to protect our lands and our life ways.”

Pollock said that includes preserving the dance tradition, which, for her, has become a source of inspiration.

“I always feel refreshed after going to dance class, and it’s such a great way to begin the week. It feels like I get a lot of energy to go forward with the work I do,” Pollock said. “So in order to keep this going, I think we need to have a lot of young people who are actively working to get resources to continue.”

One such active young person present at the festival is David Miller. He grew up in Teller and has performed with the Teller and Anchorage groups in the past. Now, he lives in Nome, and this year, he was invited to come to Wales with the King Island Dancers. I asked him why he dances.

“I want elders to be proud of me. I want our religion to keep going,” Miller said. “It’s fun, it’s like a sport. You have a dance and you really like it, and before you go up, you’re saying that you’re happy that the song is on right now, because it’s fun. Every dance you perform, it feels like you learn something every time, passed on. You need to know about your ancestors.”

That sense of duty to both past and future, the weight of history, the grief of losing loved ones. Those could overshadow the simple joys of singing, drumming and dancing. But they don’t.

As the golden full moon sets, just off the Cape Prince of Wales, and plunges into the sea, the dance goes on.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Andrew Jasper of Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-10-06 14:00
Andrew Jasper of Bethel. (KYUK photo)

This week we’re hearing from Andrew Jasper from Bethel. Jasper is originally from Aniak and works as a behavioral health aide for the Yukon-Kuskowkwim Health Consortium.

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JASPER: I think my background is mainly social work… helping people. I like helping people. When there’s accident happened in the village, when I’m called to go out I go out and do that.

I want to help my people because a lot of them are using substance abuse — maybe drugs and alcohol — and I wanna help those people get better. Growing up here, I learned a lot from my elders and that’s what I’m doing now. It’s passing down the knowledge I learned from my elders.

My passion is playing music. I play a variety of instruments. I play guitar. I play mandolin. I play keyboards. I play violin. Little bit of harmonica, little bit of bass. When my brother came home from high school, he bought a guitar and that’s when I learned how to play the guitar.

Country music… mixed country music and maybe country rock. And I have a band of my own, Jasper Band from Akiak. We do fiddle dances in villages. When we’re called to go to villages, that’s what we do.

I’d rather have our own… not too many people. ‘Cause when I went out of state, there were too many, too many… too many people out there. I’d rather have not too many people from outside. But they can come and visit if they want to, but not to stay here (laughs).

I never considered to move out of state, but I’m thinking of moving out of Bethel to Anchorage maybe (laughs).

KYUK intern Jared James gathered this interview in Bethel. 

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble shows first glance at its new mine plans

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-10-06 09:08
A visual depiction of where Pebble will file a permit for 20 year mining permit to operate. This slide is one of more than 100 that Pebble is using to present an overview of their new plans. (Credit PLP)

Early Thursday morning in Anchorage Pebble CEO Tom Collier began the rollout of Pebble Mine’s new design. The company is focusing on a much smaller footprint in the Pebble West deposit only.

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“We set as a goal trying to get into the ballpark of what the Obama EPA would have allowed to have been built in the region, and we’ve done that,” Collier said. “So, the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment said that something 4.7 square mile footprint could be built, and we’re at 5.4 square miles as we go forward with this project.”

A footprint includes the pit, tailings facilities, and waste rock, the latter of which the company said will be used in construction of the tailings dams and not left in open piles. EPA estimated Pebble’s footprint would be at least 13.5 square miles, Collier said, more than double what the company is now planning.

Including all other facilities and construction, Pebble now said the entire project footprint has been reduced to 12.7 square miles, less than half of what it used to be, and now smaller than the proposed Donlin Gold Mine on the Kuskokwim River.

Collier said these and other changes are in direct response to the concerns and criticisms raised over the past decade.

“We’ve decided that we’re not going to do secondary gold recovery in this project, so there’ll be no cyanide in the region,” Collier said. “Tailings facilities will be much smaller. We’ll separate out those that might generate acid if they’re not treated in a special way, and make that facility lined and even more buttressed so it’ll be safe. By making the mine smaller, we’ll only be in two drainages, the North and South Fork Koktuli, and not in the Upper Talarik drainage which was part of the original plan.”

The current design of a Pebble Mine, during normal operations, will disturb or damage a “negligible, as in, not measurable” amount of sockeye salmon spawning habitat, said Collier. To measure what could happen to sockeye in the event of a catastrophic failure of a tailings facility, similar to the 2014 Mount Polley disaster in British Columbia, the company is using the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment developed under President Obama’s EPA. That study suggested that with no remediation or clean-up, some 10 miles of the Koktuli’s salmon habitat would be damaged for 10 years.

Pebble is now looking at using a large ferry to haul ore across Iliamna Lake, rather than construct northern or southern route roads from the mine site to a new port in Cook Inlet. (Credit PLP)

“When we look at what that looks like in terms of sockeye production, it would literally be two one hundredths of one percent of the sockeye production in the region. That’s a risk that we don’t want to run, and we believe we’ve protected against that risk, but that’s the worst case. And those that think we would or could destroy all the salmon in Bristol Bay just don’t have the facts before them,” Collier said.

To move the ore to Cook Inlet, Pebble’s new plan uses an ice-breaking ferry to cross Iliamna Lake to a shorter new road east of Kokhanok. Not building a northern or southern route road around the lake will significantly cut down Pebble’s overall impact on wetlands, Collier said. Those routes are still being explored as alternatives for an Environmental Impact Statement.

Pebble is looking to form a revenue sharing corporation to pay out dividends to local residents and village corporations during the project, since the deposit is not on Bristol Bay Native Corporation lands. The individual checks may be $500, and the corporations may see $500,000 annually. Collier wants to find new ways to help local fishermen, and produce enough power to offer low cost electricity for the region. That power could come from a new natural gas plant across Cook Inlet or be generated closer to the site.

The project has been scaled back from an estimated annual operating budget of $1 billion to $400 million. Pebble believes annual royalties to the Lake and Peninsula Borough will still be around $20 million, that local residents will have access to some 1,000 news jobs, and village corporations will have access to ample new contracts.

Pebble does not have a new partner yet, Collier said, but he is still planning to file a permit application before the end of the year.

Categories: Alaska News

Studying climate change, Korean scientists warm to Western Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-10-06 08:17
Members of the KOPRI research team take samples at their site near Council. (Photo courtesy of Min Jung Kwon, 2017.)

A team of South Korean researchers was in Nome during September to study the effects of climate change on Arctic permafrost ecosystems. The project is one of many throughout the Arctic and Antarctic sponsored by the Korean Polar Research Institute, or KOPRI.

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The small group of scientists and technicians on this Western Alaska expedition stayed in Nome for several weeks and drove daily to a site near Council. They used a special automated chamber system to measure concentrations of carbon dioxide in the permafrost and how fast it’s being released into the atmosphere. They also looked at some of the physical and chemical properties of the permafrost and its microorganisms.

Min Jung Kwon is a postdoctoral researcher with KOPRI. She spoke about the urgency of the research.

“With the atmospheric temperature rising, and sea level rise, and all the sorts of phenomena associated with climate change, we’re trying to understand it,” Kwon said. “We’re trying to see the big picture in how the phenomena of climate change is affecting the environment.”

Building that big picture includes gathering data from KOPRI’s two Antarctic research stations and its Dasan Research Station, on Norway’s Svalbard Island. KOPRI also operates an icebreaker, Aeron, which stopped in Nome on September 16 as part of its annual Arctic voyage. It visits the Arctic in the summer and the Antarctic the other half of the year, during the southern hemisphere’s summer.

KOPRI also collaborates with institutions around the world, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which was a partner on this Western Alaska project.

For a non-Arctic country like South Korea, Kwon said such collaboration is essential:

“We rely on the cooperations with institutes and researchers in the Arctic countries to not only give us tips on where we should set up our research stations but if we have common interests and research fields, then we will try to collaborate and see where we can help one another.” Kwon said.

Kwon’s collaborative research has taken her around the world, to sites in Russia and Canada.

“In Nome is where I find the most beautiful landscape,” Kwon said. “To see the many trees, to see the many mountains — it’s a great sight.”

And it’s an odd place, she admits, to find researchers from Korea. But Kwon stressed that Arctic climate change is a global issue.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” Kwon said. “It’s actually affecting the entire globe. And we, as a mid-latitude country, we are also very much affected by the changes in the Arctic climate. So we have been experiencing more and more colder temperatures during the winter and more extreme weather. I don’t think we try to see it as an isolated phenomenon, but we try to see it as a connected system.”

Kwon and her colleagues are back in Korea for now, compiling and analyzing the data they’ve collected. But she said, in the future, KOPRI hopes expand its work in the Alaskan Arctic to the winter months, though they’ll probably need a few more layers for that.

Categories: Alaska News

Come with a leg or torso, leave with burgers and steaks at Bill’s Meats

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-10-06 07:57
Bill Howell, the father, became a journeyman meat cutter in the 1970s in Tacoma, Washington. He’s returning to butchering with his son after a 15 year hiatus. Howell is pictured here on September 27, 2017 at Bill’s Meats in Bethel. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

Taking a moose usually means carrying home 500 pounds of meat. Cutting and preparing that meat can take all day. But Bill Howell can do it in a few hours. Add another Bill and they can do it in half. Bethel has a small shop where customers come with legs and torsos, and leave with packages of steaks, ribs, roasts, and other tasty meats.

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Bill’s Meats is a small 16-by-16 foot building off the Bethel highway. If you’re not looking you’ll miss it, but once you arrive, you’ll know you’re in the right place. On a deck stands a pile of blood-stained white bags.

“That’s a hind quarter,” Bill Howell said. “That’s probably back straps.”

Howell is better known for being Bethel’s Fire Chief, but he’s taken three weeks off of fire duty this moose season to focus on cutting meat.

Bill Howell, the son, saws frozen beef fat to add to moose burger and sausage while his father carves moose in the background on September 27, 2017.(Katie Basile / KYUK)

“The fall moose season is a very short and very intense time,” Howell said.

Bill and his team cut meat 10 hours a day, seven days a week, even after the hunt closes. Bill’s right hand man is his dad, also named Bill Howell.

“So I’m going to make a batch of burger,” Bill Sr. said. “For proper mixing, you leave your fingers open. Otherwise, you scrunch it together.”

Bill Howell Sr. is working beef fat into the lean moose meat. 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat makes a juicy burger. When it’s done, it all goes through the grinder again.

Bill’s Meats started in 2009 in Bill Howell Jr.’s yard. There weren’t any game butchers in town and the business took off. In the intervening years it has received two Best in the West small business grants and moved from its neighborhood location to the highway.

“We have a 7.5 horsepower Hobart size 52 meat grinder. It grinds 95 pounds of meat a minute,” Bill Jr. said. “We’ve got a 2 horsepower meat saw so we can cut through bones, and we’re trained meat cutters.”

Bill Jr. trained under his father when his dad managed the meat department for Bethel’s old ANICA Family Store. The building is now AC Quickstop.

His father trained decades before that, becoming a journeyman meat cutter in the early 1970s in Washington state.

“We were knife men. Knife men were the hardest working men,” Bill Sr. said. “They were production men. They produced with knives. They boned out whole carcass beef.”

“We were knife men. We trained with knives,” said Bill Howell, the father, describing his meat cutting apprenticeship in the 1970s. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

“He’s a machine,” Bill Jr. said. “He just turns it out like you wouldn’t believe. Look at him.”

His dad takes only 40 minutes to cut 200 pounds of moose into roast and cubes of stew meat.

“I know it sounds crazy. I’m on Social Security. I’ll be 70 years old in five days, and I still love cutting meat,” Bill Sr. said.

This season is the older Bill’s first time cutting meat in 15 years. He had moved to Nome, worked different jobs, bought a restaurant, and went bankrupt.

“So my children invited me, Bill especially, ‘Come on dad, let’s cut meat,’” Bill Sr. said.

Though younger Bill is the son, he’s clearly in charge, and his dad, always cutting, keeps the product moving.

Bill’s Meats cuts about 2,000 lbs of meat per day during the fall moose hunt, turning moose into burgers, steaks, roasts, seasoned sausage, ribs, and stew meat. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

“I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to still serve the community and have some usefulness,” Bill Sr. said.

The work looks backbreaking. The men are standing all day, slinging tubs holding hundreds of pounds of meat. It’s perpetual motion, efficiently performed in a tight space amidst flashing blades and giant tools designed to slice flesh and bone.

The communication and coordination seems to require a certain trust, like that which exists between a father and son.

Categories: Alaska News

ANWR advances with GOP budget

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-10-05 17:25

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a budget plan that could open the door to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The vote was 219-206. Eighteen Republicans joined the Democrats in voting “no.”

This is an early stage in the process Republican are using to fast-track their proposed tax cuts. So far, ANWR is a lesser-noticed passenger. Alaska Congressman Don Young was one of the few who brought it up in Congressional debates this week. He spoke in favor of drilling in the refuge.

“It is necessary for this nation,” Young said from the House floor Wednesday. “It’s necessary, very frankly, for the good of this Congress. With $20 trillion in debt, I’ve yet to hear anything (else) that’s going to create new wealth.”

Young says development would have a small footprint and won’t disturb the migratory caribou herd.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., argued the anti-drilling case. Beyer says the budget proposal offers a bad deal, especially for the subsistence hunters of ANWR.

“It essentially sacrifices wildlife and environmental protection,” Beyer said, “for tax cuts for the wealthiest.”

ANWR isn’t actually in the budget plan at this phase, but there’s a placeholder for its revenues. This sets the stage for lawmakers to include it in “budget reconciliation,” a type of bill that can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

The Senate version of the budget plan has a similar placeholder. It passed out of a committee Thursday, along party lines.

Categories: Alaska News

New research at LeConte Glacier predicts record retreat

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-10-05 15:58

Glaciologists have wrapped up two years of research on LeConte glacier near Petersburg. Their preliminary findings show that the glacier could reach a record retreat by the end of the year. And it could be an indicator for what’s going to happen in Greenland.

Glaciers are like frozen rivers of ice, constantly moving. LeConte Glacier feeds into the ocean near Petersburg at a rate of 90 feet a day. LeConte is the southern-most tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Its accessibility makes it a draw for nearby scientists. But that’s not the only reason they’re interested. The glacier is also a lot like hundreds of others that cover Greenland.

Glaciologist, Christian Kienholz and colleagues used equipment to collect data on LeConte Glacier seven times over the last two years. (Photo courtesy of Christian Kienholz, University of Alaska Southeast)

And Greenland has the attention of climate specialists all over the world. When it melts, which they say is inevitable, sea levels could rise quickly.

Christain Kienholz is a Glaciologist at the University of Alaska Southeast who is originally from Switzerland. He’s been studying LeConte for the past two years to find models to predict glacial melt in Greenland.

“If we want to better understand than we need to look at an example like LeConte, which is much better accessible than the glaciers in Greenland,” Kienholz said. “LeConte has other advantages because it’s a fairly narrow fjord, which allows us to do the measurements from the boat like transects fairly efficiently.”

Kienholz and a colleague have visited LeConte seven times staying at a base camp about 1,200 feet above the glacier overlooking the end or terminus.

The research required lots of equipment. They had six time-lapse cameras set up around the fjord taking snapshots every fifteen seconds. A radar measured the glacier’s speed and elevation every three minutes. A sonar measured the depth of the fjord. Seismometers helped detect calving events and runoff. And they tracked the weather–the temperature and precipitation.

Some of the research continued year round like the time lapse cameras. Kienholz collected over a half a million images through them. The winter snow would come and go but the cameras kept rolling.

“And that’s something that recently became possible,” Kienholz said. “We have now cards, memory chips that are large enough to actually store that number of pictures. Ten years ago that was not possible.”

Time lapse cameras caught this mountain goat gazing at the LeConte Glacier terminus. (Photo courtesy of Christian Kienholz, University of Alaska Southeast)

Newer computers are helping translate the still images into surface speeds of the water.

Scientists like Kienholz call LeConte and other tidewater glaciers non-linear systems. The glaciers are traveling on top of water and become stable when they get to shallower spots known as sills. So, the terminus usually stays near a shallow spot for a long period of time where there is less calving. But when the glacier retreats beyond that point onto deeper water, there’s more calving and the terminus jumps back.

“That’s what we have seen with Leconte Glacier,” Kienholz said. “Typically it’s stable for a couple of years, a certain spot, typically on sill, and then it’s retreating pretty fast for a certain period of time and then stable again and then retreating.”

Students at Petersburg High School have recorded the terminus every year for decades and that’s initially what caught scientists attention. The new and old information has Kienholz believing that the glacier might reach a record retreat this year.

“We know from maps where the glacier was in 1950, for example, and we know from the high school record every year where the glacier terminus was, and at the end of this year, very likely the glacier will be as far back as never before,” Kienholz said.

Christian Kienholz, Glaciologist with the University of Alaska Southeast gathered data at the Leconte Glacier seven times over the last two years. (Photo courtesy of Christian Kienholz, UAS)

Kienholz was interested in glaciers early in life growing up in Switzerland. He said he has seen major changes just in his lifetime.

“There are quite a few small glaciers. They were already small when I grew up and some of them have gone away,” Kienholz said. “That’s definitely what you’re going to see in the years to come. There are a lot of glaciers that are predicted to retreat almost completely.”

Kienholz hopes that his research can help predict just how fast those changes will happen and maybe help people plan for what they’re going to do about it.

The two-year research project not only included collecting data from the top of LeConte. An oceanography team from Oregon State University and University of Oregon has been studying the water near the glacier. The two teams are sharing data and plan to publish their results.

Kienholz hopes that the scientists can secure funding to collect more data from LeConte in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate change roundtable puts Alaska contradictions on full display

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-10-05 15:29
John Hopson, Jr., (r) of Wainright and Rand Hagenstein (l) of The Nature Conservancy joined representatives from oil and gas, mining, environmental groups and local communities at the Walker administration’s climate change round table in Anchorage on Oct. 4, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

A downtown Anchorage conference room hosted an unusual meeting Wednesday, as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott gathered a cross-section of Alaskans to brainstorm paths forward on climate change.

Representatives from the oil and gas and mining industries joined environmentalists and local community leaders to spitball solutions. The Walker administration plans to use the ideas to inform a state climate policy currently in the works.

About 35 people sat around tables on the second floor of Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center. Giant notepads on easels sat ready for participants to jot down thoughts, each with a label: adaptation, mitigation, research and response.

“I don’t need to emphasize here that climate change is real,” Mallott told the gathering in his opening remarks, calling it a “generational” challenge.

“There is no stopping what is happening,” Mallott added.

But as participants gathered in groups to brainstorm, the state’s contradictions were on full display. Alaska is an oil state that sits on the front lines of global warming. The room included people who depend on oil for their livelihood, and those coping with the impacts of climate change on the ground – represented at the same table, sometimes by same person.

Joshua Kindred pointed out that paradox; he works for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s main advocate in the state. Kindred said the word that comes to mind when he thinks about trying to address climate change is “quixotic.”

“We’re a state that produces 500,000 barrels a day, on a planet that consumes almost a hundred million barrels a day,” Kindred said. “When we talk about things like reducing our carbon footprint, and what we can do at the local level, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that we have very limited control to change the long-term path of climate change. So, how do we advocate on a global level?”

Sitting across from him, Karen Pletnikoff said she sees plenty of opportunities for Alaskans, and the Alaska oil industry, to move the needle on climate change. Pletnikoff is with the Aleutian Pribiloff Islands Association, which is working with communities to plan for climate impacts.

“I think your specific industry has a wonderful opportunity to do a lot to protect the environment by preventing methane escapes in the North,” Pletnikoff told Kindred.

Across the room, former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell argued that action on climate change doesn’t have to threaten oil production. He said he’s hopeful new technology might emerge to capture carbon emissions – and suggested Alaska should be at the forefront of carbon capture and sequestration.

“I think the joke’s going to be on those who think oil and gas is going to go away. I think we have to be part of trying to make sure oil and gas are clean,” Treadwell said. “We’ve done a pretty good job with oil and gas over the last 30 years. And if carbon’s a new problem, let’s figure out a way to get it out of there. That doesn’t mean kill it.”

Joel Neimeyer, with the federal Denali Commission, raised the issue of Alaska villages that may have to abandon their current sites because of climate change.

Neimeyer said the state needs to make up its mind and declare a position – whether Alaska favors relocating whole villages to new sites or just moving individual families into cities, which is much cheaper.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott listened to participants in the Walker administration’s climate change round table in Anchorage, Oct. 4, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“If the State of Alaska is about relocating villages and not relocating families, I think that would be a good thing to know,” Neimeyer said.

In the end, he said, relocation is probably out of the state’s hands: it will come down to whether Congress is willing to loosen the federal purse strings.

“I think if the State of Alaska says, ‘This is our policy,’ that would be helpful to Congress,” Neimeyer said. “Now, will they consider it? Yeah. Will they actually adopt it in the end? We don’t know.”

“Will they pay for it?” Adm. Thomas Barrett interjected.

Barrett heads up the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the trans-Alaska pipeline.

“Yeah, will they pay for it. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to,” Neimeyer agreed.

Mallott said exchanges like that, between people on all sides of the issue – including the oil industry and those working with communities in the path of climate change – were the whole purpose of the meeting.

The governor’s office plans to use ideas raised in the brainstorming session to develop its climate action plan, which it aims to release later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

As anger over crime boils over, Alaska lawmakers weigh changes to law

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-10-05 09:17
Police Chief Bryce Johnson discusses crime with Juneau residents at City Hall, Jan. 17, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Alaska lawmakers will face a challenge when they weigh what to do about the state’s criminal justice laws later this month: how to balance a body of research that supports changes they made last year, with the outrage about the current rise in crime.

Listen now

At a Sept. 25 town hall meeting in Anchorage called by Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, residents called for the death penalty; letting people die from overdoses; and turning an island into an Escape From New York-style prison. While the comments ranged far from the Legislature’s policy debate over crime, they show the level of passion in the city that lawmakers are hearing.

The focus of the policy debate is legislation passed year, Senate Bill 91.  It’s a law that allowed some low-risk offenders to avoid jail time. It also changed sentencing, bail and probation with the goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders. In addition, it funds drug treatment.

Most categories of serious crime have risen in Alaska over the past five years. University of Alaska Anchorage Associate Professor Brad Myrstol has looked at whether property crime is related to last year’s law. In a word, his answer is: no.

Myrstol noted there hasn’t been much time to study the law’s effects.

“I can’t say that (no) universally, in terms of both property and violent crimes, but I see no evidence in the trend data that I’ve looked at that would indicate the recent upticks in crime are attributable to the passage of SB91,” he said.

There are other potential factors, like the opioid addiction epidemic, rising unemployment and a shrinking police forces.

Millett described what she sees as one result of the law — police officers facing limits in making arrests.

“We’ve taken a tool away from them, so instead of now arresting someone and doing a physical arrest and taking them down to the jail and booking them, they’re arresting them by ticket, or by citation and giving them a summons to appear in court,” she said.

The law did downgrade drug possession from being a felony to a misdemeanor, so it no longer leads to arrests. But for 142 other types of class C felonies, the law left arrests to officers’ discretion.

Myrstol said the approach to sentencing under the new law can be difficult for police officers and residents who see jail time as the primary way to hold criminals accountable.

“We’re talking generations of police officers were trained – and their everyday practice is – putting people in handcuffs, taking them to the jail and booking them,” Myrstol said. “And now, for certain offenses, it’s not that. And that’s a dramatic change in practice.”

Myrstol said the criminal justice system has multiple goals, including reducing recidivism by shifting away from jail time and toward probation and treatment. That conflicts with another goal: giving people a sense of retribution.

“For the past generation, the imprisonment binge that we’ve been on hasn’t been particularly effective, and in many instances may even have been counterproductive to our objectives of fostering public safety and community well-being,” he said.

Shawn Williams owns an Anchorage DJ business, Five Star Entertainment. He’s helped organize other business owners to ask lawmakers to repeal Senate Bill 91.

“Between burglaries and theft being a daily occurrence, it got a little disheartening,” Williams said.

He expressed doubt over the social science used to write the law.

“Most people realize you can make data say what you want it to say,” he said.

Others in Anchorage want to see parts of the new law replaced, but not all of it.

City Assemblyman Eric Croft has worked as a municipal prosecutor. He said he supports the idea behind the criminal justice reform, but questioned its execution.

“This bill … took the savings upfront and back-loaded or didn’t fund at all the treatment and probation,” he said.

Susanne DiPietro worked with the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission as it made the recommendations that helped shape Senate Bill 91. Like Croft, DiPietro said it would have been better to increase drug treatment before the law. But she said the law creates a framework to fund treatment.

“Before SB 91, there was no promise or plan or schedule for investment in treatment,” she said. “And post-SB 91, we have … a framework of a commitment for six years out of reinvestment.”

She noted the law still isn’t fully implemented. Parts of Senate Bill 91 went into effect in July 2016, other parts went into effect in January and the rest won’t go into effect until this coming January.

“We really need to stop and take a small pause and analyze the situation and come up with approaches that will work for the problems that we have, and we just don’t have the resources to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” she said.

Gov. Bill Walker has asked the Legislature to pass a bill that would partially reverse some of the changes made last year, Senate Bill 54. A large change would be to Class C felonies. Before last year, these crimes would lead to jail terms of up to two years, plus up to 10 years of probation. Senate Bill 91 changed that to up to five years of probation and up to 18 months of jail time if probation was violated.

The bill that Walker placed on the agenda for the Legislature’s special session would reintroduce jail sentences for C felonies, of up to one year. The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission recommended shorter jail terms of up to 90 days.

House finance subcommittees will hear testimony Thursday afternoon regarding the crime bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage’s Spanish-immersion students raise thousands for sister school in Puerto Rico

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 19:35

Spanish-immersion students in Anchorage are well on their way to a goal of raising $10,000 to benefit fellow students in Puerto Rico hit hard by Hurricane Maria.

Listen now

That includes Romig Middle School’s sister school in Puerto Rico, teacher Anaely Leon-Hernandez said.

Groups of Spanish immersion students from Anchorage have been visiting the island for about 10 years, visiting historic sites and parts of the jungle there, among other places, Leon-Hernandez said.

“The highlight of our trip is when we go and visit this small little school in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, where there’s only about 400 students,” Leon-Hernandez said. “And it’s just a small little community that has opened their school, they open their homes, they open their hearts to us, so we’ve gotten to know them very well.”

It was that connection and all the friends they’ve made over the years that led the students to want to help in the wake of the hurricane, Leon-Hernandez said.

Wednesday morning at Romig and West High, students held a one-minute fundraiser to gather money to donate to their sister school in Quebradillas. Some students came bearing checks for as much as $100, while others gave what they had on them: the change in their pockets.

Leon-Hernandez said that between the two schools they’ve raised about $7,500.

Her student, 8th grader Areli Olivares, said it was important for the students to help out after hearing about the hurricane.

“I was so sad, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are my friends OK?’ Over here, we’re doing fine, everything, over there, they could use the help,” Olivares said.

For another Romig 8th grader in the Spanish-immersion program, the hurricane posed a threat to not just friends, but also family. It took about a week for Javier Bosques to learn that his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were OK.

His worries got Bosques thinking about other families struggling in Puerto Rico, just like his family.

“I love them all, they all mean so much to me,” Bosques said. “You see people struggling, and you would want to help them, and every little bit counts. It’ll make a big difference to families.”

To try to meet their goal of $10,000 for the school, Romig is hosting another fundraiser, and this one is open to the community. It’ll be a potluck at the school on October 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., complete with pictures and stories from the students’ trips to Puerto Rico.

Categories: Alaska News

Are Pacific walruses adapting to warming? Feds say no need for more protections

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:26
A curious Pacific Walrus calf checks out the photographer in 2004. (Photo by Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS)

The Pacific walrus won’t be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that the “species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions.” The announcement angered the environmental group that petitioned the agency to protect the walrus, but a number of Alaska groups were pleased with the decision.

Listen now

Shaye Wolf from the Center for Biological Diversity said she’s been glued to her computer this week, waiting to hear about the protection status for the Pacific walrus.

Her organization, which is an environmental nonprofit, petitioned for more federal protections for walrus back in 2008 — the same year the polar bear was added as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolf said hearing the news that the marine mammal wouldn’t receive the same protections was alarming.

“This read exactly like a political decision,” Wolf said. “If the Fish & Wildlife Service had protected the Pacific walrus from threats of climate change, the Trump administration would have to admit that climate change is real and it’s causing real world harms.”

Wolf said there’s evidence from government scientists to suggest the walrus population will decline.

As Arctic sea ice has diminished, more female walrus have been forced to come onshore in the summer. It’s become a yearly occurrence in late summer to see tens of thousands crowding on the beach at Point Lay — a village along the coast of the Chukchi sea. This year was the earliest haulout on record since the walrus first started appearing in 2007.

Still, Patrick Lemons, a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the decision not to the list the Pacific walrus isn’t political. He says the federal agency acknowledges “environmental change” is happening.

“The decision was based on the best available science and that was the recommendation that came out of the region,” Lemons said. “I don’t think it would have changed under either administration.”

Walrus use sea ice as a kind of floating platform. It gets them out to rich foraging spots and provides an important place to nurse their young or rest.

Lemons said scientists started to see a rapid population decline in 1980s, as sea ice disappeared.

But, recently, Pacific walrus have been observed making long trips offshore for food.

“That suggests that some of our assumptions before, where we didn’t have any certainty about how walruses would react, now we actually have some certainty about how walruses would react,” Lemons said. “Now, we actually have some information that walruses can change their behaviors as sea ice declines.”

Lemons said stampedes, which were thought to be a big threat onshore, aren’t killing as many of the animals as expected. Overall, he said the population appears stable.

That was good news for Vera Metcalf, the director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission, who lives in Nome. An Endangered Species listing wouldn’t have impacted subsistence harvest of walrus. But Metcalf said it confirms what the community already knows.

“I think we’re all relieved, and we’re going to work on a common vision to move forward,” Metcalf said.

Several state agencies in Alaska, including the governor, have also released statements applauding the decision not to list the Pacific walrus. Congressman Don Young said he was glad the federal agency ignored “the extreme political pressures” to add a new listing.

The Center for Biological Diversity says it plans to appeal the decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Are Pacific walruses adapting to warming? Feds say no need for more protections

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:26
A curious Pacific Walrus calf checks out the photographer in 2004. (Photo by Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS)

The Pacific walrus won’t be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that the “species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions.” The announcement angered the environmental group that petitioned the agency to protect the walrus, but a number of Alaska groups were pleased with the decision.

Listen now

Shaye Wolf from the Center for Biological Diversity said she’s been glued to her computer this week, waiting to hear about the protection status for the Pacific walrus.

Her organization, which is an environmental nonprofit, petitioned for more federal protections for walrus back in 2008 — the same year the polar bear was added as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolf said hearing the news that the marine mammal wouldn’t receive the same protections was alarming.

“This read exactly like a political decision,” Wolf said. “If the Fish & Wildlife Service had protected the Pacific walrus from threats of climate change, the Trump administration would have to admit that climate change is real and it’s causing real world harms.”

Wolf said there’s evidence from government scientists to suggest the walrus population will decline.

As Arctic sea ice has diminished, more female walrus have been forced to come onshore in the summer. It’s become a yearly occurrence in late summer to see tens of thousands crowding on the beach at Point Lay — a village along the coast of the Chukchi sea. This year was the earliest haulout on record since the walrus first started appearing in 2007.

Still, Patrick Lemons, a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the decision not to the list the Pacific walrus isn’t political. He says the federal agency acknowledges “environmental change” is happening.

“The decision was based on the best available science and that was the recommendation that came out of the region,” Lemons said. “I don’t think it would have changed under either administration.”

Walrus use sea ice as a kind of floating platform. It gets them out to rich foraging spots and provides an important place to nurse their young or rest.

Lemons said scientists started to see a rapid population decline in 1980s, as sea ice disappeared.

But, recently, Pacific walrus have been observed making long trips offshore for food.

“That suggests that some of our assumptions before, where we didn’t have any certainty about how walruses would react, now we actually have some certainty about how walruses would react,” Lemons said. “Now, we actually have some information that walruses can change their behaviors as sea ice declines.”

Lemons said stampedes, which were thought to be a big threat onshore, aren’t killing as many of the animals as expected. Overall, he said the population appears stable.

That was good news for Vera Metcalf, the director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission, who lives in Nome. An Endangered Species listing wouldn’t have impacted subsistence harvest of walrus. But Metcalf said it confirms what the community already knows.

“I think we’re all relieved, and we’re going to work on a common vision to move forward,” Metcalf said.

Several state agencies in Alaska, including the governor, have also released statements applauding the decision not to list the Pacific walrus. Congressman Don Young said he was glad the federal agency ignored “the extreme political pressures” to add a new listing.

The Center for Biological Diversity says it plans to appeal the decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Teacher housing teaches life lessons

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:20
New teacher housing being built by high school students in Nikolai, Alaska in June. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

The school in Nikolai, until recently, had a problem. There was nowhere for the high school teacher to live.

“And the last two years our high school teacher actually had to live in the school in a teeny-tiny little room that contains a bunk bed and a dresser and a desk,” said Principal Tara Wiggins. “There’s nothing else.”

She said the problem made it really hard to recruit a teacher. “I’ve been told that several teachers were interested and then didn’t come because they had families and didn’t want to stay in the school.”

Housing in Nikolai, a village of about 100 people on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River, is scarce. It’s expensive and difficult to get building supplies there.

But the school district had another problem, too: they needed more classes to help their students develop real-world skills for getting jobs later in life.

The solution? Have the kids build the house with professional supervision during a special summer program.

Student Thomas Owrey showed off the classes work on the two-bedroom home. “So we layered plastic down here,” he said, pointing to the crawl space. “We’ve got foam boards on the floor.”

By late June the exterior walls were up and the roof was on, and the house was connected to the septic system.

Owrey said the project wasn’t as straightforward as he hoped, even though they are building it from a kit that theoretically comes with everything they need.

“You get the blueprints and all the supplies [with a kit],” he said. “But they sent us one house and they sent us another thing of blueprints.”

Boats on the shore of the Kuskokwim River in Nikolai, Alaska in late June. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

And it wasn’t like the students and their instructors could just walk to the store and get the correct plans – everything was shipped in from hundreds of miles away in Anchorage. They didn’t have all of the supplies yet either. The windows had to be brought up river from six hours away because they wouldn’t fit on the small airplane. That delay meant they couldn’t finish the siding or other parts of the house.

The students were running out of options for things to do, and the kids couldn’t just go home and come back later. They came from schools across the region and two different school districts and were living near the job site in the main school building.

But learning problem-solving and improvising is part of the job, said student Harlan Standish.

“You’re constantly using your reasoning skills,” he said. “You’re not just learning how to put a building together. You’re learning how to think ahead or think about different ways of doing things. Like if you make a mistake on a wall or something, you gotta fix it. You gotta kind of think about how to fix it without taking it all apart.”

Though Standish said he was enjoying learning new skills, the whole process wasn’t exactly fun when it involved precarious balancing acts.

“I hate putting up the blocking between the rafters,” he said, pointing at boards in the roof above the window. “Because you have to stand up on this little ledge right here and try to use a nail gun to put them in without falling over the sides.”

Standish was afraid of heights and the drop below the window was pretty long before backfill was added.

But he felt he had to do it, “because it’s on a job site so you just gotta buckle up and do the job.”

“They’ve matured in a lot of ways,” teacher Troy Tubbs said of his five students.

“For most of them, I think they’ve never been away from home, especially not for this long of a period,” Tubbs explained. “And so there was a little bit of an adjustment there where they had to get used to living with roommates. Finding out how to manage their own time. Being responsible for getting up on time, getting their meals squared away, and getting out to the job site when they’re supposed to be.”

They’re also getting high school and college credit for the class and getting paid.

Iditarod Area School District Superintendent Connie Newman said the district didn’t save any money by building the new teacher housing with students, though the project allowed them to use funds for career and technical classes for two purposes. Because of delays with supplies, the house eventually had to be finished by professionals at the beginning of the school year, more than a month behind schedule.

But the project was successful enough that they plan on holding a similar class to build school housing in Grayling next summer. The district may also partner with the tribe in Nikolai to build housing for elders.

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Categories: Alaska News

Teacher housing teaches life lessons

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:20
New teacher housing being built by high school students in Nikolai, Alaska in June. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

The school in Nikolai, until recently, had a problem. There was nowhere for the high school teacher to live.

“And the last two years our high school teacher actually had to live in the school in a teeny-tiny little room that contains a bunk bed and a dresser and a desk,” said Principal Tara Wiggins. “There’s nothing else.”

She said the problem made it really hard to recruit a teacher. “I’ve been told that several teachers were interested and then didn’t come because they had families and didn’t want to stay in the school.”

Housing in Nikolai, a village of about 100 people on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River, is scarce. It’s expensive and difficult to get building supplies there.

But the school district had another problem, too: they needed more classes to help their students develop real-world skills for getting jobs later in life.

The solution? Have the kids build the house with professional supervision during a special summer program.

Student Thomas Owrey showed off the classes work on the two-bedroom home. “So we layered plastic down here,” he said, pointing to the crawl space. “We’ve got foam boards on the floor.”

By late June the exterior walls were up and the roof was on, and the house was connected to the septic system.

Owrey said the project wasn’t as straightforward as he hoped, even though they are building it from a kit that theoretically comes with everything they need.

“You get the blueprints and all the supplies [with a kit],” he said. “But they sent us one house and they sent us another thing of blueprints.”

Boats on the shore of the Kuskokwim River in Nikolai, Alaska in late June. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

And it wasn’t like the students and their instructors could just walk to the store and get the correct plans – everything was shipped in from hundreds of miles away in Anchorage. They didn’t have all of the supplies yet either. The windows had to be brought up river from six hours away because they wouldn’t fit on the small airplane. That delay meant they couldn’t finish the siding or other parts of the house.

The students were running out of options for things to do, and the kids couldn’t just go home and come back later. They came from schools across the region and two different school districts and were living near the job site in the main school building.

But learning problem-solving and improvising is part of the job, said student Harlan Standish.

“You’re constantly using your reasoning skills,” he said. “You’re not just learning how to put a building together. You’re learning how to think ahead or think about different ways of doing things. Like if you make a mistake on a wall or something, you gotta fix it. You gotta kind of think about how to fix it without taking it all apart.”

Though Standish said he was enjoying learning new skills, the whole process wasn’t exactly fun when it involved precarious balancing acts.

“I hate putting up the blocking between the rafters,” he said, pointing at boards in the roof above the window. “Because you have to stand up on this little ledge right here and try to use a nail gun to put them in without falling over the sides.”

Standish was afraid of heights and the drop below the window was pretty long before backfill was added.

But he felt he had to do it, “because it’s on a job site so you just gotta buckle up and do the job.”

“They’ve matured in a lot of ways,” teacher Troy Tubbs said of his five students.

“For most of them, I think they’ve never been away from home, especially not for this long of a period,” Tubbs explained. “And so there was a little bit of an adjustment there where they had to get used to living with roommates. Finding out how to manage their own time. Being responsible for getting up on time, getting their meals squared away, and getting out to the job site when they’re supposed to be.”

They’re also getting high school and college credit for the class and getting paid.

Iditarod Area School District Superintendent Connie Newman said the district didn’t save any money by building the new teacher housing with students, though the project allowed them to use funds for career and technical classes for two purposes. Because of delays with supplies, the house eventually had to be finished by professionals at the beginning of the school year, more than a month behind schedule.

But the project was successful enough that they plan on holding a similar class to build school housing in Grayling next summer. The district may also partner with the tribe in Nikolai to build housing for elders.

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Categories: Alaska News

ANWR takes tiny step down rocky Senate road

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:13
Map: USGS

The effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling made a baby step forward in the Senate today, with the debut of a Republican budget plan in a committee. The plan is a non-binding resolution but it contains the seeds of what could become a law that allows oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Listen now

You know how members of Congress sometimes try to pass legislation by attaching it to a fast-moving bill everyone loves? That’s not the case here. ANWR is controversial, and the budget plan it’s hitching a ride on isn’t entirely popular, either.

“The budget we’re dealing with today is in my view the most unfair and destructive budget in the modern history of our country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt, said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., said the plan would “blast a hole in our budget, increase the deficit, blow up the debt and put Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid and education, investments in health care and a lot of other priorities at risk.”

They were extrapolating. The budget plan isn’t that specific in what it would cut. The real point of using this process is to pass the proposed Republican tax cuts with just 50 votes. But even a few Republicans sound unsure they can support the tax plan.

“Unless it reduces deficits … and does not add to deficits, with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, “I don’t have any interest in it.”

Opening ANWR was hardly discussed at the Budget Committee hearing, although Sen. Murray referred to it as a “bizarre” thing to include in the budget. (Actually, the budget plan doesn’t mention the refuge by name, but it opens the door to including ANWR legislation later, in the process known as “budget reconciliation.”)

The House is likely to pass its version of the budget plan Thursday, and it includes a similar ANWR measure.

“It is necessary for this nation,” Alaska Congressman Don Young said in debate on the House floor Wednesday. “It’s necessary, very frankly, for the good of this Congress. With $20 trillion in debt, I’ve yet to hear anything that’s going to create new wealth.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski bucked her party on health care last month, in part because Republicans tried to fast-track that as part of a budget reconciliation bill. But she’s been trying to open ANWR her whole Senate career. If ANWR is married to the tax cuts, she’d have a massive reason to vote for them.

At the same time, Arctic Refuge drilling could repel other moderate Republican senators. Three Republican “no” votes would kill the bill. That is, unless the sponsors can win over some Senate Democrats, and most of them oppose drilling in the refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

ANWR takes tiny step down rocky Senate road

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 18:13
Map: USGS

The effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling made a baby step forward in the Senate today, with the debut of a Republican budget plan in a committee. The plan is a non-binding resolution but it contains the seeds of what could become a law that allows oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Listen now

You know how members of Congress sometimes try to pass legislation by attaching it to a fast-moving bill everyone loves? That’s not the case here. ANWR is controversial, and the budget plan it’s hitching a ride on isn’t entirely popular, either.

“The budget we’re dealing with today is in my view the most unfair and destructive budget in the modern history of our country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt, said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., said the plan would “blast a hole in our budget, increase the deficit, blow up the debt and put Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid and education, investments in health care and a lot of other priorities at risk.”

They were extrapolating. The budget plan isn’t that specific in what it would cut. The real point of using this process is to pass the proposed Republican tax cuts with just 50 votes. But even a few Republicans sound unsure they can support the tax plan.

“Unless it reduces deficits … and does not add to deficits, with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, “I don’t have any interest in it.”

Opening ANWR was hardly discussed at the Budget Committee hearing, although Sen. Murray referred to it as a “bizarre” thing to include in the budget. (Actually, the budget plan doesn’t mention the refuge by name, but it opens the door to including ANWR legislation later, in the process known as “budget reconciliation.”)

The House is likely to pass its version of the budget plan Thursday, and it includes a similar ANWR measure.

“It is necessary for this nation,” Alaska Congressman Don Young said in debate on the House floor Wednesday. “It’s necessary, very frankly, for the good of this Congress. With $20 trillion in debt, I’ve yet to hear anything that’s going to create new wealth.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski bucked her party on health care last month, in part because Republicans tried to fast-track that as part of a budget reconciliation bill. But she’s been trying to open ANWR her whole Senate career. If ANWR is married to the tax cuts, she’d have a massive reason to vote for them.

At the same time, Arctic Refuge drilling could repel other moderate Republican senators. Three Republican “no” votes would kill the bill. That is, unless the sponsors can win over some Senate Democrats, and most of them oppose drilling in the refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker doubles down on opposing Pebble Mine

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-04 17:51
While Gov. Bill Walker expressed concerns about EPA’s earlier actions, he came out strongly against the project in an interview. (Alaska Governor’s Office photo)

Tomorrow, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier is expected to publicly outline a plan for the proposed Pebble Mine project for the first time.

Listen now

But in an interview today, Governor Bill Walker said he’s against the controversial mine.

“I am not supportive of the Pebble Mine,” Walker said.

Walker said the mine’s developers have not yet proven to him that the project can be done without harming the Bristol Bay region’s salmon fishery.

“I do not have information sufficient for me to be comfortable or supportive of the Pebble Mine. The burden is on them to prove that it can be done without a risk to the fish in that area. It’s a high burden – it’s the highest burden, and to me, they have not met that yet,” Walker said.

Walker said he will consider what Pebble’s developers have to say, but he’s also listening closely to concerns from people who could be affected by the mine.

The governor did not say he’s planning to take any specific actions to halt the project.

“I don’t know that there’s a lever for me to pull that’s going to absolutely stop it,” Walker said, adding, “I think that there are a lot of protections that are already in place.”

It’s not the first time the Governor has said he’s not in favor of the mine — he came out against the project while campaigning for office in 2014. But the state will likely take on a bigger role in the Pebble Mine controversy soon.

Under the Obama administration, U.S. EPA proposed restrictions on the mine before the standard permitting process began.

Walker said he did have concerns about EPA’s previous action.

“Alaska’s a resource state…and my concern with that is that they sort of overstepped and didn’t let a process play out. If [EPA] could do that on that issue, then there are other issues they could do that as well,” Walker said. “It’s a delicate issue, but I certainly would not want to have that happen on a development that was not anywhere near a risk to a fishing area.”

However, Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator under President Donald Trump, reached a settlement with Pebble this spring, opening the door for the project to begin the permitting process. If that happens, the state also will begin its review of the mine.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for Pebble Ltd. Partnership, responded to Walker’s remarks in an emailed statement.

“The governor is correct that the burden is on us to demonstrate we will not impact the fish resource in the region,” Heatwole said. “While we believe our plan meets this hurdle, the next step is to have our plan thoroughly and objectively evaluated via the permitting process to determine if we meet the high standards Alaskans expect for development.”

Categories: Alaska News

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