Alaska News

Katmai bear cam is back for its sixth year

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-30 16:39
Bears nicknamed Grazer and Beadnose face off near Brooks Falls on June 26, 2017.
(Credit explore.org)

The Katmai bear cam went live last week. This is the sixth year that live footage from popular bear hangouts in Katmai National Park and Preserve is being streamed on explore.org.

People around the world are getting online to watch the bears. In the last week, the bear cams have been averaging 15,000 viewers at any given time. This summer is already off to an exciting start. Viewers captured footage of bears nicknamed Grazer and Beadnose growling at each other on the bank of the river by Brooks Falls on Monday.

On his blog, former Katmai ranger, Mark Fitz, speculates that that the dustup was motivated by the two mother bears being protective of their cubs.

Park superintendent Mark Sturm said the response to the webcam has been enthusiastic.

“People are really excited and interest in seeing the bears in their natural environment,” Sturm said. “Providing the whole wide world the opportunity see the resources that Katmai has and to give them an opportunity to view some of the behaviors that they exhibit has really been a successful collaboration.”

The project is a partnership between explore.org and the Katmai National Park and Preserve. A grant to the park from the Annenberg Foundation, which shares a creator with explore.org, provides infrastructure for the project. That grant pays for a seasonal media ranger position, supports educational programming and funds the webcams themselves.

Two camera locations are set up so far this year. The most popular view is the one at Brooks Falls. It alone attracted 22 million views last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Longliners say killer whales stealing fish more persistent than ever

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-30 16:35
Killer whales (Creative Commons photo by Chis Michel)

The battle between killer whales and longline fishermen has been going on for decades in the Bering Sea. Pods of whales will follow boats and pick fish off their lines as they pull them in. Some commercial fishermen say the whales have become so persistent, they have changed fishing grounds to avoid them, but regulators may have a solution.

When Todd Hoppe, a Homer-based commercial fisherman, targets halibut in the Bering Sea, he never sets foot on deck. He sits on top of his boat with binoculars. He’s on the lookout for killer whales. If they close in as his crew pulls gear, Hoppe will tell them to cut the line, sending it back to the bottom in hopes of preventing a pod from devouring his catch.

“We usually run real short strings, so we can pull it up real fast and get it in before they catch up to me,” Hoppe explained.

Hoppe ties a buoy to the other side of the line, so he can return later to pull it in. He sets his gear 40 to 50 miles apart. All he can do is hope the whales get bored or distracted as he travels long distances, but these days, the old tricks aren’t working.

Traveling further between gear sets or drifting for hours to deter whales burns time and fuel. That’s led Hoppe to end his 23-year stint fishing for halibut near Dutch Harbor.

“I got rid of all that stuff this year,” he said. “I don’t fish out there anymore. They won!”

Currently Hoppe’s on his boat tendering in Upper Cook Inlet. He still longlines for some sablefish, also known as black cod, but he’s shifted his fishing grounds into the Gulf of Alaska, where he can use longline pots. So far, the whales haven’t been able to figure out how to get into them.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates halibut and ground fish in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutians, created a black cod fishery in the gulf this year to feel out how pot fishing might work in the Bering Sea.

“So at this point, no one is targeting halibut in the gulf with pots. It’s incidental catch to the black cod pots,” Buck Laukitis explained. Laukitis is one of five Alaskans that sits on the council. “In the Bering Sea we’re going to look at either the incidental retention of halibut or actually to target them, and that will be a slight difference from the gulf.

The federal regulatory body passed a motion earlier this month to examine the potential regulation shift in the Bering Sea, but those changes won’t be coming anytime soon.

“We’ll take a hard look at it, and we’ll see what regulations need to be changed and do it with public input of course. We’ll see where it leads,” Laukitis said. “Usually it takes a year, even on the easy ones, and I’m not sure this is an easy one.”

The council also agreed research on the issue needs to be done, but who will conduct that research isn’t clear just yet.

Recent studies show the depredation of black cod has increased over the past decade, but Laukitis explains the council also wants numbers on halibut.

Marine mammal scientist Craig Matkin has studied killer whales’ interactions with fisheries and their populations along the Aleutian chain for decades.

“Killer whales have gradually gotten more and more attuned to taking fish off longlines. It started with black cod and now it’s spread to also halibut out in the eastern Aleutians,” Matkin said.

Matkin is also the executive director of the North Gulf Oceanic Society. He explained once whales are able to pick fish off a boat’s line, that boat is marked. They can identify a vessel just by the sound of its propeller, and they’ll remember which ones are easy picking.

Fishermen could mitigate the issue by sending gear back to the bottom as soon as they see a whale, but Matkin acknowledges preventing an easy meal isn’t always possible.

“I don’t think research is going to necessarily find an easy way out of this. You wonder why it’s so easy for them to train whales at SeaWorld. Food is powerful stuff,” Matkin said.

Matkin thinks regulators are moving in the right direction. The council will take up the issue again at its next meeting in October.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Ketchikan Arts Council hosts summertime story slams

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-30 16:30
Spice was judged the winner of a recent Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council Story Slam at the Arctic Bar. She won temporary custody of a rubber chicken. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

On a recent evening in Ketchikan, locals and seasonal residents gathered at the Arctic Bar to carry on perhaps the oldest tradition known to humankind – storytelling. It was a chance for residents to tell their deepest secrets and reveal their sillier sides.

Kelly Burke, a teacher at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, stepped up to the microphone and shared her story.

Burke used to work at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Sitting behind a desk selling tickets, she spent most days people-watching, on the outside looking in to people’s lives.

“So, I’m gonna tell you today about John and Jackie,” Burke said. “So, when you look at John and Jackie from a distance, they seem…normal.”

John was an average, 40-something man, who pushed his “wife” around in something resembling a cross between a wheelchair and a stroller. There was something unique about Jackie.

As she approached Jackie, Burke noticed how white her skin was. Or was it white?

And why didn’t Jackie ever seem to…move?

“One of my supervisors told me this story of how a guest came up to her and said, ‘What’s wrong with that woman? Is she a burn victim?’ and my supervisor got the greatest pleasure out of telling her, ‘No, that’s a mannequin,’” Burke said.

Burke left the stage to roaring applause. Next up was Cameo McRoberts, who had a unique perspective on growing up in Ketchikan. Every day after school, she would wait at the Arctic Bar for her mother to get off work.

McRoberts and her friend Jessica sat at the bar, hunted for spare quarters and drank soda.

“The bartender, if we were really good, would give us quarters to play Ms. PACMAN and on our birthdays, she would give us as many Shirley Temples as we could drink, and we usually threw up,” McRoberts said. “So, the first time I ever threw up at the Arctic was when I was 7…and I haven’t since, I would like to note.”

Jack Finnegan was the emcee for the recent Arts Council Story Slam at the Arctic Bar. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

McRoberts painted a picture of Ketchikan seen through the eyes of a little girl waiting at a bar. Sounds a bit depressing, right? But for McRoberts, everything was fun and new and magical.

“One of my jobs after school to earn quarters for the Ms. Pac-Man machine was to dump all of the ice glasses into the well, which was basically an open hole in the floor of the bar that I would dump all the ice cubes down,” McRoberts said. “And on sunny days they would fall down into the water at low tide and they would just sparkle like stars, and the red straws would just float off into the abyss, and it was beautiful.”

It seemed to her that the whole town would come to The Arctic on the 4th of July and gather on the back deck, which would lean forward just a little under the weight of the partygoers.

McRoberts acknowledged her struggle with returning to the place where she had sipped Shirley Temples and hunted for quarters.

“It’s weird, growing up in a bar. You don’t do that anymore,” McRoberts said. “And I have a hard time coming to this bar and getting intoxicated, because this bar is like my childhood.”

The next storyteller had signed up at the last minute, after much encouragement from her friends. Known to the crowd only as Spice, she seemed nervous as she made her way to the microphone.

“I wanna tell the story of a black hole,” Spice said. “I love black holes, a lot. I get really nerdy about ‘em. My entire back is a tattoo of a black hole, so maybe later, it might come out.”

Spice continued to geek out about physics and math. She said circles her favorite shape, second only to triangles.  She shared some of her other favorites, too.

“Favorite fact – favorite fact of all time: If you were to squish the Earth into the size of Manhattan – black hole,” Spice said. “That’s it! That’s how you say it – that’s it.”

By this point, the story had devolved into more of a list, but a funny one.The crowd screamed with laughter as Spice delivered a mini science lesson.

“So, alright. Black holes, Einstein, Newton, rocket science…”

Spice moved on to her final point.

“I never really understood this until I heard it, but what is the material of a tree? Where does the material of a tree come from?” Spice asked.

People shouted out suggestions: roots? The dirt?

“It’s from the air!” Spice said. “The material of a tree is from the air that’s on the surface of it!”

On her way back to her seat, Spice rolled up her shirt just enough to reveal her tattoo, and there it was – a black and white rendering of a black hole, swallowing most of her upper back.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell contract talks resume, strikers return to work

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-30 16:23
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers representative Julius Matthew walked the picket line with Wrangell municipal workers Lorne Cook, Dwight Yancey and Andrew Scambler before the strike ended. (Photo courtesy IBEW)

The strike is over, at least for now.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Wrangell Borough officials are returning to the bargaining table.

IBEW leader Dave Reaves said the union emailed Wrangell’s borough manager, finance director and assembly members Wednesday morning, asking for talks to resume.

“We’d be willing to put the unfair labor practice … in abeyance, which basically means it would be paused or put on hold if they were willing to come back and talk,” Reaves said Wednesday afternoon.

Interim Borough Manager Carol Rushmore said the two sides would begin talks at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

About 25 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted last week to go on strike. That came after the union and municipality rejected each other’s final contract offers.

The main difference between the two sides is a wage increase. The borough offered 75 cents an hour, while the union proposed $2.50 an hour.

Meanwhile, the municipality hired temporary workers to fill in for striking employees.

Rushmore told Assembly members Tuesday night that one was working in the water department. She said another was at the solid waste transfer station. It’s open reduced hours, though there’s increased demand, because the strike stopped curbside garbage pickup.

Rushmore said there are other problems at the transfer station.

Only one of the usual two large containers used to ship trash south was delivered by barge this time around. That could complicate operations.

“If that container fills up pretty fast, we may actually have to close the dump again because we have nowhere to put the trash,” Rushmore said.

In addition to the temps, approximately 35 managers and other non-union staff continued to work.

Union members left the picket line to help with several emergencies during the strike.

Reaves said electrical crews took care of two power outages.

“The first day, there was an eagle that got into some lines. The linemen responded and fixed that. That outage included the hospital. And then the other day there was another outage, a transformer had internal problems and a crew responded and fixed that too,” Reaves said.

The Wrangell Assembly held a closed-door executive session on the strike with its attorney during its Tuesday meeting. But members made no announcement after it was over.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Independence

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-30 10:34

“Alaska’s flag, may it mean to you,” goes the Alaska Flag Song. Well, that raises a question. Beyond the blue and the gold, just what does it mean to you to be an Alaskan? That’s the subject on the next state-wide radio call-in show Talk of Alaska. On a day celebrating independence, we’ll be looking at the what it might mean if the state of Alaska was independent – a nation of its own. How would we define ourselves?

HOST: Steve Heimel

GUESTS:

  • John Havelock – former Alaska Attorney General, author of “Let’s Get It Right”
  • 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).
  • Send email to talk@alaskapublic.org (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s largest needle exchange is rushing to keep up with demand

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 22:00
Volunteer Zane Davis restocking alcohol swabs and other supplies at the Alaska AIDS Assistance Association’s Anchorage office (Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media).

There is an abundance of jaw-dropping numbers when it comes to opioids in Alaska. 74 percent of the state’s drug overdose deaths last year are attributed to prescription painkillers or heroin. Blood-born viruses like Hepatitis C are exploding, and so are healthcare costs. One calculation estimated that to treat all the Alaskans who contracted Hep C from injecting drugs in 2015 would cost $90 million.

Here’s another figure: the number of syringes exchanged at one Anchorage non-profit doubled in just two years. In 2016, the program gave out slightly less than half-a-million clean needles. And disposed of even more. This year they’re on track to outpace that.

Discarded needles at the 4A’s syringe exchange in Anchorage (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The program is a way of reducing health risks and long-term medical costs. But it isn’t without controversy.

On a recent Friday afternoon inside the Spenard office of the Alaska Aids Assistance Association (4A’s), a 40-year-old man emptied a plastic vodka bottle stuffed with 31 needles.  He was using scissors to cut open the bottle neck as a volunteer ran through a few standard questions.

“Gender?” The volunteer asked.

“I’m male,” he answered, not looking up.

“What’s your ethnicity?”

“I’m white.”

“Are you getting these for others?”

“Yeah,” the man answered. “Two or three.”

“Great!” the volunteer replied before dropping a few packs of needles into a brown paper bag.

4A’s runs the largest syringe exchange in the state. Basic demographic is collected every time someone comes in to trade used syringes for new ones. If a person’s new, or has no syringes to exchange, they get a “starter pack” of five, and however many cotton balls, alcohol swabs, tourniquets and small metal cookers they need. It’s all anonymous — no one has to give his or her name. 4A’s will only give out 50 needles to a person per day, a limit they had to impose to keep up with demand.

Friday afternoons are generally the busiest time for the exchange according to Zane Davis, who volunteers for the shift every week.

“People are prepping for the weekend,” Davis explained. “There are a lot of people who just wait until Friday and then they use over the weekend, so they’ve really got to come in and stock up.”

Within just a few hours, dozens of people come through. Two red trash cans gradually fill with orange-capped plastic needles. A cardboard box in the corner takes on a Big Gulp, Gatorade and soda bottles packed with syringes. The plastic containers are puncture proof, so its a safe way to carry needles and not get stuck.

Used syringes stored in puncture proof plastic drink containers disposed of at Alaska AIDS Assistance Association’s syringe exchange location in Anchorage (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Since 4A’s collects data at each exchange, they have a lot of information about who’s using the program. Last year, they gave out 479,177 syringes. Ten months into this fiscal year, they almost surpassed that figure.

They see a stable base of about 2,200 users, but every month around 70-90 new people come in for the first time. Most are picking up syringes for themselves. But plenty are getting them for others: Friends, partners, siblings. One such person is a young man from north Anchorage who just wants to use his first name, John. He was picking up supplies for his brother, whom he’s trying to help.

“I’m keeping him at my place to clean him out, wean him down,” John said during a brief interview in a side office. He couldn’t stay long: his grandmother was waiting in the car outside, and it was a hot afternoon.

John knows the exchange well because he came here during his own addiction. His path to heroin started like a lot of people’s across the country: first with painkillers that a doctor legally prescribed him for a back injury.

“Made me go down the rabbit hole,” John said. When his prescription ran out he unexpectedly went through withdrawal symptoms. “Started out with pills, and it went to heroin — smoking heroin. Then it went to shooting heroin.”

John sold everything he owned and bankrupted his business. His marriage of 12 years collapsed, and he lost his four daughters. It took isolating himself in a cabin for over a month to get off heroin. He hasn’t used in eight months.

John is like a lot of the people who come to the exchange. The vast majority, 75 percent, are 20-40 years old. He’s white and male, which respectively account for 62 and 57 percent of the 17,614 exchanges that happened last year. (Another 24 percent of exchanges are with people who identify as Alaska Native, which is disproportionately high relative to the state population.)

Near closing time at 5 p.m., more people started showing up. Eventually the woman at the front desk started inputting people’s data into her own computer and sending them to the exchange room with a hand-written post-it note telling Davis which supplies give them. Some people were anxious and rushed. Most were exceptionally polite. Many had on work clothes: stained jeans, mud-caked Xtratufs. They were coming from or going to their jobs: a painter, a heavy equipment operator, a bartender.

One woman in her 50s dumped 120 needles into a bin, explaining she collects and gives out syringes to to keep acquaintances from re-using the same ones.

“Well if they have to re-use them, tell them to put it in bleach for ten minutes,” Davis said in a concerned tone.

“I know a lot of people who get infections from re-using,” the woman told him. “That’s why I try to say, ‘Hey! Here!’ and pass them out.”

Programs like this are criticized for enabling drug use. But advocates say people are already addicted by the time they start showing up at needle exchanges, and the goal is to reduce further harm they could do to themselves or others in the course of injecting drugs. The tip of a needle drastically dulls after each use, which can damage veins and makes infections more likely — infections which can spread if syringes are shared. Public health officials also point out these programs are shown to funnel a portion of drug users toward healthcare and treatment they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Davis is a pre-Med student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and he volunteers here in part because he believes it’s an effective way to limit the spread of disease as people cope with addiction.

“I think providing them with clean, safe supplies for free is the best way to prevent them from hurting themselves and the community more than they already are,” Davis said.

On this point, Davis is not alone. Alaska’s own Opioid Policy Task Force recommended expanded funding for for more syringe exchanges, particularly in rural areas. (Another suggestion was supplying more Nalaxone, the overdose-reversing drug used by individuals and first-responders that is slowing the pace of opioid-related deaths, which 4A’s will give out to people if they go through a 10-minute training)

Matt Allen coordinates HIV prevention at 4A’s, and said the exchange guides many high-risk drug users towards the HIV and Hepatitis C testing the non-profit runs on site, just a few feet from where the clean needles are kept. Last year, 4A’s did 737 tests (however, only a portion of the HIV screenings were of IV-drug users).

“We get positives all the time,” Allen said.

Allen’s surprised by how un-surprised many people are upon receiving a diagnosis.

“They have an inkling that they’re positive,” Allen went on. “Not just by showing symptoms, but because of their behaviors of sharing syringes.”

According to Allen, every day they get people who come into the exchange and want help.

“They’ll bring it up,” Allen explained. Usually it’s through comments or asides: “‘I’m ready to get off of this,’ or ‘I don’t even want to be here.’ And that really starts the conversation.”

It’s frustrating, because there are few real options. Often the most they can do is give the person a list of phone numbers for treatment facilities and tell them to call every day until a bed opens up.

Even still, the exchange is a cost-effective measure when it comes to preventing more expensive intervention down the line. The price for curing a virus like Hep C with medications is between $85,000 and $94,500. That covers almost a full year of running this syringe exchange. About half the program’s budget is paying for all the needles to be carted away and incinerated. Just $43,643 was spent on the actual syringes last year.

Money is one of the key reasons syringe exchanges are challenging to run. It can be a difficult endeavor to fund raise for, and the federal government has been strict about not allowing money to be spent on syringes. Although recently, some of the purchasing prohibitions on other supplies have relaxed as public officials struggle to cope with the nation-wide opioid epidemic.

Part of the budget for supplies in Anchorage comes directly from people who use the exchange. Since last March, 4A’s has asked people to give a dollar each time they come in. Not everyone has it, but it’s not a requirement. Plenty of people put handfuls of coins and crumpled bills in a red metal box on the wall.

4A’s runs another program like this in Juneau, and there are two more smaller exchanges in Homer and Fairbanks. The Anchorage location ends up serving folks from around the state: people from 82 communities in Alaska were given needles last year. Most people who come in are from Anchorage and the Valley, but villages, hubs, and towns across the Alaska are represented. In most small communities there’s nowhere to buy syringes.

“It just makes you wonder if they’re just re-using and re-using those same syringes and sharing them,” Allen said.

Davis has an interesting perspective on this. He grew up in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, which has seen some of the worst consequences of the state’s opioid crisis.

“I had acquaintances in high school who ended up overdosing,” Davis said. “The Valley is pretty small, so you know pretty much everyone you went to school with, and there were one or two people who died.”

Davis said, at the time, people were aware of what was happening but didn’t discuss it.

Davis is also in the unique position of seeing the other side of injection drug use. His part-time job is in a hospital emergency room, and that’s where he encounters some of the same faces from the exchange.

“It’s not easy to see someone in the ER who’s overdosing who you see really regularly at the exchange and have maybe developed some rapport with them,” Davis said. When it happens he tries to compartmentalize and focus on whatever task is at hand. “Usually I end up seeing the patient in the syringe exchange about a week later.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 29, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 18:06

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

Interior starts process for new offshore leasing plan

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

The Trump administration announced an initial step toward a new offshore leasing plan that could mean new drilling rights in federal waters of the Arctic.

Senate to return to Juneau on July 10 to focus on oil and gas tax credits

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

The Senate plans to reconvene in Juneau on July 10 to try to overhaul oil and gas credits. But it’s not clear if there’s room for compromise with the House, which has different goals.

Report: Senate health reform cuts $3.1b from Alaska’s Medicaid

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

Alaska would lose $3.1 billion in Medicaid funds  if the U.S. Senate bill became law, according to a state-funded reporter. That’s an even bigger cut than in the bill the House passed.

Kings remain low on Kuskokwim; chum and reds running strong

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

Anyone hoping to hear good news about the king salmon run on the Kuskokwim is going to be disappointed; the numbers are just not there. No decision on another opening is likely until Friday.

‘Take Our Land, Take Our Life’

Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

When Alaska became a state, the federal government agreed to hand over more than 100 million acres. There was just one problem. Alaska Native people already claimed that land. Then Alaska struck oil, and the question of who owned what land in the 49th state went all the way to the White House.

Alaska’s largest needle exchange struggles to keep up with demand

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

There are a lot of staggering numbers when it comes to opioids in Alaska. The number of needles exchanged at one Anchorage non-profit doubled in just two years. The program is a way of reducing health risks and long-term medical costs. But it isn’t without controversy.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate to return to Juneau on July 10 to focus on oil and gas tax credits

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 17:59
Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee in April. She would like to see the end of oil and gas tax credits for which companies receive cash payments. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Senate plans to reconvene in Juneau on July 10 to try to overhaul oil and gas credits. But it’s not clear if there’s room for compromise with the House, which has different goals.

Listen now

Neither chamber has held a voting session since it passed the state budget on June 22. But senators said they want to make changes to oil and gas taxes quickly, starting with ending the ability for companies to receive tax credits in the form of cash payments.

The House wants to increase the amount that oil and gas companies pay in taxes.

Anchorage Republican Cathy Giessel said the change proposed by the Senate is more urgent than the House’s proposal.

“That’s like a Band-Aid change,” Giessel, a nurse practitioner, said. “But the cash payments to oil companies, when the state itself is in deficit revenue, is actually urgent. It is the hemorrhaging of cash.”

Under the Senate plan, oil and gas companies would be able to reduce the amount their liable to pay in taxes in the future, rather than receive cash payments sooner.

Giessel and other senators said Thursday that they want to have changes go into effect on Saturday, six months sooner than they previously proposed.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr said the Senate bill doesn’t do enough.

“We don’t want to just change the name of the incentive program, but have it cost the same,” Tarr said. “If it costs the same, it’s not going to work.”

Senators also want to limit the tax benefits for spending money on an oil field to reduce the tax liability from that same field. Gov. Bill Walker supports the change, known as “ring fencing.”

The trade group Alaska Oil and Gas Association expressed concern with both the ring-fencing proposal, and with the idea of moving up the end of tax-credit cash payments.

Walker added the oil and gas legislation, House Bill 111, to the special session that is scheduled to end on July 15.

The Legislature also hasn’t passed a capital budget for the 12 months beginning Saturday. Most lawmakers have returned to their homes from Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior starts process for new offshore leasing plan

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 16:05
Shell’s Polar Pioneer leaving Dutch Harbor in 2015. (Photo by John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska)

The Trump administration announced an initial step toward a new offshore leasing plan that could mean new drilling rights in federal waters of the Arctic.

On Monday the Interior Department will open a public comment period for a rewrite of the five-year plan.

In April, President Trump lifted the ban his predecessor imposed on new Arctic lease sales. A group of environmentalists filed suit, saying the president didn’t have the authority to overturn the indefinite ban. Even without that lawsuit, rewriting the five-year plan could take several years.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Senate health reform cuts $3.1b from Alaska’s Medicaid

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 16:03
Protestors at the U.S. Capitol in May. Photo by Liz Ruskin.

A new state-commissioned analysis of the U.S. Senate health care bill said it would lower Medicaid payments to the Alaska by $3.1 billion over six years. That’s an even bigger cut than in the bill the House passed.

The report by Manatt Health said the 34,000 Alaskans now covered by Medicaid expansion could lose coverage after 2020, and the state may have to make cuts elsewhere, too.

In Washington this week, Senate leaders postponed a vote on the bill but said they’d try again after the July 4 recess.

The Urban Institute did its own analysis of the Senate bill. It said the legislation would leave 67,000 fewer Alaskans insured. The liberal think tank said Medicaid cuts, combined with lower support for people who buy their own insurance would slash federal health care spending in Alaska by $643 million in 2022.

Categories: Alaska News

Kings remain low on Kuskokwim; chum and reds running strong

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 15:07
Salmon caught during the June 24, 2017 gillnet opening on the Kuskokwim. (Teresa Cotsirilos / KYUK Public Media)

Anyone hoping to hear good news about the king salmon run on the Kuskokwim is going to be disappointed; the numbers are just not there. No decision on another opening is likely until Friday.

Let’s start with the good news: chum and red salmon are running strong. Both are in the beginning of their run and healthy so far.

However the number of kings remains very low. State fishery biologists say that the run is on par with 2013. In that year, the Kuskokwim saw its lowest king run on record, and the species did not meet drainage-wide escapement goals. Those goals are set to maintain the species’ population as well as ensure robust subsistence harvests.

Here’s the king run by the current numbers: the Bethel sonar station has counted just over 28,000 kings this season. The Kuskokwim is about 60 percent through the run, but it’s only seen about 43 percent of the kings needed to reach escapement. Already, thousands of kings have been harvested from the lower river.

There was no agreement among those attending the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting on Wednesday about what to do during the rest of the season.

Some attending the meeting said that they were thankful for this weekend’s opening and hoped to see another opening soon. Others said that every king salmon counts and needs to remain in the water.

And then there were those who said that the numbers of fish are changing, and so should we. Some suggested using more live release gear like beach seines, fish wheels and dip nets. One member said her fish camp was investing in webbing to protect drying racks from bugs. Another suggested learning from other areas of Alaska how to process fish in wet weather.

King salmon are expected to swim up the Kuskokwim through mid-July. Federal managers say that closing the river until then doesn’t balance the social and cultural need to fish with the need to protect escapement.

State fishery managers say that not meeting escapement one year isn’t likely to hurt the sustainability of the kings. When multiple years back-to-back don’t meet escapement, then the species could be in trouble.

This decade has been a mixed bag for king salmon. There have been two years that the kings did not meet escapement: 2010 and 2013. In the two years between, 2011 and 2012, they barely met escapement. The kings exceeded high escapement goals in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

On Friday morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will meet with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission to consider whether to hold an opening soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska is the nation’s eagle attack capital. Why?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-29 14:16
A juvenile bald eagle goes for a stroll on Front Beach in Unalaska.
(Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Unalaska is the national hot spot for bald eagle attacks. Biologists and law enforcement officials agree: You’re more likely to be attacked by a bald eagle here than anywhere else in the country.

You are most likely to be attacked by a bald eagle in the post office parking lot.

Wildlife trooper Damian Lopez Plancarte has just escorted the first eagle victim of the season to the medical clinic. He pointed out the eagle perched on a nest.

There were no eyewitnesses,” Plancarte said, describing the attack. “When she looked up, that eagle was just sitting there, like ‘I didn’t do it. You looking at me? No, I didn’t do it.’”

Public Safety officials say the best way to avoid an eagle attack is to stay away from nests. If you are attacked, protect your head and leave the area. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Nesting season for America’s national bird runs from early June to the end of the summer. Deputy Police Chief Jennifer Shockley is on the frontline of the island’s eagle response team.

“We have these signs that we put up every year to remind people that there are nesting eagles in the area,” Shockley said. “They will do whatever it takes to protect their young, and that typically includes launching themselves at people and using their talons to lacerate their heads.”

With seven-foot wingspans, flesh-ripping beaks and vice-like talons, eagles rule the island. But why are there annual eagle attacks in Unalaska when raptors and humans peacefully coexist elsewhere in the state?

It’s because of the interaction between two eagle needs: food and space.

It’s that time of year again: the eagle attack signs are out in Unalaska. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

“There’s a lot of food to support a lot of eagles,” Plancarte said. “But there’s not enough space in the small area where the food is to support that many nesting pairs.”

Fish are the staple of the bald eagle’s diet, and Unalaska processes more fish than any other port in the country. Boats, processors, and garbage create a year-round smorgasbord, which eagles want to nest as close to as possible.

But eagles usually nest in trees. Unalaska has no trees. Instead, eagles raise chicks on the tundra and cliff outcroppings. Their nests are a lot more accessible to people, which makes the eagles a lot more territorial.

“We actually have had to go in and chase some eagles off the playground equipment at the town park, because a couple of kids had been trapped inside,” Shockley said.

If you’re attacked by an eagle, call the police at 581-1233. If you come across a dead or injured eagle, call the Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 581-1432.(Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Shockley estimates six to 10 people a year seek medical attention for eagle encounters — usually head gashes from talons, which lead to stitches and expensive medical bills. But most Unalaskans remain pretty good-natured about the raptors next door.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Andres Ayures is a good example. On his third day in Unalaska, he was chased down the side of a mountain by a bald eagle.

“I thought for sure this eagle wanted to kill me,” Ayures said. “I’m thinking, one: ‘Oh heck no, I’m not going to die in Dutch Harbor.’ Two: ‘Oh, crap, I better start running.’”

The bird swooped at him repeatedly, ripped his hood off his head, and forced him to the ground. It even stole the cell phone that fell out of his pocket.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Andres Ayures received a gift from his coworkers after being chased down a mountain by a bald eagle on his third day in Unalaska. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

“As I was getting attacked, I was still admiring the eagle for being so majestic,” Ayures said. “It was a fantastic-looking eagle.”

Now, Ayures keeps an eagle figurine on his desk. When he’s re-stationed, it’s a piece of Unalaska he’ll hold on to — knowing that somewhere out there, an eagle with his cell phone is holding onto a piece of him, too.

Categories: Alaska News

Wave of addiction costs is hitting Alaska’s healthcare system

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 21:37
Discarded needles at the 4A’s syringe exchange in Anchorage (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Like much of the country, Alaska is seeing a surge in opioid and heroin addiction. State officials are scrambling to deal with an expanding list of the consequences. One side effect is a massive increase in diseases connected to injecting drugs, particularly Hepatitis C, raising concerns about a potential tidal wave of healthcare costs facing Alaska.

Listen now

On the wall of his midtown Anchorage office, Jay Butler has a framed picture of a Yup’ik mask made by artist Drew Michel. It’s colored in hot, garish shades of paint representing a face in pain from Hepatitis C.

“That’s certainly how I interpret it,” Butler said.

The piece is fitting, given that Butler is the Chief Medical Officer for the state health department, and has been loosing sleep over Hep C.

“We talk mostly about opioid overdose deaths, but there’s a lot more that happens related to opioid use than just deaths,” Butler said.

Like Hep C infections, which can slowly destroy the liver. As more people inject prescription painkillers and heroin, there is a parallel rise happening in blood-born diseases.

Especially among young people.

“The most concerning trend that we see is an increasing number of diagnoses age 18 to 29,” Butler said.

That’s new. Hep C used to hit Baby Boomers the hardest. The virus wasn’t discovered until 1991, and by then millions had been exposed to it through blood transfusions, tattoo needles, and syringes. Rates fell throughout the 90s and bottomed out in the 2000s. But since then, the number of cases shooting up.

Reported infections among 18 to 29-year-olds doubled in Alaska during a five-year period from 2011 to 2015, according to the Division of Public Health.

While chronic Hep C is not necessarily a death sentence, it creates a slew of long term problems.

“About one in five people will develop more progressive liver damage with fibrosis,” Butler said, referring to scarring of the liver.  It can also cause Cirrhosis to the point where the scarring diminishes liver function. Aside from discomfort, this “slow burn inflammation” can exacerbate other conditions, and in up to five percent of people lead to the kind of full liver failure that requires an organ transplant.

Until recently, the treatment available for the hepatitis C virus was ineffective and fairly toxic. But in 2013 the FDA approved a new class of direct-acting antiviral drugs, which can clear the body of Hep C 90 percent of the time. It is effectively a new cure to a dangerous and widespread chronic condition.

But here is the catch: these medications are extremely expensive.

“The price is the downside and why I usually don’t say it’s a ‘miracle drug,'” Butler explained. “Because miracles don’t come with a price, they’re gifts.”

A course of treatment for Viekira Pak or Harvoni, two common medications, can cost $85,000 to $94,500. When these drugs first hit the market, Butler did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would cost to treat the roughly 3.5 million Americans estimated to be infected with Hep C.

“I was coming up with more than 10 percent of all the medical care in the country,” he said.

In other words, not financially feasible.

It’s especially troubling for a state like Alaska. In rural areas people tend not to have regular access to clean syringes, which drives up the likelihood of re-use or needle sharing, increasing the risk of infections. And while Hep C medications are expensive on the front end, they’re cheaper in the long-term than treating people’s liver damage or paying for transplants.

But that’s putting real stress on a prime source of care: Medicaid.

“We’ve seen definitely an increase in the number of individuals who access these medications,” Erin Narus, the lead pharmacist for the state’s Medicaid program, said. As patients and doctors have grown more familiar with the new anti-viral meds, they’re being prescribed with greater frequency.

In 2015, Alaska’s Medicaid program spent $5.9 million dollars on Hep C treatments, according to Narus. The next year, that more than doubled to $13.6 million. And that money only bought treatment for around 150 people.

Nationwide, Medicaid spent about $2.2 billion on just one Hep C medicine, Harvoni made by Gilead Sciences. That was more than any other single medication. The second most purchased medicine that year was a brand of insulin that cost Medicaid $1.4 billion.

“It appears as if that outpaced the other drugs in that year,” Narus said of Harvoni.

Medicaid is just one of the insurers paying for these medications. Numbers from private providers, the VA and the Indian Health Service are not as public. A report by the McDowell Group calculated that treating just the 1,009 people in Alaska estimated to have been infected with Hep C from injecting drugs in 2015 would cost $90 million.

And even that model probably underestimates that full number of new cases. The areas seeing the steepest growth rates in Hep C infections are Southwest, Northern and Southeast Alaska — rural communities where healthcare, access to clean needles,and testing are spread the most thin. Among young people in southeast, the rate of diagnosis went up 490 percent during five years. Most of the officials interviewed during reporting said that when it comes to Hepatitis C in Alaska, the reality is likely worse than what the data show.

Which is especially bad, because right now the state has no money.

“This is not a time when it is likely that we’ll be able to increase the amount of money being allocated to addiction treatment,” Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage) said. She chairs the House’s Health and Social Services Committee.

Without more funding for rehab programs or social services, legislators have been focusing on prevention efforts like those in House Bill 159, which limits access to pain pills and boosts reporting protocols to prescription drug data-base.

Gov. Bill Walker also accepted expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and lawmakers are now hoping to tweak how the state delivers behavioral healthcare through the program. According to Spohnholz, the Alaska recently requested a 1115 waiver, which could give the state more discretion from federal guidelines when it comes establishing what treatments Medicaid will pay for.

“We need to make sure that (a) person gets addiction treatment, therapy and that they’re getting their basic healthcare needs met,” Spohnholz said. “So we need a lot more flexibility to be creative with that. The 1115 waivers could allow us to do that.”

Right now, the US Senate is revising the Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, which could undermine Alaska’s approach to mitigating the worst effects of opioid abuse. Provisions in the first draft of the bill could end the requirement that private health insurance cover mental health benefits, leaving people without access to addiction treatment. More dramatically, it would make deep cuts to federal Medicaid spending compared to what’s in the ACA, and replace the open-ended system of reimbursements with a capped budget. Which means Alaska and other states would be forced to make more difficult choices about whether they can afford expensive treatments for growing problems like Hepatitis C.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, June 28, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 17:21

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

Contractor’s blunder causes outage to University of Alaska statewide network

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The University of Alaska’s information technology infrastructure and many of its network systems suffered a prolonged, widespread outage Wednesday on at least two campuses — Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Wave of addiction costs is hitting Alaska’s healthcare system

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Like much of the country, Alaska is seeing a surge in opioid and heroin addiction. And state officials are scrambling to deal with the consequences. One side effect is a a big increase in diseases connected to injecting drugs, particularly Hepatitis C.This is raising concerns about a potential tidal wave of healthcare costs.

Assembly approves granting immunity to sex workers who aid police

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

On Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved a measure that gives immunity to sex workers who tell police when more serious crimes have occurred.

University of Alaska receives grant to address Native suicides in villages

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

University of Alaska researchers are planning new strategies to address suicide in Alaskan Native Communities. An over $4 million federal grant is funding creation of a clearing house of successful strategies drawn from villages and regions across the state.

Produce coming soon from Pilgrim Hot Springs farming project

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

Nome residents could soon be able to buy locally grown vegetables from Pilgrim Hot Springs at a market stand in town.

Shareholders re-elect Sealaska board incumbents

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The management slate won this year’s Sealaska board election. Three incumbents and a newcomer who ran with them beat out eight independent candidates.

Business as usual for marine mammal deterrence

Nora Saks – KFSK – Petersburg

In Southeast Alaska, populations of some marine mammals, like humpback whales and Stellar sea lions, are on the rise. Some subgroups of these species have recently been removed from the Endangered Species list, leaving many commercial fisherman wondering what this means for them.

Governor Walker signs law recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska

Christine Trudeau, KYUK – Bethel

In Utqiaġvik over the weekend, Governor Bill Walker signed legislation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska. The law establishes Alaska as the second state in the nation to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, replacing Columbus Day.

Categories: Alaska News

Contractor’s blunder causes outage to University of Alaska statewide network

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 16:59

The University of Alaska’s information technology infrastructure and many of its network systems suffered a prolonged, widespread outage Wednesday on at least two campuses — Fairbanks and Anchorage.

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Depending on the location, phones, Internet, external websites and internal sites like the ones staff use for human resources or that students and professors use for classes were down from 9:30 to noon or longer.

It all started with contractors on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus working in the Butrovich Building on the backup battery system.

“Something happened to cause a short in the electrical system,” UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. “That, in turn, brought down the network.”

The fix required special technicians and a specialized high-voltage replacement part was apparently not already on hand.

“Facilities Services crews were able to find a fuse in town and get that fuse replaced,” Grimes said.

Grimes said police and fire dispatchers at the university had no Internet but were still able to take calls and use radios.

But other public safety services tied to the system, including but not limited to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, were also affected. The center tweeted that some automated earthquake information was unavailable, for example.

Grimes said there did not appear to be a far reaching threat to public safety.

The University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Public Media had some difficulties related to the outage.

There were persisting problems this evening for dozens of Alaska community stations and translators that are part of Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Steve Hamlin, the technical manager for Alaska Public Broadcasting, said a little before 5 p.m., various systems that distribute programming were starting to come back online.

“It’s sort of like having to reboot and restart stuff and get all the traffic signs going the right way,” Hamlin said.

UAF also said late afternoon that its systems downstream from the outage continued to come back online as well.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska receives grant to address Native suicides in villages

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 16:29
University of Alaska Fairbanks (Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson)

University of Alaska researchers are planning new strategies to address suicide in Alaskan Native Communities. An over $4 million federal grant is funding creation of a clearing house of successful strategies drawn from villages and regions across the state.

 

The Alaska Native Epidemiology Center said between 2003 and 2015, one in seven Alaska Native High School students attempted suicide. And suicide is the leading cause of death for Alaska Native male teens. Dr. Lisa Wexler has been addressing these and other mental health issues in the Alaska Northwest for more than two decades. She said it’s important to realize those statistics are relatively new.

“Until the 1960s there were very few documented indigenous youth suicide cases,” Wexler said. “And it really came about as there was rapid change, as there were new generations of kids that were sort of disempowered.”

Wexler is one of the principle investigators of a $4.25 million grant from The National Institute of Mental Health. She said the grant, in part, funds a broad social approach to suicide research.

“So if we think of it as a social problem, that allows us to really conceptualize policy solutions,” Wexler said. “That allows us to conceptualize community-level solutions that we maybe haven’t been thinking about as well or as much as we might.”

Wexler says the grant will also create a hub at the College of Rural and Community Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Stacy Rasmus, at UAF is another grant principle investigator. She said the hub will serve as a clearing house of sorts for proven Alaska Native based community strategies. Data is available from other parts of the country about suicide prevention, but she said sometimes the contexts don’t fit.

“Trying to adapt them to fit within a village context, or to serve in these widely diverse geographic and cultural communities… they just don’t work,” Rasmus said.

Rasmus said she and her colleagues will develop a tool that is user-friendly and practical so both rural and urban communities can access approaches that work.

“So we have a study that will involve 65 communities and three regions to see if we can create that tool for communities to identify how exactly culture is prevention,” Rasmus said.

Rasmus said she and her colleagues are already meeting to put the five-year grant to work.

Categories: Alaska News

Produce coming soon from Pilgrim Hot Springs farming project

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 16:21
Mountain view at Pilgrim Hot Springs. (Photo: Maddie Winchester, KNOM)

Nome residents could soon be able to buy locally grown vegetables from Pilgrim Hot Springs at a market stand in town.

Thanks to the Pilgrim Produce program, which receives some funding from a USDA grant, various crops are currently being grown at Pilgrim Hot Springs on Unaaqtuq land. Unaaqtuq is a consortium of organizations and Native corporations, such as White Mountain and Mary’s Igloo, that has partnered with groups like the Bering Straits Development Company (BSDC).

Robert Bensin is the construction manager with BSDC.

“The staple ones are definitely the potatoes and the onions, and we’ve definitely gone real big,” Bensin said. “If we get to what the average yield is per plant for the potatoes, we are probably looking at a few thousand pounds. As with the onions, there is definitely a few thousand onions already, in the ground, that are doing very well.”

Bensin is one of the few people who is regularly found at Pilgrim with his boots on the ground and hands in the dirt. He explained that it’s beneficial to have the option to buy locally grown produce.

“Well it’s organic, so: GMO-free, no pesticides, no fertilizers — well, no bad fertilizers — obviously, you know, (we use) compost — and it will be competitive with the local markets here in town,” Bensin said.

For the other plants growing out at Pilgrim, including celery, squash, pumpkins, and much more, Bensin sid it’s hard to say what the yield will be at this point in the season.

Last summer, in 2016, the test garden that produced a crop harvest from a one-acre plot of land received a dusting of snow during the first week of September, forcing the team to end their growing season.

Plant starters in April prepared to be planted at Pilgrim Hot Springs.
(Photo by Margaret DeMaioribus, KNOM)

This summer, Bensin said they started growing earlier than last time, but how much time they have to grow is uncertain.

“It’s really just, you know, keeping an eye on the weather and keeping an eye on the road conditions, as well, because that dictates when you get in and out of there for the end of the season,” Bensin said.

Overall, there have been many challenges to maintaining a growing farm next to the Hot Springs, such as voles snacking on the crops, beavers damming up culverts, which blocks water flow, and accessing the site on a regular basis.

Bensin suggests that transporting the plants to and from Pilgrim is most difficult.

“It’s the logistics, it’s starting the starts here in town and having to transport them out there,” Bensin said. “Still, we have to see what it’s going to take to get them back, once we harvest, what it’s going to take to get everything back here to market.”

Pilgrim Produce hopes to have a weekly farmer’s market stand within Nome city limits starting up on Saturdays sometime this summer. According to Bensin, more information about the vegetables for sale, the selling times, and the stand location will be forthcoming.

Categories: Alaska News

Shareholders re-elect Sealaska board incumbents

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 16:14
Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters. (KCAW Photo)

The management slate won this year’s Sealaska board election.

Three incumbents and a newcomer who ran with them beat out eight independent candidates.

Results were released Saturday via Sealaska’s Facebook page during the Southeast regional Native corporation’s annual meeting, held in Hydaburg, on Prince of Wales Island.

Another result: A measure to reduce the board’s size failed to attract enough votes to pass.

Juneau-based Sealaska has about 22,000 shareholders, which gives it the largest base of Alaska’s dozen regional Native corporations.

Sidney Edenshaw of Hydaburg is one of the three winning incumbents. He’s president of his community’s tribal association and has been on Sealaska’s board for 12 years.

Another is Ed Thomas of Kingston, Washington. The former Juneau resident spent 27 years as president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He’s been on Sealaska’s board for 27 years.

The third winning incumbent is Ross Soboleff of Juneau. The writer and fisherman won a board seat three years ago after running as an independent.

The fourth winning candidate is Morgan Howard of Kirkland, Washington, who owns a communications company. The board chose him from a group of about 50 shareholders who applied to run on its slate.

The seat he filled was vacated by Rosita Worl. The 30-year board member did not seek re-election this year. She continues to run the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the corporation’s cultural arm.

Eight independent candidates also ran for Sealaska’s board of directors. The highest vote-getters were Karen Taug and Doug Chilton of Juneau, and Nicole Hallingstad of Arlington, Virginia.

Taug works in finance, Chilton is an artist and teacher and Hallingstad works for the National Congress of American Indians. She used to be Sealaska’s corporate secretary.

The board-size measure would have shrunk the 13-member panel to nine members over several years. It targeted long-time incumbents.

Board election results list the number of shares cast for each candidate.

  • Sidney Edenshaw: 575,939
  • Edward Thomas: 571, 090
  • Ross Soboleff: 569, 600
  • Morgan Howard: 568,290
  • Karen Taug: 497,768
  • Doug Chilton: 479, 311
  • Nicole Hallingstad: 451,381
  • John Duncan: 182,755
  • Brad Fluetsch: 158,238
  • Adrian LeCornu: 106,418
  • Michael Roberts: 86,199
  • Cory Mann: 63,990
Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker signs law recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 16:06
Governor Walker in Utqiaġvik on June 24, 2017 after signing Indigenous Peoples Day into state law.
(Courtesy of the Governor’s Office of Alaska)

In Utqiaġvik over the weekend, Governor Bill Walker signed legislation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska. The law establishes Alaska as the second state in the nation to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, replacing Columbus Day.

On Saturday, Governor Walker said, “This official recognition is just one way we as a state can acknowledge and celebrate the contributions made by First Peoples throughout the history of this land.”

For the past two years the Governor had issued one-year observances for the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day. The signing of the new law will complete that effort and Alaska will join South Dakota in recognizing the holiday.

Representative Dean Westlake of Kotzebue, Senator Donny Olson of Nome, and Representative Zach Fansler of Bethel were in attendance for the signing, along with a number of representatives from the North Slope Borough. That’s according to Representative Fansler, who was also the first co-signer for House Bill 78, put forward by the representative from Kotzebue.

“At one point we were actually thinking about trying to carry this bill, you know. Representative Westlake ended up carrying it and we co-signed right away,” Fansler said.

The signing was held during Utqiaġvik’s annual Nalukataq whaling festival.

“They take the whales; they’ve been fermenting them, they, you know, obviously they harvested them back in April, and this is where they divvy up the whale parts to literally the entire community,” said Fansler.

According to Fansler, the Inupiauq tradition is a day-long festival where much of the town comes out to celebrate a successful whale hunt. Different parts of fermented whale are brought out with cakes and candy and followed by singing, a blanket toss, and then dancing. Fansler said that it was an appropriate occasion for signing the bill.

“People were already super enthusiastic,” Fansler said. “And then when you couple that with the idea that we were signing into law something that establishes the second Monday [of October] as Indigenous Peoples Day, you know it just made it all the better.”

The crowd and legislators were happy to see the bill finally come to fruition, said Fansler, as there have been several attempts over the years to pass similar legislation.

“You know, on the Senate side, on the House side, so I think there has been this push for some time, but, you know, for various reasons it just doesn’t move along. But this year was a year I think we have a historic legislature,” Fansler said.

Fansler considers this legislature to be historic for a number of reasons, one of those being that Alaska is finally seeing its first Alaska Native Speaker of the House.

“This is meant to be something that’s inclusive,” Fansler said. “And this is something to really promote Native culture throughout our state and recognize the amazing impact of our first people.”

Representative Fansler said that he’s looking forward to celebrating October 9 as Alaska’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly approves granting immunity to sex workers who aid police

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-28 12:06

On Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved a measure that gives immunity to sex workers who tell police when more serious crimes have occurred.

When the ordinance was first introduced it drew support from advocates, as well as several women who had previously engaged in prostitution. Many testified they’d encountered heinous and violent crime, but were afraid of reporting it to law enforcement for fear of prosecution.

However critics said the proposal was vague, hard to enforce and targeted a problem Anchorage may or may not have. Even after revisions, the municipal prosecutor’s office remained firmly opposed.

But Assembly members like Eric Croft of West Anchorage felt the re-worked ordinance was narrow enough to potentially boost reporting to law enforcement without many negative impacts.

“And it’s not doing very much harm because, again, there aren’t that many prosecutions for this,” Croft said.

Under municipal statue, prostitution is a class B misdemeanor. The new measure specifies a person who witnesses or is victim to a some class A misdemeanors can receive immunity if he or she cooperates in reporting it to police. The move is aligned with a similar provision in SB91, last year’s state omnibus crime bill.

The ordinance passed 10 to 1, with Eagle River representative Amy Demboski opposed.

Elsewhere in the meeting, the Assembly voted to advance a complicated development project. The move opens the possibility of using tax abatement as a tool for converting the outdated Department of Health and Human Services downtown into senior housing, and building new residential units in a section of Midtown Anchorage off Tudor Road. The proposal from the mayor’s administration received some criticism for not working more closely with the school district, which uses a nearby property to operate its fleet
of buses.

The body also approved a parking proposal from East Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar. The measure establishes a grace-period for leaving cars parked downtown overnight on weekends up until 11am the next morning.

Categories: Alaska News

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