Alaska News

Walker receives national attention as example for political independents

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 18:07
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck, and Budget Director Pat Pitney give a news conference in June 2016 in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is getting some national recognition.

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Walker praised President Donald Trump’s administration’s approach to energy issues in a recent interview with the news organization Politico.

Politico followed the interview with a story on Tuesday saying that Walker is an example for “anti-Trump independents.”

Walker said on Politico’s Off Message podcast that Trump’s stated wish to achieve energy dominance is good for Alaska.

“The message is ‘energy dominance’ are words that we like,” Walker said. “We think that’s good for us, it’s good for the country. It’s good for the balance of trade.”

Walker laughed when podcast host Edward-Isaac Dovere gave him a chance to declare whether he’s running for president in 2020. But Walker said an independent could be elected president.

“I think there’s a desire for something other than just the two brands that are there,” Walker said. “I think what’s challenging a little bit for an independent – we have to sort of explain who we are.”

Walker communications director Grace Jang raised a concern with the way the story appeared online. The headline “Anti-Trump Independents Are Starting to Organize” was superimposed on a photo of Walker.

“The Politico headline is misleading and, especially coupled with the photo of the governor, grossly inaccurate,” Jang said. “I have requested of Politico that they change their headline.  And also it’s not reflective of the body of the reporter’s story.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the photo and headline stood.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 18:00

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Leaked climate report warns of rapid warming in Alaska, Arctic

Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

A new government report warns that regions across the U.S. are feeling the effects of rapid climate change, with some of the greatest affects in Alaska and the Arctic. The report states the evidence that human activity is driving climate change is stronger than ever.

US Senate passes marine debris bill

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

A bill targeting plastic waste in the ocean and other marine debris cleared the U.S. Senate last week. Sen. Dan Sullivan sponsored it, with support from right and left.

Fish and Game to shut down Southeast commercial and sport king fishing

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is shutting down all commercial and sport fishing for king salmon in Southeast Alaska.

Fuel tanker wreck closes Yukon section of Alaska Highway 

Phillipe Morin, CBC

Canadian authorities have closed the Alaska Highway at a point near the Rancheria Lodge in the Yukon Territory, where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Monday night.

Walker receives national attention as example for politico independents

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Walker said on Politico’s Off Message podcast that Trump’s stated wish to achieve energy dominance is good for Alaska.

Interior temperatures to drop this weekend

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A forecast weather shift is expected to cool interior temperatures this weekend.

YK Delta tribes sign treaty, forming Nunavut provisional government

Christine Trudeau, KYUK – Bethel

A provisional government was formed last Thursday at the Bethel Cultural Center. Over the last three days, and many long discussions, a treaty was signed to form the Provisional Nunavut Alaska Government to unite the 56 village tribes in the region.

GCI launches cell tower near Coldfoot

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

For the first time ever, there’s some cell service along the Dalton Highway. GCI launched coverage late last month in the Coldfoot area.

Douglas Indian Association tours T’aaḵu Kwáan territory

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Douglas Indian Association wants you to know its traditional territory stretches far beyond its namesake city and island. A recent boat tour covered some of the T’aaḵu Kwáan’s lands.

Anchorage Parks and Recreation builds new community garden plots to keep up with demand

Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Community gardens across Anchorage are buzzing with activity this summer. 12 new gardening plots have popped up in the Fairview area, built with help from a youth employment program.

Categories: Alaska News

US Senate passes marine debris bill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 17:39
Crushed plastic debris on beach at Patton Bay, Montague Island. (Photo courtesy Chris Pallister)

A bill targeting plastic waste in the ocean and other marine debris cleared the U.S. Senate last week. Alaska’s junior Senator, Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, sponsored the legislation.

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“What is particularly troubling about the marine debris challenge and crisis … is that the majority of marine debris in the world’s oceans come from five countries in Asia: China, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam Indonesia and South Korea,” Sullivan said.

The bill calls on the State Department to engage other countries to find solutions. It would also reauthorize the Marine Debris Program for another five years, with up to $10 million a year.

Kevin Allexon, senior manager of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy, said his group has worked with Sullivan’s office on the bill. He calls it “small but significant.” Small, he said, because it’s the first item on the to-do list. And significant, he said, because it could unleash the power of the State Department to “engage with those countries, bilaterally, multilaterally, to begin a dialogue or continue a dialogue that is really kind of in its infancy right now on what to do.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Balton described the waste deluge as a casualty of rapid growth for the countries most responsible.

“Their pace of economic development is just moving ahead so much more rapidly than their waste-management capabilities,” Balton said at a Senate hearing on the bill last month, “so to get a handle on this we really need to help them improve waste management processes.”

Sullivan’s 21 cosponsors span the ideological spectrum, from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla, and far to his left , Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Booker praised the bipartisanship but said every time he reads a report on plastic waste in the ocean, he sees the situation is more dire than most people realize. He cited massive growth in the production of plastics, and the unabated use of the material for packaging.

“This is a crisis of global proportions and we’re acting as if the little tiny bit that we’re doing is somehow going to stop our grandchildren from experiencing a world where there is more plastic … in our ocean than all of the fish and marine wildlife,” Booker said.

Booker and others say the problem isn’t just the fault of far-away countries.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Image: Senate.gov.

Nancy Wallace directs the Marine Debris Program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She confirmed the top five contributors of marine debris are in Asia.

“But the United States is No. 20, and we are the No. 1 generator of waste in the world. So we are contributing to this problem,” Wallace said.

The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent, without a rollcall vote. Alaska Congressman Don Young sponsored an identical version in the House. It has also attracted a raft of co-sponsors from both parties, but the House has no hearings scheduled yet.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

GCI launches cell tower near Coldfoot

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 16:54

For the first time ever, there’s some cell service along the Dalton Highway. GCI launched coverage late last month in the Coldfoot area.

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Company spokeswoman Heather Handyside said service is available in the vicinity of a tower constructed near mile 175 of the Dalton.

”We just completed a $500,000 cellular tower, and our customers on that area of the highway, probably about a 15-mile stretch around the tower, will be able to access calls, texts, and also 3G data services,” Handyside said.

Handyside says the tower is the first of several GCI is planning to construct over the next year and a half to two years, to extend coverage along the 415-mile-long road between Livengood and Deadhorse. The highway, which crosses the Yukon River and Arctic Circle, is a popular tourist route, as well as year round supply conduit for North Slope oilfields.

”I believe this is the longest stretch of highway in America, without cell coverage, so this will be a huge improvement for public safety for users of the highway, both travelers and the trucking companies who use it,” Handyside said. “I think there’s over 250 trucks a day at times on the highway, so its busy.”

Mobile communication along the Dalton Highway, or Haul Road, is currently primarily via CB radio and sat phone. Handyside said the addition of cell service along the Dalton is part of $30 million GCI is spending to expand coverage statewide.

Correction: This story previously misquoted Heather Handyside as saying the tower was $5,000. It’s actually $500,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game to shut down Southeast commercial and sport king fishing

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 16:52

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is shutting down all commercial and sport fishing for king salmon in Southeast Alaska.

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The dual emergency order is unprecedented in recent memory. As of 12:01 a.m. August 10, all commercial fishing boats, guided charter boats and resident recreational fishermen must release any king salmon unharmed.

The order will be reevaluated at the end of September, when the Department could either extend it, or lift it.

Commercial trollers wrapped up their first summer opener in only four days in July, landing 66,000 kings. That left 31,000 kings to be caught in a second opener, which usually happens sometime in August.

However, poor ocean survival and record-low returns to home river systems are causing managers great concern over the health of this year’s chinook run. They’re looking past this year, to the future of the fishery.

ADF&G Deputy Commissioner Charlie Swanton said many of the kings in the ocean at present are younger, and will spawn next year and later.

 

“Since a large number of kings that we get in the second opener are feeder kings, we felt compelled to do as much as we could to look toward the future in terms of those stocks,” Swanton said. “Ocean conditions don’t look all that promising in 2018, and we want to do whatever we can to turn around and try to not replicate 2017 moving into 2018 and beyond.”

The sport closure comes as the summer charter season remains in full swing. Although many areas of Southeast were closed to king retention earlier in the summer, a region-wide closure is rare. Again, poor production in Alaska rivers is to blame, and Swanton wants to make sure there’s a sport harvest next year.

“And it is all directed at doing whatever we possibly can to preserve those kings that we anticipate are going to be in short supply in 2018,” Swanton said.

Both the commercial and sport fisheries for king salmon are carefully regulated under an agreement with Canada called the Pacific Salmon Treaty. In addition to locally-produced fish, large numbers of kings caught by Alaskan fishermen in the summer openers originate outside of state waters. So the treaty, plus Alaska’s commitment to sustainable salmon fisheries policy, are the primary management directives driving the closure.

“It is imperative that Alaska offer relief now for these stocks,” Swanton said. “With a focus on protecting future production.”

Categories: Alaska News

Interior temperatures to drop this weekend

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 16:35

A forecast weather shift is expected to cool interior temperatures this weekend. National Weather Service meteorologist Christopher Cox said high pressure system that’s resulting in warmer than normal conditions is forecast to be pushed out later in the week.

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”Friday and into Saturday, we’re expecting a strong cold front to sweep down from the high Arctic, and move over the North Slope and over the Brooks Range, and move into the Interior,” Cox said. “It’ll be cooling from the 70’s and 80’s of recent days, into the 40’s and 50’s in the northern Interior, and into the upper 50’s in the Fairbanks area by Sunday morning.”

Cox said the system could also bring snow to some higher elevation areas.

”Possibility of some snow in the Brooks Range as this front moves through,” Cox said. “We are not anticipating snow at elevations here locally. There could possibly be some at Eielson Visitor’s Center, at the higher elevation along the road in Denali.”

It got up to 81 degrees at Fairbanks International Airport on Monday, the second day in a row with an 80 plus reading. It hit 83 Sunday. Highs of 77 and 78 are forecast for Fairbanks Tuesday and Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Douglas Indian Association tours T’aaḵu Kwáan territory

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 16:17
Members of the Yaaw Tei Yi Tlingit Dancers sing during a July 28, 2107, tour of the Taku Tlingits’ traditional territory. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

It’s important to know where you come from. But when others make assumptions that are wrong, it’s hard to maintain your identity.

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A Southeast Alaska Tlingit tribal government is letting its neighbors know its members come from a vast territory that still bears their names.

The tour boat St. Peter sails around Douglas Island, which is part of Juneau, headed to nearby Taku Inlet.

On board are local and state government officials and members of the Douglas Indian Association, which represents the T’aaḵu Kwáan, the area’s original residents.

At the front of the boat, elders Paul Marks and David Katzeek explain where they are, in Tlingit and English.

“You’re hearing the words and the voices of those who have gone before us on these waters. … And this is how we know today, and we’ve known for thousands of years, that this land belongs to us,” Katzeek translated.

Traditional T’aaḵu Kwáan territory includes the southeast part of Juneau, Taku Inlet, a smaller cove called Taku Harbor and up the Taku River into Canada.

Tribal members, some known as Inland Tlingits, also live in Atlin, British Columbia, almost 80 miles to the north, and Teslin, Yukon Territory, about 60 miles farther.

The association also includes some members of the A’akw Kwáan, whose traditional territory is to the north and west.

The Douglas Indian Association organized the July 28, 2017, tour of traditional T’aaḵu Kwáan territory. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Westerners began exploring the area in the late 1800s, and built mines and cities. Taku people lived nearby, but weren’t treated as the original property owners.

They were shut out of traditional lands.

Tlingit cemetery was later knocked down and paved, to make room for a road and a school. Later, local government burned down their village to build a boat harbor.

Tribal government administrator Andrea Cadiente-Laiti said colonization, disease, limits on fishing and other factors decimated the population.

“We lost everything that was precious to other … federally recognized tribes and that’s land, fishing rights, community, all the way down to sacred sites,” Cadiente-Laiti said.

Some of that’s finally being addressed.

The Douglas Indian Association and Juneau’s Goldbelt Heritage Foundation are working with government officials to recognize and remember the area’s first peoples.

One totem has been carved and raised at the site of Douglas’ Gastineau School. A second pole and memorial are in the works.

University of Alaska Southeast anthropology professor Dan Monteith told the group that it’s important to reconcile, but never forget.

“Hopefully we can make this history a part of the history here that’s no longer repressed, no longer brushed over, no longer ignored,” Monteith said.

The boat motors past Point Arden, where an inlet, a channel and a passage meet.

Katzeek said the competing currents weave the waters, giving them their Tlingit title.

“The name is Kanaasnoo. Everybody say, Kanaasnoo. That is a powerful, powerful word. When you look into hydrology, if there’s any kind of contamination going, this is the place where it would be mixing and it would be sending it out to the other places,” Katzeek said.

The Taku people are particularly worried about pollution from the long-closed Tulsequah Chief Mine, across the border in Canada. Acidic water drains from abandoned tunnels into the mine’s namesake river.

Some studies have shown it does not damage fisheries as it flows into the Taku River, but a recent British Columbia report points to unsafe pollutant levels in some areas.

The Indian association’s John Morris said it’s an issue for all the region’s tribes.

Douglas Indian Association Administrator Andrea Cadiente-Laiti speaks during a Taku Inlet stop. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“The Taku, the Stikine, the Unuk, the Alsek, the Chilkoot,” Morris said. “All of our rivers are being threatened by these mining operations that are being proposed in British Columbia.”

Entering Taku Inlet, the boat stops at a steep cliff face for a memorial, and off a cove, for another. There, and in a harbor to the south, speakers point out where the T’aaḵu Kwáan once lived.

Michael Kell, a historical archaeologist for the state, gestures toward an old cannery and the site of a long-abandoned fort. It’s where the area’s Tlingits established one of their many communities.

“We know for a fact that there are summer and winter camps and these camps indicate that people were here and using the land,” Kell said. “That’s the important recognition here, is that the culture has been here and the culture’s still here.”

An old cannery still stands in Taku Harbor, south of Juneau. The area was home to a T’aaḵu Kwáan village. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Old village sites are hard to spot, since most Taku people moved to town decades ago.

Tribal administrator Cadiente-Laiti said many are not part of the Douglas Indian Association. Leaders would like them to join.

“Part of the challenge is to have other government agencies, the powers that be that dictate where and when and how much funding comes to the tribe based on its membership, that it’s not just the tribal member numbers, it’s the area that was traditionally and historically the tribe’s,” Cadiente-Laiti said.

Cadiente-Laiti said more members would increase government grants that fund economic development, environmental protection and youth education.

Categories: Alaska News

YK Delta tribes sign treaty, forming Nunavut provisional government

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 16:07
A provisional government was formed last Thursday at the Bethel Cultural Center. Over the last three days, and many long discussions, a treaty was signed to form the Provisional Nunavut Alaska Government to unite the 56 village tribes in the region. (Photo by Christine Trudeau/KYUK)

A provisional government was formed last Thursday at the Bethel Cultural Center. Over the last three days, and many long discussions, a treaty was signed to form the Provisional Nunavut Alaska Government to unite the 56 village tribes in the region.

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The third day of the Constitutional Conference saw a historic, unanimous vote pass to sign the treaty with ten designated tribal village representatives present.

“It was a hundred percent supported, and the idea is to promote self-determination; to have tribal autonomy and sovereignty,” Nikki Hoffman, Nunavut secretary and former Bethel City Council member, said. “This is the beginning of a journey. This is the beginning of a marathon that started forty years ago.”

Hoffman said that this couldn’t come at a more important time for the tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“I see people losing hope. I see people in disparity. I see people struggling to even live in dignity, and we can’t have that,” Hoffman said. “We need to do more. We need to do better.”

Chariton Epchook is the chairman of the newly formed Provisional Nunavut Government.

Beyond lengthy discussions ranging from executive qualifications to education, Epchook said that he stressed to many tribal village representatives that uniting would in no way take away current sovereign authority from their own communities, but rather unite all 56 villages as a regional tribal authority with the ability to mandate law.

“The tribal members that were here, and the people that came to witness the event, gave Nunavut the direction and the powers that it needed to get these things going that are needed,” Epchook said.

With many more discussions to come, a vote is planned for November 7 among all of the enrolled tribal members of all 56 villages in the YK Delta.

Categories: Alaska News

In Angoon, a rural water system gets help from beavers

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 14:09
Auk’Tah Lake became Angoon’s water source in the early 1990s. Before that, the village relied on a muskeg for its drinking water. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The village of Angoon’s drinking water comes from a lake held up by a beaver dam. That might sound sketchy, but the beavers are one of reasons the city has public water. Not all Alaska towns do.

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For about the past seven years, the federal dollars for Alaska’s water and sewer projects has remained flat. That’s a big problem in rural parts of the state, where the existing infrastructure is getting old, and the cost to replace or upgrade those systems is growing.

Paul Thomas works at Angoon’s water treatment facility: a small rectangular building at the end of a dirt road. Metal pipes snake along the walls.

“This here’s where the water comes up from the lake, and it goes up this way to the green pipe,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ favorite part of his job is removing the crud from the filters.

“Getting these cleaned out so I’m not getting my town sick,” Thomas said.

Before he got this job a few years ago, Thomas said he didn’t pay much attention to where Angoon’s water came from. He used to keep one of those water filtration pitchers in his fridge just in case. But not anymore.

“A lot of people I see go to the store, they’re buying water bottles still,” Thomas said. “I just tell ’em I drink it right out of the faucet. It’s good. I make the best water in town.”

But the best water in town comes at a price. A price that Albert Kookesh III, who works for the city, said is growing.

A short walk from the treatment facility is Auk’Tah Lake, Angoon’s water source. It’s a deep green color and flanked by trees. The thing that’s not visible is the natural dam holding it all in — a beaver dam.

Albert Kookesh III (left) and Paul Thomas (right) on the edge of Auk’Tah Lake. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Kookesh said the “million dollar question” is what happens if the dam breaks.

“You know the water level would drop drastically. I don’t know if it would all go,” Kookesh said. “But I know that it would drop.”

Kookesh said there are some upgrades that could make Angoon’s water system more reliable and affordable, like building actual levies — not just the ones created by tiny paws. There’s also interest in getting solar panels for the treatment facility. Right now, the water is pumped up to it using electricity, which can be expensive since the city runs on diesel.

To pay for water treatment, Angoon uses a combination of city taxes and a yearly appropriation from the legislature. But it’s still difficult for the city to break even. Part of the reason Kookesh says is unemployment in Angoon is high, and there’s a number of people who can’t afford to pay their monthly water bill.

“We at the city know that because we’re in the same boat as them.” Kookesh said.

The piping system that brings the water into town wasn’t constructed with shut off valves. So when someone doesn’t pay their bill, the city can’t shut their water off. Instead, it winds up paying for the cost.

Kookesh said he’s not sure how much longer that can continue. If nothing changes in two or three years, Angoon might have to limit around-the-clock running water for everyone.

“It’s not something we want to do in Angoon. But it’s something we might have to do,” Kookesh said. “It’s not something fun to think about, especially for someone who grew up with water and flushing toilets. We want to make sure that the option’s always there.”

Bill Griffith, the facilities manager at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, said there’s a lot of need all around state. He oversees the Village Safe Water Program.

About 190 small communities can’t afford to fix their systems without some kind of help.

Griffith said his agency has identified $1.7 billion dollars of water and sewer projects in Alaska that need to be addressed. But every year, they only get about $60 million dollars in state and federal funding — a drop in the bucket.

“It’s really just kind of a Band-Aid at this point,” Griffith said.

Griffith said a lot of the infrastructure in rural Alaska was built back in the 1970s and ’80s, constructed with federal grants and a state match. But since 2009, the congressional allocation for those projects has remained flat.

President Donald Trump’s budget for next fiscal year proposes zeroing out some the grant funding for repairing Alaska’s outdated systems.

Griffith said there’s always the option the state legislature could put more money in — on top of the federal match.

“I don’t think that’s very likely. Given the current, budget situation in Alaska,” Griffith said. “I don’t think it’s likely they’re going to make funds available in excess.”

For now, Griffith said Angoon’s best bet is to try to upkeep its existing water system. Unfortunately, it’s not on the top of the list to receive additional funds. Unlike some other places in Alaska, Angoon actually has running water. That’s not the case for about 30 Alaska communities.

Albert Kookesh III said at least in the meantime nature is providing.

“You know the beavers are still there doing their thing,” Kookesh said. “But it’s something the beavers have created and we’re definitely taking advantage of.”

Kookesh said he isn’t sure for how much longer. He joked that beaver hunters aren’t welcome in Angoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Parks and Recreation builds new community garden plots to keep up with demand

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-08 12:18
David Parrish weeds his plot at C Street Community Gardens. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

On a recent cloudy afternoon, David Parrish yanked weeds from a patch of dirt where he’s been growing strawberries. He gardened barefoot, admiring an impressive harvest at a nearby plot run by a couple.

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“They fertilize like crazy,” Parrish said. “They’ve got something brewed up — I don’t know what it is — and it just goes bananas. So yeah you learn a lot from other people, just by walking around even if you don’t ever see ’em.”

Parrish maintains two plots at a community garden in Midtown Anchorage — one of four such gardens run by the city’s Parks and Recreation department. He has managed to reserve plots the past five years, but that is exceptionally lucky.

Across the city demand for plots is roughly twice the amount that’s available, which has created long waitlists for would-be gardeners. Parrish said he would like to see more gardens closer to where he lives.

“It’s here and some places on the East side. There’s none on the south side. There’s none on the west side. So I think that would be the improvement is more options,” Parrish said.

But Parks and Rec is working to provide more gardening spaces.

At East 8th and Karluk near the Fairview neighborhood, a group of teenagers has been busy building 12 new raised beds. The work crew is part of Youth Employment in Parks (YEP), a program that hires Anchorage teens to complete park improvement projects.

Margaret Timmerman, the community garden coordinator for Anchorage Parks and Recreation, supervised the construction of new beds at Fairview Park. She said that instead of creating new gardens in other areas of Anchorage, she is focusing on expanding the number of plots at existing gardens.

“You know Field of Dreams, ‘We will build it and they will come’? You really have to make sure that’s going to happen,” Timmerman said.

Youth Employment in Parks crews built 12 new raised beds for Fairview Park Community Garden. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Although the municipality owns over 11,000 acres of park land, it can be difficult to find areas that have the right combination you need for a successful community garden: decent growing conditions, with access to water and public transportation.

Two years ago, a professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage created a community garden survey to help the Parks and Rec department understand residents’ needs. The results showed that the greatest need exists in East Anchorage, where there’s less space for private gardens next to peoples’ homes.

But the east side of town is where most of the city’s community gardens are already located. According to Prof. Shannon Donovan, who ran the survey, there’s still a high demand from residents in the south and west parts of town, where many homes do have space for private gardens.

“The city kind of needs to decide if they want to do both — look at putting gardens in places where there aren’t as many versus putting in more gardens where there’s been a real need and interest expressed,” Donovan said.

Then there’s the issue of funding.

“Most of the people who rent garden plots — it’s about 25 dollars a year. Right, so it’s not covering the cost,” Donovan said.

Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Anchorage Community Land Trust and Catholic Social Services currently manage and maintain three of the city’s community gardens, which cuts costs for the municipality. Donovan said that these kinds of partnerships are essential for expanding the number of community gardens.

Soon a sizable dent will be made in the waitlist for community garden plots. Anchorage Parks and Recreation recently received a federal grant to help develop Muldoon Town Square Park in East Anchorage. Next year they plan to build a community garden with 50 plots in the new park.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, Aug. 7, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 18:00

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Trump administration signals it could open more of the Arctic to drilling

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that it will consider allowing oil development in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope that are currently protected.

Witness hearings start Monday in F/V Destination investigation

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

Starting Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard is holding two weeks of public hearings as part of its investigation into the sinking of the F/V Destination.

Drue Pearce appointed to US pipeline safety agency

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

A former Alaska Senate president has a new job in the Trump administration. Drue Pearce is now the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

With a few weeks to go, Alaska schools are short 228 educators

Quinton Chandler, KTOO – Juneau

On top of Alaska’s regular recruitment challenges, the Lower 48’s economy is strong, its supply of teachers short, and educators’ salaries are on the upswing.

PenAir files for bankruptcy protection as CEO promises to refocus on Alaska routes

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska and Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The largest air carrier in southwest Alaska has filed for bankruptcy protection.

In Angoon, a rural water system is built with the help of beavers

Elizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

The village of Angoon’s drinking water comes from a lake held up by a beaver dam. That might sound sketchy. But the beavers are one of reasons the city has public water. Not all Alaska towns do.

More than $100,000 raised for injured Anchorage firefighter

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

An Anchorage firefighter badly hurt during training is making progress in a Colorado hospital amid an outpouring of support from Alaska.

Firefighters work to extinguish Chistochina Fire

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State and federal firefighters are mopping up a wildfire in the Copper River Valley.

Teaching the next crop of whale entanglement responders

Zoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Unalaska

Unalaska has experienced three entangled whales in the last two years. There used to be only one person on the island who could respond to the incidents. But thanks to a recent training, a new response team is in place.

Norton Sound salmon arrive in high numbers, save for kings

Nick Ciolino, KDLG – Dillingham

The Norton Sound commercial fishery could log near-record catch and escapement numbers for all of the returning salmon species this season, except for king salmon. Like some other regions in the state … the king run in the Norton Sound has failed to meet escapement goals.

Forest Service could delay Wrangell contaminated soil move

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The U.S. Forest Service could put the brakes on a state plan to store contaminated soil near a Wrangell recreation area.

Categories: Alaska News

Drue Pearce appointed to US pipeline safety agency

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 16:50
PHMSA Deputy Director Drue Pearce. (2016 photo by Lawrence Ostrovsky for Alaska Public Media)

Former Alaska legislator Drue Pearce has a new job in the Trump administration. She is now the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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PHMSA, created in 2004, oversees the nation’s network of pipelines, some 2.3 million miles, and the transportation of hazardous materials in general, by road, rail or air.

Pearce was sworn in Monday morning.

“We look at safety first, then building infrastructure – new infrastructure, as well as maintaining the infrastructure we already have- is our second goal,” Pearce said of her new agency. “And then technology and research is the third goal.”

Pearce represented Anchorage in the Alaska Senate and became Senate president. She resigned her seat in 2001 to be a senior advisor at the Interior Department. President George W. Bush later appointed her to be the first federal coordinator for the Alaska gas line project. She maintains homes in Anchorage and outside Washington, D.C., where her new position is based.

Categories: Alaska News

Firefighters work to extinguish Chistochina Fire

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 16:28

State and federal firefighters are mopping up a wildfire in the Copper River Valley.

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The Chistochina Fire started Friday along long the Tok Cutoff, and the Alaska Fire Service reports that water drops, smokejumpers, and ground crews stopped the blaze at 98 acres, just short of reaching 4 homes. Work continued over the weekend to secure the fires perimeter. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Trump administration signals it could open more of the Arctic to drilling

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 16:14
BLM’s map of NPR-A acreage available for leasing. The Trump administration is gauging industry interest in portions of the region not currently available for drilling. (Image courtesy BLM)

The Trump administration is taking a first step towards potentially opening up new parts of Alaska to oil drilling.

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The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that it will consider allowing oil development in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope that are currently protected.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) is an Indiana-sized chunk of federal land west of Prudhoe Bay. The BLM is asking for input on what parts of the Reserve should be available for drilling, including areas that were blocked off from oil and gas leasing under the Obama administration.

BLM spokesperson Lesli Ellis-Wouters said the announcement is a direct result of an order signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he visited Alaska this spring. It ordered the agency to review the existing plan.

“His direction was to review that Integrated Activity Plan, to ensure that we’re promoting a balance of conservation and development,” Ellis-Wouters said.

Ellis-Wouters said the 11 million acres that are now blocked off won’t be available at this year’s oil and gas lease sale. She said at this point, the Interior Department is just gauging industry interest in the region.

And there may be a lot of interest from the oil industry. There have been several big oil discoveries in and around the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the past year. According to BLM, some of the area that’s now off-limits has high potential for oil and gas development.

But Susan Culliney of Audubon Alaska said that part of the Reserve was protected for a reason. It’s near a giant lake that’s key habitat for many species.

“Teshekpuk Lake [and] the special area in and around Teshekpuk Lake are very crucial for wildlife species such as caribou, molting geese, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds congregate in that area,” Culliney said.

The deadline for public comment is September 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Witness hearings start Monday in F/V Destination investigation

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 15:11
Six F/V Destination crew members died when their boat disappeared in February near St. George Island, marking the deadliest accident in more than a decade for the Bering Sea crab fleet. The Coast Guard is holding public hearings as part of its investigation into the Destination’s sinking. (Photo courtesy F/V Destination Memorial Fund)

Starting Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard is holding two weeks of public hearings as part of its investigation into the sinking of the F/V Destination.

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All six crew members died when crab boat disappeared in February near St. George Island, marking the deadliest accident in more than a decade for the Bering Sea crab fleet.

The vessel’s wreckage was finally located last month, but investigators are still trying to determine why the Destination sank.

Coast Guard officials will interview witnesses about the state of the vessel as well as the human and weather factors that may have played a role in the sinking.

The Coast Guard is live-streaming the hearings from Seattle at https://livestream.com/USCGinvestigations/events/7633480.

Categories: Alaska News

With a few weeks to go, Alaska schools are short 245 educators

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 15:04
(Photo illustration by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

Imagine you’re fresh out of school, broke and hunting for your first teaching job. Then a school district offers you a job paying $70,000 a year. Afterward, you meet Joshua Gill from the Lower Kuskokwim School District in rural Alaska and he offers you a job paying $52,000 a year.

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“For a kid coming out of school, that’s an $18,000 difference,” Gill said.

$70,000 dollars a year for a new teacher may be surprising but Gill said that actually happened when he was recruiting in the Lower 48 this spring. He is in charge of hiring people for his district. He said school districts offering more money get to take their pick.

“And then you’ve got to convince somebody to come to bush Alaska where we have some teacher housing that doesn’t have running water,” Gill explained. “They have honey buckets, (a) gray water system and (you’re) trying to convince them to live in a village thousands of miles away from their families.”

Juneau School District Human Resources Manager Cherish Hansen left, and recently retired Human Resources Director Ted VanBronkhorst at the Alaska Teacher Placement Job Fair in Anchorage in March. (Courtesy Juneau School District)

But, recruiting is just part of Alaska’s challenge. Toni McFadden said the bigger problem is there are fewer teachers.

“Nationwide our country is facing a severe teaching shortage,” McFadden said.

With only a few weeks to go until the new school year begins, about half of Alaska’s school districts are still looking for a couple hundred teachers and special educators to hire.

McFadden is with Alaska Teacher Placement. She helps connect teachers with Alaska school districts. That partly means holding job fairs. Their biggest one of the year drew between 200 and 250 people.

“And that has been a steady decline,” McFadden said. “People remember from the ’80s when there were over a thousand people looking for jobs in Alaska.”

McFadden said Alaska school districts hire about 800 teachers from out of state each year. Close to 200 more come from within the state.

“Fewer people are going into teaching as a career, about 50 percent of teachers leave teaching as a career during the first three to five years,” McFadden said. “Even to the point that some colleges are cutting back on teaching classes because they don’t have the enrollment that they used to have.”

Alaska Teacher Placement counts 155 open teaching positions and 90 special education positions across the state as of August 4.

“We’re looking at weeks before school starts and we have 90 elementary teacher positions that we need,” McFadden said.

According to McFadden about half of the state’s school districts still need teachers. She said that’s similar to last year.

“We’ll have substitutes in classrooms getting the year started with children when it’s so important to have their teacher there establishing routines and getting learning started,” McFadden added.

Another piece of the problem is teacher turnover. Just ask Dayna DeFeo, a researcher with the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research.

“We recently calculated the per teacher cost of turnover in Alaska,” DeFeo said. “We calculated that it is about $20,400 every time a teacher turns over for each position.”

That money comes from things like recruitment costs, hiring, training and teacher productivity.

DeFeo said between 2013 and 2014, out of the 1,095 teachers who left jobs in their districts, 87 percent stopped teaching in Alaska.

DeFeo said 80 percent of teachers who leave rural Alaska leave the state education system. She doesn’t have more recent numbers but said that was a steady trend for five years.

Todd Hess, head of human resources for Anchorage School District, said he knows teachers who claimed they were leaving the state because of uncertainty over Alaska’s education funding.

Earlier this summer, the Anchorage School District sent layoff notices to about 200 teachers while they waited for the Legislature to pass an operating budget and decide how much money Alaska schools would have for the 2017-2018 school year.

When legislators passed the budget days before the start of the new fiscal year, the district canceled the layoff notices, but not before stressing out a lot of educators.

Meanwhile, DeFeo said in the Lower 48, there’s a stronger economy, growing teacher salaries and a short supply of teachers, making a “perfect storm” for teacher recruitment in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

More than $100,000 raised for injured Anchorage firefighter

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 14:40
Anchorage Fire Department Fire Engine (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

An Anchorage firefighter badly hurt during training is making progress in a Colorado hospital amid an outpouring of support from Alaska.

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29-year-old firefighter Ben Schultz fell from a ladder in June and was in critical condition for a time.

Fire Captain Jason Dolph. said Schultz had been in an unconscious or semi-unconscious state ever since.

That is… until a week ago.

“He said a few words,” Dolph said. “He said, ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ and ‘Hi.’ Over the last week, it’s just been leaps and bounds every day.”

Dolph said it was heartening news to Schultz’s supporters, many of whom were on hand for an Anchorage fundraiser Friday at Elite Sports Performance that raised more than $100,000 for Schultz’s long-term medical care.

“You know, typically people are calling 911 when they’re in crisis and we’re coming to help them,” Dolph said. “And in this particular instance, we put the 911 call out to the community, and said we need your help, it’s one of our own.”

Ben Schultz’s father, Jeff Schultz, said the community answered that call, not just with raising money that will help his son’s recovery, but also by sending photos and well wishes.

The Schultzes have been with Ben for weeks in Colorado.

“Alaska and Alaskans, special place and special people. Makes me proud to live there for sure,” Jeff Schultz said. “Ben’s lived there his whole life; he’s one of Anchorage’s finest. They do good work, and people appreciate that.”

Jeff Schultz said his son continues to fight and improve but still has a tough road ahead of him.

Categories: Alaska News

PenAir files for bankruptcy protection as CEO promises to refocus on Alaska routes

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 14:29
(Courtesy of Pen Air)

The largest air carrier in southwest Alaska has filed for bankruptcy protection.

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“PenAir filed for reorganization under Chapter 11,” CEO Danny Seybert said on Monday. “There’s a number of reasons for this. I won’t go into all the reasons, but we’re going to reorganize the company.”

Seybert said the filing will not affect scheduled flights in Alaska, where the company serves eight communities: Unalaska, Cold Bay, King Salmon, Sand Point, Dillingham, St. Paul, St. George and McGrath.

PenAir’s Boston flights won’t be affected either, but the airline is closing operations in Portland and Denver.

Seybert expanded to those markets in an effort to turn the regional carrier into a wider-ranging airline.

“That isn’t working out for us,” Seybert said. “We have to reorganize and focus on what made us successful in the past, which is the state of Alaska.”

The Chapter 11 filing comes two months after PenAir canceled daily freight service to Unalaska, citing declining revenue from its contract with the U.S. Postal Service.

It also comes two years after PenAir spent $27 million on a fleet of Saab 2000s, which replaced the smaller Saab 340s in most of the region.

Seybert said PenAir is committed to serving southwest Alaska in the long term. Beyond that, the company’s next steps are still up in the air.

“There might be some equipment changes,” Seybert said. “You might see more 340s in the market versus the larger planes, but that hasn’t been decided yet.”

PenAir has already sold their Saab 340s. Since flying the 2000s, the company has announced a slew of mechanical cancellations and posted the worst reliability rates in its history.

This story contained contributions from Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham. 

Categories: Alaska News

Teaching the next crop of whale entanglement responders

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-07 12:05
Ed Lyman is in Unalaska teaching the next crop of large whale entanglement responders. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

On a sunny Tuesday night, about a dozen people are gathered on a dock. They’re practicing the skills needed to free a stranded whale.

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Ed Lyman is up from Hawaii to lead the course. He has a lot of experience freeing entangled whales. He’s in town for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — working to build Unalaska’s response team.

“Here we are in Dutch Harbor, fishermen galore, capital of fishing, in many ways in the U.S.,” Lyman said. “So you have a lot of skill sets there already. But having to cut free a 40-ton whale is unique.”

Reports of entangled whales are increasing nationwide. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, last year there were 20 confirmed entanglements in Alaska compared to three in the year 2000.

Emily Gibson takes a practice throw. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Until now, there was only one person in Unalaska trained to approach distressed marine mammals. That means if more help was needed, a team from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network would have to fly in.

Emily Gibson is part of the new crop of responders. She’s an environmental compliance manager at a local seafood processor, but said she’s taking part in the class as a fisherman and resident.

“We spend a lot of time on the water in the summer and interact and see whales, so we’re kind of the first line of defense against these entanglements and trying to mount a response to help whales that might be in trouble out here,” Gibson said.

Because of the potential risks to humans and marine mammals, NOAA Fisheries approves responses on a case-by-case basis.

Lyman said having responders from different areas of expertise is key to success.

“Boy, throw a whale biologist and a fisherman together — it’s the perfect team to cut a whale free,” Lyman said. “The whale biologist knows the whale behavior. The fisherman knows gear, knows the ocean, knows boats and things of that nature. You’re putting two skill sets together to make a great team. It works. Believe me.”

By sharing his knowledge, Lyman hopes to protect whales while keeping humans safe.

If you see a marine mammal in distress, you should report the sighting to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-925-7773.

Categories: Alaska News

State budget cuts hitting Interior’s main public media company

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 18:04

The state’s fiscal situation is taking a toll on one of Alaska’s longest operating and largest public media companies.

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KUAC, which brings public radio and television programming to Fairbanks, the Interior and communities across rural Alaska, is scaling back its operations.

“The timeline is: immediately,” General Manager Keith Martin said in a phone interview Friday.

KUAC is governed by the University of Alaska, and according to Martin, diminished funding from lawmakers to the university system’s budget are forcing the station to reduce services. That includes cutting back on PBS shows, changing it’s affiliate relationship with National Public Radio and reducing three full-time positions to half-time — including for one news reporter. The station is also withdrawing from the Alaska Public Radio Network.

“The newsroom is in a panic,” Martin said. “The cornerstone of KUAC, one of our pillars, is local news. And when we start impacting that people get nervous. And dropping out of APRN they get even more nervous.”

For the time being, KUAC and other public radio newsrooms will continue to share stories. But that could change in the future, affecting how Interior residents get statewide news from other regions, as well as the state and national capitols. However, the changes being put into effect will not majorly alter the programming that reaches most listeners, according to Martin. NPR shows and newscasts, for example, will still air.

Martin said the reductions are necessary to keep the station going, rather than forcing staff into an unsustainable situation.

“When I took over as general manager in 2009, (KUAC) had 26 full time staff members,” Martin said. “Because of the six years of reductions, at this point we’re down to 13 full time. Continuing to ask people to do more when we have staff members who already have multiple positions rolled into them is just unrealistic at this point.”

KUAC first went on the air in 1962 and was Alaska’s first non-commercial radio station.

Categories: Alaska News

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