Alaska News

Murkowski calls Comey testimony on Trump “troubling”

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 13:11
Sen. Lisa Murkowski listens to panelists at a field hearing of the U.S. Senate and Natural Resources Committee in Cordova, Alaska on June 10, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski says she finds last week’s testimony from fired FBI Director James Comey “troubling.”

Murkowski was in Cordova Saturday for a field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs. She said she hadn’t yet had a chance to watch Comey’s full testimony, since her own committee was meeting while he spoke.

But, Murkowski said, she’d read enough to raise concerns.

“He made some statements that were pretty direct,” Murkowski said. “He believes that the president lied on certain occasions, and that there were pressures directed to him, as the FBI Director, that he did not feel were appropriate. So yes, I think we should look at that, and yes, find that troubling.”

In his testimony, Comey called President Trump’s statements that the FBI was in disarray “lies, plain and simple.” Comey also testified that he felt the President had asked him to pledge his loyalty, and directed him to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Categories: Alaska News

Three now in running for Alaska’s lone Congressional seat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 16:30

Greg Fitch, founder of the Juneau-based Mental Health Consumer Action Network, has filed to run for Republican Don Young’s seat in Congress.

Greg Fitch poses for a portrait in Juneau on Thursday. Fitch filed paperwork to run for Republican Don Young’s seat in Congress in 2018. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Fitch, 47, is a Democrat. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, he’s the third person to file for the 2018 election.

Listen now

Longtime incumbent Don Young and political newcomer Dimitri Shein of Anchorage are the other candidates.

Young, 83, has held Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House since 1973.

Shein is in his 30s. He’s an Anchorage Democrat, CPA and businessman.

About two weeks ago [May 24], Fitch resigned as executive director of his fledgling nonprofit. At the time, he said he intended to run for Republican Dan Sullivan’s U.S. Senate seat in 2020, but says he is no longer pursuing that.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard willing to give 2nd look at Aivik as icebreaker

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 16:14
The Aivik underway near Kodiak in 2012. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has apparently reconsidered its refusal to rent the Aivik, a ship belonging to Edison Chouest Offshore, to use as an icebreaker.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles Ray told a U.S. House subcommittee this week the ship’s owners submitted a plan to put the vessel through an ice trial.

“We’ve been in communication with them as recently as last week and told them we’d be interested in sending Coast Guard observers for this ice trial, if and when they do that,” Ray said.

The admiral didn’t name the ship, but subcommittee chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., did.

“Let’s stay on the Aivik a minute,” he said, after the subject first came up.

The Aivik has a history in Alaska. It was the tug pulling the Kulluk, the ill-fated Shell drilling rig that went aground near Kodiak in 2012.

Louisiana-based Edison Chouest had the Aivik built to support Shell’s offshore Arctic drilling work. Now that Shell doesn’t need the $200 million vessel, the owners are looking for someone to lease it.

Alaska Congressman Don Young has pushed the Coast Guard to consider the ship. At a hearing last year, Young chewed out a different admiral for rejecting it.

“Sir, our current opinion is that ship is not suitable for military service, without substantial refit,” the admiral said.

“That’s what I call, Mr. Chairman, a bullsh– answer.” Young said at the time. “Military service. I’m talking about moving ice.”

Young wasn’t present for the discussion this week and it was Rep. Hunter who pressed the Coast Guard, but gently.

“So when they execute the ice trials, according to what the Coast Guard wants them to do, you’re going to have Coast Guard observers?” Hunter asked.

Admiral Ray repeated that the Coast Guard has offered to send people.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Edison Chouest is a top contributor to the campaigns of both Young and Hunter.

The Coast Guard’s willingness to observe the Aivik was first reported on WorkBoat.com.

Categories: Alaska News

With time ticking, little public progress on state budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 16:12

Despite a looming deadline, lawmakers made no public progress this week on reaching agreement on a state budget and a plan to balance the budget in future years.

Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend talked to AKPM and KTOO reporter Andrew Kitchenman about the stalemate.

Lori Townsend: “What will it take to reach a compromise in Juneau?”

Andrew Kitchenman: “If there was a clear answer to that question, then we could have seen a compromise months ago. Governor Bill Walker tried to make progress on Monday by putting out his own compromise proposal. He didn’t get very far. He took the Senate’s side on how to handle oil and gas taxes and the Permanent Fund, and the House’s side on this year’s state budget and the need for a broad-based tax. But no one embraced all of his package of proposals. Senate President Pete Kelly welcomed it, but he continued to express opposition to the elements that differ from the Senate majority’s positions. The mostly Democratic House majority was much stronger in rejecting it, although some members signaled a willingness to work with what Walker proposed.

Kelly says he wants lawmakers to focus on the budget first. The Republican-led Senate majority may be willing to live with just passing the budget – putting off a decision on the Permanent Fund until later. House members don’t want to do that – but they only want to reduce PFDS if  the state also has higher oil taxes and/or a broad-based tax like an income tax. They say that’s fairer. Senators say everyone agrees on the need for Permanent Fund changes, but they differ on taxes and spending.

House members have been hoping that the Senate would be swayed by public pressure over budget cuts. That hasn’t happened yet. There’s one thing that’s certain to put pressure on both chambers – the state government shutting down if they don’t pass a budget.

Lori Townsend: “Has there been any progress this special session?”

Andrew Kitchenman: “Well, the Legislature passed a bill aimed at reducing overdoses from opioids. That was only bill that didn’t have to do with the budget.

There’s a conference that’s making slow progress on the budget. But it hasn’t taken on the biggest differences between the chambers – such as cuts to education and university funding, and how much to draw from Permanent Fund earnings.

Lori Townsend: “Is there anything else happening?”

Andrew Kitchenman: “Today (Friday, June 9) was the first meeting of the conference committee on a bill making changes to oil and gas taxes. The two chambers are still far apart. I talked with the committee leaders about where they stand. Anchorage Democratic Representative Geran Tarr says the House majority wants  to change the system so that oil and gas companies effectively pay more in taxes.”

“We’ve said it’s unsustainable,” Tarr said. “We need to reduce the burden to the state treasury because it’s not affordable going forward and we hope to find a compromise on that.”

While the Senate version of the bill eliminates the tax credits that are paid out to oil companies, Tarr says it allows them under a different name.

Lori Townsend: “What do senators say about this?”

Andrew Kitchenman: “Anchorage Republican Senator Cathy Giessel says what the Senate has proposed is significant. Companies would no longer be able to receive tax credits before they enter production.”

“It will be applicable when you’ve reached production, versus simply handing out cash for performing certain activities,” Giessel said. “That’s a big change. The other big change, of course, is we’re no longer jeopardizing our treasury by handing out this cash.”

Andrew Kitchenman: “Giessel says the Senate didn’t have time to assess the overall effect of the House’s overhaul to oil and gas taxes.”

Anchorage Democratic Representative Les Gara notes the projected reduction in oil and gas taxes in the Senate bill as compared with the House bill is equal to the Senate’s proposed cuts to school and university spending over 10 years. Republicans reject the comparison, saying that encouraging oil production is necessary for the economy.

Lori Townsend: “So what happens next?”

Andrew Kitchenman: “Legislators have a week to work out their differences. If they don’t, then Walker will likely call another special session. Then there will be two more weeks to prevent a shutdown.”

Categories: Alaska News

New study says melting ice keeps polar bears in perpetual motion

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 15:05
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Christopher Michel.

A new U.S. study of polar bears off Alaska’s coasts says faster-moving sea ice brought on by rapid global warming is adding to the animals’ physiological stress.

Research ecologist George Durner said that adds to problems for polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea.

“Polar bears in those regions largely stay within those subpopulation areas throughout their lives,” Durner said. “But to do that they can’t just sit still. If they want to stay within their subpopulation bounds, they constantly have to be moving east all the time. And so yes, it essentially is a treadmill.”

The study by U.S. Geological Survey researchers and others said the already at-risk bears have to burn more calories to stay within their preferred habitat as sea ice drifts. Researchers have documented declining body condition, reproduction and survival among polar bears as diminished sea ice gives them fewer opportunities to hunt for seals.

The study contains two data sets ranging from 1987 to 1998 and 1999 to 2013. When asked what the most significant changes have been in the polar bears over that span of time, Durner pointed to the survival rate of young bears.

“Steve Amstrup and I did a survival study that was published back in 1995. In that study we determined that first year survival of young was around 65%,” he said. “In the most recent work that was done by Jeff Bromaghin and others including, I was a coauthor on that work as well, first year survival dropped down to I believe it was 40%.”

According to Durner, polar bears may disappear from Alaska by mid-century as sea ice continues to melt. However, as long as Alaskan sea ice reforms each winter, Canadian polar bears may enter the region on a seasonal basis.

Durner said that polar bear research will be refined as resources become available and that he hopes this study will influence arctic conservation policy.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Zach Sarti of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 15:02

This week we’re hearing from Zach Sarti of Anchorage. Zach is a salesman who moved to Alaska from Illinois.

Listen now

I’m a salesman, and I work for a national cellphone carrier. I’ve been here most of the time the company’s been here. I got here in December of 2014, so almost 3 years. I thought it was a great opportunity to start fresh and see a part of the world I’ve never seen before. I was from Illinois. I was living in the southern part of the state there and was working for the company and saw the opportunity to come up here.

I’d say people seem to be a little more outgoing [in Anchorage]. Want to see how you’re doing, genuinely care. You know like when somebody says, “How are you?” it seems like there is more of a genuine intent there. It doesn’t seem so busy here even though there are a lot of people here in Anchorage. There’s, you know, 300,000 plus people here and it still has the small town identity.

One time when I was staying in Homer, we stayed at a really nice bed and breakfast there for the weekend. And we were in a hot tub and saw two eagles fly up and perch on a tree. They started making noises and then eventually one of them dove down and pulled a lean cod right out of the spit there. Definitely only in Alaska.

At first I was nervous of moose. I’d hear stories of people being like, “Don’t get too close to ’em or they might charge you,” or something like that. I mean, not that I’ve gotten real up close and personal, but I’m not afraid of moose anymore. But yeah, we still keep an eye out for bears. We like to take a Bluetooth speaker with us, make a lot of noise and let ’em know we’re coming.

I do try to stay outdoorsy while I’m up here because I know that’s something that I can’t get back home, or quite as much. So much beauty to see in the state, and if you want to go see it, it’s there for you to go get. Whether it be here in Anchorage–you can be on a mountain 20 minutes outside of town. Or up towards Denali–see one of the biggest mountains in the world. There’s a lot of beauty to see and you really can see a lot of candid nature here, which is something to not take for granted.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Juneau city manager: ‘People genuinely don’t have somewhere to go’

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 14:59

AK:  Juneau struggles to find answers for tent city

A tent city sprang up in Alaska’s capital city this spring. Juneau is struggling with a ballooning homeless population and so far efforts to crack down have just moved the problem around. KTOO’s Jacob Resneck reports.

Campers gather near a small group of tents about noon Thursday near the 300 block of Egan Drive in Juneau. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Listen now

In an encampment on the edge of town there’s steak grilling on a propane stove. Tents began appearing in this wooded area about three weeks ago.

“I set up mine and then I woke up and there were three or four next to me,” Kevin Howard, 44, tent city resident. “They followed, it just kind of came in waves. Everybody here looks after each other and nobody does nothing to nobody. We make sure everybody’s OK in the morning. ‘Need something to eat? Need some water?’ We look after each other here.”

Juneau has been wrestling with a rising homeless population. Responding to complaints from merchants, the Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance this winter banning camping on private property in the downtown core.

53-year-old David Waits was among those who sheltered in front of a storefront to keep out of the wind and snow.

“This past winter was cold,” Watts said. “I stayed in the doorways with just a blanket. It’d be like 7 degrees out. You just gotta survive.”

The anti-camping ordinance went into effect this spring. That led people to move onto public property namely, Marine Park where cruise ships dock.

Last month the city directed police to ticket anyone in the park after hours. Howard and Waits say officers told campers: “You guys get your (expletive) out of here or otherwise it goes in the trash.”

 

Howard says the police officers  threw everybody out of the doorways and out of the park and that’s why they have congregated where they did.

Critics of the anti-camping ordinance had warned that a crackdown would just move the problem around.

“What happened is what we’ve seen happen in other communities that have similar ordinances is they are displacing homeless individuals,” Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness director, Brian Wilson said. His group unsuccessfully argued against the camping ban.

“If we displace these individuals again, I’m not really sure where they’re going to go,” Wilson said.

The city of Juneau is coming around to this reality and officials say police aren’t planning on moving against camp dwellers unless they get a trespassing complaint from the landowner.

In this case that’s the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. Wyn Menefee, deputy director of the trust’s land office, says the waterfront acreage is in the process of being sold to private developers.

“If it were to get into a situation where it started in hindering the ability to make revenue off of the trust, we may have to do something further about it,” Menefee said. “But right now it hasn’t stopped us from doing what we intend to do with the parcel.”

About half of Juneau’s homeless population report suffering from mental illness. That’s according to a spring survey conducted by social workers who canvassed the community.

Brian Wilson says of the 96 unsheltered people that social workers interviewed 45 said they had mental health issues or concerns.

“That’s simply an under-reported number as well,” Wilson said.

The irony of the mentally ill trespassing on Mental Health Trust Authority land is not lost on Steve Williams, the authority’s chief of operations.

“We’re actively engaged in the community on a number of different levels and probably target this population in one way or the other,” Williams said.

One of the projects the trust is helping fund is Juneau Housing First. It’s an apartment complex slated to open this summer and house 32 of the community’s most vulnerable homeless residents.

Brian Wilson says Housing First is sorely needed but won’t solve the community’s homeless crisis that’s forcing people to sleep outside.

“The folks that we’re seeing down at the camp are candidates for Housing First interventions but at the current state of our capacity, we don’t have that here locally,” Wilson said. “We need a lot more units.”

In the meantime this encampment appears to be growing. The city has tried to coax homeless people to use the city-run Thane campground. But as it’s two miles down an unlit road with no bus service, people here say they feel safer closer to town. But even so many say they sleep with one eye open.

The city and the trust authority have received at least one complaint from the public concerned about health and sanitation. That will inevitably be an issue if the camp remains here long term.

But a recent visit showed a tidy camp with very little trash in sight. David Waits says there’s a sense of pride about making the best out of what little you have.

“We’re all the same – it doesn’t matter how much money you make or how much you have or anything else,” Waits said. “We’re all common people. I’m a Lakota Sioux Indian and we believe everybody’s related. Nobody’s higher or lower than the next person.”

So with few options available for Juneau’s homeless population, it appears a tent city on the edge of town has become the status quo.

Categories: Alaska News

The future for polar bears and other arctic marine mammals

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 12:21
A polar bear mother watches carefully with her cubs along her side as their picture is taken, March 6, 2007. (Photo credit: USFWS)

Polar bears need sea ice to survive. Scientist Steven Amstrup has devoted his career to polar bear research and is definitive in calling for global action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions such as those outlined in the Paris climate accord. The U.S. is no longer party to the agreement. So now what?

HOST: Lori Townsend

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Study claims Exxon Valdez oil spill didn’t cause Prince William Sound fisheries crash

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 12:20

A recently published scientific study says the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound is less to blame for salmon and herring declines than previously thought, but critics say it’s not that simple.

Exxon Valedz as it is being tended after hitting a reef and spilling millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989. (Photo: Alaska Public Media)

The study says wild red salmon are affected more by adult hatchery-raised pink salmon that compete with reds or eat them when they’re small. And the research also says herring declines are more related to increased fresh water from melting glaciers, rather than oil inundation after the spill.

Critics – including a long-time environmentalist with deep ties to Prince William Sound – say the research helps understand the complex ecosystem, but it is inaccurate to say the oil spill did not play a major role in fish population declines.

The study – published in the journal PLOS One in March – looks at fish data from before and after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, along with a variety of other research. After crunching the numbers through their computer models, the new paper’s authors say a commonly held belief about the oil spill might not be true.

The paper says analysis of impacts to salmon and herring showed, quote, “little overall support for an oil spill effect.”

But study co-author Rich Brenner, a commercial fisheries biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game said oil isn’t blameless in fisheries decline following the Exxon Valdez spill.

“That doesn’t mean it didn’t affect salmon or herring or other species,” Brenner said. “It’s just that, you know, with all the other changes that have taken place, the oil spill effect is sort of overshadowed, possibly, by other factors.”

The study authors say those other factors are fresh water from glacial melting related to global warming – in the case of herring, the inundation of freshwater affects the number of juveniles that survive – and adult pink salmon out-competing or eating young red salmon.

But, to put it lightly, longtime environmental consultant Rick Steiner is not buying the explanation.

Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska for 30 years and was the university’s marine advisor in Prince William Sound before, during and after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

Steiner says the study is interesting and adds to the overall understanding of the area’s ecosystem.

But Steiner says the researchers’ conclusions are not groundbreaking and that there are many other things impacting fish stocks.

“You know for any headline from the study, it’s not ‘Study finds oil didn’t cause long term impact on herring and salmon in Prince William Sound,’ but the headline would simply be, ‘Study reaffirms multiple factors behind Prince William Sound ecosystem dynamics,’ and that is the take home,” Steiner said.

Steiner says the system is so complicated and ever-changing that it is almost impossible to make definitive conclusions about how discrete, isolated factors are specifically to blame.

And Steiner disagreed with the study’s main takeaway: that the oil spill had a negligible effect on herring and red salmon stocks.

“That simply is either poorly worded or it’s an inaccurate conclusion,” Steiner said. “There’s abundant scientific documentation of impact of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill on herring, salmon, sockeye and pink salmon.”

Steiner said he does not see any possible policy implications from the study. For example, he said, a vast majority in the scientific community already recognizes the negative impact from climate change, so to know herring might be affected is just one more example of that impact.

And regarding the balance between pink salmon and reds — with pinks, for the most part, being shipped to overseas markets — Steiner says many involved in fisheries science have already said there was a problem with the hatchery programs in the Sound.

“Billions of hatchery fry going out into a coastal ecosystem do have an impact,” Steiner said. “We know this. And perhaps we’ve overdone it with hatchery production. We understand that it’s been a strong economic driver in places like Prince William Sound, but there’s a maxim in ecology that says there’s not such thing as a free lunch.”

What he means is:  that at some point, fisheries managers may need to place a higher value on protecting one species of fish over another.

But Steiner said making sure tankers do not accidentally dump massive amounts of crude oil into the Sound’s waters is a no-brainer.

Both Steiner and Brenner, the researcher, said seeing the spill right after it happened was difficult.

“You know, we were out there in the spill response, and you could see animals dying and the body counts and the carcasses being brought into shore facilities, and the oiled animals being brought in to rehab facilities and things like that, so it was very graphic,” Steiner said.

Brenner was a teenager at the time, having grown up in the area, and said he feels lucky to have seen Prince William Sound before the spill. Brenner had worked as a fisherman, but like many other people helped on the spill cleanup.

“For somebody of that age it was a remarkable thing to see this very wild place turn into a very populated place with a lot going on and oil everywhere,” Brenner said. “Definitely made a big impression on me.”

In looking for a response to the study by Brenner and his colleagues, we reached out several times seeking comment from the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council – which oversees ecosystem restoration efforts through a $900 million civil settlement from Exxon.

The trustee council is listed on the study as providing some funding but calls seeking comment on the study and confirmation on the funding amount were not returned.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal government updates navigability determination for Upper Knik River

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-09 11:14

In April, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Land Management, asserting that Alaska owns the land under about twelve river miles at the head of the Knik River northeast of Anchorage. But, according to Alaska Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Brent Goodrum, the BLM took an important step this week towards declaring the Upper Knik River the property of Alaska.

“BLM announced that they revisited an old navigability determination on the Knik River, and in doing so, they have essentially reversed their decision on finding that the river is navigable from Friday Creek all the way to the Knik Glacier,” Goodrum said.

The laws surrounding river ownership in Alaska come down to one central question: was the body of water navigable in 1959, when Alaska became a State?

It’s not as simple a question as it might seem — the BLM and the State have not approached this question in the same way, often resulting in different conclusions and litigation. The BLM has long focused its navigability determinations on whether watercraft actually used the river in 1959. But the State has been advocating for a broader approach.

“There is a criteria that talks about whether a water body was susceptible to use for trade, travel, and commerce,” Goodrum said.

According to the State of Alaska, if a river could have been navigated at statehood, then it should belong to Alaska.

Just last month, prompted by new evidence provided by the State, BLM’s own field study revealed the Upper Knik is deep enough to have been used by 24-foot propeller-driven boats, which were common at the time of statehood. As a result, the BLM reversed its previous decisions and declared this week that the Upper Knik river is navigable.

This determination should help reduce litigation and clear up title to the Upper Knik. It also may signal increased cooperation between the BLM and the State of Alaska on other rivers and lakes. And the effects will percolate to many people across the state.

“I think all Alaskans are interested in access to our lands and waters, and the further you get away from road access, as you get into more interior parts of Alaska, rivers are vital access means to our lands and resources,” Goodrum said.

Goodrum said the State of Alaska continues to look for more ways to work with the federal government to create a transparent approach to determine and clarify ownership and management of rivers and lakes in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly, Thur. June 8

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 17:50

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

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State government shutdown could have far-reaching effects

Andrew Kitchenman/AKPM – Juneau

here’s a long list of state government services that would grind to a halt on July 1st if lawmakers can’t agree to a budget. Each state department put out a separate laundry list of services that would stop if there’s a state government shutdown. Governor Bill Walker says he wants the departments to prepare.

State Ferry system shutdown could strand people in coastal Alaska

Ed Schoenfeld/Coast Alaska – Juneau

State ferry service would also be severely reduced if the Legislature fails to pass a budget in time to avoid a July 1st government shutdown — potentially cutting off the only affordable means for transportation for coastal communities.

Alaskan among new NASA recruits

Henry Leisia/AKPM – Anchorage

An Alaskan is among the 12 people selected by NASA for the newest class of astronaut candidates. Robb Kulin (COO-leen) will report to Johnson, Texas in August, where he will begin 2 years of training.

Anchorage faith group hosts meeting on bicycle-vehicle safety

Henry Leisia/AKPM – Anchorage

St Mary’s Episcopal Church hosted a meeting on bicycle and pedestrian safety last night [Wednesday] to address concrete ways to make our streets safer.

Aleut evacuees tell their stories of Japanese bombing and internment

Zoe Sobel, Laura Kraegel/KUCB – Unalaska/Anne Hillman/AKPM – Anchorage

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Aleut evacuation. More than 800 Unangan people were removed from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and relocated to Southeast Alaska during World War II. Harriet Hope was among them. She was in Dutch Harbor during the bombing on June 3, 1942 then taken to Burnett Inlet. Heratina Krukoff [Hair-uh-Tina Crew-koff] was 16 when she and her family were evacuated from St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs and taken to an old cannery in Funter Bay.

Seafood processors having hard time finding workers

Allison Mollenkamp/KDLG – Dillingham

The hiring of thousands of seasonal workers by Bristol Bay’s seafood processors is always challenging.
This year some companies are looking more to the lower 48 to staff up, and the clock is ticking.

Hydaburg gets new processor

Emma Atkinson/KRBD – Ketchikan

While some processors are having trouble finding workers, in Hydaburg, a new processor is preparing to open and locals hope it will bring more fishermen to the southeast community, and more profits for the ones that are already there.

No Alaskans in Race2Alaska

Ed Schoenfeld/Coast Alaska/KTOO – Juneau
There are no Alaskans in this year’s Race to Alaska. The Washington state-to-Ketchikan competition will have close to 40 motorless watercraft. But the only team from the contest’s namesake destination has withdrawn.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska shutdown could have far-reaching effects

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 16:55

There’s a long list of state government services that would grind to a halt on July 1st if lawmakers can’t agree to a budget.

Governor Bill Walker (Photo: Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Each state department put out a separate laundry list of services that would stop if there’s a state government shutdown. Governor Bill Walker said he wants the departments to be prepared.

“Our focus of what we’re doing, you know, today in this particular situation is really  focused solely on being prepared – and that’s really what it comes down to. … as prepared as one can be – I’ll put it that way – for July 1,” Governor Walker said.

The shutdown could immediately cost the state more than $150 million. The biggest reason is that the state would be required to pay laid off unionized workers for leave time they’ve built up. The state also would lose fees paid to the DMV.  And it would have to pay out unemployment insurance to workers.

But many question remain. It’s not clear on how much commercial fishing would be allowed if the Department of Fish and Game shuts down.

Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said workers will be out in the field until the deadline.

“We are working with the Department of Law to determine what we can do,” Cotten said. “We know that there’d be severe economic distress in a billion dollar industry and thousands of jobs could be affected. So, we’re not taking it lightly.”

The sockeye salmon season in Bristol Bay usually peaks around July 4th, a fact of which Cotton is well aware.

“We actively manage in season,” Cotten said. “So we, especially with salmon, it’s not like another fish that can wait a while before somebody catches it – you have to catch them when they’re there.”

State officials are determining what vital state services affecting public life, health and safety could continue.

The Department of Administration says state payments to vendors and for leases could be stopped.

The Division of Motor Vehicles could stop issuing driver’s licenses and registrations.

New teacher certifications, wastewater permits, and health care facility licenses could also be stopped.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation would stop actively managing funds and making new investments.

The House and Senate majorities are deadlocked over next year’s budget and a long-term plan to balance future budgets. The special session is scheduled to end on June 16th, although lawmakers have until the end of the month to pass a budget if there’s another special session.

Categories: Alaska News

Elders reflect on Aleut evacuation during WWII

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 16:53
Heratina Krukoff, 90, was evacuated from St. Paul during World War II. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media) This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Aleut evacuation. More than 800 Unangan people were removed from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and relocated to Southeast Alaska during World War II. Harriet Hope was among them. She was in Dutch Harbor during the bombing on June 3, 1942 then taken to Burnett Inlet. She shared some memories with Laura Kraegel and Zoe Sobel from KUCB.

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Heratina Krukoff was 16 when she and her family were evacuated from St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs and taken to an old cannery in Funter Bay. When recollecting her experiences to reporter Anne Hillman, she mostly chose to focus on positive experiences.

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Krukoff’s daughter, Alexandra Kashevarof, said she heard different stories when she was growing up which focused on the hardships at the camp. When asked directly by her daughter, Krukoff said that her cousin and auntie died at Funter Bay, and that many children were sick.

Conditions at the camps were unsanitary and people often lacked enough food or supplies. Of the nearly 300 people who were moved from St. Paul Island to Funter Bay, 24 died. About 85 Aleuts died in all of the camps combined. About 40 people were taken from Attu Island by the Japanese as prisoners. Half of them died in Japan. You can learn more about the evacuation by listening to this week’s Talk of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Public meeting addresses bike and pedestrian safety in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 14:56
Members of the public speak to public officials during the meeting on bike and pedestrian safety. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together (AFACT) held a meeting on bicycle and pedestrian safety on Wednesday to address concrete ways to make Anchorage’s streets safer.

At the start of the meeting, St Mary’s Episcopal Church member Lyn Franks presented a research report on traffic safety created by members of the church. During the report, Franks raised concerns about the lack of information in the state of Alaska driver’s manual about how motorists should look out for bicyclists as well as the lack of funding for traffic safety education in the Anchorage school district.

“In the driver’s manual it says, ‘As a driver you must be alert and courteous to all bicyclists,'” Franks said. “While that section does say that drivers must be alert and courteous to all bicyclists, it does not include any information on specific steps that drivers can take to be safe around bikes.”

After the report, time was given for public testimony. Those who spoke gave personal accounts of their experiences using Anchorage’s roads, often citing lack of visibility and confusion over rules of the road as reasons for collisions.

Katie Dougherty, the project manager for Vision Zero, spoke about the work being done to address public concerns. Vision Zero is a data-driven approach adopted by many cities across the US to reduce traffic fatalities. When asked if she would commit to reinstating the Anchorage school district’s Be Safe Be Seen program, Dougherty replied that plans to fund that program were already in the works.

“[We] are already working together to develop a 3 year Safe Routes to School program, which includes nearly 40,000 dollars a year for the Be Safe Be Seen program,” said Dougherty. “So we will be reigniting it, and we look forward to distributing those materials and the educational curriculum to students in the Anchorage school district.”

At the end of the meeting, Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles Director Marla Thompson said she would commit to updating the state driver’s manual to include information on actions that drivers must take when sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. She also committed to including questions on the written driver test about sharing the road with bicyclists.

In 2016, there were 17 car collisions with pedestrians and bikes in Anchorage. As of May 2017, there have been seven collisions.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard rescues man and dog in Gastineau Channel in duct-taped inflatable

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 14:51

A man trying to cross Gastineau Channel, near Juneau, on a homemade watercraft found himself in a spot of bother Wednesday (June 7).

A man paddles a homemade watercraft in the Gastineau channel, near Juneau, Alaska, June 7, 2017. A Coast Guard Station Juneau smallboat crew rescued a 32-year-old man after the craft began taking on water. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A Coast Guard Station Juneau crew picked the 32-year-old up. According to a news release, he was trying to reach Point Bishop in an inflatable, duct-taped craft when it began taking on water. He was not wearing a life jacket, the release said.

A 25-foot Coast Guard small boat and crew responded, deemed the craft unsafe and transferred it, the man — and his dog — to Douglas Harbor.

Weather on scene was reportedly calm with 9 mile per hour winds.

The release did not identify the man.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan selected for NASA’s 2017 astronaut candidate class

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 14:45
2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate – Robb Kulin. (Robert Markowitz / NASA)

An Alaskan is among the 12 people selected by NASA for the newest class of astronaut candidates. Robb Kulin will report to Johnson, Texas in August, where he will begin 2 years of training.

Kulin was born and raised in Anchorage, where he graduated from Robert Service High School. Later, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Denver. That’s where he first became interested in space travel.

“In undergraduate, I kind of had my eyes opened to the possibilities of space exploration,” Kulin said. “Coming from the last frontier I was pretty excited about the next frontier. I’ve kind of been pursuing it ever since. And the great part about pursuing something like this is it’s just great encouragement to go and do things that would be fun otherwise.”

Along the way to becoming an astronaut candidate, Kulin got his pilot license and learned how to SCUBA dive. Experiences like ice drilling in Antarctica and working as a commercial fisherman have helped him develop the kinds of problem-solving skills that astronauts need in space.

“You’re working in a tight environment with some others through pretty tough opportunities,” Kulin explained. “You’re pretty self-contained. When something goes wrong on the boat, you have to fix it right? And so those are kind of similar attributes to what they’re looking for, you know, what can happen in space. Something goes wrong in the space station, it takes a while to get resupply so you’ve got to try to fix it there.”

Most recently, Kulin has been working at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California as a senior manager for flight reliability. He was involved with the design of Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft which NASA has used to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. When asked if there are any future missions or projects that he hopes to be a part of, Kulin said it’s difficult to know what’s ahead.

“One thing that I’ve learned in the space industry over the last six and a half years is that it’s incredibly dynamic these days,” Kulin said. “And it’s hard to really imagine what could be happening in the next 6 and a half, seven years, eight years, whenever I get an opportunity.

After Kulin completes his two years of training as an astronaut candidate, he will be assigned technical duties in NASA’s Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay processors look to lower-48 for workers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 14:31

The hiring of thousands of seasonal workers by Bristol Bay’s seafood processors is always challenging. This year some companies are looking more to the lower-48 to staff up, and the clock is ticking.

Salmon await processing in Dillingham (photo: Alaska Public Media)

Seafood employers need to fill many seasonal jobs every salmon season. In general, that process remains the same year to year. Nelson San Juan is the seafood employment coordinator for the Alaska Department of Labor. He said employers are leaning on state labor resources more than usual this year.

“A lot of them are depending highly with the seafood unit because of, well they used to use these H-2B visa, and some of them decided not to use it or for some reason they were not able to use that program this year,” San Juan said.

The H-2B program allows U.S. employers to hire temporary workers from overseas. San Juan says employers who decided to use the program ran into a problem.

“The cap, or the number of limits that the employers could hire was met much quicker this year than last year for the total number of workers allowed to work in the industry,” San Juan said. “So some of the employers are struggling for that reason.”

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2B visa program is capped at 66,000 employees per fiscal year. San Juan said employers have had to look for other areas to hire.

“Some of the employers, they have these programs that if their current workers are able to bring some friends and relatives to work with them, they have some bonus programs that they give to the employees,” San Juan said.

 San Juan said some seafood companies in Alaska are looking to lower-48 states with high unemployment to find their work force. Each Bristol Bay company approaches its seasonal hiring differently. The manager at Peter Pan in Dillingham says hiring is the biggest challenge facing the seafood industry.

Peter Pan applied for the H-2B program this year, after using it successfully last year.  However, due to a change in a returning worker exemption, company officials say they were able to hire just a handful of workers on the program this year, and are now looking to US workers.

By contrast, Alaska General Seafoods in Naknek said it has never used the H-2B program due to its cost. With the fishery just weeks away, companies are still looking to recruit the labor force they need to process the world’s largest harvest of sockeye salmon.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks changing trash drop-off site hours

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-08 14:05

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is beginning a 3 week experiment to improve conditions of a heavily used trash drop off site. The borough is cutting hours at the Farmers Loop East transfer site in Fairbanks from 24 to 12 hours per day during the trial period, which started today [June 9]. Borough solid waste manager Bob Jordan says the facility will also be staffed.

“We are planning on greeting customers as they come in and ask them some simple questions about what they are there for and directing them where they need to go, and then having someone sort of roving around assisting, answering questions and just trying to make the experience a little bit safer and more orderly,” Jordan said.

Jordan says the changes are an attempt to halt unauthorized commercial use, stop dumping of wrecked cars and to address vehicle and pedestrian safety, as well as general lawlessness at the transfer site.

“We often find trash strewn all over the ground that has been pulled out of the bins,” Jordan said. “And the bins are constantly getting spray-painted, and the contractor simply can’t keep up with that. And we are finding a lot of needles and other things and observing some drug activity.”
Last summer the borough made major upgrades to both the Farmers Loop east and west transfer sites, adding new lights, re-use shelters, hazardous waste collection bins, and access roads.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska budget uncertainty affecting Permanent Fund Corp investment

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 17:11

Uncertainty over how the Alaska Legislature will close the state’s budget gap is affecting the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. The corporation is investing more conservatively, so it has cash on hand in case the Legislature uses fund earnings to close the gap.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s exterior sign. (Photo by Skip Gray, 360 North)

The amount of money the Permanent Fund Corporation keeps on hand is usually pretty straightforward. For 35 years, money from fund earnings have gone to two places: one is the Permanent Fund dividend, the money from which resident’s annual dividend check are drawn, and the other is the main body of the fund, where earnings are reinvested.

This year, both legislative chambers have passed a bill that would use the earnings for a new purpose: to pay for state government.

Angela Rodell and other Permanent Fund managers are preparing to pay more out of the earnings than they ever have. But they still don’t know how much that will be, so they have to keep more money in investments that are quickly accessed.

“We are focused on the liquidity requirement, that we will have to send over a significant amount of cash,” Rodell said.

The House has proposed drawing out $4.1 billion in the next year, which is $1.6 billion dollars more than the Senate.

“As income comes in, rather than investing it into the long-term asset allocation, we’re holding more cash than we probably otherwise would at this point in anticipation that the draw amount might be bigger than the Senate version,” Rodell said.

Rodell uses cash as a figure of speech: There aren’t neatly stacked bills in a bank vault. The fund invests the money it may withdraw, but it does so in conservative assets like Treasury bills. That means the fund will likely earn slightly less money than it would if it invested all of the money to maximize earnings.

The state would benefit, Rodell said, if any draw from the fund is based on a predictable plan, similar to what was included in both the Senate and House versions of the Permanent Fund bill.

“Part of my concern will be, if that doesn’t pass, sort of the unknown quantity of how much money they’re going to use, because under the current construct, they’re allowed to take and to appropriate as much as they need out of the earnings reserve account,” Rodell said.

Lawmakers have reached a stalemate over which version of the Permanent Fund bill, Senate Bill 26, will become law. Rodell is hopeful they’ll be able to resolve their differences.

“We just want to know how much… how much to write the check for to send over to the state treasury, and we are trying to balance that out,” she said. “And having a difference of $1.6 billion is a big difference. And we’re hopeful they can get that reconciled sooner rather than later.”

Rodell notes the corporation went through something similar last year when the Senate passed a bill to draw money from the fund, only to have it die in the House. Gov. Bill Walker then vetoed half the Permanent Fund dividend money, the first time that has ever happened.

“We’ve been having this uncertainty of both bigger than anticipated draws and maybe smaller than anticipated draws now for the two years. That’s why I am hopeful that we are able to back to a more rules-based strategy like we’ve had in the past going forward.”

The Legislature has until the end of the month to pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown. The special session is scheduled to end on June 16.

Categories: Alaska News

Goldbelt shareholders oust two board members in election

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 16:52
The cover design of Goldbelt Inc.’s 2016 annual report was inspired by the late Clarissa Rizal, a Goldbelt shareholder and weaver. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Two longtime board members of Juneau’s urban Alaska Native corporation board have been ousted through elections at an annual shareholder meeting on Saturday.

Goldbelt Inc. announced Monday that Lori Grant and Leilani Wilson Walkush will replace Joseph Kahklen and Randy Wanamaker on the nine-member board.

A third member up for re-election, Andrea Cadiente-Laiti, retained her board seat.

Randy Wanamaker had served on the board for 24 years. He said he thinks the election results reflected confusion among shareholders about the company’s finances and cultural contributions.

“Some of the candidates were talking about how Goldbelt is losing money, and it’s not profitable,” Wanamaker said. “And that’s highly inaccurate. Goldbelt is not unprofitable. It’s very successful in shareholder hire, and support for culture and scholarship programs,” Wanamaker said. “And somehow, I think people tuned into the inaccurate message.”

The company’s annual reports in recent years do show the company has been profitable and contributes to the programs Wanamaker referred to.

Over the years, Wanamaker and the other outgoing board member, Joseph Kahklen, were party to the creation of the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation and several shareholder programs offering scholarships, internships, even managers’ training.

In fact, one of the new board members, Leilani Wilson Walkush, cited her experience as a Goldbelt intern — “1995, so I guess technically 22 years ago,” she said with a chuckle — as part of why she ran.

She said she wants to bring back to Goldbelt some of the skills and experiences she’s had since then.

Outgoing board chairman Joseph Kahklen also has a long history with Goldbelt. He was its first CEO when it incorporated in 1972, and had served 35 years on the board.

The new board reorganized after the election and selected Ben Coronell as the new chairman. In a news release, Coronell said Goldbelt continues to grow despite uncertainty in the federal, state and local budgets and a down economy. He said while most of the company’s revenue comes from government contracting, it is exploring new business.

The company has more than 3,700 shareholders.

Categories: Alaska News

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