Alaska News

Kloosterboer fined $10,000 for late reporting of ammonia leak

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-11-10 15:31
A freezer line leaked 125 pounds of ammonia at Kloosterboer Dutch Harbor on Dec. 3, 2016, seriously injuring a worker. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

After a dangerous ammonia leak last winter, Kloosterboer Dutch Harbor is renovating its refrigeration system, investing in its hazmat team, and paying a $10,008 fine.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the settlement this week.

It holds the seafood cold storage company responsible for violating emergency response statutes after an industrial freezer leaked 125 pounds of ammonia and seriously injured a worker caught inside.

“They did immediately call 911,” Erin Williams of EPA Region 10 said. “But they were very delayed in [following] the state and federal reporting requirements.”

Williams said Kloosterboer was almost two days late in notifying the necessary agencies, which put first responders at risk.

The company could have been fined more than $100,000, but the penalty was reduced when it agreed to install extra safeguards.

“One of which is updating computerized refrigeration control systems at their facility,” Williams said. “It provides leak detection, alarms, and emergency shutoff.”

Kloosterboer is also training two employees in hazmat response and donating emergency equipment to the Unalaska Department of Public Safety. The prevention projects are estimated to cost $26,000, according to the EPA.

Kloosterboer’s owner, American Seafoods Group, declined to answer questions about the incident, which marked the facility’s first EPA violation.

The company did issue a statement:

“The terms of [Kloosterboer’s] settlement with [the] EPA regarding the accidental ammonia release on Dec, 3, 2016 will not only ensure possible future ammonia leaks at the facility will be detected and automatic responses activated, but will also help ensure the local emergency responders are adequately equipped to respond to ammonia and other hazardous material-related incidents in the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Area.”

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Practicing for a plane crash in Ketchikan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-11-10 15:11
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center’s emergency room was one of the bases of operation for Saturday’s emergency preparedness drill. The drill was a chance to practice for a plane crash at the airport. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

It was a Saturday morning in mid-October in Ketchikan. It was cold, wet and windy: A perfect day for disaster.

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Every three years, always on a rainy day it seems, Ketchikan practices for a plane crash. The drill involves pretty much every emergency response agency, and a whole lot of volunteers.

Mischa Chernick is a spokeswoman for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. She says despite the weather, nearly 40 volunteers showed up at about 7 a.m. to become victims. Chernick said they were made up to simulate a wide range of injuries.

“That helps the people who are on the ground who are going to be assessing what their state is and where they need to go as far as staging areas, and levels of severity of injury,” Chernick said.

Emergency room charge nurse Sharity Kelly said she spent hours the previous night, making fake blood and shin

“The shin is Vaseline, corn starch and then cocoa powder to give it the natural skin color,” Kelly said.

An ambulance crew unloads the first “victims” from Saturday’s emergency preparedness drill. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Kelly said shin stays tacky. You can mold it onto the skin and build up fake wounds.

“You can impale things or make a deep laceration in it,” Kelly said. “Like, when you do a laceration, you put black in the bottom of it to give it depth, then you put the red and just kind of build it up.”

Kelly gets pretty animated talking about fake wounds.

“Oh, I love it. It’s awesome! Love it!” Kelly said. “You should see Halloween at my house.”

After all the volunteer victims were made up and given instructions on how to act, they were taken over to the airport. Somewhat ironically, a big part of the challenge for responding to a disaster at Ketchikan’s airport is transportation.

The airport is on a different island, so it’s a ferry ride away from any real medical care. Perfecting methods to move injured people efficiently to the hospital is critical.

Everyone in the emergency room is on high alert, waiting for victims to arrive. In the front reception area, though, there’s a quieter response.

Chernick explained that reception-area employees are contacting colleagues to call them in to work.

“Each department calls a call tree of all of their employees to say a disaster has occurred, you’re being activated to come to work,” Chernick said. “So they drop everything and come to work.”

Back outside the emergency room, the first wave of victims has arrived. Two young men are taken from an ambulance into the first of two bright yellow tents. Chernick said that’s the start of the triage response.

“The first tent is where they begin the assessment process in determining how much evaluation they immediately need, the severity of the injuries,” Chernick said.

Raighn Hudson is one of the volunteer victims for Saturday’s emergency drill. His wound? A spoon impaled in his chest. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

It’s color-coded: Red patients need immediate care; green and yellow can wait a bit.

Robert Cope-Powell is wheeled through the doors of the emergency room. He’s one of the code-red victims. And he’s pretty cheerful about it, joking with fellow code-redder Raighn Hudson, lying on the stretcher behind him.

“Door handle to the chest!” he announced, pulling down the sheet to reveal the wound.

Cope-Powell said he was in the bathroom during the crash, and that’s when he was impaled.

Hudson’s face is chalky white to simulate blood loss. He also was impaled, but with a spoon.

“I was eating pudding in first class,” Hudson said. “And then it just kind of happened, I guess. And I got a broken hip, too.”

The two teenagers clearly were having fun, and there’s plenty of joking among responders, too. But they all are taking the drill seriously.

Bev Crum is incident commander at the hospital. She was coordinating everyone’s response and making sure all the materials are where they need to be. She paused for a moment to talk.

“This helps us plan together to utilize the resources we have in our community to be prepared for disaster events,” Crum said.

That includes plans for staffing, proper equipment, and updated communication methods. The small hospital also needs options for housing less-critical patients. For this drill, Crum says they added the Pioneers Home just down the street as a backup location.

“It’s practicing,” Crum said. “Because the more you practice, the better it is in real life.”

Crum sid every time Ketchikan has one of these drills, different issues come up. They figure out how to improve their response, so if – or when — real disaster strikes, they’ll be ready.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Nile Morris of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-11-10 14:42

This week we’re hearing from Nile Morris of Anchorage. Morris is a UAA student and is involved in Black Student Union, Planned Parenthood and the Title IX board.

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MORRIS: I was a residential adviser at an assisted living facility for people with mental illnesses. I was searching for tools that would empower both myself and the residents. I had read somewhere that yoga was really good, and I had just attended my first year at university, and I was really enthralled with Carl Sagan’s works. He had said something really great in “The Demon Haunted World.” He said, “You want to approach every single aspect of your life with a scientific mind.” And I thought, “Well, I don’t have any experience with yoga, maybe I should do some research.”

And so I left that job, but I still had this thought in the back of my mind, “Okay, I need to research yoga.” I was having a lot of benefits. I was well rested in the morning, my muscles weren’t fatigued, I felt like I had better clarity and my reflexes were improving.

I ended up going to this wonderful place called Spirit Path Yoga and Wellness. Through them, I really learned a lot about both myself and the nature of yoga. It was 200 hours of intensive studies and intensive practice. When we graduated, I felt really empowered, I went right into teaching, and just a few months ago I actually went and applied for my E-RYT, which is experienced yoga teacher. You have to have 1000 hours of teaching under your belt to apply for it, and I did.

My favorite part about teaching is seeing people, or hearing people — rather — and seeing them, tell me that yoga has changed their lives in the same way that it’s changed mine. Because we’re all working with the same nervous systems, with slight variations, and we’re all working with the same muscular and skeletal systems. If you take these practices and these techniques and apply them, you’ll see a lot of the same changes in yourself.

Proprioception and neuromuscular re-education are two of my favorite concepts in yoga. Proprioception is the body’s capability to locate its limbs in space. It has spindles — well — proprioceptors in the joints that tell the rest of the body where these certain limbs are. A lot of people don’t think about it like that — like the next time when you’re alone, try closing your eyes and doing something that isn’t based upon muscle memory. It’s a great practice to get into because you then realize that there’s so many different things going on with the body that we’re just not aware of, and the more awareness we bring, the more refined those movements become. And to perform every act artfully is yoga.

Categories: Alaska News

First Lady Melania Trump stops by military family celebration at JBER

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-11-10 13:13
First Lady Melania Trump greets military families at Join Base Elmendorf-Richardson for their Month of the Military Family celebration. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

First Lady Melania Trump spent some time in Alaska this morning. On her way back from the President’s visit to Asia, the First Lady landed to refuel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Mrs. Trump spent a little more than a half-hour visiting young children at a recreation center on base. The event is part of a month-long celebration of military families at JBER. Some of the children visited by Mrs. Trump have parents that are currently on combat deployments in Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division.

As a group of children showed off a 3-D printer, Mrs. Trump told them this was her first time in Alaska, and mentioned how fresh the air was compared with her recent visit to China.

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There are currently around 14,000 service members assigned to JBER, along with another 15,000 family members. Currently 1,800 service members are deployed abroad, the majority of them on combat missions in Afghanistan, according to JBER spokesman Jerome Baysmore.

Categories: Alaska News

In China, Alaska gets new gasline partners — but no guarantees

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-11-10 12:00
Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack discuss meetings with potential buyers of Alaska’s LNG during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 in Anchorage. Walker and Meyer signed an agreement in Beijing to partner with three China-owned entities to advance the project. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk).

Alaska will stay in the lead and continue writing the checks on its gasline megaproject.

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But Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and state gasline corporation head Keith Meyer say they are encouraged by a deal they signed in Beijing.

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on, Alaska’s trade delegation signed an agreement with a China-owned oil giant Sinopec, in addition to one of the country’s banks and a sovereign wealth fund.

Meyer said the state had been trying to woo companies in China for six months.

“We’ve been through the courtship, we are now engaged,” Meyer said.

The deal links Alaska’s gas pipeline project to Sinopec as a potential buyer, The Bank of China as a potential lender and the Chinese Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund, as a potential investor.

An estimated $250 billion in deals and agreements were signed during Trump’s visit to China this week. This is among the largest.

For now, Meyer said Alaska will stay in control of the project — and the state hasn’t asked for any financial help from its new partners. He said the states aims to hammer out a final agreement in a little over a year.

Alaska wants a final investment decision by 2019 so it can break ground and bring the project online by 2025.

Some analysts said that schedule may be too ambitious.

Kerry-Anne Shanks, head of Asia gas and LNG research for Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting company, said it will likely take a few years before the project is ready for a final investment decision.

Larry Persily, former federal pipeline coordinator for Alaska, said the agreement is non-binding and not much different than agreements the state has signed in the past.

“MOU’s, letters of interest, letters of intent — they’re made up names. They’re don’t mean anything, legally,” Persily said. “You could call it a joint development agreement or a MOU or a memorandum of cooperation. I look more at what’s underneath it.”

“Are they going to start paying a share of the development costs? No. Well, okay, that tells me they’re still holding back but they want to learn more.” Persily added.

Hugo Brennan, an Asia analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in an email that the deal is politically expedient.

“Its non-binding nature gives Sinopec the flexibility to quietly back away from the deal down the line. Beijing is mindful of the need to maintain varied commodity import routes,” Brennan wrote.

There are other hurdles ahead.

Alaska doesn’t control the gas. The top three producers on the North Slope — BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — do.

Until last year, those three companies were partnered with the state in developing the pipeline. But they stopped pursuing the project and let the state take over. At the time, they cited unfavorable market conditions.

Even though their gas is crucial for a final project, Walker said they didn’t have much to do with the deal with China.

“This agreement is for an infrastructure project and the producers absolutely transitioned over to us in February of 2016,” Walker said. “So the producers don’t really have a role in the infrastructure portion of this. We’ll certainly continue to negotiate with them on the gas offtake, without question.”

Dawn Patience at BP wrote in an email that the company looks forward to understanding the terms of the agreement and the role envisioned for gas resource owners. Natalie Lowman at ConocoPhillips emailed that the company supports the state’s plan to try and push the project forward — and it intends to sell its gas.

At ExxonMobil, Aaron Stryk wrote in an email that the announcement from China could create opportunities to sell Alaska’s gas.

“We look forward to further discussions with the state and AGDC to understand the details of the announcement and progressing mutually agreeable terms for a gas sale and purchase agreement,” Stryk wrote.

The state’s gasline corporation has had an increasingly troubled relationship with Alaska’s legislature, which funnels money into the corporation and the project.

Last year, lawmakers in the House and Senate attempted to defund the agency and cut its budget. They also have repeatedly asked for more information and transparency from the state-run project.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, who heads the powerful Senate Resources Committee, said she still needs more details.

“I take the role, in this scenario, of a loan officer at a credit union,” Giessel said, “and you come to me with this great idea with lots of backup, and my answer to you is, ‘boy that sounds like a great idea — I’m going to dig into the details and we’ll talk again.’”

After the announcement and a closed-door briefing Wednesday, some lawmakers sounded more optimistic.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage,  said the deal is a positive step. Tarr heads the House Resources Committee, and while she said she is encouraged, she’s not sure the deal is enough to convince the legislature to funnel more money into the gasline corporation.

“I think at this point the feeling in the legislature is the remaining $70-80 million is what AGDC has to work with to get to a decision point,” Tarr said.

A substantive deal on the state-run gasline project could be a game-changer for Alaska’s struggling oil-based economy. The pipeline would cost at least $43 billion dollars to build and its construction would temporarily add thousands of jobs to the state’s economy.

The more than 800-mile-long pipeline would connect two oceans, piping LNG from Prudhoe Bay to the Kenai Peninsula before it’s loaded onto tankers and shipped it to Asia.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative leaders seek update to sexual harassment policies

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 18:07
Lawmakers from both chambers are seeking to update their sexual harassment policies. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Both chambers of the Alaska Legislature are seeking to make changes to their sexual harassment policies, lawmakers said Thursday.

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They’re seeking to increase training to prevent harassment and improve the procedures for addressing allegations.

The national reckoning with sexual harassment has reached Juneau.

Senate leaders have asked legislative staff to help implement mandatory workplace conduct training.

In a letter to the Legislature’s top legal adviser and human resources director, the Senate leaders also asked for procedures to handle complaints beyond the reach of political influence.

Senate President Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said the letter was prompted by incidents both inside and outside of Alaska.

“In light of what’s going on all over the country – and there have been some things swirling around in this Capitol as well — what has dawned on me and leadership is that we don’t have sufficient procedures in place to deal with any kind of workplace issues that might have to do with positional power or sexual harassment,” Kelly said.

House leaders said they had been undertaking a similar review for a few weeks.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux said the current policy hasn’t been revised since 2000.

“It really doesn’t seem to have any teeth or any mechanisms for reporting,” House Rules Committee chairwoman LeDoux said.

LeDoux said the policy should cover both workplace incidents and those involving legislators’ behavior outside of the workplace. And she said it should cover both sexual harassment and other physical harassment.

“We need a far more robust policy than we have right now,” LeDoux said.

LeDoux said she discussed a joint policy with a Senate staff member.

“I have no control over the Senate, but I will guarantee you that the House will adopt something,” LeDoux said.

Kelly said he’s not envisioning a policy that would apply outside of the workplace.

The Senate president said he wants to have a procedure to address complaints that would lead to a quick resolution.

“We just need to make sure, number one, that a stop is put to it,” Kelly said. “I hope we can. But human beings are human beings and when they break the rules, we want to be able to react quickly.”

Leaders from both chambers said they would like to have new policies in place by early next legislative session in January.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska meets global demand for sea cucumbers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 16:53
Sea cucumbers in a store in Chicago. (Photo by
Juan Carlos Martin / Flickr)

The sea cucumber fishery in Southeast opened for harvest in the beginning of October. It’s now half way through its season. And, much like salmon this year, it looks like the state’s sea cucumber harvest is also finding success on the global market.

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Out of all the divers in Southeast, most touch down in Ketchikan.

Bo Meredith, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game assistant area management biologist for commercial fisheries in Ketchikan, said about 160 divers recently made landings in Southeast. He said 100 of those were in Ketchikan.

Meredith said the other region where divers harvest sea cucumbers is the Kodiak Management Area. In Kodiak, fewer than 20 divers this year participated for a total guideline harvest level of 140,000 pounds.

“Southeast Alaska has this year 1.2 million pounds, but you’re talking about approaching the northern end of the geographic range for the red sea cucumber or California sea cucumbers, so your productivity is not gonna be as high, whereas Ketchikan is more in the prime zone of the geographic range for the sea cucumbers as you head south,” Meredith said.

Meredith said there are 18 different harvest areas in Southeast this year, each with its own GHL. Once an area reaches its limit, it closes and reopens three years later. He said sea cucumbers take three to four years to mature, so that helps avoid overfishing. And that could play into why Alaska-sourced sea cucumbers are doing so well worldwide.

Meredith said Alaska saw a change in the value of sea cucumbers about six years ago.

“And all of sudden the price went up from about $2 or $2.50 a pound to $4 or $5 a pound, and it’s been kinda steady at about $4 a pound, and this year it shot up to $5 to $5.50 a pound,” Meredith said.

Mike Erickson is the part owner of Alaska Glacier Seafoods, which processes sea cucumbers in Juneau. He believes poor management and overfishing in other countries could be why Alaska has risen in the ranks.

“The supply is not meeting the demand, hence the price starts going up,” Erickson said.

Erickson says, according to some of his buyers, Mexico used to be a big player in the global market.

“And they still are, but they don’t have the volume that they had a couple [or] three years ago,” Erickson said. “They have literally fished out some of their areas, so consequently they don’t have the supply that they had, and a lot of those cukes that were from Mexico were going to China.”

Erickson said Alaska Glacier Seafoods also sends many of its sea cucumbers to China.

“You have a skin and you have a meat, so basically you extract the meat out of the skin and then those two items kinda go to different markets,” Erickson said. “Like, the skin will basically head to Asia and the meat, even though we do sell some over into Hong Kong, we sell a fair amount of meat on the east coast here in the U.S., believe it or not.”

Erickson said he thinks sea cucumbers are doing so well partly because of Fish and Game’s management system. He also credits Alaska’s reputation for “pristine” waters and a high quality product.

Categories: Alaska News

With an ‘if,’ Alaska US senators join call for Roy Moore to quit race

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 16:31
Image via Washingtonpost.com

Alaska’s U.S. senators are among those issuing conditional calls for Alabama’s Republican nominee for Senate to leave the race. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan say Roy Moore should step aside, if the claims of sexual abuse made against him are true.

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The Washington Post on Thursday reported the on-the-record account of a woman who says Moore asked her out and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. He was in his 30s at the time.

“If these sickening claims are true, Mr. Moore should step aside,” Sullivan said in a written statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said much of the same.

Moore beat Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican Primary and is running in a special election next month. According to Alabama law, it’s too late for to remove Moore’s name from the ballot. So Murkowski has a suggestion for Strange. Murkowski told reporters she’s encouraging Strange to run as a write-in candidate. That strategy worked for Murkowski after she lost her Primary in 2010, and “Strange” is likely easier to spell than “Murkowski.”

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic drilling foes find public passion has cooled

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 16:27
Sen. Maria Cantwell, flanked by Sens. Michael Bennet, left, and Ed Markey. (Photo by Liz Ruskin)

In the U.S. Senate, opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are having trouble getting the word out.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on Thursday lamented that the refuge drilling proposal isn’t drawing public outrage like it did more than a decade ago.

“Listen, I know it’s a busy news cycle we live in,” Cantwell said at a press conference she called at the Capitol. “But last time this issue captured the public’s attention, and it’s been out of the public’s attention for a long time.”

Asked what her strategy is, Cantwell said she hoped the reporters present would write a lot, to let people know Arctic refuge drilling could be tucked into the tax cut plan, a proposal that is grabbing bigger headlines.

“We really sincerely hope that we can illuminate for the American people that this choice is being made,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell’s appeal for attention seems a far cry from 2005, when anti-drilling voters jammed Congressional phone lines and knocked on doors in the districts of wavering House members.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to chair a debate in the Energy Committee on the drilling proposal Wednesday. The measure cleared one hurdle this week: The Congressional Budget Office determined lease sales in ANWR would meet the revenue target of $1 billion for the federal treasury within 10 years. The proposal calls for a 50-50 revenue split with the state, so according to the CBO estimate, Alaska would also get a billion dollars in the first decade from lease sales in the refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

Regulator stalls Hydro One’s bid for Juneau utility

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 15:45
AEL&P lineman Eric Nielsen climbs the leaning tower. (Courtesy AEL&P)

A Canadian power company’s bid to acquire Alaska Electric Light & Power Company has suffered a minor setback.

State regulators say Hydro One of Ontario will have to register with the state of Alaska, which restarts the regulatory process from scratch.

Hydro One applied to Alaska’s utility regulator in September to approve its purchase of Juneau’s power company.

The filing with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska offered a rare opening for public comment before the months-long acquisition is finalized.

The commission received 34 comments, most skeptical or outright hostile to AEL&P’s sale to the Canadian corporation.

Hydro One and a sister entity requested the commission waive a requirement to obtain an Alaska business license.

The Regulatory Commission denied the waiver Wednesday.

“Because the burden of registration is minor when weighed against the benefit to the public from the additional safeguards afforded by registration and the availability of additional information not otherwise provided under our regulations,” the RCA wrote. “We do not find good cause to waive the… requirement that Hydro One and Olympus Equity include proof of registration to do business in Alaska as part of their application to acquire a controlling interest in AEL&P.”

The ruling effectively throws out the application, creating a blank slate.

“This docket is closed and if the entities file a new application then we would start a whole new process,” RCA spokeswoman Grace Salazar said. “There may be a public comment period again.”

AEL&P and its parent company release a statement.

“This is not a substantive ruling on the merits of the application,” the statement said. “It is an issue that can be remedied by refiling the application after Hydro One and Olympus Equity LLC register as foreign entities with the state of Alaska.”

The rebooting of the public process comes as the Juneau Assembly continues to openly float the idea of making a bid for Juneau’s utility.

“Since the clock on this has reset. We have an opportunity to do some more studying before we jump in and make sure we can protect people who buy electricity here in the capital city,” Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said.

The Assembly recently commissioned an $11,000 study on the underlying issues involved in the power company’s sale, which was discussed at length at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“There was broad agreement that the city needs to have a role in protecting Juneau ratepayers from unreasonable or unnecessary increases in the future,” Kiehl said. “With no local owner anymore the risk of that goes up. But we didn’t reach any consensus or take any votes on how to do that.”

Renewable Juneau, a nonprofit organized to promote carbon alternatives, has expressed reservations over the deal, applauded the ruling.

“We’re very glad that there will be more time to understand what this proposed sale means for Juneau and what are our options are going forward,” Danielle Redmond, coordinator of Renewable Juneau, said. “If the issue does come back before the commission we’d like to see the Attorney General’s office get involved and bring their resources to the table.”

Until three years ago, AEL&P had been locally owned for more than a century. It was sold to Spokane-based Avista for $170 million.

Hydro One announced earlier this year it was buying Avista for a reported $5.3 billion. It will still need state and federal approval to complete the deal.

Categories: Alaska News

State challenges national forest roadless rule again

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 15:05
A timber sale sign is posted in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island. The state is in court again, trying to end the U.S. Forest Service’s roadless rule, which limits logging and other development in the Tongass. (KRBD file photo)

The state of Alaska is again trying to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s roadless rule.

Officials on Nov. 6 appealed a September court decision that threw out an earlier state challenge.

The rule mostly blocks logging in undeveloped areas of the Tongass National Forest.

It was established more than 15 years ago, but the Tongass was given an exemption, which was later overturned.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Lenhart said the state continues to challenge the roadless rule because it’s damaging Southeast Alaska’s economy.

“It’s played a key role in the almost complete demise of the timber industry,” Lenhart said. “It’s impacted utility companies and rural communities who may have future plans to build additional roads to connect to the outside world.”

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is one of the environmental groups that supported the rule in court.

Attorney Buck Lindekugel said the state’s appeal doesn’t make sense.

“They seem stuck in the past. Today’s economy here in Southeast is driven by tourism, recreation and fishing, not old-growth logging,” Lindekugel said.

State Forester Chris Maisch manages state timber lands near the Tongass National Forest. He said the timber economy could rebound if the roadless rule is overturned.

“It essentially provides the ability to manage in a much more flexible manner, not only just forest resources, but energy resources as well as mining resources on the forest,” Maisch said.

Among other arguments, the state said the roadless rule violates federal legislation requiring the U.S. Forest Service to meet the demand for Tongass timber.

The state filed this case in 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The appeal was made to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state’s Lenhart said some earlier rulings have been close, so it’s worth another try.

“We’re relatively optimistic that a three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit may well come to a different conclusion and may in part or in total invalidate the roadless rule this time,” Lenhart said.

SEACC’s Lindekugel said the appeal is a waste of time and money.

separate challenge has already been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Instead of working with local communities to change things on the ground for the long-term interests of everybody, they’re focusing on a fraction of the economy by propping up the timber industry at everybody’s expense,” Lindekugel said.

Categories: Alaska News

Keeping the Inupiaq language alive, through a website

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 13:45
Chelsey Qaġġun Zibell is a master’s candidate and adjunct faculty member at UAF’s School of Education. She’s originally from Norvik and grew up hearing Inupiaq. (Photo courtesy of Chelsey Qaġġun Zibell.)

It’s now possible to learn basic Inupiaq online, thanks to a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Chelsey Qaġġun Zibell is a master’s candidate and adjunct faculty at UAF’s School of Education. As part of a graduate fellowship this summer, she created a free website that teaches users the beginning grammar and vocabulary of the Native Alaskan language.

Zibell, originally from Noorvik, said she has a strong interest in learning languages herself. She’s studied Inupiaq, German and others. But that wasn’t the only thing motivating her to pursue the project.

“But I also am very aware of the fact that the number of fluent speakers of the Inupiaq language is dwindling, and if we aren’t constantly pushing these revitalization efforts, then this language and other Alaska Native languages could be gone very soon,” Zibell said.

The Alaska Native Language Center at UAF estimates that only around 2,100 people still speak Inupiaq. That’s fewer than 15 percent of the total Inupiat population. Zibell said her project started as an attempt to make the standard textbook on Inupiaq more accessible.

“It is a very, very thorough textbook,” Zibell said. “It’s got a lot of really good information. But some of that information is very heavy in linguistic terminology and the linguistic aspects of the language. And that can actually be kind of a stumbling point for some learners who don’t necessarily want to know or need to know the linguistic background.”

The UAF website keeps things simple, offering a series of brief lessons without too much jargon. For visual learners, Zibell said there are also interactive games and exercises.

“For instance, there’s a picture of a parka, and it’s got these hot spots on it,” Zibell said. “They’re purple, and they’ve got these white plus signs, and if you click on them, another image will pop up, and it’ll say a little bit about them in the Inupiaq language.”

Besides the way the information is presented, Zibell said users also have flexibility with the order they learn it. They can choose to go through each lesson sequentially or jump to later lessons if they feel more confident or just want to refresh their memory.

Zibell said she’s only in the beginning stages of building the curriculum and hopes to resume work on expanding the website in the spring. She said the process is boosting her own fluency in the language.

“I’m still at the stage where I think in English, and if someone speaks to me in Inupiaq, in my head I translate what they said to me into English, and then I think about what I want to say back to them in English, and then I try to translate in my own head,” Zibell said. “And it’s a slow process. I’m still working on thinking in Inupiaq when I’m having a conversation in Inupiaq.”

For others working through similar challenges, Zibell said it’s important just to keep at it:

“Even if you feel like you haven’t learned enough, like if you’re still a beginning learner or an intermediate learner, or if you just have gaps in the knowledge of your language, just have the confidence to pass that on and also to just make it an everyday part of your life,” Zibell said.

Zibell’s website should now make it easier to build that confidence. You can find it at inupiatlanguage.community.uaf.edu.

Categories: Alaska News

In Haines, helping locals get health care pain-free

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 13:25
Susan Briles waits at the Haines SEARHC clinic to help locals find insurance coverage. (Photo by Berett Wilber)

Health insurance can be expensive, boring, and frustrating. But for the next five weeks, the federal marketplace is open for people to buy care — and one Alaskan is on a mission to make sure those bad feelings can’t stop good coverage.

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Most people’s eyes don’t light up at the prospect of buying health insurance. Susan Briles is the exception.

“We’re out there making sure that as many people have coverage as can get it,” Briles said.

As an Outreach and Enrollment specialist for SEARHC, she’s holed up this week downstairs at the Haines’ clinic, explaining deductibles, premiums, and co-pays like it’s her job.

Which it is. Briles is in Haines because the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act just opened: Alaskans have until December 15th to buy health insurance.

Briles’ job got a little harder this year.

“For 2018, my concerns are there’s a lot of people that think we no longer have the Affordable Care Act. Which, we in fact do,” Briles said. “It’s still exactly the same as it was for the prior years. But there’s a lot more misinformation there than there used to be.”

Given the polka-dot geography of Southeast, it’s a logistical challenge to inform people about open enrollment. On top of that, Briles said the federal government cut her advertising budget 90% this year — and the sign-up window was halved.

“When the Affordable Care Act first came into being, we used to have three months to get people enrolled,” Briles said. “Now we have six weeks.”

So Briles is on a whirlwind tour of Southeast to get people covered and clarify misconceptions.

“The framework the Affordable Care gives us means insurance companies have to operate under a much stricter set of rules,” Briles said.

For instance, insurers have to cover pre-existing conditions — in Southeast, that often means diabetes and cancer, she said, as well as things like asthma or high blood pressure. And insurers can’t limit the costs they’ll cover.

Despite those benefits, Alaskans are used to bad news about health care.

The small, dispersed population, high cost of business, and limited competition help make Alaskan’s care some of the most expensive in the nation. After the ACA passed, Alaska’s premium rates have climbed by nearly a third each year since 2014.

Until this year.

I’ve done the marketplace insurance every since it was started. My rates probably dropped 25% from last year,” Beth Fenhaus said.

Fenhaus makes beer at the Haines Brewing Company. She’s not a high-cost patient: she’s young, healthy and has barely used her insurance since signing up four years ago. She’s saving money this year because Alaska got permission to keep running its reinsurance program.

Alaska sets aside a pot of money to pay for its most expensive patients. Premiums are lower for healthy people, so the federal government doesn’t have to pay as much in tax subsidies. Then, the feds can use the savings to reimburse Alaska some of the money it set aside in the first place.

Though Fenhaus hasn’t needed her insurance, she doesn’t regret signing up. She works an active job and skis all winter in Haines, far from any hospitals. Insurance gives her the power to stop worrying.

“I think it’s just kind of that realization you have at this time in your life. You’re trying to concentrate on building a savings, building a home,” Fenhaus said.

Susan Briles would agree. It’s exactly those kinds of worries she wants people to focus on instead of healthcare.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska regents to discuss budget and tuition increases

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 11:04

The University of Alaska Board of Regents meets today and Friday in Anchorage to vote on the university budget and proposed tuition increases.

The agenda includes approval of the university’s budget for the next fiscal year.

The total proposed budget is just under $920 million, including a requested $341 million appropriation from the state. That’s a $24 million increase from last year’s request.

State funding to the university has declined by about $60 million since 2014, forcing cutbacks in academic programming, faculty and staff across campuses.

Regents also will consider a request for $50 million from the state to address the university’s deferred maintenance backlog.

10 percent tuition increase over the next two years also is on the table.

Regents will decide whether to raise tuition at most campuses by 5 percent in both the 2019 and 2020 academic years.

Tuition at Kodiak College and Prince William Sound College would increase by nearly twice as much, in order to even out tuition rates across the University of Alaska system.

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen also will present on phase three of Strategic Pathways, the university’s comprehensive cost-cutting plan.

Regents also will receive an update on how the university has improved its response to sexual harassment and assault allegations.

The full board meeting, aside from executive session, will be livestreamed online.

Categories: Alaska News

Alongside Trump in China, Alaska gets a new deal on its LNG

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-11-09 09:18
Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack discuss meetings with potential buyers of Alaska’s LNG during a news conference Friday Sept. 30, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Update: 11:30 p.m.

Alaska will stay in the lead and continue writing the checks on its gasline megaproject.

But, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and state gasline corporation head Keith Meyer say they are encouraged by a deal they inked in Beijing.

As President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on, Alaska’s trade delegation signed an agreement with a China-owned oil company giant Sinopec, one of the country’s banks and a sovereign wealth fund.

In a late night phone call with reporters on Wednesday, Meyer said the state has been trying to woo companies in China for months, “We’ve been through the courtship, we are now engaged.”

Details of the agreement are sparse but the deal links Alaska’s gas pipeline project to three China-owned entities as potential buyers, lenders and investors in the project.

Anchorage Democrat Rep. Geran Tarr says the deal is a positive step — but, she’s not sure it’s enough to convince the legislature to funnel more money into the gasline corporation.

“I think at this point the feeling in the legislature is the remaining $70-80 million is what AGDC has to work with to get to a decision point,” Tarr said.

Tarr said Alaska’s corporation will update the legislature in May of 2018 with a go or no-go decision by next December.

A substantive deal on the state-run gasline project could be a game-changer for Alaska’s struggling oil-based economy. The pipeline would cost between $45 billion and $65 billion to build. Its construction would temporarily add thousands of jobs to the state’s economy.

In its current form, the more than 800-mile-long pipeline would connect the Arctic and Pacific oceans and pipe LNG from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, before loading it onto tankers and shipping it to Asian buyers.

Kerry-Anne Shanks, head of Asia gas and LNG research at Wood MacKenzie, an energy research and consulting group, wrote in an email that the Alaska LNG project is at an early stage of development.

“Wood Mackenzie classifies it as speculative, which means the commercial structure and marketing plan are not yet clear. It is likely to take a few years before the project is ready for FID (Final Investment decision). LNG projects generally take at least 4 years to construct from project sanction,” Shanks wrote.

Hugo Brennan, an Asia analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in an email that the deal is politically expedient.

“Its non-binding nature gives Sinopec the flexibility to quietly back away from the deal down the line. Beijing is mindful of the need to maintain varied commodity import routes,” Brennan wrote.

 

Original story

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and state gasline corporation head Keith Meyer inked a deal in China today as U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on.

Details of the agreement are sparse but the deal links Alaska’s liquid natural gas pipeline project to three Chinese entities, including the state-owned oil company Sinopec, one of the country’s banks and a sovereign wealth fund.

Alaska’s gasline corporation says the agreement involves working cooperatively on LNG marketing, financing and investment in Alaska LNG However, no one from the corporation returned an email seeking more information on the type of deal that was signed.

Walker and Meyer are expected to give a closed-door briefing on the deal to Alaska’s legislators.

A substantive deal on the state-run gasline project could be a game-changer for Alaska’s struggling oil-based economy. The pipeline would cost between $45 billion and $65 billion to build. Its construction would temporarily add thousands of jobs to the state’s economy.

In its current form, the more than 800-mile-long pipeline would connect the Arctic and Pacific oceans and pipe LNG from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, before loading it onto tankers and shipping it to Asian buyers.

Editor’s note: This is a breaking news story that will be updated periodically. 

Categories: Alaska News

Bean’s Cafe says it can’t shelter Anchorage homeless this winter

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-08 17:42
Bean’s Cafe at Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage. (Staff photo)

Just as overnight temperatures in Anchorage are beginning to dip into the teens and single digits, an area non-profit announced Wednesday it won’t be able to shelter some of the city’s homeless this winter.

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Bean’s Cafe is a soup kitchen close to downtown Anchorage. Last year, for the first time, Bean’s opened it’s main daytime space as an overflow shelter just as cold winter weather bared down on the city. Anchorage was already struggling with a severe shortage of shelter beds for adults, in part because of an incident in the summer of 2016 that caused Bean’s to permanently shut down overflow shelter operations that had provided beds to more than a hundred people in the dining area.

On Wednesday, Bean’s Executive Director Lisa Sauder said the organization’s board decided that was not feasible to repeat again this winter.

“We were notified by our insurer that that led to many issues,” Sauder said of last year’s policy. “It was a usage change for our building, and led to us ultimately getting dropped by our insurance carrier.”

“Unfortunately it’s just not something that fits with our core mission right now,” Sauder added, clarifying the organization’s main focus is fighting hunger.

The decision means there will be 50 less beds available for people seeking overnight shelter.

The municipality of Anchorage has a cold weather plan that goes into effect when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sauder conveyed the change to officials with the city late on Wednesday afternoon.

“This was a surprise for us,” Nancy Burke, the city’s homelessness coordinator, said.

The beds are still badly needed. According to Burke, on Tuesday night, the Brother Francis shelter had to turn away approximately 20 people because it was filled.

Burke said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is asking the board of directors in charge of Bean’s Cafe to reconvene and reverse Wednesday’s decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski reveals Arctic Refuge drilling details

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-08 16:33
USGS map, via Senate Energy Committee

Sen. Lisa Murkowski Wednesday released legislation that would open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

If approved by the Senate Energy Committee, which she chairs, the refuge provision would become part of the Senate budget reconciliation bill, along with the Republican tax cuts.

Murkowski’s part of the bill would lift the ban on drilling in the so-called 1002 area, along the coastal plain of the refore. It would split revenues 50-50 between the state and the federal government. The Alaska statehood compact calls for a 90-10 split, favoring the state, but Gov. Bill Walker said last week he’s fine with an even split if it leads to the long-sought development in the refuge.

In a written statement, Murkowski said the Congressional Budget Office has concluded the legislation would raise $1.092 billion over 10 years, which was a requirement under the budget plan Congress passed. Beyond the 10-year budget window, Murkowski said opening ANWR would raise “tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades to come.”

Murkowski plans to debate the measure in her committee next Wednesday. Most of the panel’s Democrats ardently oppose drilling in the refuge. Only one Democrat on the committee, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is on the record in favor of ANWR drilling. Still, there’s little doubt Murkowski has the votes to advance the measure to the Senate floor.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: New satellite will improve forecasts, inform policy

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-08 15:59
A rendering of the new JPSS-1 satellite. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

The federal government is scheduled to launch a new satellite later this month that will improve weather forecasts. JPSS-1 is a polar orbiting satellite that tracks dozens of things like temperature, moisture, snow cover and even wildfires.

Brian Brettschneider, with our Ask a Climatologist segment, is eagerly awaiting the new images and data from the new satellite.

He says it will orbit pole-to-pole, crossing the equator 14 times each day.

Interview Transcript:

Brian: And that provides, at any given location, at least two snapshots per day of what’s going on in the atmosphere at that location.

Annie: Why is that important, especially for the far north?

Brian: Many people are familiar with seeing satellite images, say of hurricanes, we saw that a lot this summer. And those come from geostationary satellites. They’re orbiting at 22,500 miles above the equator and they circle the earth at the same rate the earth rotates. But they have to be over the equator. So here at Alaska/Arctic latitudes, we’re out of the range of those satellites. Maybe in Southeast, they’re caught a little bit, but north of 60 degrees, which is mainland Alaska, we’re not in that. So we rely on other satellite imagery, geosynchronous orbit and some other satellites that don’t catch us as frequently and when we’re at an oblique angle. So having something that rotates a couple times a day, that’s going to get us higher resolution information is very important for forecast modeling and environmental modeling.

Annie: This isn’t just about forecasts. How do satellites help inform policy?

Brian: The first weather satellite was launched in 1966. We use that as a benchmark for environmental monitoring, whether it’s for hurricanes, whether it’s for sea ice, whether it’s for ozone. All these things we assume we have this long, robust record for, but before the satellite era for many things it was very fragmented. We have records for coastal sea ice going back a long way. We have records of hurricanes striking the lower 48 a long time ago. But we don’t have this uniform distribution across space until we have satellites. So a lot of the decisions we make from a public policy standpoint that involve environmental and earth science data, really we start with the satellite era. And as we get better and better satellite imagery, we have more information to make good public policy decisions.

Annie: Are you looking forward to seeing these first images?

Brian: It’s kinda like being a kid in a candy store. There’s all kinds of fascinating information that you can see from it. From the first generation satellite that’s out there, from events where we have strong northerly cold outbreak, you can see silt blowing off of glaciers, you can see ash being blown off volcanoes, previously deposited ash, so there’s always something new and fascinating that you’ve never seen before when there’s a new generation satellite that’s launched.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage drivers to see new 10-cent gasoline tax

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-08 15:42
Assembly members during an October meeting (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage drivers will see a slight bump at the pump early next year.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Anchorage Assembly voted for a new excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. Motorists will pay an extra 10 cents per gallon starting in March of 2018.

The measure is expected to generate around $14 million dollars a year annually in revenue, but the move does not increase overall taxes for residents. In keeping with recommendations from the city’s Budget Advisory Council, the new charge falls under the municipality’s tax cap, and money collected will offset property taxes. According to the mayor’s administration, the average home-owner in Anchorage will see a drop in their property tax bill of $131. In a document submitted by the sponsors, they calculate that a driver putting 10,000 miles annually on a vehicle that gets 23 miles per gallon will pay $43 more in a year.

Assembly Chair Dick Traini, a major supporter of the measure, said the aim is shifting some of the tax-burden off property owners.

“Our chance tonight is to diversify the income stream coming into this town,” Traini said ahead of the vote.

The measure passed 10 to one, along with an amendment to adjust the tax for inflation. Eagle River Assembly member Amy Demboski was the lone vote against the ordinance.

The meeting also heard public testimony on the Administration’s 2018 budget, which the Assembly will vote on later this month. A large number of people asked the Assembly to consider approving more money for drug treatment. Supporters and staff from the Alaska AIDS Assistance Association testified on how extra municipal funds could expand the organization’s syringe exchange program, decreasing risk and public health costs among injection-drug users.

In two weeks, when the Assembly finalizes the city’s budget, they’ll also be taking testimony on a proposal to add a new 2 percent tax on alcohol to pay for substance abuse treatment. Though the state taxes alcohol, officials in Anchorage have long complained the revenues don’t adequately fund treatment. Fairbanks and Juneau both collect local taxes on alcohol sales, according to a memorandum submitted by Traini, who introduced the ordinance.

Categories: Alaska News

Looser drilling rules bill advances in US House

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-11-08 15:40
Alaska Rep. Don Young. Photo: Liz Ruskin.

A deregulation bill aimed at boosting energy production on federal lands cleared a U.S. House committee Wednesday.

Known as the SECURE American Energy Act, the bill would remove several limits on Arctic drilling. It would undo former President Obama’s decision to close off most Arctic waters to leasing.  And it would allow states to take over management of oil and gas development on federal land.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says states would do a better job, because, Young claims, federal employees try to block development.

“They don’t want to drill oil,” Young said in the House Natural Resources Committee . “I wish they’d fess up to it. At least we’d know for sure where their loyalty lies. But I really believe if we don’t continue the way they do in Alaska and the Western states, we’ll fall back in that trap of be(ing) dependent on the Middle East countries.”

Young says he also likes that the bill would share offshore revenues with coastal states. Alaska would get 37.5 percent of the proceeds from leasing and development in federal Arctic waters.

But Katy Siddall, a director of government relations for The Wilderness Society, says the bill is part of a broader “sell-out” campaign.

“This is a bill that is par for the course in what we’re seeing out of, not just the House but the Senate and the administration, on trying to drill anywhere these guys can and hand-off our public lands to private interests,” Siddall said.

Siddall says if states take over as regulators on federal lands, the public would lose transparency and opportunities to weigh in.

One of the bill’s worst provisions, as Siddall sees it, is that it would scrap the 2016 safety rules for offshore Arctic drilling.

“It’s already one of the most dangerous place to explore for oil and gas,” Siddall said. “And this just, one, it makes it easier to drill, and two, it makes it even more dangerous.”

Young, on the other hand, maintains the Obama administration’s Arctic drilling regs make future exploration nearly impossible.

The SECURE bill now moves to the House floor. It is sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. His leadership position makes it likely the bill will be brought up for a vote.

Categories: Alaska News

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