Alaska News

Putin calls the recent U.S. anti-ballistic missile exercises a threat to Russia

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 18:06
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo courtesy of the Kremlin)

Following a successful test of the United States’ anti-ballistic missile capabilities this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the missile defense system’s components in South Korea and Alaska a threat to Russia.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system currently features four missile interceptors in California and 32 more at Fort Greely in Alaska’s Interior.

Putin – speaking through a translator at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – said other world leaders are not doing enough to discourage what he describes as an unnecessary military buildup.

“What is happening is a very alarming process,” Putin said. Alaska, then South Korea, these are the sites where the anti-missile system is being built. And should we just sit and wait? No. We are thinking of how to respond to these challenges, because for us, these are challenges.”

Those comments irked Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, a vocal supporter of the missile defense system who often criticizes Russia’s sometimes aggressive tactics in the Arctic and elsewhere.

Sullivan said the U.S.’s superior technology in shooting down a test missile is what rattled Putin, whom Sullivan said is wrong to characterize the interceptors as anything but protective.

“These systems certainly don’t undermine the strategic balance in the world, as President Putin inaccurately claims,” Sullivan said. “And my view is we should continue to bolster these missile defense capabilities in the region of South Korea and Japan, and in Alaska, to protect our citizens and our allies, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Sullivan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called for more missile interceptors and a faster pace for their development.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Assembly sees its second resignation since April

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 18:05
Mike Case’s seat was empty at the April 26 assembly meeting. Also pictured: Mayor Jan Hill, Clerk Julie Cozzi, Assembly members Margaret Friedenauer and Ron Jackson. Friedenauer resigned from her position Wednesday, May 31. (Emily Files)

For the second time in a little over a month, a Haines Assembly member has resigned. The move follows a contentious meeting Tuesday night. The assembly had a few big decisions on its plate. But after a more than four-hour meeting, only one had been resolved.

Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer is resigning from her position in the borough.

“I haven’t felt like this assembly has been able to work or focus on a problem or a issue in way too long,” Friedenauer said. “No matter how hard we try as individual assembly members to do that, the current climate right now is not letting us focus on those things.”

Friedenauer’s term lasts until the 2018 municipal election. But, she says she will not fulfill that three year term. It is a particularity tense time in the Haines borough, as a group of residents is attempting to recall three assembly members. Friedenauer says, despite her opposition to the recall effort, it’s not the reason for her decision.

“Our meetings are supposed to be business meetings,” Friedenauer. “And there is just so much going on around us. And within our own group that I’m not feeling effective. And I’m not feeling like it’s really necessary for me to be there at this time. Especially if not being there would give me some sense of relief and peace.”

In April, assembly member Mike Case resigned, following the assembly’s decision to hire Debra Schnabel over Brad Ryan as borough manager.

Friedenauer’s decision came a day after a regular assembly meeting. The group had a few key items on the agenda: appoint an interim assembly member, adopt a budget, approve the employment contract for incoming borough manager Schnabel, and conduct an exit interview with interim manager Ryan.

The first was fairly easy. Former Haines mayor Stephanie Scott was appointed to the assembly in a 4-1 vote. She takes over Case’s seat.

After that, the meeting took a different turn, starting with a prepared statement from Mayor Jan Hill. Hill did not hold back her frustrations with the assembly.

“I agree with those community members who have stated that this assembly violated our charter which clearly states that the manager shall be hired based solely on professional qualifications,” said Hill. “This clearly did not happen. I also agree with former assembly member Mike Case who stated that this hire was a setup from the start.”

She’s referring to the group deciding to hire Schnabel over Ryan for the permanent manager position.

“I am not sure exactly what part of our community this assembly is representing. But it is clear it is not all of the citizens of the Haines Borough,” said Hill.

Ryan is wrapping up his time as interim manager. Afterward, he’ll return to his job as public facilities director. The assembly was poised to conduct an exit interview with Ryan in executive session. But, there was a disagreement over whether it should be held in public.

“This is ridiculous,” Ryan said. “I’m sorry, absolutely ridiculous.”

The group voted against going into executive session. They were on the verge of reconsidering that vote. But at that point, Ryan had enough. He refused to participate in the interview.

“You’re asking me, as an employee that’s returning to another position in the Haines borough to be frank and evaluate you in public,” Ryan said. “It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”

The assembly did go into executive session to discuss incoming manager Schnabel’s employment contract. But, after meeting privately for more than an hour, they did not vote on the document.

They decided they also need more time to weigh some of the issues at play in the FY18 budget. Several residents spoke up at the meeting about different budget items. The group postponed a vote on that until their June 13 meeting.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, borough attorney Brooks Chandler issued a memo related to Schnabel’s new position.

Chandler says, the way borough code is currently written, Schnabel’s brother Roger is prohibited from entering new contracts with the borough while she is manager. He says code could be changed to allow that to happen.

Roger Schnabel is in the construction business. He owns the company Southeast Road Builders and often works with the borough.

Debra Schnabel says she does not doubt her ability to objectively administer contracts. She says the issue is that the code does not allow it. Schnabel says the attorney’s memo is concerning, and the borough would be impacted negatively if it was unable to work with Southeast Roadbuilders.

Roger Schnabel did not return requests for comment by the time of this report.

The assembly did not discuss the attorney’s opinion at Tuesday’s meeting.

At a second meeting Thursday, the Haines Assembly voted unanimously to approve Debra Schnabel’s employment contract for Borough manager. Her new job begins Monday, June 5.

Categories: Alaska News

As lawmakers mull budget, unprecedented state shutdown looms

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 18:03
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager Maria Skuratovskaya studies her screens at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., on March 14, 2016, in Juneau. Employees who manage the fund were among the 18,000 who got layoff notices on Thursday. If lawmakers don’t come to an agreement on the budget within the next 30-days, the government will shut down. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

For the third straight year, state employees are being warned about a looming government shutdown and the potential for mass layoffs.

Lawmakers in Juneau appear to be at an impasse on the budget. They’re halfway through a 31-day special session and are cutting it close to their deadline to negotiate a budget for the state.

If they don’t have it figured out before July 1, thousands of state employees will be laid off and state business will grind to a halt.

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration sent out 18,000 notices on Thursday, warning state employees that they could be laid off if lawmakers don’t come to a compromise.

Kate Sheehan, who heads the state’s division of personnel and labor relations, said there are critical positions that the state can’t function without, so some people are still going to have to go to work.

“But the decision as to who will actually report to work if there is a shutdown has not yet been made,” Sheehan said.

In 2015, the state sent notices to some employees that they could be laid off. The legislature had a budget plan, but it wasn’t fully funded.

Then, in 2016, the state printed thousands of letters, but didn’t send them after lawmakers reached a compromise.

“So, like I said, it’s a little bit unprecedented where we are now, without having a budget at all,” Sheehan said.

And because there’s never been a shutdown in Alaska, Sheehan said her department is getting a legal opinion on who can come back to work and who can’t.

Among the thousands of state employees who got notices today, is the team of people who manage the state’s Permanent Fund Corporation.

The fund has been at the center of the budget debate this year. Lawmakers have been trying to figure out how to fill a $2.5 billion hole in next year’s budget that opened after oil prices crashed.

“There doesn’t seem to be any debate about whether or not the Permanent Fund should be used,” Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell said. “It’s more about how much of the Permanent Fund should be used.”

Rodell said the funds investments could be automated.

“… in other words, you just put on the money and let the computer decide the asset allocation, and there’s a standard passive index fund,” Rodell said.

But that could have a real impact on how much money it brings in. Rodell said employees at the corporation have added an additional $4.1 billion to what the fund has brought in over the last five years.

“So I am hopeful and I am confident that the legislature will reach an agreement prior to July 1, but I do, I do worry,” Rodell said. “I do worry about what the potential cost of inaction or slow action yields.”

Walker put out a statement on Thursday saying that mass layoffs could affect both the public and private sectors of the economy as people who process everything from fishing permits to driver’s licenses and record home sales would be forced to stop working.

Walker said lawmakers in the House and the Senate have asked for one more day to reach a solution.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the length of the special session as 30 days. Special sessions are 30 days, not 31. Regular Sessions are 121 days not 120.  

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage advocacy group assembles to combat equal rights ordinance rollback

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 16:56
(Logo courtesy of Fair Anchorage)

A coalition of Anchorage advocacy groups, unions and faith organizations is mobilizing to oppose an ongoing effort to roll back parts of the city’s equal rights ordinance.

The group, Fair Anchorage, held a press conference Thursday morning to publicize its “Decline to Sign” campaign. It’s a counter-measure to oppose a new effort led by the faith-based Alaska Family Action group that aims to modify the city’s expanded anti-discrimination measures passed in a 9-2 vote by the Assembly in 2015. The new initiative certified by the municipal Clerk’s Office would require public facilities, businesses and churches to “segregate” bathrooms and locker-rooms based on a person’s biological sex at birth.

Critics, like the Fair Anchorage coalition, say that would create a special right to discriminate against transgender residents, as well as deny their existence.

The “Decline to Sign” initiative is modeled on similar campaigns elsewhere in the country, like Washington state. The group’s local sponsors include the American Civil Liberties Union, AFL-CIO, Identity, Inc. and Christians for Equality.

Alaska Family Action is currently collecting signatures to get its proposals on the April ballot next year. The group needs 7,500 signatures by mid-July in order to put the measure before voters.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate passes opioid addiction prevention bill by wide margin

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 14:36
Eagle River Sen. Anna MacKinnon voted for HB 159. (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

On Thursday, the state Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill which would limit opioid prescriptions from health providers in the state as well as require training on opioid abuse for medical practitioners. HB 159 passed by a margin of 17 to one.

During testimony, Eagle River Republican Anna MacKinnon brought up an example of what she called one of several instances of over-prescription from Alaska doctors.

“We heard a story that was heart wrenching of a family that their loved one, their child, had been taken to the dentist and the dentist prescribed 30 days of oxycontin,” MacKinnon said. “Mr. President, that is not a standard dosage for someone to receive.”

The only vote against the bill was from Palmer Republican Shelley Hughes — a self-admitted protest vote. Hughes said she thinks the bill has positive qualities, but it doesn’t address the root of the opioid problem, which she described as “pill mill practitioners and doc-shopper consumers.”

“It will require some excellent practitioners around the state to be better educated about the subject,” Hughes said. “But, they — I don’t believe for the most part — are not the problem. There may be a sliver of practitioners who don’t realize they’re over-prescribing, and this may change their behavior and that is my hope, but I don’t really think the bill gets to the root of the problem Mr. President.”

Senate Majority leader, Republican Peter Micciche said despite the bill being introduced during a session focused on budgetary issues, the opioid crisis extends beyond public health.

“Some people want to know why we’re dealing with opioid abuse now with this budget crisis that we’re having,” Micciche said. “And the reality of it is our approach is multifaceted. It’s an Alaskan issue for a lot of reasons, and part of it is costs.”

Micciche said teachers often cope with students of families affected by opioid addiction. He also claimed opioid addictions are the single biggest driver of crime statewide.

Following the vote on House Bill 159, Senate president Pete Kelly also appointed Senators Giessel, Stedman and Olson to a conference committee about the House’s income tax bill.

Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early helped with this story. 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, May 31, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:50

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

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Interior Secretary signs order aiming to open more of the North Slope to oil leasing

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered new studies on the oil and gas potential of federal land on the North Slope, including in the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary: tribute to vets who helped build ‘road to civil rights’

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaskans will celebrate the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary this year, and organizers of those celebrations plan to include tributes to the African-American soldiers who helped carve the road out of rugged wilderness.

Brown bear shot on Douglas Island — the first documented kill in decades

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

A homeowner shot and killed a brown bear on Douglas Island last week. It’s the first brown bear documented on the island in more than 40 years.

AT&T rolls out 4G cellular in Nome

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

AT&T provided its Nome customers with a 4G network at the beginning of this month, after years of preparation. Despite the improved coverage, more local support for AT&T customers won’t be included in the upgrade.

New ‘Five for Five’ effort pushes Alaska Grown in front of shoppers

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

State officials want Alaskans to spend a little bit more money on products grown in state. To do it, they’re encouraging shoppers to spend $5 a week for the next five months.

Sitka homeowners appeal new flood map lines

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka has been involved with the National Flood Insurance Program since 1981. That qualifies homeowners for flood insurance, at the discretion of their lender, so long as the city maps out which areas are prone to flooding. With the appeal period for Sitka’s new maps now closed, both the city and a handful of citizens are contesting newly drawn flood lines.

Anchorage to receive EPA grant to clean distressed properties

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The Municipality of Anchorage is getting a $300,000 grant to help clean up distressed properties. The money is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownsfields Assessment Grants program, which aims to redevelop properties that are unoccupied or under-used.

Improving the lives of people and dogs in rural Alaska

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has more dogs than it can care for. A veterinarian travels to Bethel once a month, but no such service exists in the villages. Unvaccinated and uncared for, stray dogs threaten a community’s well being. Now, two organizations have teamed up to work with Delta communities to fix the issue.

Unalaska sculptor wins art award as she continues 40-year career

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

The Rasmuson Foundation has recognized Unalaska’s Gert Svarny as its Distinguished Artist of 2017. The award comes with a $40,000 grant so the 87-year-old sculptor can continue developing her craft.

Categories: Alaska News

Improving the lives of people and dogs in rural Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:42
A dog in Kwethluk.
(Film Academy Students / Lower Kuskokwim School District)

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has more dogs than it can care for. A veterinarian travels to Bethel once a month, but no such service exists in the villages. Unvaccinated and uncared for, stray dogs threaten a community’s well being. Now, two organizations have teamed up to work with Delta communities to fix the issue.

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Two weeks ago, Napaskiak decided it needed to reduce its stray dog population. So it did what many communities in the Delta do: the city offered a bounty of $20 per dog. Three were killed.

Napaskiak City Clerk Valerie Kaganak said that it’s hard to find people to participate. People don’t like shooting dogs, and many don’t collect their bounties. But people agree that loose dogs are a problem.

“They open trash bags and let it scatter all over. And they steal [subsistence] food that we put away in our porch,” Kaganak said.

Dogs also hurt people. Over the past decade there were nearly a thousand reported dog bites in the YK Delta, according to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. More than half the victims were children under 10 years old. In the worst cases, children died.

For the past five years, volunteer veterinarians have tried to address that issue by traveling to rural Alaska and offering basic veterinary services like spaying, neutering and vaccinations. This year, for the first time, the vets at Alaska Native Rural Veterinary, Incorporated are teaming up with the Humane Society to work with three Delta communities to find solutions to their stray dog problems.

The groups are visiting Kwethluk on Wednesday, May 31 and Napaskiak and Napakiak on Thursday, June 1.

“We want everyone to show up. Everyone is invited,” Angie Fitch, Executive Director of Rural Veterinary, said. To attend, head to the Bingo Hall with your stories and ideas.

“Which will help us determine the best way to address the lack of veterinary care,” Fitch said.

Using this information, the groups will return three times this year to offer spaying, neutering, and vaccinations. They’ll also offer a doghouse building project where the group works with students in the schools to build doghouses from donated wood.

“So they learn carpentry skills, but also learn how to do something good for the community. And then the dogs will get new dog houses, also,” Fitch said.

The groups will hire one person from each community to help organize and run the visits.

“They just need to enjoy helping people, and like animals, and be good at collecting data,” Fitch said, “because they’ll have to get all the names of the families and the dogs, and keep track of the shot records.”

The goal is to use the program as a pilot project to improve the lives of people and dogs across rural Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

AT&T rolls out 4G cellular in Nome

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:36
AT&T has brought 4G LTE cell phone coverage to Nome. (Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM)

AT&T provided its Nome customers with a 4G network at the beginning of this month, after years of preparation. Despite the improved coverage, more local support for AT&T customers won’t be included in the upgrade.

According to Shawn Uschmann, AT&T’s Director of External Affairs for Alaska, the company has invested more than $150 million in network upgrades throughout the State between 2014 and 2016.

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When asked why a 4G network was instituted just recently in Nome, Uschmann answered, “AT&T launched 4G service in Nome to improve the customer experience, and with these investments, our customers are going to see increased reliability, coverage, speed, and overall performance on the network, and that is definitely something they are going to see in Nome.”

Uschumann continued, “These investments also improve critical network services that we use to support public safety and first responders throughout the state of Alaska, specifically in Nome.”

Through the use of existing infrastructure, a 4G network was established in Nome without building a separate AT&T tower. Uschmann said the 4G project involved AT&T employees from multiple Alaskan locations as well as several contractors.

“This was a big job for us,” Uschmann said. “It’s going to be a game changer, we think, for Nome when the customers see the increased data speeds and get to experience that in real time; we hope it’s happening right now. We really look forward to hearing from our customers and what those experiences are.”

Some citizens in Nome have already reported issues with their phones since 4G was turned on, such as more frequent dropped calls or a bad connection between them and whomever is on the other end of the line.

Uschmann said customers can call 611 from their cellphone or a national customer support number to report any issues.

“Again, this is the same call center that handles calls nationwide for AT&T, so we’re comfortable with the level of support that they’re going to be able to provide, and we think the customers in Nome are going to be pleased with the experiences they have calling in to those numbers,” Uschmann stated.

According to Uschmann, AT&T does not release information about the number of customers it covers in a given area, so it is unknown how many people have AT&T service in Nome. Regardless, Uschmann stated via email that AT&T will not bring in additional staff to the community as the company can monitor the performance of its network remotely.

Currently, a small team of AT&T representatives, including Uschmann, is visiting with its local partners such as Kawerak and the City of Nome for the day.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska sculptor wins art award as she continues 40-year career

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:34
Sculptor Gert Svarny displays her artwork in her Unalaska home.
(Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

The Rasmuson Foundation has recognized Unalaska’s Gert Svarny as its Distinguished Artist of 2017. The award comes with a $40,000 grant so the 87-year-old sculptor can continue developing her craft.

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In Gert Svarny’s living room, tucked safely between a cushy armchair and a window looking out on the beach, sits one of her most recent sculptures.

“Her name is Little Feather,” Svarny said. “In Unangam Tunuu, it’s Huqdun Angunaqdaayulu.”

Little Feather is a young girl, carved from blue-grey soapstone. She’s wearing a traditional Unangan dress, trimmed with deep red ochre, and her hair is tied back in a long braid.

Little Feather is one of Svarny’s most recent sculptures. The piece is made of soapstone and painted with ochre. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

“She’s carrying a bag of ivory fish,” Svarny said. “She’s saying, ‘Mama! Mama! We’re going to eat tonight!”

The little girl and her fish are in good company in Svarny’s home, surrounded by all kinds of artwork.

Finely woven grass baskets that fit in the palm of your hand. Expressive wooden masks that depict hunters hard at work. And long-billed visors that celebrate the style of traditional Aleutian kayakers, warding the sun and spray from their eyes.

“I think my inspiration comes from my people,” Svarny said. “They’re in my thoughts all the time.”

But Svarny hasn’t always translated those thoughts into creative endeavors. She got into art later in life.

“I was 50,” Svarny says. “51 or 52. Somewhere in there.”

Art wasn’t on Svarny’s agenda, growing up in Unalaska in the 1930s. She spent her childhood outside, exploring the island with her three brothers and three sisters.

“We always tried to get away from mom because she’d make us do chores,” Svarny laughed.

Then life changed when she was 12-years-old. It was World War II, and the Unangan people were forced to evacuate their region.

Svarny’s family was interned in southeast Alaska. Except for her father, who wasn’t Unangan and had to stay behind. She doesn’t talk much about that part of her life.

Svarny carved this bentwood visor — and its ivory ornamentation — in the style of traditional Unangan kayakers. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

“Had good times and bad times,” Svarny said. “Always homesick.”

When Svarny eventually returned to Unalaska, she had a husband and four daughters. They moved into the same house she grew up in. And one day, the art came to her.

“I found some bones on the beach and decided to see if I could do anything with them,” Svarny said.

Svarny sat at her kitchen table with a melon baller and an X-Acto knife. She’d never taken a class, but she was able to shape one bone into a mask and the other into a small figure.

“I just tried it,” Svarny said.

More than that,Svarny loved it. She loved handling the materials. She loved bringing her ideas to life. And she loved the way sculpting brightened her mood on a bad day. But that doesn’t mean she felt confident in her work. Not right away.

“There have been many times I’ve doubted myself, of course,” Svarny said. “I’d think, ‘Are you an artist? Can you call yourself an artist?’”

It’s been almost 40 years since she shaped those first pieces of bone, and she’s come to think of herself as a sculptor.

“But I’ve been thinking lately, “Boy, those rocks are getting heavy,” Svarny said. “Maybe I should start painting!’”

All jokes aside, Svarny said she’s found her identity as an artist. Now, she wants to help other Unangan creatives do the same.

“I’ve always thought that so many of our people are artistically inclined,” Svarny said. “But sometimes life gets in the way and they never pursue what they want to do.”

Svarny teaches art to students at Unalaska’s Camp Qungaayux, and she’s brought up her own children and grandchildren with a love for the arts.

“My granddaughter Laresa and I were talking, and we were saying that we had so many ideas we wanted to do,” Svarny said. “I said, ‘Laresa, I will never finish all my ideas. I’ll die before I finish all the things that I want to get done.'”

But she’s not stopping anytime soon. In fact, Svarny said this time in her life may just be the most creative.

“I love doing it,” Svarny said. “When I’m working, I’m happy.”

Categories: Alaska News

Brown bear shot on Douglas Island — the first documented kill in decades

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:17
An adult brown bear weighing at least 700 pounds was shot and killed by a homeowner near North Douglas Highway on May 25. Authorities ruled the killing justified in defense of life and property. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Wildlife Troopers)

A homeowner shot and killed a brown bear on Douglas Island last week. It’s the first brown bear documented on the island in more than 40 years.

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Ryan Scott is the regional conservation supervisor for Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Scott said sightings of brown bears are often reported but there’s been no proof – until now.

“Over the years we’ve had reports of bears swimming around, being sighted in the water adjacent to Douglas and some other anecdotal information,” Scott said Wednesday. “Folks see a bear and they believe it is a brown bear, but we’ve never been able to confirm it.”

Authorities didn’t name the man who reported that he heard a racket outside his home about 6:30 a.m. May 25 near mile 5 of North Douglas Highway.

“The homeowner went out to scare the bear away, which is a normal thing for Juneau,” Scott said. “Instead of responding like we would normally expect, running away, essentially, the bear actually turned to face him. The homeowner felt like the bear was imminently going to come to him and he dispatched the animal.”

The homeowner reported the shooting shortly afterward.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers investigated the killing of the male bear, which reportedly weighed more than 700 pounds. The shooting was ruled justified.

“The wildlife troopers did visit the site and talked to the homeowner and looked around a little bit and it looked like the home was well-kept,” Scott said. “There were no noticeable attractants or things like that. It’s a little bit of a head-scratcher as to why the bear was as agitated as it was.”

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage to receive EPA grant to clean distressed properties

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:13

The Municipality of Anchorage is getting a $300,000 grant to help clean up distressed properties. The money is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownsfields Assessment Grants program, which aims to redevelop properties that are unoccupied or under-used.

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In Anchorage, that means eight to ten sites will be analyzed to see if there’s any environmental contamination, and potentially draft a clean-up plan. Nicole Jones-Vogel manages land for the city’s real-estate department, which is helping administer the grant. She said decisions about which properties will be selected for improvements are going to be determined by the city’s long-term infrastructure planning, focused on areas served by major roadways and green-belt trails.

“The vision is to spur development, economic growth, and get the limited parcels that we have redeveloped and used in accordance with the adopted plans, and the 2040 land use plan map, and any other district or neighborhood plan,” Jones-Vogel said.

The money won’t actually be put towards clean up efforts. Instead, the aim is to figure out whether or not there’s been contamination, potentially removing the clean-up liability from would-be developers.

Jones-Vogel and other city employees will work with partners in community groups and non-profits as part of a planning committee to pick the sites.

“So when we originally started talking about going after this grant opportunity, we were looking at places like Mt. View, Fairview, Downtown, and identifying some of those underutilized, vacant, blighted parcels,” Jones-Vogel said.

Jones-Vogel expects the Brownsfields money could start coming in before the end of December as part of the three year grant.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka homeowners appeal new flood map lines

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:06
The red line denotes the scope of Sitka’s Community Risk MAP Study, which began in 2013 in partnership with FEMA and the state. The revised maps incorporate new LiDAR data. (Image Alaska DCRA)

Sitka has been involved with the National Flood Insurance Program since 1981. That qualifies homeowners for flood insurance, at the discretion of their lender, so long as the city maps out which areas are prone to flooding. With the appeal period for Sitka’s new maps now closed, both the city and a handful of citizens are contesting newly drawn flood lines.

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Over the past five years, FEMA and the state have been updating the Flood Insurance Maps, or FIRMs, along Indian River, Swan Lake, and 32 miles of city-owned coastline. The draft maps – published in January – incorporate LiDAR data collected in 2014. Some buildings that were once in the flood zone are no longer, while others are located in places now considered hazardous.

Property owners and lessees were given 90 days to dispute the boundaries of the newly-drawn flood zone. View the preliminary FIRM maps here.

On May 23, building inspector Chris Duguay told the Sitka Assembly why taking part in the National Flood Insurance Program is still a good idea for Sitka. Homeowners can access loans for development from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Association, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, as well as federal disaster assistance to repair flood damage.

But the maps need some tweaking. Duguay said the city is trying to lower flood lines along Katlian Street and near Swan Lake. They’ve supplied FEMA with information about an outflow culvert there. “It looks like we can possibly get some headway there, in terms of adjusting where a number of other properties have been impacted in that zone — particularly east of Swan Lake,” Duguay said.

The city wasn’t as successful, he added, in convincing FEMA to change flood lines along Alice Loop. The new maps raise the base flood elevation – which represents where there’s a 1% annual risk of flooding –  by a foot and a half.

Half a dozen Sitkans have also appealed, including Ceri Malein and Matt Donohoe. Their house on Galinkin Island is built above the 15-foot flood zone, but then they got it refinanced in 2013, FEMA said otherwise.

“They went with the topography maps rather than the actual visual maps – the photo maps – so they insisted that our house is in the ocean, when it was actually on a rock,” Malein said. “So I had to a hire a surveyor to get a Certificate of Elevation (CoE) and that proved we were on a rock and out of the flood zone.”

That certificate qualified them for a Letter of Map Amendment, or a LOMA. They thought they were in the clear. But that all changed with this latest version of the map, which places them back in the flood zone despite the Certificate of Elevation.

“So I’m appealing right now,” Malein said

Donohoe is outraged – not just about appealing for as second time, but about the ramifications for Sitka’s tax base. “When you could get put in a flood zone, your property is devalued. Who knows how much?”

They’re not the only ones frustrated by the city’s continued participation in the program.

The Hames Corporation discovered that a corner of the Searmart was in the flood zone a few years ago. Their private insurance did not meet federal requirements and they went through the appeal process too.

In an e-mail to KCAW, CFO/COO Max Rule described FEMA’s determination of flood zones as “highly detrimental to future development.” He added, “Flood insurance can be prohibitively expensive in many cases that prevents reasonable growth and development in these coastal areas.  It should be a concern of  everyone.”

As for Malein, she doubts a flood will happen the way FEMA predicts.

“Why do people here in Sitka have to pay FEMA flood insurance when everyone knows we’re not going to flood? And if we did get the tsunami – the big one, the scary one – it’s going to [hit] a lot more than the properties that are just in the flood zone,” Malein said.

The deadline to appeal officially ends May 27th. After all appeals are submitted, FEMA will process the comments and hold a risk map workshop in the Spring of 2018. At that point, the Assembly will decide whether or not to adopt the flood maps and continue taking part in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary: tribute to vets who helped build ‘road to civil rights’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 18:02
Larkins talks with reporters after Tuesday’s chamber meeting, as program presenter Meadow Bailey looks on.
(Greg Martin/Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce)

Alaskans will celebrate the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary this year, and organizers of those celebrations plan to include tributes to the African-American soldiers who helped carve the road out of rugged wilderness. On Tuesday, a roomful of people at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce meeting got to meet one of them.

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Leonard Larkins was a skinny 21-year-old buck private from Louisiana when he arrived in Skagway in May 1942, along with about 1,200 other black soldiers with the Army’s segregated 93rd  Engineer Regiment. They were part of a force of more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers who hacked their way through wilderness to build a 1,500-mile overland supply route to help defend Alaska from attack by Japan.

Meadow Bailey is a state Transportation Department spokeswoman who introduced Larkins in a talk she gave on the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary during Tuesday’s chamber meeting at the Carlson Center.

“The 93rd worked on the road until it was completed in October 1942, and then they had the pleasure of spending the winter in Interior Alaska in tents,” Bailey said. “So they worked on the road until it was complete, and then they were sent to the Aleutian Islands because of that threat from the Japanese. And Leonard remained in the Aleutian Islands for the rest of World War II.”

Leonard Larkins was sent to Alaska with about 1,200 other black troops in the segregated 93rd Engineer Regiment soon after he joined the Army in 1942.
(Credit Larkins Collection, Leonard Larkins)

Historians say despite harsh treatment and lack of equipment, the 3,500 or so black soldiers in four segregated Army units excelled in their work on the highway, a project some say rivaled the Panama Canal.

“According to historian Douglas Brinkley, the Alaska Highway was not only the greatest engineering feat of the Second World War, it was also a triumph over racism,” Bailey said.

But the black soldiers’ role in the project and its role in desegregating the military remained an historical footnote until recent years, when prominent national leaders such as former Sen. Ted Stevens and former Secretary of State Colin Powell began to insist the soldiers be given their due.

“The achievements of these soldiers set the stage for the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948,” Bailey said. “And thus earned the Alaska Highway that distinguished nickname of being the road to civil rights.”

After the meeting, Larkins told reporters he didn’t have any idea that he’d be working on such an historically significant project. The soft-spoken 97-year-old veteran said he was cutting sugar cane in Louisiana for five bucks a ton and enlisted in the Army to get a job that would pay better.

“At that time, about $20 a month,” Larkins said, referring to his soldier’s salary.

Larkins said after he got out of the Army, he worked at a U.S. Public Health Service hospital in New Orleans until he retired. And like a lot of veterans, he really didn’t talk much about his Army service, according to his son, Kirby, who along with two other brothers accompanied their father on his return trip to Alaska.

Larkins and his sons are visiting the state to take part in events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway. From left, Kirby, Leonard Sr., Bert and Errol.
(Greg Martin/Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce)

“He told me, ‘I didn’t talk to you all much about that because I tried to put that behind me – because it was so rough,” Kirby said.

But Kirby Larkins said his dad has been sharing more memories about the highway project over the past year, since he was visited and interviewed by a couple of authors who are writing a book about the project.

The Larkinses will travel to Delta Junction later this week to take part in Alaska Highway 75th anniversary celebration Saturday at Fort Greely. Then they’ll travel to Anchorage next week for more commemorative events to be held there.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Secretary signs order aiming to open more of the North Slope to oil leasing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 17:59
Flanked by Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Bill Walker, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks to reporters after signing an order to promote more drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered new studies on the oil and gas potential of federal land on the North Slope, including in the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Zinke made the announcement at an oil and gas industry conference in Anchorage, marking a significant departure from the Obama administration’s approach to resource development in Alaska.

“The President has now declared — and thank you Donald J. Trump  — that the war on North American energy is now over,” Zinke said.

The order also sets in motion a review of the management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), with changes aimed at providing more land for oil and gas leasing.

The oil industry’s interest in the NPR-A has increased in recent months, following several significant oil finds that were announced in and near the area.

Zinke was flanked by Alaska’s political leaders when he signed the order, including Governor Bill Walker, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young.

“Should have been done a long time ago,” Young said. “This is an exciting thing for Alaska.”

During a press conference, Zinke told reporters that the federal government plans on partnering with the oil industry to assess ANWR’s oil potential. The last federal assessment was done in 1998.

“I think it’s in the best interest of our country to at least know what our assets are,” Zinke said.

Zinke claimed the order doesn’t loosen environmental protections on the North Slope.

“Nothing I signed today in any way diminishes or relaxes the environmental protections that are necessary,” Zinke said. “And we understand that it’s sensitive area up there. We understand that people have made their living up there, subsistence, for generations and will in generations to come.”

Alli Harvey of the Sierra Club in Anchorage said they’ve been bracing for the order since President Trump got elected. Harvey said the secretary’s statement is bold, but to carry it out he’ll get a lot of pushback from people who want to preserve treasured areas of the Arctic.

“I’m not going to understate what the statements mean. They do have their sights on opening this place up and we are going to match that. The American people have spoken before and they’ll continue to speak and say that it’s not an OK place to drill,” Harvey said.
Lois Epstein with the Wilderness Society in Anchorage added that her group believes drilling isn’t allowed in certain parts of the NPR-A for a reason.

“From our perspective, given how valuable the lands are that are off limits, there’s no reason we should be opening up those areas because we have plenty of less sensitive places to be drilling,” Epstein said.

Any move to allow drilling in ANWR must go through Congress, and multiple attempts to do so in the past 30 years have been unsuccessful.

Zinke did not make clear whether the reassessment would require work on the ground. Drilling opponents say that would require congressional approval, too.

During the press conference, Zinke did not weigh in on President Trump’s decision on whether the U.S. should exit the international Paris Agreement to address climate change, which the President is expected to make public tomorrow.

“I have yet to read what the actual Paris agreement is,” Zinke said. “So before I make an opinion, I want to sit down and read it.”

Reporter Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

New ‘Five for Five’ effort pushes Alaska Grown in front of shoppers

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-05-31 16:40

State officials want Alaskans to spend a little bit more money on products grown in state. To do that, the Department of Natural Resources is trying to get more food with the certified Alaska Grown brand out in front of shoppers.

The Division of Agriculture has a new campaign called “Five for Five,” which is hoping to coax Alaskans into spending $5 a week for five months on Alaska Grown products.

“If every Alaskan were to take this challenge it would put tens of millions of dollars back into the local economy,” Division of Agriculture Director Arthur Keyes said.

The division is partnering with forty grocery stores across the state to put Alaska Grown products on their shelves, marked with new promotional displays. That will include mainstays of Alaska farming like carrots and other vegetables, but also locally grown flowers, as well as more protein options like beef and pork.

Keyes, who is himself a farmer, sees the initiative as a way of bolstering Alaska’s agricultural sector by raising consumer awareness to ultimately drive market demand.

“I want to change how people look at food and how people look at agriculture in Alaska,” Keyes said. “I think people are unaware of how good it is here.”

There’s also a longer-term goal of building back some of the state’s food security. As Alaskans have become more dependent on imported supplies during the last couple decades, people are putting away less food in their homes, and communities have come to rely more on planes and ships making regular deliveries. Keyes believes a stronger local agriculture sector is one way boosting resilience in case of a major crisis.

“If things got very dire and the supply chain was broken for, let’s say a month, people would absolutely know,” Keyes said. “There would be no doubt that we were in a very bad situation.”

The Alaska Grown program started in 1986 to promote locally grown agricultural products.

The “Five for Five” initiative starts on June 1st.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Murkowski campign manager selected for Interior job

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-05-30 18:19

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s former campaign manager has a new job in the Trump administration. Steve Wackowski will be the new senior advisor for Alaska Affairs in the Interior Department.

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Wackowski will advise Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who announced the appointment Tuesday in Anchorage.

Wackowski is from Anchorage and that’s where his position will be based. He worked as an aide to the late Sen. Ted Stevens and ran Murkowski’s 2016 re-election campaign. Zinke said he also likes that his new advisor is a major in the Air Force Reserves. Interior secretaries typically appoint someone to be their Alaska point person, either a senior advisor or special assistant, and sometimes one of each.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, May 30, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-05-30 18:07

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

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Governor’s office warns state workers of potential government shutdown

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

The Governor’s office and the Department of Administration are warning of a potential government shutdown.

U.S. Missile Defense conducts anti-ICBM system successfully

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

On Tuesday, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced it conducted a successful test of a system designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s the first test of the system by the U.S. in almost three years.

AVCP calls for reinstating order giving tribes a voice in Northern Bering Sea development

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

The Association of Village Council Presidents is calling for the reinstatement of the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area

Is Anchorage America’s most diverse city? Depends on who you ask

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Anchorage boasts some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. But, is it the most diverse city in America?

With tug still underwater, Samson develops salvage plan

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

A Sitka tugboat that sank at the Samson Tug & Barge dock four weeks ago remains underwater at Starrigavan Bay.

Group trying to keep Fox Spring open faces impending fundraising deadline

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A non-profit group trying to keep a spring-fed well north of Fairbanks open is facing an upcoming fund raising deadline. Friends of Fox Spring is taking donations to cover formerly state funded operation and maintenance of the popular drinking water site off the Elliot Highway north of Fairbanks.

Forum addresses Kodiak food systems

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

How do locals get good food when the produce shipped up from the Lower 48 is often so expensive and not so fresh? It’s an issue of concern for rural areas across the state.

One victim in Portland hate speech stabbing has Juneau ties

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, has a sister who lives in Juneau and works for AWARE as a violence prevention and outreach director.

Copper River fisherman found dead

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Copper River salmon fisherman has been found dead in the surf near the river’s Delta.

Bethel robotics team “The Moosekateers” goes to Nationals

Christine Trudeau, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s Robotics team placed second at the state championships this year, which sent them to the national competition in sunny southern California.

Ask a Climatologist: Will May gloom bring summer doom?

Annie Feidt, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

May weather can’t tell us much about what the rest of the summer will hold in Southcentral Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Copper River fisherman found dead

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-05-30 17:44

A Copper River salmon fisherman has been found dead in the surf near the river’s Delta.

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Alaska State Troopers report that the body of 58 year old Clifford Johns, of Bothell, Washington, was spotted by a U.S Coast Guard helicopter crew after his unoccupied boat was observed driving in circles May 25th.

Troopers says John’s body was recovered and sent to the state medical examiner for autopsy. His vessel was brought to Cordova. No foul play is suspected.

Categories: Alaska News

With tug still underwater, Samson develops salvage plan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-05-30 17:00
Until the tugboat is salvaged, SEAPRO is maintaining containment boom around the Powhatan and deflection boom off of Starrigavan Beach. (Photo provided by Samson Tug & Barge; May 19, 2017)

A Sitka tugboat that sank at the Samson Tug & Barge dock four weeks ago remains underwater at Starrigavan Bay.

According to a situation report issued by the state May 25, initial estimates that the vessel contained 340 gallons of oil on board were incorrect.

Divers have found multiple spots where oil could have been released and have since sealed off those locations. The total amount of oil released from the Powhatan is unknown.

The Powhatan is currently surrounded by 1,500 feet of containment boom, with sorbent materials inside, and the shore is lined with 1,300 feet of deflection boom to protect Starrigavan Bay. Aerial images show decreased sheen within the containment boom and no additional oiling of the shoreline.

State and federal agencies are upholding their recommendation that harvesters not gather shellfish from Starrigavan Beach at this time. The situation report also states that, “There is the potential for [oil] exposure to marine wildlife, however no sea mammals have been observed by response teams or reported.”

Samson has developed a plan for wreck removal and pollution mitigation, which includes recovering fuel from the tug’s tank. So far, 4,335 gallons have been collected. The company also intends to bring a large crane from Seattle to lift the tugboat onto a barge. SEAPRO plans to have the Neka Bay – an Oil Spill Response Vessel (OSRV) with skimming capabilities  – on scene during the wreck.

Samson’s plan is being reviewed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard for final approval. The date for salvaging the Powhatan has not yet been set.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: Will May gloom bring summer doom?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-05-30 16:58
A double rainbow forms over Waldron Lake Park in Anchorage on May 24th. (Photo by Brian Brettschneider)

Does the gloomy May weather in Southcentral Alaska have you down? Climatologist Brian Brettscheider says not to worry — the bad weather pattern isn’t necessarily going to stick around for the rest of the summer.

And he says the May weather hasn’t been too terrible compared to normal.

Interview Transcript:

Brian: It’s really been, kind of at or slightly above normal temperature wise. And its been only a little bit above normal precipitation wise. So while it may seem wet and gray and cloudy, it really hasn’t been excessively so. Now May is generally a dry month, so we’re probably in the wettest third or so of Mays, but not an excessively wet May.

Annie: And can the weather in May tell us anything about the rest of the summer?

Brian: It would be great if it could. Unfortunately, if you look at correlations between May conditions, be it temperature or precipitation, it really doesn’t tell you a whole lot about how the summer is going to evolve. There is some correlation. If you have a warm May, generally you have a warm summer. If you have a cool May, it’s more likely you would have a cool summer, but those are fairly weak correlations. So I wouldn’t hang too much on what we’re seeing in May right now and try to extrapolate that out to the rest of the summer. And as far as precipitation, it’s really hit or miss. You can look at all the years and plot all the dots out and really there’s just nothing there to go on as far as a wet May may mean a wet or dry summer. There’s just no telling that far in advance.

Annie: So listeners shouldn’t cancel their camping plans yet for the rest of the summer?

Brian: I certainly hope not. It’s human nature to extrapolate out, ‘This is the start of the summer season and it’s like this so the rest of it is going to be like this.’ But there’s very little to go on that would allow us to make that assessment. We do have long range computer models and they’re generally showing a warmer summer and they’re generally showing near normal precipitation and those would be a better bet to go on than trying to estimate what it’s going to be like based on what we’ve seen so far this May.

Categories: Alaska News

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