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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 37 min 47 sec ago

Last day for Y-K Delta residents to apply for Fansler’s seat

Fri, 2018-02-16 17:29
Representative Zach Fansler meets with District 38 constituents at an open house meeting at the Kuskokwim University Campus on February 11, 2017. Fansler resigned earlier this month following assault allegations. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Today is the filing deadline for potential candidates who hope to replace Zach Fansler as House District 38’s State Representative. Fansler resigned after being accused of domestic violence related to alcohol.

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KYUK has been interviewing Bethel residents who know Fansler and asking whether they ever suspected that there might be trouble ahead for him. Whoever takes his place may face closer scrutiny than usual.

In a community that struggles with alcohol and domestic violence, Bethel residents expressed shock that their own legislator was forced to resign following assault allegations. Most people were surprised by the reported assault, and Fansler’s attorney has strongly denied the allegations. But when it came to Fansler’s alleged drinking, several people who knew him said that they were not surprised, and at least two of Fansler’s former employers suspected that he drank more than he should.

Myron Angstman, who worked with Fansler when he managed the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race, said that Fansler could be hard to reach. Sometimes he just didn’t show up where he was supposed to be.

“The fact that he had a little too much to drink is not a significant surprise to me,” Angstman said.

Mary Pete is the Director of UAF’s Kuskokwim University Campus where Fansler worked as an instructor. She said that she had heard, but not actually seen, more or less the same thing.

“I did hear that he’d shown up in meetings late or didn’t come to meetings. There was evidence of being ill-prepared or having been somewhere he shouldn’t [have]. But not for me,” Pete said, noting that Fansler was in many ways a dedicated employee. “I never saw that side of him.”

When KYUK hosted a live debate for the district’s primary in 2016, several residents requested that we ask Fansler about his drinking habits, but Fansler’s alcohol use didn’t make the Alaska Democrats’ radar when the party vetted him as a candidate. Alaska Democrats’ Communications Director Alice Kim said that the party screens potential candidates by going through publicly available records and that aside from two drinking-related misdemeanors from partying in his twenties, Fansler’s record is pretty clean. Beyond that vetting, Kim said, the Democrats defer to local voters.

“It’s kind of a trust thing, right?” Kim said. “If they just decide not to disclose some personal information and the community decides to elect that person to office, what more can we do?”

Fansler had been an integral part of Bethel’s community for a while. He was a first term City Council member and managed the K300 for five years. For three years he worked as a math instructor at the university, where Pete said that he went out of his way to train associate teachers and to volunteer.

Fansler also advocated against domestic violence in a community that struggles with it. As a Jesuit Volunteer, Fansler worked for the Tundra Women’s Coalition shelter’s Teens Acting Against Violence program and he later became TWC’s legal advocate. Coalition board member Monica Charles remembers seeing Fansler at TWC’s candlelight vigils over the years. She also voted for him.

“I think like a lot of people, I was shocked,” Charles said. “And then I was just vastly disappointed.”

For Charles, the assault allegations against Fansler play into some of the worst stereotypes about Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities. It’s another bad mark against Bethel, she said, and whoever replaces Fansler will have to cope with it.

“I think that they’re going to be scrutinized even more so than other people,” Charles said. “They’re going to be under the microscope for a while, and with the wave of these controversies coming up surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence across the nation, I think people are just are going to be hopefully more careful.”

“Or mindful,” Charles added. “Not just careful, but mindful.”

Potential candidates hoping to replace Fansler must submit their paperwork by 5:00 p.m. today.

Categories: Alaska News

Ravn begins flights between Bristol Bay and Anchorage

Fri, 2018-02-16 17:23
Ravn Alaska prepares to board its inaugural passenger flight from Dillingham and King Salmon to Anchorage. (Avery Lill/ KDLG)

Fat snowflakes fell as passengers boarded the inaugural Ravn Alaska flight out of Dillingham and King Salmon, heading toward Anchorage. Flight attendant Diane Andrew Ross welcomed travelers aboard the full flight Wednesday morning. Ross is originally from Aleknagik, though she now lives in Anchorage. She said it was “heartwarming” to see friends and family at the airport in Dillingham.

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Bristol Bay residents who boarded the flight were enthusiastic for another airline to provide service between Anchorage and regional hubs. PenAir previously offered the only regular, year-round flights connecting Anchorage and Bristol Bay.

“It’s very expensive to live out in rural Alaska,” Georgette Baumgartener from Dillingham said. She summed up what she hopes to see with another airline servicing the region — “more competition. Prices should come down. More people flying again.”

It is not unusual for a round trip flight between Anchorage and Dillingham to cost $500 or more. Several other passenger’s on Wednesday’s Ravn flight echoed Baumgartener’s hope that increased competition will bring down airfare.

Ravn’s president and CEO, David Pflieger, called Bristol Bay an “obvious” choice for expansion. This is the first new route the company has added in six years.

“When we look at our network and where we fly in the state, we weren’t flying there, and some of the folks who’ve been with the company 10 plus years have said, ‘Hey, let’s get into these communities.’ So we looked at it. We ran the numbers, heard overwhelmingly from the community that they wanted more competition and more reliable service, and here we are,” Pflieger said.

Starting Wednesday, Ravn offers two roundtrip flights per day between Anchorage, Dillingham and King Salmon on weekdays. On weekends, they offer one roundtrip flight per day. It operates Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft on these routes, which can seat up to 29 passengers and make the trip between Dillingham and Anchorage in about 80 minutes.

Pflieger explained that ensuring local demand for another air carrier and securing facilities for operation were among the main considerations for expansion.

Rather than buying or building its own terminals, Ravn is contracting with local businesses to operate terminals for its flights. In King Salmon, King Salmon Ground Service is providing a terminal. In Dillingham, Ravn is operating out of Freshwater Adventures.

Freshwater Adventures’ owner and lifelong Dillingham resident, Jerry Ball, called PenAir and its operators “legends of Bristol Bay and good people.” Ball also repeated the sentiment that an additional air carrier will benefit Bristol Bay residents.

“It’s always good to have competition. Peninsula [Airways]’s been a good airline over the years and still is. I have nothing disparaging to say about anybody. Just an alternative service here, I think the people of Bristol Bay are going to enjoy it, and it’s going to be a good thing,” Ball said.

Perhaps the best image on Wednesday of the competition passengers hoped to see was the PenAir terminal and Freshwater Adventures terminal in Dillingham, next door to one another, both busy with passengers traveling form Bristol Bay to Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, Feb. 16, 2018

Fri, 2018-02-16 17:14

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

Listen now

Last day for Y-K Delta residents to apply for Fansler’s seat

Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – Bethel

Today is the filing deadline for potential candidates who hope to replace Zach Fansler as House District 38’s State Representative. Fansler resigned after being accused of domestic violence related to alcohol.

Bill would exempt utility companies from pesticide pollution

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists discovered “concerning levels” of the pesticide Penta in soils around power poles running through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska Senate passes resolution to combat all-inclusive ivory bans and legislation

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

Senate Joint Resolution 4 passed through the Alaska Senate unanimously today.

Walker has early fundraising edge in Alaska governor’s race

Associated Press

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker holds an early fundraising edge in his bid for re-election this year.

Mushers finish off Yukon Quest 2018

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The last six, of the 13 mushers who completed this year’s Yukon Quest, finished the race yesterday in Whitehorse. Despite slower times, the back of the pack mushers completed a race in which half the field didn’t make it.

Alaska skiers Bjornsen and Randall to compete in four by five kilometer relay

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson again exceeded expectations at the Olympics last night. Patterson toed the line in the men’s 15 kilometer skate race alongside fellow APU teammates Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield. The Alaskan athletes were among the field of more than a hundred skiers.

Ravn begins flights between Bristol Bay and Anchorage

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

On Valentine’s Day, Ravn Alaska made its first regularly scheduled flight between Dillingham, King Salmon and Anchorage. Bristol Bay residents said they were excited for increased competition among airlines in the region.

AK: Rising populations, threat of disease prompt renewed interest in bat research

Ammon Swenson, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Bats are a pretty low priority for most Alaskan biologists, but that could be changing due to a recent uptick in the creature’s population. Add to that a disease that’s been killing millions of bats in the lower 48, and Alaska might be taking note with the rest of the nation very soon.

49 Voices: Yilli Ferati of Anchorage

Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Yilli Ferati in Anchorage. Ferati is a bartender at Fiori D’Italia, which his family owns. He claims to have the largest whiskey collection in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate passes resolution to combat all-inclusive ivory bans and legislation

Fri, 2018-02-16 16:05
Ivory ring carved and signed by King Island carver John I. Kokuluk. (Photo by Emily Russell, KNOM – Nome)

Senate Joint Resolution 4 passed through the Alaska Senate unanimously today.

Sixteen senators voted yes to SJR4 which urges Congress to exempt legally obtained walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory from other laws that ban ivory. Currently, the states of New York, California, Hawaii and Washington have their own legislation that bans the possession and distribution of all ivory.

SJR 4 was sponsored by Senator Donny Olson of Golovin, who said in a written statement, “while I understand the intention of some states to stop the atrocious poaching of African Elephants for Ivory, there exists a distinguishing feature between Alaskans who use the byproducts of harvest and those who go out to poach elephants.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects Alaska Natives’ rights to harvest walrus and use the animal to create handicrafts for sale in the U.S. Despite these protections, local and regional, entities such as Kawerak, have pushed for this resolution to prevent what they see as harmful effects on the Alaska ivory market, due to a lack of understanding.

Senate Joint Resolution 4 has been sent to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill would exempt utility companies from pesticide pollution

Fri, 2018-02-16 15:59
Power poles in Anchorage. Most poles in the state are treated with a pesticide called Penta. A bill making its way through the Alaska Senate would protect utility companies from liability for pesticide pollution from power poles. (Photo by Antti T. Nissinen via Flickr)

bill that would protect power companies from liability related to a widely used pesticide is moving through the Alaska Senate. Federal wildlife officials have already alerted the state they’ve found “concerning levels” of the toxic compound on the Kenai Peninsula.

There are about a quarter million wooden power poles in Alaska. Most are treated with a pesticide marketed as Penta which is short for Pentachlorophenol. It’s been around since the 1930s.

SB 173’s sponsor is Sen. Peter Micciche. The Kenai Peninsula Republican told the Senate Resources Committee that protecting power companies from liability is important for consumers.

“The reason for bringing this forward is the financial protection of nearly every Alaskan ratepayer who depends upon a utility to have electricity delivered to their home, business or facility,” Micciche said.

In 2015, biologists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered what it termed “concerning levels” of the pesticide in soils around power poles running through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge manager notified the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in January 2016. State regulators then wrote to Homer Electric Association saying the utility would be responsible for any contamination since it owns the poles.

Homer Electric’s General Manager Brad Janorschke testified to the Senate committee that it would be expensive if they had to remove the poles, especially as they’d need to be barged south for disposal.

“The cost to remove a single utility pole from service and comply with a lengthy site cleanup process would be about $30,000,” Janorschke said “30,000 bucks a pole.”

Fish and Wildlife has yet to publish its findings, but its correspondence with the state – and raw data from the soil samples – were released to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

Pamela Miller is the Anchorage-based environmental group’s executive director. She says the group filed a Freedom of Information Act request when they found out about the studies on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Miller is alarmed that the power industry wants the law changed.

“This particular study by the Fish and Wildlife Service may have been at least the primary impetus for the utilities to seek a political solution to their problem,” Miller said.

There’s been push back on the Resources Committee. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said the bill would shift liability for contamination away from the utilities and onto property owners.

“I’m concerned that nobody’s going to be responsible,” Wielechowski said. “I mean, should the manufacturer possibly be responsible? Should the person who’s applying it be responsible? It would seem to me, there should be some responsibility somewhere other than the person who has absolutely no say about where these poles go.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is studying the issue.

“We know what the product does and its toxicity. That’s been clearly defined by EPA,” Kristin Ryan, who heads DEC’s spill response and prevention division, said.

Ryan told Senators that recent samples were taken to see whether the pesticide leaches power poles. She said DEC doesn’t expect results for at least several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Yilli Ferati of Anchorage

Fri, 2018-02-16 15:24
Yilli Ferati of Anchorage (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Yilli Ferati in Anchorage. Ferati is a bartender at Fiori D’Italia, which his family owns. He claims to have the largest whiskey collection in the state.

Listen now

FERATI: When I first got into it, I got thrown behind the bar, and people come in, they order whiskey and ask you questions of how does it taste, what do you think, this and that. I didn’t like whiskey at first, so throughout the days, I just started trying different things and came across a certain bottle, the Balvanie, and decided, “Wow, I really like this stuff.” It took me a while.

A couple years ago, say about five years ago, I had a guy from Diageo come in, and he was a master of whiskey. And he walked into the bar with their reps, and he takes a stop and he looks left and right.And the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t believe this is in a neighborhood bar in Spenard.

People come now and they want to try new things. I do classes and stuff like that. They just love it; they want to learn. They love to learn. And that’s kinda propelled my whiskey knowledge.

As far as I know, nobody’s ever came to say [otherwise], but we have the biggest whiskey collection in Alaska. I was just put in a Thrillist arcticle for top whiskey bar in the state. Pretty honorable. It’s still growing, there’s bottles added every week.

We want you to relax, enjoy, have a good time. Especially if you’re at the bar. Meeting my regulars, and everybody… it makes the bar seem fun. It makes my job fun to ee everybody else happy.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Rising populations, threat of disease prompt renewed interest in bat research

Fri, 2018-02-16 14:44
Myotis Lucifugus — better know as a little brown bat. (Photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Bats are a pretty low priority for most Alaskan biologists, but that could be changing due to a recent uptick in the creature’s population. Add to that a disease that’s been killing millions of bats in the Lower 48, and Alaska might be taking note with the rest of the nation very soon.

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Myotis Lucifugus — better know as a little brown bat. They’re the most widely dispersed bat species in North America. Only weighing about half an ounce, they’re also the most common bat in Alaska.

Research here has only started gaining traction within the last 10 years. Biologists are working to gather even the most basic data about the creatures — and now with the added urgency of a deadly threat knocking at the door.

Jesika Reimer is an assistant zoologist at the Alaska Center for Conservations Science, based out of the University of Alaska Anchorage. She studies bats in northern latitudes in the U.S. and Canada.

“I think that the spread of white-nose syndrome — this fungus that’s killing millions of bats out east — people have become more interested in bats and as more people start to look at bats in Alaska and realize that they’re here and that they’re surviving and persisting, there’s more interest in other people kind of jumping on the bandwagon and looking at them as well,” Reimer said.

Caused by a fungus growing and spreading in the confined spaces of bat colonies, white-nose syndrome can have a mortality rate of 90 or even 100 percent and little brown bats are especially susceptible to the disease.

Over the last decade, white-nose syndrome killed over five million bats in the Lower 48 and has been working its way across the U.S. and Canada.

In 2016, researchers found the fungus in Washington state and it might only be a matter of time before it reaches Alaska. With such minimal data available, it could be difficult to know if or when white-nose syndrome arrives and what the effects might be. Bats just haven’t been a high priority species to research.

“Alaska’s a huge place and so if you’re going to pick something to study, you’re gonna go for the ones that people are really interested in or that need to be harvested or that contribute to the local economy in some way,” Reimer said. “And so bats are kind of this novelty species that may be a luxury item — when money becomes available you can can look at them, but until then they’re not really on the radar for most people.”

A bat with white-nose syndrome (National Park Service photo)

Doing research in Alaska can be tough — access, weather, geography— but a little technology goes a long way. Using specialized recording devices that can pick up bats’ high frequency echolocation, researchers can collect all sorts of general information about their subjects.

“And so by putting out these passive recorders, we can record those high frequency echolocations, bring that back to the office and tell what type of bat was there, what were they doing, when where they there and start matching that with climate data to say, ok, what sort of environmental factors were dictating whether we were catching bat noise or whether we got radio silence,” Reimer said.

Bat audio can even allow researchers to determine some specific behaviors like drinking or hunting. There’s a steady consistent tweeting noise in the bat’s screech. That’s what’s called a search phase. The bat is flying around, sending out pulses of sound that might bounce off a mosquito or some other other insect.

There’s also what’s called the terminal buzz. At this point, the bat’s zeroed in on a meal and is essentially locking on with echolocation.

The recorders do have their shortcomings though. Jessica Faust is a masters student at UAA studying bats in the Chugach National Forrest.

“You know, they have a directional microphone, so it can’t pick up everything and just because we didn’t record a bat in a certain area, doesn’t mean that bats never use that area,” Faust said. “On that note, you can also have 100 sound files from one night and you can’t tell the difference between if it was 100 bats that passed by or if it was one bat that passed by 100 times.”

Faust says the recorders can’t really give researchers a solid population estimate, but the typical method of netting and tagging bats isn’t always that effective either. Since bats are nocturnal, the best time to find them is at night. Summers in Alaska provide a unique challenge for researchers.

“I’ve had so many nights in the field where I’ve seen so many bats just go by and you can see them flying near the net, they see it, and fly right around it,” Faust said.

Not to mention when they do catch a little brown bat, they need to tag the tiny thing.

“I thought it was so funny, when I first held one, it’s like they’re holding their mouth like wide open and they look like they’re just like smiling and happy and then you realize that they’re screaming, but it’s too high pitched for you to hear,” Faust said. “I think they’re hilarious to handle.”

While researching bats in Alaska can be an uphill battle, organizations like the Alaska Center for Conservation Science and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been enlisting the public’s help. In Southeast where bats are more abundant, Fish and Game have a program where the public can borrow a recording device, attach a microphone to their car and record bats while driving along an established route.

Citizen scientists can also get involved by turning in dead bats to Fish and Game or letting the Center for Conservation Science know if you have bats roosting in your house.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate appointee drops out after controversial Facebook comments scrutinized

Thu, 2018-02-15 18:19
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker listens during a press availability in June 2017. Walker’s second choice to fill the vacant Senate District E seat withdrew on Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Sutton resident Tom Braund withdrew Thursday from consideration to fill the vacant Senate District E seat, a day after he became Gov. Bill Walker’s second choice for the position.

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The appointment touched off criticism of Braund’s history of social media posts about women, abortion and immigration.

Braund’s posts to Facebook received scrutiny after Walker appointed him.

They include a response to a post in 2017, where Braund said if he “had the reins … abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”

Another post compared women and dogs. Braund didn’t respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.

Jessica Cler works for Planned Parenthood’s lobbying organization in Alaska. She said Walker shouldn’t have appointed Braund.

“I think it’s unacceptable and shocking that someone with a history of disparaging women and making violent remarks about reproductive health care providers would be nominated to fill a vacant Senate seat,” Cler said.

The governor’s staff attempted to steer the criticism to Republicans who rejected Walker’s first choice, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke. Walker said multiple Senate Republicans recommended Kowalke’s appointment.

A new possibility to fill the seat emerged Thursday afternoon. The Republican Party advanced retired Palmer small business owner Vicki Wallner to replace Braund as one of three nominees. Once Walker makes a new appointment to replace Mike Dunleavy, Senate Republicans will decide whether to confirm the person.

The other nominees for the seat were Rep. George Rauscher and teacher Todd Smoldon.

A Walker spokesman said that Rauscher disqualified himself by making light of an alleged violent attack on a woman.

Rauscher said he wasn’t make light of anything. The dispute is over a sign Rauscher posted on his door after he read about an alleged assault by former Rep. Zach Fansler. The sign said Rauscher’s office was a “BDSM-free zone.” Fansler reportedly used the initials in a text to the woman.

Rauscher said the sign wasn’t intended as a joke, but was a message directed at Fansler.

“There was really nobody in the Capitol at all that day,” Rauscher said. “It was on the door for approximately 40 minutes as a statement to the representative across the hall.”

For his part, Smoldon said before Braund withdrew that he could be the only one of the nominees who isn’t disqualified.

But late Thursday, the governor wrote to Republican party leadership that he was rejecting both Rauscher and Smoldon. He asked district Republicans to submit two more names.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

Thu, 2018-02-15 18:12

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

Listen now

Murkowski, Sullivan split as immigration reform mires in Senate

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

The future of immigration reform was in doubt Thursday, after two proposals failed to win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s U.S. senators split their votes, on both measures.

Senate appointee drops out after controversial Facebook comments scrutinized

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

A new possibility to fill the seat emerged. The Republican Party advanced retired Palmer small business owner Vicki Wallner to replace Braund as one of three nominees.

Mallott lambasts Juneau’s annexation bid

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Juneau is not behaving like a good neighbor. During a Wednesday speech to the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit, he lambasted officials for trying to annex parts of nearby Admiralty Island.

Air Force completes another round of cold-weather tests on F-35s at Eielson

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Air Force has completed another round of cold-weather testing on the F-35A that has been undergoing a series of tests at Eielson Air Force Base since it arrived in October. The testing is being conducted in preparation of two squadrons of F-35s that’ll be based at Eielson beginning in 2020.

Juneau Assembly approves 24-hour anchor rule

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

Vessels outside Juneau’s harbors in city waters will need a permit if they drop anchor for more than 24 hours. Port officials say the rule change is designed to prevent derelicts.

Unalaskans want to follow other Alaska communities by banning plastic bags

Zoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Unalaska

This is not Unalaska’s first attempt to ban single use bags. In 2013 a petition asking the city council to “eliminate the use of plastic bags by Unalaska stores” circulated around the community, but went nowhere.

Kenai Borough may ask tax payers to help pay for a new Kachemak Selo school

Renee Gross, KBBI – Homer

Kachemak Selo, a small Russian Old Believer village at the head of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, has been dealing with deteriorating school buildings for years. The school, built about 30 years ago, has cracks in the walls and students have testified at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly that they feel they’re at risk every time they enter the buildings.

Meet Utqiaġvik’s Arctic Youth Ambassador, Eben Hopson

Ravenna Koenig, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Fairbanks

“I feel like me carrying his name is a big deal for me because he did things for our people during his time. And I feel I need to do something for our people during this time,” Hopson said about his grandfather.

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson exceeding his Olympic expectations

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Scott Patterson, Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield will compete in the men’s 15k skate race tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Meet Utqiaġvik’s Arctic Youth Ambassador, Eben Hopson

Thu, 2018-02-15 17:01
Eben Hopson, standing in the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik, Alaska in January, 2018. The photo behind him is of Nalukataq, the spring whaling festival. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk).

A new cohort of Alaskan teens started as Arctic Youth Ambassadors this past fall. Among other things, the program provides an opportunity for young people across the state to represent the concerns of their communities on an international level.

One of those ambassadors is Eben Hopson, a 17-year-old in Utqiaġvik who’s worried about how changes in the environment are already transforming his hometown.

It’s five o’clock on a school night and Eben Hopson is standing in the lobby of the Iñupiat Heritage Center pointing to a huge photo in the middle of the room.

“Here’s a 360-degree wide shot of the spring whaling festival called Nalukataq,” Hopson said. “What they do is they distribute every part of the whale. Here’s my sister Jessica right there, my brother Jonathan, and me.”

This is not the only piece in the museum that Hopson has a personal connection to. An intricate baleen ship that Hopson’s father made sits in a glass case just behind us. And a few steps further into the lobby is the expansive wooden desk that belonged to his grandfather — Eben Hopson Sr., the hugely influential first Mayor of the North Slope Borough.

An exhibit in the Iñupiat Heritage Center dedicated to the first mayor of the North Slope Borough, Eben Hopson Sr. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“I feel like me carrying his name is a big deal for me because he did things for our people during his time. And I feel I need to do something for our people during this time,” Hopson said.

When Hopson thinks about the future of the North Slope, the thing that weighs most heavily on his mind is climate change. Like many places in Alaska, Utqiaġvik is experiencing coastal erosion, and Hopson says he worries that by the time he’s 50, they might have to move the town.

Last year Hopson actually made a short movie about climate change that he shared online — featuring interviews that he did with town residents, including the city mayor.

Eben Hopson, livestreaming one of the high school basketball games in Utqiaġvik in January, 2018.(Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Hopson loves photography and video; part of his current after-school job is filming the high school basketball games for the coaches and the community. He says that in the future he’d also like to make movies about whaling from an insider’s perspective. He thinks that what most of the media represent about this place to the outside world doesn’t show the whole picture.

“What they see up here, and what they do with their cameras…. Like during whaling season, they only focus on the blood; they only focus on what they see as bad,” Hopson said. “And me being a native kid in this community, I feel like I’ll bring out what I see, traditionally.”

Hopson says that after high school, he hopes to get his bachelor’s degree in either film or journalism so he can be part of shaping the stories that are told about the place he calls home.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Sullivan split as immigration reform mires in Senate

Thu, 2018-02-15 16:15
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been hashing out an immigration bill with senators of both parties. (Image: C-SPAN)

The future of immigration reform was in doubt Thursday, after two proposals failed to win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s U.S. senators split their votes, on both measures.

One was President Trump’s plan to grant legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants and spend at least $25 billion on border security.

The other was a bipartisan compromise that would have legalized the same number of immigrants and spent $25 billion on border security, but over 10 years. And the bipartisan plan did not curtail family-based immigration as much as Trump wants. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group that’s been trying to get a compromise bill on immigration for weeks. She says it was uplifting to see Republicans and Democrats sit down and come to an agreement on tough issues.

“We worked hard. We got a product,” Murkowski said. “It’s not a product that we are all in love with, but it’s a product that we can support.”

Earlier in the day, Murkowski stood with 15 of her colleagues at a press conference to promote their compromise.

One of Murkowski’s closest Senate allies, Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-chairs the group. They call themselves the Common Sense Coalition. When a reporter asked about the White House reaction to their solution, Collins turned the mic over to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It’ll be more colorful,” Collins promised.

Graham was not shy.

“So you got the president, who is, most days, pretty good on this. The Jan. 9th-Tuesday-Trump was awesome,” Graham said. “Show back up. Get us to a solution. Obama tried. Bush tried. Mr. President, you can do this.”

But Trump tweeted vehemently against the bipartisan measure. He said it would be a catastrophe, amnesty for criminals and result in open borders. His cabinet lobbied Capitol Hill, urging senators to vote no. Trump said Democrats who want to help the young immigrants known as DREAMers should support his plan instead.

In the end, neither measure passed the 60-vote threshhold. The bipartisan compromise got 54 votes. Most of the nos came from Republicans, but three Democrats also voted no. (Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said it went too far toward Trump’s goal of a border wall.)

A grim Sen. Graham blamed both sides.

“Well, I don’t think the president helped very much,” Graham said. “But the bottom line is: The demagogues won again, on the left and the right.”

The Trump plan got only 39 votes.

Among them: Sen. Dan Sullivan’s. In a statement afterward, Sullivan called the bipartisan plan well-intentioned but said it would have weakened border security and rewarded people for entering the country illegally. A spokesman said the senator talked with the Homeland Security secretary beforehand.

Sullivan called America “a nation of immigrants,” but said immigration must be based on the rule of law.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage skier Scott Patterson exceeding his Olympic expectations

Thu, 2018-02-15 15:20

Alaska sent a record number of athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. Alaskans can tune in live to the men’s 15 kilometer skate race. There are three cross-country skiers from Alaska in that race, including Scott Patterson, who sent an update from the Olympic Village.


Anchorage skier Scott Patterson joins his fellow APU teammates Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield on the start line of the 15 kilometer skate race, which can be streamed live in Alaska tonight, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott lambasts Juneau’s annexation bid

Thu, 2018-02-15 11:40
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott addresses the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Juneau. He urged capital city leaders to talk more with its neighbors about annexation plans. (Photo by Heather Holt)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Juneau is not behaving like a good neighbor.

During a Wednesday speech to the Southeast Conference Mid Session Summit, he lambasted officials for trying to annex parts of nearby Admiralty Island.

Leaders from Angoon, the island’s only city, oppose what they call a land grab.

“Juneau needs to recognize that it’s the capital of Alaska but also the regional center of Southeast,” Mallott said. “And it has a responsibility and an obligation to reach out affirmatively to every other community in Southeast and say, ‘Let’s be neighbors and let’s work together and let’s build a place that is unassailable by the Legislature or anyone else who would seek to divide us.’”

The Juneau Assembly voted in January to add four parcels to its borough, including parts of northern Admiralty Island.

It later dropped one parcel after hearing objections from cabin-owners, most of whom live in Juneau.

A former Juneau mayor, Mallott said officials should respond similarly to objections from the island’s traditional residents.

“The people of Angoon feel so passionate and spiritual about all of Admiralty Island,” Mallott said. “They’re concerned about economic development on that side of the island now. What’s the future of their island, that they share with the rest of our country as one of the most beautiful places on the face of the Earth.”

Most of Admiralty Island’s million acres are protected as a national monument.

It’s used for subsistence hunting and fishing. But it also has a mine on its north end that has already been annexed by the capital city.

Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch said Mallott is wrong about officials not reaching out to its neighbors.

“We attempted to go over to Angoon several times and were not able to find one (time) that was acceptable to the mayor and the group over there that we were trying to meet up with,” Koelsch said.

Koelsch said he’ll continue to try to set up a meeting. He also noted that Angoon Mayor Pauline Jim has since come before the Assembly.

Angoon residents cite their traditional ties to the island.

Koelsch said Juneau also has longtime connections to the land it’s trying to annex. The land includes historic trade routes and areas are claimed as traditional territory by Juneau’s Aak’w Kwáan and Taku Kwáan.

The annexation process can take a least a year.

Koelsch said that gives Angoon and other opponents more chances to object.

“The Local Boundary Commission that’s set up by the state has public hearings once we put the application in and it involves everyone possible that could be affected by it,” Koelsch said.

Juneau began looking at the parcels after losing a boundary battle with Petersburg.

Both boroughs claimed rights to absorb acreage on the mainland between the two communities.

Juneau lost, in part because Petersburg petitioned for the property first. So it began looking at other areas within model borough boundaries set years before.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker chooses Sutton resident for Senate after Republicans reject top pick

Thu, 2018-02-15 11:13
In this screen capture from Facebook taken Feb. 14, 2018, Tom Braund used graphic language describing his views on abortion in a comment made last year. Gov. Bill Walker announced Wednesday night that the Sutton resident is his second pick to fill a vacant state Senate seat.

Gov. Bill Walker appointed Sutton resident Tom Braund on Wednesday night as his second choice to fill the vacant Senate District E seat.

Braund is a retiree who has said he worked in public safety for more than 30 years. He declined to give an interview to Alaska Public Media last month, saying that he distrusts the media. His Facebook page said he works at Ripe Harvest, a Christian-based organic food business.

The appointment follows the Republican members of the state Senate voting Wednesday to reject Matanuska-Sustina Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke.

Kowalke was Walker’s first choice to replace Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy resigned from the seat in January to focus on his run for governor.

In a letter to Senate Republicans, Walker said members of the Republican-led Senate majority actually encouraged Kowalke’s appointment.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process. That process involves appointing someone who has support from district parties.

The district party nominated three people: Rep. George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon and Braund.

Walker said in the statement announcing Braund’s appointment that he believes Senate Republicans “will continue to reject anyone I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person’s name is on the list provided to me by the Republican Party.”

Braund’s posts on Facebook contain potentially controversial material. They include a response to a post in 2017 saying if Braund “had the reins …  abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”

Braund wrote in another post that unauthorized immigrants who bring children to the country are trying to bring the United States “back under Mexican authority by continuing the Mexican-American War.”

Rauscher’s Senate chances may have been set back by a recent incident.

After a woman alleged former Rep. Zach Fansler repeatedly slapped her, a sign appeared on Rauscher’s office door saying the office was a “BDSM-free zone.” The phrase refers to various sexual practices. The sign referred to a Juneau Empire newspaper report that Fansler used the initials in a text message he sent to the woman after the alleged assault.

Smoldon has said that not enough has been trimmed from the state budget. Two other Mat-Su senators – Dunleavy and Shelley Hughes – left the majority caucus over differences over the budget and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018

Thu, 2018-02-15 10:33

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

Listen now

Senate Republicans reject Walker’s Senate pick, Kowalke

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process.

Seavey attorney: Report shows musher didn’t drug dogs

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process.

To get good credit, Alaska’s fishing towns may have to factor in climate change

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

While the state’s credit rating may be safe as climate changes, fishing communities in Alaska face uncertain economic futures.

Unalaska pays thousands to sink already sunk boat

Zoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Unalaska

The state scuttled the F/V Akutan last month with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, but they moved forward before collecting funds from the city.

Panel to ensure inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility for all UAF workers, students

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new group has begun work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to help ensure all people who work or study at the UAF are treated equally. The Chancellor’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Task Force will study the institutional barriers that hold back women and other under-represented groups from advancing up the ranks of faculty or administration, and to propose solutions to those problems.

Training accident ends Anchorage snowboarder Mancari’s Olympics

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The Anchorage snowboarder revealed she ruptured both Achilles tendons. Mancari was set to compete in the women’s snowboardcross event on Friday.

Sadie Bjornsen is “knocking on the door” of an Olympic medal

Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The women’s 10 kilometer skate race airs Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 9:30 p.m. and the 4×5 kilometer relay airs in Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 12:30 a.m.

Two lives that came together at the top of the world

Ravenna Koenig, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Fairbanks

“He does not remember meeting me,” Nancy Grant says of her first encounter with her now-husband, Andrew Grant. “I do, too!” he insists.

Categories: Alaska News

To get good credit, Alaska’s fishing towns may have to factor in climate change

Wed, 2018-02-14 18:40
Fishing trawlers lined up in Dutch Harbor, on Sep. 24, 2013, in Unalaska, Alaska. (Photo courtesy/James Brooks)

Late last year one of the world’s largest credit rating agencies announced that climate change would have an economic impact on the U.S.

Moody’s suggested that climate risks could become credit risks for some U.S. states.

Even though Alaska is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., its credit rating doesn’t seem to be in danger. But take a closer look at some of the state’s coastal communities and the story changes, especially when Alaska’s fishing towns consider adding climate risks to their balance sheets.

Frank Kelty is the mayor of the Unalaska, a tiny town is on an island sandwiched between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, near some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

Kelty has been there for 45 years, and lately, he’s seen a lot of changes.

“We’ve had a huge increase in humpback whales coming right into the inner harbor by the road system. Just hundreds of them hanging around,” he said.

People have been pulling off of the road to watch what he calls the “whale show.”

“Traditionally, the whales would be out in the pass and we’d hardly ever see them in town. But now they’re coming into the inner harbor,” Kelty said. “They must be feeding on something. I don’t know if it’s krill or salmon smolt, or what … maybe their cycle’s off too. I don’t know.”

Some of the other changes in the Bering Sea aren’t as entertaining.

“Two years ago we missed our herring season because the herring had already moved into the area and left when the fishery opened in July,” Kelty said.

In Unalaska, fishing is a primary driver of the economy. When the fish don’t show up, Kelty said the city starts to lose money.

“It’s our only industry in this area,” he said. “And the trickle-down effect you get for jobs throughout the community, be it the clinic, city workers, State of Alaska workers that work for fish and game and maintain the airport, things like that, it’s all driven by the health and well being of the seafood industry.”

It’s really not surprising that some of Alaska’s communities rely on one industry to keep them afloat. The whole state has traditionally relied on oil to pay for almost everything.

The state’s treasurer and debt manager, Deven Mitchell, said even though Alaska is at the forefront of visible effects of climate change these things really aren’t a risk to the state’s credit.

But, the state isn’t the only entity that needs a credit rating. Sometimes, cities need them too. Valdez and Kodiak have had them in the past. The rating helps determine how cheaply a community can borrow money to finance things like big infrastructure projects.

In Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, climate change is a very real, if not somewhat unpredictable, threat to the economy.

Like, there has been this massive decline in the population of cod in the Gulf of Alaska. That’s a big money fish in places like Kodiak. Commercial fishermen land millions of pounds in Alaska each year. This year, the amount they’re allowed to catch has been cut by 80 percent.

Mitchell says that’s where he sees the most economic risk for communities in Alaska.

“Is it…just a normal cycle in the fishery? Or is it something that you know, this ocean acidification issue, or warming, the blob, whatever is going to create a permanent situation?” Mitchell said. “Is there an alternative fishery that might develop as a result of that? From, you know, tuna moving in or something that’s a warmer water fish that the people in Kodiak are going to be able to rely on? Or is it, you know, the end of a community’s economy?”

This is something that fisheries scientists have been trying to get a grasp on in Alaska. Beyond asking what will happen to fish, what will happen to fishermen and the fishing communities that rely on them?

Stephen Kasperski is an economist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said researchers are trying to model the impact on fishermen as the fleets move around to keep up with the fish.

He said they build these economic models with information they have on fishing revenues by vessel, where vessels deliver and where fishermen are catching.

Kasperski said the researchers take that catch data and then model where the fishing fleet might end up.

“And then, you know, tying that back to where do we think the economic impacts are happening? Saying, for this change in fisheries landings in these given communities, how much does that mean for fisheries support business? For processors? For people who support that industry, and kind of get a sense of the total economic impact from those changes,” he said.

When considering economic impact to the city, Mayor Kelty brings up pollock. Unalaska is the top fishing port in the country and the vast majority of that volume comes from pollock that fishermen bring in from the Bering Sea.

Every year, those fishermen come to Unalaska and spend millions of dollars on fuel and groceries.  There’s this whole industry built around what happens to the pollock they catch. Some of it comes into the port and goes into these huge multi-million dollar processing facilities. That means jobs and property taxes for the city.

But there’s evidence that pollock are sensitive to sea temperatures. Kelty said there’s this concern that with warmer water, they could move farther offshore.

It’s going to have a major impact to our shoreside facilities because of the distance the catcher vessels have to run and cause a major problem for the products that we produce in this town,” he said.

Members of Kasperski’s team have modeled the economic impacts of climate change on pollock in the Bering Sea.

They’re expecting a drop in pollock catch in the region through the next half a century. Their modeling showed economic losses that, while relatively small percentage-wise, could add up to billions of dollars.

But, there are other factors. Like, if there are fewer pollock — will the price go up? What happens if fuel prices spike? Kasperski says all of these studies have caveats. It’s hard predict what fish or fishermen are going to do in response to a changing marine ecosystem.

He also says there’s no conclusive evidence that any fleet in Alaska is going to need to move — leaving a community high and dry anytime soon.

“Nothing has come up that clear,” he said. “I think the mayor is right. That these are big boats that are capable of doing that, especially the pollock fleet. Whether or not we get more fish processing farther north — that’s kind of an open question depending on, you know, if it makes sense to open a bigger plant in Nome if the species are closer there.”

Back In Unalaska, Kelty said it’s not really a pressing concern for the city’s bottom line right now.

“We just did a $40 million bond for upgrades to our main port facility,” he said, “and we were able to get the bonds, so at this time I don’t think we’re worried about our credit rating.”

Categories: Alaska News

Seavey attorney: Report shows musher didn’t drug dogs

Wed, 2018-02-14 17:51
Defending Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey greets his leaders prior to the ceremonial start of Iditarod 2016. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.) An attorney for four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey released a toxicology report Wednesday that he says proves the musher did not drug his dogs in last year’s race. Seavey has claimed innocence since the Iditarod announced in October that dogs on his team tested positive for the banned painkiller Tramadol. And according to the new toxicologist’s review, Seavey’s dogs did not receive Tramadol until hours after reaching the finish line in Nome. Clint Campion, a former District Attorney, said that proves Seavey did not give the drug to the dogs and that someone else did. Campion revealed the new information at a press conference organized by a Bay Area public relations firm. Seavey has hired both Campion and the firm to represent him. “He doesn’t want to speculate about why someone would do that or who might’ve done that,” Campion said. Still, some have speculated that a rival musher or someone opposed to dog mushing tried to sabotage Seavey. Seavey finished second in the race and was away from the dog yard when he says the doping occurred. The Iditarod did not penalize him for the positive tests. The race’s board said they made that decision because of an ambiguous rule that has since been rewritten. But Seavey withdrew from this year’s race in protest after the Iditarod named his dogs as those that’d failed the tests. On Wednesday, Campion said the Iditarod should admit it made a mistake.

“We’d like them to say that we mistakenly released Dallas’ name, that the evidence shows that it’s completely unclear or it’s impossible to believe that Dallas would’ve this and that we want to remove any suspicion about Dallas’ involvement in drug doping,” Campion said.

Seavey’s evidence comes in the form of the 20-page report, written by Patricia Williams, an expert toxicologist who lives in Louisiana. Williams described herself as a huge fan of the Iditarod. Williams said she offered to conduct the review for free after hearing what’d happened. “I was shocked, and I said, ‘Whoa.’ I said, ‘Look, let me get all the lab work and let me see what I can see,'” Williams said. Williams said she saw a lack of understanding on the part of the Iditarod’s toxicologist in how quickly dogs metabolize Tramadol, as well as evidence the testing instruments were not calibrated correctly. Williams also said the high levels of Tramadol found in the tests indicate the drug was given well after Seavey arrived in Nome. “This is definitely a dosing after the trail,” Williams said. “Every musher should be worried about this. Every sponsor should want to tighten security and make sure this never happens again.” Campion, Seavey’s attorney, agrees that security needs to be improved and said the Iditarod should adopt anti-doping regulations more in line with the International Federation of Sleddog Sports. He said that would bar the release of a musher’s name if a confidential investigation finds doping rules have not been broken. Asked if Seavey is considering legal action in regards to the release of his name, Campion said the musher is not ruling anything out. “I mean, his goal is to move forward from this, but he hasn’t taken anything off the table,” Campion said. “As to the next steps, we’re not ready to talk about that yet.” In a written statement, the Iditarod Board of Directors said it’s not ready to talk about the report, saying the board is still reviewing the new information. But the board’s news release Wednesday repeated earlier statements that the board never blamed Seavey directly for the positive drug tests. The 2018 Iditarod starts March 3.
Categories: Alaska News

Senate Republicans reject Walker’s Senate pick, Kowalke

Wed, 2018-02-14 17:46
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, vice chair of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee at the time, discusses the state operating budget in April 2015 as Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, Sen. Pete Kelly, left, R-Fairbanks, and then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, right, listen. The Senate Republicans voted to reject Gov. Bill Walker’s appointee, Randall Kowalke, to replace Sen. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Republican members of the state Senate voted Wednesday to reject Matanuska-Sustina Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke to join the body.

Gov. Bill Walker appointed Kowalke to replace Mike Dunleavy, pending the senators’ confirmation.

Dunleavy resigned from the District E seat in January to focus on his run for governor.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said the rejection was based on Walker not following the traditional process, which process involves appointing someone who has support from district parties.

“This is no reflection on the quality of the human being that Randall Kowalke may or may not be,” Micciche said. “He seems like a fine man. The reality of it is we feel that there is a process and we request that the governor respect that process.”

Kowalke said he was about to enter an Ash Wednesday service at church when Walker called him to tell him the news.

Kowalke said he hopes that whoever joins the Senate caucuses with the Republican-led majority. Dunleavy had left the caucus.

“I wanted to see us be able to work in a collaborative way to get what needs to be done for the citizens of District E specifically and for the state generally,” Kowalke said.

The district party nominated three people: Rep. George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon and organic food worker Tom Braund.

Walker, a former Republican turned independent, said members of the Republican-led Senate majority encouraged Kowalke’s appointment.

Walker spokesman Austin Baird says Walker planned to announce his second choice Wednesday evening.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska pays thousands to sink already sunk boat

Wed, 2018-02-14 16:55
The F/V Akutan was moored in Unalaska’s Captains Bay for six months. (Photo by Zoë Sobel/KUCB)

The City of Unalaska will pay $36,000 to help sink a boat that’s already on the ocean floor.

The state scuttled the F/V Akutan last month with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, but they moved forward before collecting funds from the city. That’s left councilors debating whether they should chip in at all. The final vote was almost unanimous.

Councilor James Fitch was all for it.

“We are obligated to pay this because the job has already been done,” Fitch said.

The F/V Akutan was abandoned in Captains Bay in September – following a disastrous fishing season in Bristol Bay, in which the ship’s owner went broke, the crew went unpaid and its 80-ton haul of salmon was declared unfit for human or animal consumption. The Coast Guard assisted the state in performing an emergency scuttle of the processor in late January.

Councilor Roger Rowland was the sole objector — a position he has held for weeks. He says funding this will set an expensive precedent if other mariners decide to abandon boats near Unalaska.

Plus, he says state officials hired Resolve Magone Marine to help with the scuttling before securing municipal funds.

“This contract was let without any guarantee from the city,” Rowland said. “We are not obligated to pay this money.”

It’s unclear how much the disposal cost. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Councilors are also taking steps to avoid future problems with abandoned vessels. They unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting Senate Bill 92, which would create a statewide derelict vessel prevention program and fund.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson also expressed interest in reviewing the city’s status as a “potential port of refuge” — the designation that brought the Akutan to Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Two lives that came together at the top of the world

Wed, 2018-02-14 16:30
Nancy and Andrew Grant, pictured behind the front desk of their hotel in Utqiaġvik in January 2018. (Alaska’s Energy Desk/ Ravenna Koenig)

“He does not remember meeting me,” Nancy Grant says of her first encounter with her now-husband, Andrew Grant. “I do, too!” he insists.

They can both agree, however, that they met while working for the North Slope Borough School District back in 2002. Today, they own and run the Airport Inn in Utqiaġvik — which, as you might guess, is just a few blocks from the town’s runway.

Neither Nancy nor Andrew grew up on the North Slope. Andrew is a self-described Army brat; his family moved around a lot. And while Nancy’s father is from the North Slope village of Wainwright, she grew up in California. She came to Utqiaġvik for the first time as an adult, to attend her grandmother’s funeral.

“At that point in my life, I had just completed college and I had a dead-end job,” Nancy said, “I was providing for me and my son, and I was a single mom.”

After changing her mind a few times about whether it made sense, Nancy decided to stay.

Her husband Andrew attributes his own decision to move up here to a manager he had at a job in Arizona. The manager had worked at Prudhoe Bay, and had met his own wife there. And for months he pestered Andrew to apply for jobs on the North Slope.

“He said, ‘you’re a young man, you need to go to the Slope!’” Andrew remembered. “’You need to get a job up there; meet your wife.’”

Andrew eventually did apply for a job in Utqiaġvik, and got it. Just like that, he found himself moving to the northernmost town in America.

Even though Nancy and Andrew first met at work, they started to get to know each other through a group of singles that attended the same church.

“I’m just not the real hostess type but these other ladies in the group were, so they would woo us with food — you can’t go wrong with food, especially up here — and games, and just fellowship,” Nancy said. “And that was during the winter and spring, and come summertime, they all left and Andrew and I were the only ones here.”

While everyone else was on vacation that summer, Nancy and Andrew spent a lot of time hanging out one-on-one. Pretty soon, they fell in love. And by that winter, they were engaged.

Together, they bought the Airport Inn back in 2015.

It’s hard to capture the sheer number and diversity of the people passing through this small arctic town. But looking through Nancy and Andrew’s guest book is a pretty good way to do it. Under the heading “To See” people have written “polar bears,” “for work,” “a football game,” “family,” “climate change,” and “just to say we’re here.” Nancy and Andrew say that the flow of people includes tourists, arctic researchers, oil and gas industry people and journalists among many others.

The Grants say that one of their favorite things about working in the hospitality industry here is that this place often leaves a lasting mark on the people who visit. For instance, they still get calls from one man who came up from the Florida Keys years ago, and is now a fan of the high school’s football team.

“When we have a football game going on, sometimes he’ll call the hotel and say ‘hi this is so-and-so from down in the Keys. Who’s winning? What’s the score?’” Andrew said. “I just thought that was the neatest thing.”

Valentines Day is Nancy and Andrew Grant’s 14th wedding anniversary.

Categories: Alaska News