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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: 13 min 6 sec ago

Anchorage man beaten, bound and put in dog kennel, police searching for suspects

2 hours 3 min ago
APD police vehicles (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Anchorage Police are searching for five people involved in an assault and kidnapping in East Anchorage.

Police say the suspects abducted and beat 24-year-old Abshir Mohammed on Sunday in a house on the 6500 block of Cimmaron Circle. They allegedly put him in a dog kennel where he was discovered and driven to the hospital by a person who was not believed to be involved with the assault.

On Friday, police released a statement saying Mohammed is still in critical condition and asked for help from the public to find the people who assaulted him.

Police spokesperson MJ Thim said evidence suggests Mohammed was targeted and the assault was not random. However, he said the department has not yet determined why, but they’ve ruled out the possibility that it was a hate crime.

“We have a bunch of theories and that’s what we’re trying to determine which one is the correct one that happened and why,” Thim said.

Officers are searching for four alleged assault suspects — Macauther Vaifanua, Faamanu Vaifanua, Jeffery Ahvan and Tamole Lauina — as well as a fifth unnamed person of interest who is believed to have been at the home where Mohammed was assaulted.

Ahvan and the Vaifanuas face charges of kidnapping and assault while Lauina faces a kidnapping charge.

APD said all five should be considered armed and dangerous.

 

Categories: Alaska News

During NTSB investigative hearing, Ravn announces changes; more to come

3 hours 57 min ago

The fatal Ravn Air crash near Togiak last fall was the focus of the investigative hearing held by the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage on Thursday. Sitting in the audience was Ravn’s new CEO, Dave Pflieger.

“My focus has been, and always will be, on safety,” Pflieger said, “And this is now my fourth airline as a CEO. It’s the very first thing I do, is focus on safety when I get in a company.”

The changes that Hageland Aviation Services has put into effect since last fall’s crash appeared to be well received by members of the National Transportation Safety Board and its Inquiry Committee, but it’s clear that there will be additional recommendations when the investigation is completed. The NTSB wants its report to help build a case to improve Alaska’s aviation infrastructure and bring it closer to the kind of weather services and instrument flying capacities found in the Lower 48.

Categories: Alaska News

Solar eclipse has stargazers excited all over the U.S.

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:59
A solar eclipse reaches totality. (Photo courtesy of Rick Fienberg / American Astronomical Society/ Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) )

This Monday, August 21st, states across the lower 48 will get to see a full solar eclipse, as the moon slides directly in front of the sun for roughly two minutes. People from all over the world are flocking to towns that will fall under the path of the moon’s shadow.

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Solar eclipses are an exciting event for stargazers around the globe, but it has not always been that way.

Though eclipses have been observed for millennia, Dr. Erin Hicks, an astronomer from the University of Alaska in Anchorage, said that until recently they were generally a terrifying shock to the public.

“In science circles, we understood what an eclipse was,” Hicks said. “But in the general population, in the late 1800s even, that information hadn’t disseminated out to become common knowledge. So these events were still this awe-inspiring, what’s happening, we didn’t know this was going to happen today event.”

The last time a total solar eclipse happened above the United States was in 1878. In his new book American Eclipse, author David Barron describes how some farmers who did not know it was coming believed they were seeing the second coming of Christ.

Many cultures developed mythological explanations for eclipses. For example, in Ancient China, people believed the sun was being devoured by a giant dragon and the only way to scare it away was to make as much noise as possible.

Hicks believes that even with more scientific understanding the fascination with this phenomenon has not been lost.

“I think it’s still that awe-inspiring event,” Hicks said. “It’s a time where it brings communities together, reminds us that we all live on this planet, and that we’re part of something much bigger in the universe.”

Between Oregon and South Carolina there is a 70-mile-wide strip of land where the sun will be completely covered by the moon as it passes across the sky. This area is ominously called the “Path of Totality.” Here, not only will it seem like day has turned to night, but viewers will be able to see parts of the sun that normally can’t be observed by the naked eye.

“There’s this atmosphere of the sun called the corona that we don’t see because the primary disc of the sun is very, very bright,” Hicks said. “But once that disc is blocked out we can then see kind of this, it’s often referred to as a ring of fire, this kind of hazy light up there.”

Unfortunately, Alaska is hundreds of miles north of the path of totality. But that doesn’t mean there will not be any observable effects of the eclipse here.

Depending on where you are, a portion of the sun will be blocked. In Anchorage, it will be a little under half. In Juneau just over half, in Utqiagvik, less than a quarter. The eclipse will reach its maximum coverage of the sun between 9 and 9:30am.

Although a portion of the sun will be obscured, it is still important not to stare directly into the sun while viewing the eclipse. For those who want to get a better look without damaging their eyes, the American Astronomical Society has a list of solar eclipse viewing glasses from reputable vendors.

The Museum of Anchorage will be hosting a viewing party on the museum’s front lawn at 8:30am on Monday, with solar telescopes and other eclipse viewing equipment.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds move forward with review of Hilcorp’s Arctic drilling plans

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:54
Hilcorp’s design plans for the gravel island it aims to build in federal waters in the Beaufort Sea, as submitted to federal regulators in 2015. (Image courtesy BOEM)

The federal government is moving forward with its review of Hilcorp’s proposal to drill offshore for oil in the Arctic.

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Called the Liberty Project, it would be the first oil production platform in federal Arctic waters. Hilcorp wants to build an artificial gravel island in the Beaufort Sea, five miles off the coast in shallow waters near Prudhoe Bay. Oil would be carried to shore via a pipeline under the sea floor.

Several similar developments are already operating in state waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released a draft of the environmental analysis for the project this week. The agency is now taking public comments on the proposal through mid-November.

Several environmental groups have already spoken out against the project, citing a months-long gas leak from one of Hilcorp’s fuel lines in Cook Inlet this spring.

In a news release, BOEM said Hilcorp “included numerous measures to mitigate potential impacts” in its project design.

Categories: Alaska News

There’s a new Arctic drilling battle brewing…and it’s not in ANWR

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:48
The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska encompasses important habitat for migratory birds. The vast region is also increasingly promising for oil development. (Photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM)

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) is a region in the Arctic bigger than many U.S. states. But it’s flown under the radar for years, unlike a different chunk of federal land located just to the east: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

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That’s likely to change. A series of promising oil discoveries and a recent move by the Trump administration mean this vast, remote area is about to get a lot more controversial.

In the 1920s, President Warren G. Harding set aside NPR-A specifically for its oil potential. Today, the federal government manages the the petroleum reserve as a “multiple use” area — a place with room for both habitat and oil drilling.

But Melanie Smith, director of conservation science with Audubon Alaska, thinks the name is misleading.

“It’s a somewhat unfortunate name, actually, ‘Petroleum Reserve,” Smith said.

Conservation groups point out that a giant lake in the northeast corner of the Reserve, called Teshekpuk lake, is a globally significant area for migratory birds.

Because of NPR-A’s different federal status, “it took longer to discover just how important and influential and irreplaceable parts of the Petroleum Reserve are, and really realize they are on par with the Arctic Refuge,” said Smith.

That’s right, Smith called parts of the Reserve on par with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The areas have different federal designations, but ecologically — well, birds can’t tell the difference.

In 2013, the Obama administration cited the need to protect “critical areas for sensitive bird populations from all seven continents” when he put close to half of the Reserve off limits to oil and gas leasing, including more than 3 million acres surrounding Teshekpuk lake.

But a lot has changed since then.

At an oil and gas conference in Anchorage this May, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order that, among other things, requires a review of the Obama administration’s plan for managing NPR-A.

“This order, in effect, makes Alaska open for business,” Zinke said as he signed it.

It wasn’t clear exactly what that meant until last week, when the Interior Department sent out a call asking which parts of the Reserve should be opened up to oil and gas leasing. Environmental groups were alarmed because the request made it clear that areas the Obama administration protected could be back on the table.

But the move didn’t come out of nowhere. Andy Mack, head of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, said re-evaluating the plan makes sense. That’s because we know things now we didn’t know four years ago.

It turns out there’s a lot more oil in the Reserve than everyone thought — even as recently as 2013.

“It couldn’t be a more dramatic shift,” Mack said.

Back in 2013, the Obama administration slashed its estimate for the amount of oil in NPR-A — from 10 billion barrels to 1 billion barrels. In the 2000s, the oil industry tried drilling wells in search of oil there, and Mack said they didn’t have much luck.

Plus, when the Reserve’s current plan was crafted in 2013, the industry was focused on a different prize: offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The Obama administration made a tradeoff — it protected parts of the Reserve, but also allowed for a pipeline across a different section of the Reserve, so oil from Arctic waters could be carried to market.

Fast-forward to 2017: Shell has abandoned its Arctic offshore drilling campaign. And over the last year or so, there has been a series of huge oil discoveries in and around the Reserve, including finds by ConocoPhillips and Armstrong Energy. Mack said the promise of NPR-A is a big deal for a state grappling with both a recession and a steady decline in oil production.

“This is certainly some of the most exciting well results we’ve seen, and it really is something that we as a state have to appreciate and understand and capitalize on,” Mack said.

The discoveries come on the heels of the first-ever oil development in NPR-A — a drill site run by ConocoPhillips, called CD5. That started producing oil in 2015, and two more are on the way.

And this could be just the beginning, according to David Houseknecht, one of the U.S. Geological Survey’s top experts on Alaska’s oil resources.

“There’s a lot of potential in all of Northeastern NPR-A for the kinds of discoveries that have just been announced,” Houseknecht said.

But it just so happens that the area with the most oil potential overlaps with the same area that environmentalists say is crucial wildlife habitat.

Nicole Whittington-Evans with the Wilderness Society says the recent oil finds — plus the Trump administration’s executive order “opening Alaska for business” — have groups like hers on high alert.

“We have a strong desire to see this area protected. And we are very concerned about the recent finds and the level of interest for drilling for oil in this extremely important place,” Whittington-Evans said.

If the Trump administration moves to allow oil exploration near NPR-A’s Teshkepuk lake, environmental groups are going to fight it, just as they’ve fought development in the Arctic Refuge for decades. The question is — will a place called a “Petroleum Reserve” capture hearts and minds as easily as the Arctic Refuge?

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:27

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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Alaska senators fault Trump’s tack on racist rally

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

Alaska’s U.S. senators have issued a second round of statements following the rally of White nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This time their criticisms are aimed at President Trump.

Nearly half of structures on dock affected by fire, says processing plant fire witness

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

Details are emerging slowly on the fire at the Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller. The 100-year-old plant caught fire late Tuesday night, and the blaze continued to burn Wednesday. The full scope of the damage is still unclear, but witnesses say it is extensive.

Feds move forward with review of Hilcorp’s Arctic drilling plans

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The federal government is moving forward with its review of the company Hilcorp’s proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean just off the coast of Alaska.

There’s a new Arctic drilling battle brewing — and it’s not in ANWR

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is a region in the Arctic bigger than many U.S. states. But it’s flown under the radar for years — unlike a different chunk of federal land located to the east: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Several inmates charged with assault, rioting at Fairbanks prison

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska State Troopers say they’ve charged several inmates at Fairbanks Correctional Center with rioting and assault for their roles in a disturbance reported at about noon on Thursday.

M/V Tustumena back on the water

Berett Wilber, KUCB – Unalaska

After 75-days in the shipyard, southwest Alaska’s ferry is finally back in the water.

Diving for answers: Will blue king crab come back in the Pribilofs?

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

In the Pribilof Islands, no one’s gotten an accurate count of blue king crab since the population crashed hard in the 1980s. This summer, a marine biologist is trying to change that, with the species’ first in-depth study in more than 30 years. His ultimate goal: determine if blue crab can make a comeback — or if it’s gone for good.

Sun’aq wins grant to study invasive species’ effect on subsistence resources

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

What kind of threat do invasive crayfish in Alaska pose to subsistence resources? That’s a question the Sun’aq Tribe won a grant to study.

Solar eclipse has stargazers excited all around the world 

Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This Monday, August 21st, states across the Lower 48 will get to see a full solar eclipse, as the moon slides directly in front of the sun for two minutes.

Juneau chef crowned King of Seafood at Great American Seafood Cook-Off

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

This month Juneau chefs Lionel Udippa and Jacob Pickard represented Alaska at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.

Categories: Alaska News

Several inmates charged with assault, rioting at Fairbanks prison

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:16
Fairbanks Correctional Center (Photo: Alaska Department of Corrections)

Alaska State Troopers say they’ve charged several inmates at Fairbanks Correctional Center with rioting and assault for their roles in a disturbance reported at about noon on Thursday.

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Captain Ron Wall, who heads up the Troopers’ Fairbanks-based D Detachment said no serious injuries were reported and no escapes or other security breaches occurred during the incident, which was resolved peacefully after about an hour-and-a-half.

Wall said the incident, which authorities are calling a “disturbance,” occurred in the jail’s A Wing. Troopers and Fairbanks Police sent their SWAT-style Special Emergency Response Teams to jail after receiving a report of the incident. They shut down Wilbur Street, which leads to the facility, for about about an hour and 45 minutes.

“The situation is under control, all personnel have been secured and the investigation is now continuing because there will be numerous charges,” Wall said.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that while Wilbur was closed, two ambulance drove into the jail parking lot. But Wall told a reporter that he wasn’t aware of any significant injuries to inmates or correctional officers and that he knew there weren’t any injuries to police or troopers.

An investigation into the disturbance continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska senators fault Trump’s tack on racist rally

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:09
Image of President Trump from WhiteHouse.gov

Alaska’s U.S. senators have issued a second round of statements following the rally of White nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. This time their criticisms are aimed at President Trump.

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“What the President said yesterday was wrong,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote on Facebook Wednesday night, a day after the president’s press conference in Trump Tower. “There is no moral equivalence between those who are inciting hate and division, and those who took to the streets to make it clear that those views are unacceptable.”

Murkowski previously condemned bigotry and anti-semitism, without mentioning Trump or his assertions that “many sides” were to blame for the violence.

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s second Facebook post said, “Anything less than complete and unambiguous condemnation of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK by the president of the United States is unacceptable. Period.”

The senators join a number of fellow Republicans in Congress who say the president should have condemned neo-Nazis and White nationalists more forcefully. This morning, Trump issued a series of Tweets blasting his critics and lamenting the removal of Confederate statues from American cities.

In Anchorage on Thursday, Alaska Congressman Don Young declined to answer a question during a press conference with other Western state House members.

“Congressman, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the events in Charlottesville,” a reporter asked.

“We’re not on that subject right now,” Young responded. “We’re talking about resources. I brought these people up to see it. They’ve seen it. Next!”

Young’s spokesman later provided a written statement that said: “I stand united with Americans from across all corners and demographics of our nation in condemning the violence, hatred and bigotry in Charlottesville, VA.”

Categories: Alaska News

Mental Health Trust leaders resign while organization undergoes special audit

Thu, 2017-08-17 16:43

In the past month, the top three leaders at the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority have submitted letters of resignation. The shake up comes at a time when the organization, which manages funds for mental health and substance abuse programming across the state, is undergoing a special legislative audit over concerns about financial mismanagement.

Interim CEO Greg Jones was appointed in November to lead the organization after long-time CEO Jeff Jessee was ousted. Jones declined a request for an interview, but in his resignation letter he wrote his action “comes at the request of my family and recommendation of friends.”

John Morrison, the Executive Director of the Trust Land Office, has also resigned and will leave his job in September. Morrison, at the direction of the Board, helped the TLO pursue a controversial strategy of investing in commercial real estate as a way to increase income for the Trust.

Board Chair Russ Webb will also leave his position in September. The Trust Authority has started recruiting for his replacement.

A special legislative audit of the Trust was authorized in December after allegations the Board “is not managing its assets in compliance with state and federal law,” the audit request says.

Categories: Alaska News

M/V Tustumena back on the water

Thu, 2017-08-17 15:46

After 75-days in the shipyard, southwest Alaska’s ferry is finally back in the water.

The M-V Tustumena returned to service this week following repairs that canceled 70-percent of its summer sailings. While the vessel gets underway, funds for its replacement aren’t far behind.

The Alaska Legislature approved the money to replace the 53-year-old ferry, according to Aurah Landau [OR-uh LAN-dow] of the Alaska Marine Highway.

“This allows the work to start, and takes what we know the system needs and the communities need and makes it into a physical reality of a boat that can come up and down the Chain,” Landau said.

The cost of building a new vessel is $244 million. The federal government will cover the bulk of that, while the state pays for 10 percent.

Landau said the Marine Highway wants to open the project to construction bids by next winter and have the new ferry ready within five years.

Until then, the Tustumena will make three trips over the remainder of this season. She’s scheduled to arrive in Unalaska on August 26.

Categories: Alaska News

Nearly half of structures on dock affected by fire, says witness of Port Moller fire

Thu, 2017-08-17 15:36
The Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller, which suffered heavy damage during a fire that continued to burn into Wednesday, Aug. 16.
(Peter Pan Seafoods)

Details are emerging slowly on the fire at the Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller. The 100-year-old plant caught fire late Tuesday night, and the blaze continued to burn Wednesday. The full scope of the damage is still unclear, but witnesses say it is extensive.

“The main processing facility is located on the dock. About 40 percent of the structures on the dock were affected by the fire,”  Theo Chesley of Precision Air said. He flew an aerial survey over the smoldering buildings Wednesday morning. “It looked like it could have been much worse, but the main generator systems, the cold storage, the refrigeration plant, the holding area and office all were devastated by the fire. About 60 percent of the other structures there on the dock did not burn. However, they could have been affected by the heat. It’s too early to tell.”

Limited power and water have been restored to the plant. Chesley estimated Thursday morning that there were over a hundred employees at plant employees still in Port Moller. He said that a winter generator survived the fire. It is powering the cafeteria but little beyond that.

“So basically anybody with a pulse and air taxi is trying to help these guys out right now,” Chesley said, describing the effort he and other pilots are making to fly workers out of Port Moller. “Of course the wind is blowing about 35 miles per hour and visibility is not that great, so everybody’s just trying to do what we can and help these people out because they’re in a pretty tough situation.”

Fisherman Jared Danielson fought the blaze early Wednesday morning with a group on the beach while boats tackled it from the water. They worked hard for about two hours to contain the blaze until building where the fire began collapsed.

“After it collapsed in that small area, we couldn’t get to that section that was still blazing. Basically once the wind got to it again, it just spread. We had to basically give up and let it run its course,” Danielson said.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, and the cause of the fire is still not clear. As of Thursday afternoon Peter Pan Seafoods had not provided comment. However, Danielson said a representative from the company spoke to the Port Moller area over VHF radio Wednesday. Danielson also spoke with that representative personally.

“We’re going to rebuild with new state-of-the-art technology is the plan. That’s what I was told,” Danielson said. “This fishery has been around a long time, so would only hope that they would do that. I’m third-generation fisherman in Port Moller. It would be devastating if they were just to let this cannery go away and never rebuild.”

For this year, Danielson said that for most fishing out of Port Moller, this signals an abrupt end to the season.

The fire also poses a complication for hauling boats out of the water. A portion of the dock was cut away to contain the fire. Danielson said that some boats that planned on hauling out for the winter at Port Moller may have to go elsewhere.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau chef crowned King of Seafood at Great American Seafood Cook-Off

Thu, 2017-08-17 15:30
Chef Lionel Uddipa stands inside the downtown restaurant Salt in Juneau on Aug. 10, 2017. His winning dish of Bristol Bay king crab with risotto took first place at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

This month Juneau chefs Lionel Udippa and Jacob Pickard represented Alaska at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.

In a hotel room in New Orleans ahead of the cook-off, the two chefs were sweating.

“The rice wasn’t cooking as well as we wanted it to, our stock didn’t taste how we wanted it to,” Uddipa said. “Going into it, we’re, not gonna lie, pretty nervous.”

Juneau chef Lionel Uddipa’s winning dish at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off: Alaska king crab from Bristol Bay skewered with blueberry branches from Eaglecrest and a risotto made from black cod fish sauce presented Aug. 5, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute)

The rice is a key ingredient in one of Uddipa’s contest risotto. He calls it a lifestyle dish, a comfort food combining aspects from both sous chef Jacob Pickard’s Italian heritage, and his own Filipino roots.

“We eat rice 3 times a day, and we just didn’t want to just scoop rice onto a plate,” Uddipa said. “We wanted to give it some character.”

Together the chefs went through a dozen variations before settling on a plate that represented the seasonality of Alaska’s fisheries: alder smoked Bristol Bay king crab, skewered with a blueberry branches from Eaglecrest, and the risotto garnished with sea asparagus foraged with their toddlers.

In their hotel room the chefs stayed up until 2:30 in the morning workshopping their dishes — tweaking the vanilla ratio, counting out salmon roe — and practicing their presentation.

In front of television cameras and a live audience the following day, they had only 60 minutes to prepare seven plates.

Timing was key as they skewered the crab thighs, smoked the alder wood and made final counts of sea asparagus and salmon roe.

At first, Uddipa’s rice didn’t cook fast enough.

“Five minutes felt like 30 seconds,” Uddipa recalled, knowing if risotto sits out too long, it gets mushy.

Chef Lionel Uddipa and Chopped Jr competitor Denali Schijvens stand outside of Salt on Aug. 10, 2017. Schijvens and Uddipa have been cooking together since Denali was 8. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Back in Juneau outside the restaurant Salt, Uddipa runs into another Juneau-famous chef: 10-year-old Denali Schijvens, who cooked his way to the White House and competed on Food Network’s Chopped Junior.

“I don’t think it really got to his head,” Denali recalled. “I saw his face when he won (Uddipa laughs) it was happy, but it wasn’t — I’m-the-best-no-one’s-better-than-me face.”

The pair have been cooking together since Denali was 8, he considers Uddipa his mentor.

Like Denali, Uddipa grew up around food, helping out his aunt who owned Valley Restaurant. His cousins and siblings would play in the apartment building upstairs.

Uddipa said when the restaurant got busy, “We would just get a phone call from, like, my mom or my aunt and they’d be like, ‘We need help, we need you to come here and polish silverware, wash some dishes,’ and we were always stoked to do it.”

Uddipa’s advice for aspiring chefs like Denali?

“Be humble, and just be willing to learn, always try to improve from yesterday,” Uddipa said.

Uddipa said he still polishes silverware, helping out wherever he’s needed at Salt. His teamwork with Pickard and creative spirit continues in Salt’s hot and humid kitchen.

Bacon lardon sizzles as Pickard slices grapefruit. It’s for tonight’s scallop special.

Sous chef Jacob Pickard prepares the night’s scallop special Aug. 9, 2017, in Salt’s kitchen in Juneau. Pickard and head chef Lionel Uddipa won the 2017 Great American Seafood Cook-off in New Orleans for a risotto that included a black cod fish sauce created by Pickard. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

“It’s going to be a salad made out of shaved Brussel sprouts and zucchini with a grapefruit vinaigrette and champagne with whipped mascarpone and honey,” Pickard said.

They’ve only been cooking together for eight months.

Long before the contest, Pickard started making their winning risotto’s signature ingredient, a black cod fish sauce stored in a downstairs prep kitchen.

“You need to make sure everyone’s at least 100 yards away,” Uddipa said. “And that you use a very large wooden spoon that you’re OK throwing away.”

Uddipa recommends plugging your nose.

But in very modest dabs in risotto, Pickard said the fish sauce adds another level of salty, oceany umami.

The winning dish will be on Salt’s menu of specials soon.

The Alaska Seafood Market Institute sponsored the chefs’ trip to the New Orleans and provided coaching support.

Juneau chef Beau Schooler won the same national competition in 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Sun’aq wins grant to study invasive species’ effect on subsistence resources

Thu, 2017-08-17 12:47
Signal crayfish are not native to Alaska. Discovered in the Buskin River in 2001, the population is now well established and breeding. (Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

What kind of threat do invasive crayfish in Alaska pose to subsistence resources? That’s a question the Sun’aq Tribe won a grant to study. The award was announced Tuesday.

Tribal biologist Kelly Krueger said Sun’aq applied for a Tribal Wildlife grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a year ago. Now, the group will get almost $200,000 in funds as part of a continued effort to study crayfish in the Buskin River watershed.

Krueger said signal crayfish are from the Pacific Northwest, but have been in the watershed for at least 20 years.

“We’re not sure how they got here or even how long they’ve been here, but the population is breeding, and we’re worried about the subsistence resources and the fish that we all rely on and how the crayfish are impacting those resources,” Krueger said.

Krueger said part of the two-year project includes diving down and collecting crayfish for study and then coming back to the spot a month later to see how many of the animals have repopulated.

They’ll also follow the individual crustaceans remotely.

“We’re going to be attaching these little PIT tags,” Krueger said. “They use them for tracking salmon in other fish, but we’re going to be putting them in the crayfish to see where they’re moving so we can see if they’re going down to the bottom of the lake or if they’re moving out into the river.”

They also want to know what the crayfish feed on.

“So, are they eating dead salmon carcasses? Are they eating salmon eggs? Are they just eating insects? We don’t do know,” Krueger said.

The goal is ultimately to better understand what threat the relatively recent crawfish population poses  to the species people have relied on for subsistence for thousands of years.

The other two Alaska-based Tribal Wildlife grant recipients are St. Paul Island for sustainable reindeer management and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska for shellfish population and habitat research in Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

As sea ice recedes, walruses gather near Point Lay earlier than ever

Thu, 2017-08-17 10:11
A curious Pacific Walrus calf checks out the photographer in 2004. (Photo by Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS)

Several hundred Pacific walrus are hauled out on a barrier island near the village of Point Lay, on the Chukchi Sea coast.

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It’s the earliest such haul out since the walrus first started showing up in 2007 — and may be linked to this year’s rapidly retreating Arctic sea ice.

Andrea Madeiros is a spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She said during this time of year, adult female and young walrus in the region usually haul out on sea ice to rest while feeding.

“When that ice retreats to the deeper water, they can’t do that,” Madeiros said. “They need a place to rest after they’ve fed, so they will travel to the shore and haul out there to rest in between feeding periods.”

This year, sea ice in the Chukchi Sea has retreated to the deep water beyond the continental shelf earlier than in the past, Madeiros said. The walrus started gathering on the barrier island near Point Lay around August 3.

As many as 40,000 animals have hauled out on the narrow islands in recent years, putting them at risk for overcrowding. As in the past, Fish and Wildlife and the Village of Point Lay are asking people to stay away from the animals, to avoid causing stampedes.

Fish and Wildlife is currently deciding whether to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups argue that the loss of sea ice threatens to drive the animals toward extinction.

Categories: Alaska News

Why Amazon collects local sales taxes in other states — but not Alaska

Thu, 2017-08-17 10:04
(Creative Commons photo by Adrienne Hoffman)

If you live anywhere in the country with a sales tax, the online retailer Amazon collects it – except in Alaska. Alaska is unique because it’s the only state with local sales taxes but no statewide tax.

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Some in Alaska want to see changes that would affect Amazon and other online sellers.

Lisa Ryals owns Lisa Davidsons Boutique, a women’s clothing store in downtown Juneau. She said as a Juneau resident, she’s disappointed that online retailers who sell similar products don’t collect the city’s 5-percent sales tax.

“My biggest concern is actually for the revenue received for the community,” Ryals said. “When people stop buying locally, they lower their choices that are available, and they lower the funding for municipal things in our community, as in police, fire, emergency, schools, roads and those types of maintenance situations.”

Ryals would like to see Amazon and other online retailers collect sales taxes, like her brick and mortar store.

“I think Amazon should be a big enough company to also be able to have self-regulation and be honest with all of the communities that it’s dealing with,” Ryals said. “By not having employees here that would contribute indirectly into the economy of Alaska, I do think that they have an obligation to Alaskan customers to collect some sort of revenues that let us live here.”

Advocates for municipal government are sympathetic to local retailers. Kathie Wasserman, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, supports simplifying sales tax collection by having a single organization that could collect these taxes. This would require federal action. But until that happens, Wasserman said Amazon should be able to collect local sales taxes — even though each Alaska municipality has its own tax rate and rules on what sales are subject to taxes.

“I mean, if they can get drones to deliver your book to you, I’m sure they could do the sales tax if they really wanted to,” Wasserman said. “Obviously, it’s not top on their agenda.”

As of April, Amazon is collecting sales taxes in every state with one. But some of the collections are voluntary. That’s because federal law only requires companies to pay sales taxes in places where they have physical businesses. For example, in Juneau, Costco and Home Depot collect sales tax on internet sales because they have stores in the city. Amazon has chosen not to collect sales taxes at a local level in several states, including Alaska.

Juneau officials are planning to research in the next six months how much money the city is missing out on without online retailers collecting sales taxes. This would also give the city a better sense of what it could lose in the future as residents make more of their purchases online.

Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said he doesn’t expect Amazon and other retailers without physical locations in Alaska to start collecting sales taxes in the state anytime soon.

“I think it would be good to level that playing field between local retailers who provide things here in Juneau, they employ people that pay rent or they own buildings, and you can’t always wait for somebody to deliver what you need,” Kiehl said. “If you don’t have healthy local retailers, you’re stuck if your only option is to order online.”

Kiehl noted that no change is likely until there’s a change in federal law. There is a bill that would require online retailers to collect local sales taxes. It’s called the Marketplace Fairness Act. But Congress hasn’t passed the bill, which has been introduced several times.

There are communities in Alaska that don’t want to see a change. They include Unalaska, which has a 3 percent sales tax. That falls heavily on fuel for the city’s commercial fishing industry. And Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty noted there are few local sources for many products. So online sales taxes would be costly.

“I know people that buy dog food, 50-pound bags, 100-pound bags of dog food,” Kelty said. “For my goldfish, my aquarium supplies all come from Amazon, because there’s no store. You know, it’s just we have to try and wait for it to come from Anchorage or something by mail.”

Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

There’s no clear resolution on the horizon. But the issue could become more urgent if Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature turn to a sales tax as part of a long-term plan to balance the state’s budget. So far, they have declined to pursue one.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Assembly puts off plastic bag tax vote

Wed, 2017-08-16 18:12

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly has put off voting on a proposal to tax retailers for the plastic bags they give customers — at least for now.

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In its meeting Tuesday night, the Mat-Su Assembly avoided killing the tax proposal altogether, and instead set it aside until December.

The borough’s attorney said the assembly cannot legally ban the bags outright, but it can institute a tax, which is proposed at 10 cents per bag for retailers with annual gross sales of a million dollars.

Supporters say the tax would encourage people to use fewer plastic bags – something they say borough residents are already paying for in terms of filling up the landfill – and could provide funds for recycling programs.

But at least one person opposed to the tax testified last night that it amounted to meddling with the free market.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017

Wed, 2017-08-16 18:04

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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Imprisoned former militia leader Schaeffer Cox has appeal hearing

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Imprisoned former Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox had an appeal hearing Wednesday morning in federal court in Anchorage. Convicted in 2013 of conspiracy and solicitation to murder government officials, Cox is serving 26 years in a federal prison. His appeal centers on whether anyone was specifically targeted.

Governors of 2 pot states push back on Trump administration

Associated Press

Governors in at least two states that have legalized recreational marijuana are pushing back against the Trump administration, and defending efforts to regulate the industry.

Haines Assembly members survive divisive recall election

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

After a contentious recall vote Tuesday, three embattled Haines Assembly members will continue to serve out their terms. Nearly 60 percent of Haines voters rejected the allegations of official misconduct.

Peter Pan Seafoods Port Moller plant devastated in overnight fire

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller has been devastated by a massive fire that burned through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.

Some Alaska cities have sales tax, but not through Amazon

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

If you live anywhere in the country with a sales tax, the online retailer Amazon collects it – except in Alaska. Alaska is unique because it’s the only state with local sales taxes but no statewide tax.

Mat-Su Assembly puts off plastic bag tax vote

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly has put off voting on a proposal to tax retailers for the plastic bags they give customers — at least for now.

As sea ice recedes, walrus haul out near Point Lay earlier than ever 

Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Several hundred Pacific walrus are hauled out on a barrier island near the village of Point Lay, on the Chukchi Sea coast.

Clark’s Point drawing families back to the village by reopening its school

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

When a school closes in rural Alaska, families who stay face tough choices. They can send their children away to school in another village or city, or they can home school their kids. Clark’s Point fought for a third option, to reopen their school. The school, which closed in 2012, will be back in session next week.

Dimond High Presidential Scholar travels to D.C. to receive award

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Earlier this summer, 161 high school seniors from across the United States were selected as U.S. Presidential scholars. Makayla Maisey was one of two scholars selected from Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Assembly members survive divisive recall election

Wed, 2017-08-16 17:21
Tresham Gregg, Heather Lende and Tom Morphet take part in a public forum about the recall election. No recall proponents agreed to participate. (Abbey Collins)

After a contentious recall vote Tuesday, three embattled Haines Assembly members will continue to serve out their terms. Nearly 60 percent of Haines voters rejected the allegations of official misconduct.

As Haines residents filtered into the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall to vote Tuesday, many said they did not want share their thoughts about the recall on the record. But among those who did, some common themes emerged.

“I think the recall thing is kind of stupid today,” Dezra Burkes said. “But I’m here.”

Burkes said the recall grounds just aren’t serious enough to kick anyone out of office.

“It just seems like a bunch of he said, she said nitpicky stuff going on right now,” Burkes said.

The recall effort goes back four months. Recall leaders claimed assembly members Tom Morphet, Tresham Gregg and Heather Lende abused their power by violating the Open Meetings Act and coercing a subordinate borough employee.

The open meetings charge stems from an email one assembly member sent another asking for support on an upcoming vote. The coercion charge comes from when Morphet and Lende advocated for the local police blotter to be made public. Recall leaders said that amounted to coercing the police chief for personal gain, since each had a stake in the newspaper, which publishes the blotter.

“I think that they’re guilty,” Laura McCoy said. She voted ‘yes’ to recall all three.

“It has to do with the way that they’re doing business, and it’s not right,” McCoy said. “Not right at all. They’re doing business when it’s not assembly time and then they come in there with a preconceived notion of this is what we’re gonna do.”

In the final weeks leading up to the election, a recall leader took out advertisements and distributed mailers criticizing the assembly members for a slew of reasons that weren’t actually part of what voters saw on the ballot. In the end, many residents thought the accusations didn’t fit the bill.

“They don’t seem substantial enough to cause this much expense and time, in a time when the borough is struggling financially,” voter Mary Jean Sebens said. “It seems ridiculous.”

Along with Sebens, about 60 percent of Haines voters said ‘no’ to the recall, according to initial results. For those on the assembly, it’s a relief.

“It’s nice to know that the community of Haines hasn’t gone to the dark side in what are really openly troubled times,” Heather Lende said. “And it’s nice to know that we still believe in democracy and the process and each other. I do think we’ve sent a message that treating our elected officials this way is not tolerable.”

Tom Morphet said the local acrimony mirrors a national divide. He also referred to a recent Alaska recall attempt in Homer.

“We’ve become more isolated and divided nationally, and I think that is reflected locally,” Morphet said.

Recall leader Don Turner Jr. has repeatedly refused to speak on tape with KHNS. But he did provide a short statement after the election results. Turner writes that he is disappointed and he hopes the assembly hears the 40 percent of voters who favored the recall.

Recall target Treshem Gregg said this outcome encourages him to try harder to make the changes he wants to see in Haines.

“Maybe now we’ve been given a second green light so we should actually step forward and try to put our best dreams and goals and visions in the forefront,” Gregg said.

The three recall survivors will be joined by three newly-elected assembly members this fall. Haines residents have until Aug. 21 to declare candidacy.

Morphet said he’s worried the recall will scare people away from running.

“I talked to a friend of mine who has previously run for office and he said ‘I’m done, I’m sick of the whole thing,’” Morphet said. “That doesn’t help us, that attitude. And as distasteful and uncomfortable as the recall has been, we have to redouble our efforts to put faith in our community and get past it.”

There is some evidence that Haines will be able to move on. Recall sponsor Turner released a joint statement with Margaret Friedenauer, who helped lead an anti-recall group.

The statement said “We may not agree but we still respect each other and our opinions. We hope all of us can do the same as we move on.”

Categories: Alaska News

Imprisoned former militia leader Schaeffer Cox has appeal hearing

Wed, 2017-08-16 17:17

Imprisoned former Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox had an appeal hearing Wednesday morning in federal court in Anchorage. Convicted in 2013 of conspiracy and solicitation to murder government officials, Cox is serving 26 years in a federal prison. His appeal centers on whether anyone was specifically targeted.

Before he came under investigation Schaeffer Cox was a young, up and coming conservative. He ran for State House and spoke charismatically in Alaska and the Lower 48 in support of 2nd amendment rights and need to ratchet government back to constitutionally defined powers.

”The oldest and most sacred tenant of American constitutionalism is to not trust government, but to bind them down by the chains of the Constitution,” Cox said in a 2010 interview with KUAC radio. “You gotta trust people, and you gotta have high respect for people and let them run their own lives.”

Cox’s trouble with the law began with weapons misconduct and domestic violence charges, but it was his command of a small Fairbanks militia, their accumulation of weapons, and alleged plans to kill government officials, that drew a federal investigation and ultimately murder conspiracy and solicitation convictions.

Evidence against Cox included a “hit list” of targeted officials. His federal appeal said there were no agreements or specific plans to kill any individuals. Federal prosecutor Steve Skrocki counters that by purposefully skipping a state court appearance, Cox laid a path that would ultimately trigger a murder plan called “2-4-1”.

”’We’re going to kill two law enforcement officers or judges or federal officials for every one of us that’s taken or kidnapped,'” Skrocki paraphrased. “And that came right on him; he owned that.”

Cox public defender Michael Filipovic told the three-judge Ninth Circuit Court appeals panel that any action was premised on a government collapse and “Stalinesque” martial law, or a confrontation with a federal hit team Cox was convinced was out to get him.

“That, I would respectfully suggest to the court, is not an agreement with pre-medidation and malice of forethought to kill any one of these individuals,” Filipovic said.

Filipovic challenged that the lack of specific federal targets undermines federal jurisdiction to even prosecute Cox. A large portion of the half hour hearing revolved around Cox’s conviction of soliciting other militia members to commit murder. Judge Richard Clifton questioned prosecutor Skrocki about whether lack of specific plans to kill individuals undermines the solicitation conviction.

“I could understand a conspiracy claim, because once you’ve launched a conspiracy, there is risk emanating from that. But solicitation suggests you’ve got a specific target. And if there is no real target there is that problem,” Clifton said.

“Your honor, I don’t think it takes it that far,” Skrocki rebutted. “I don’t think it takes it that far that you need a real specific target.”

Judge Susan Graber questioned whether Cox would need to be re-sentenced if the solicitation conviction is thrown out, noting that sentences for the conspiracy and solicitation convictions were ordered to be served concurrently. Skrocki said he had not looked into the issue. The judges accepted the appeal for consideration, before moving on other cases.

Categories: Alaska News

Clark’s Point drawing families back to the village by reopening its school

Wed, 2017-08-16 17:04
Clark’s Point kids practice a traditional dance at summer culture camp. On August 21, they will be students at the village school. (Avery Lill/ KDLG)

When a school closes in rural Alaska, families who stay face tough choices. They can send their children away to school in another village or city, or they can home school their kids. Clark’s Point fought for a third option, to reopen their school. The school, which closed in 2012, will be back in session next week.

Clark’s Point is one of two schools in the Southwest Region School District that was closed because it did not meet the 10-student minimum enrollment set by the state. Portage Creek is the other. The school at Portage Creek has been closed since 2005. That village is now largely a summer fishing community with an official year round population of two. Clark’s Point saw its population decline as well after its school closed.

“It was kind of sad. A lot of kids left, a lot of families left,” Clark’s Point resident George Ramondos said.

This year, however, the village saw a brief window of opportunity. The village council heard from residents that they wanted to see the school reopened. As the council explored the option, enough families committed to bringing their children back to Clark’s Point to meet the minimum enrollment.

Clark’s Point School’s modular building arrived in two pieces.
(Avery Lill/ KDLG)

“I’d hear that people wanted back, but they would say, ‘There aren’t jobs. There isn’t a school. If there was housing.’ Suddenly these things are opening up, and apparently they really meant what they said—‘If these things existed, this is the place in the world we’d want to be,’” village administrator Danielle Aikins said.

13 students are registered for this school year. Aikins said it is unlikely the village could have met the minimum enrollment if the process had been put off another year. At least two families, a significant number in a village of 63 people, told the council that they would move if no school opened in the fall.

“We assumed that if we didn’t get the school this year that our village couldn’t sustain itself. That is the impact of not having a school. You don’t get new people wanting to move in because there’s not a school for their children, and you have people having to leave,” Aikins said.

With the headcount in place, the village initiated a conversation with Southwest Region School District. They needed to hire staff and find a new building. Using the old school building was not an option because it needs to be renovated to meet current building code.

“It’s the heart of the community,” Steve Noonkesser, the associate superintendent of the Southwest Region School District, said. “When they came to us and said they came to us and told us they had students and that it was possible to reopen based on the numbers, I think it was more a question of how fast we can do this and how to put the pieces together.”

After a year of working with the school district and other area agencies, the school is set to open on August 21.

Clark’s Point received a block grant from the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation for a modular school building. It was delivered to the village in two pieces. The goal is to have it assembled and utilities connected in time for the first day of school. If construction is delayed, however, classes will be held initially in the village council building.

Shannon Harvilla is the new principal and teacher at Clark’s Point School. (Avery Lill/ KDLG)

The teacher and principal, Shannon Harvilla, arrived from Florida in July. The residents’ enthusiasm and effort were obvious to him even as they communicated with him before his arrival about plans for the school year.

“The kids are excited. The parents are excited. They’ve missed the school tremendously, and it’s just a giant accomplishment to see the hard work of the village come together. They say it takes a village to raise a kid. It took the village to raise a school and bring it back,” Harvilla said.

Members of the community describe the school’s reopening as a dream come true. One said that she and her grandson were packing to leave the village so that he could start school elsewhere when word came that the Clark’s Point School would reopen.

Josephine Ingram’s children were living in Anchorage. She moved them to Clark’s Point last week.

“I’m glad for my kids to be able to come experience picking the berries and looking forward to the moose hunt coming up and the skiff rides, all of that. They’re going to be learning about their culture also,” Ingram said. She said she would have kept her kids in school in Anchorage had Clark’s Point School not opened.

In speaking with Clark’s Point residents, it becomes clear that the school is more than an institution of learning; it is a lifeline for a small community. It has given families with children more incentive to stay, and jobs at the school doubled the number of regular, full-time positions available in the village. Clark’s Point has cleared many hurdles to reopen their school, and they are certain to face more as the school year kicks off. Parents and community members describe many reasons why they want to stay in Clark’s Point and raise their children there – subsistence opportunities, quiet atmosphere and close proximity to family.

“This is home,” longtime resident Diane Tennyson said.

Categories: Alaska News

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