APRN Alaska News
With a surge in vehicle thefts in Anchorage, some residents are taking matters into their own hands.
One group mobilizing through Facebook is reuniting stolen vehicles with their owners. Members of the A Team, as they call themselves, say they are filling a void left by overworked police.
Anchorage police, though, say the A Team has raised concerns about vigilantism that has the potential to be unsafe for its members and the public.
On a recent afternoon, the A Team watched over a stolen pickup in a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes on Cobblecreek Circle, waiting for police officers to arrive.
“We’ve been sitting on a stolen Chevy truck that was stolen last night, early this morning,” Floyd Hall, the heart of the A Team, said.
Hall, 52, sports a dark gray beard and a baseball cap. Some call him a hero. Others say he’s a vigilante. Either way, he’s got this down to a science.
“We’re sitting across the cul-de-sac from it, so we try to stay in sight of it, so we can watch it,” Hall said.
There are only five people on the A Team — the A stands for Anchorage, by the way — but many, many more people feed them tips via Facebook. There is plenty to keep them busy: Police say there have been more than 2,000 stolen vehicles in Anchorage so far this year, already surpassing the number stolen last year and more than double previous years.
The A Team has recovered about 30 vehicles in the past 18 months or so, Hall said.
The case of the maroon Chevy Silverado on Cobblecreek Circle is a perfect example of how the group works: The owner posted a photo of the pickup to the Facebook group “Stolen in Alaska.” Less than 24 hours later, a woman who follows the page saw it parked in front of her neighbor’s house. She called police and also, in her own post, let the Facebook group know.
The pickup’s owner saw the post and messaged Hall. Hall arrived a half-hour before the police, and since then has been “sitting” on it, as they say.
“If someone’s in it, we call APD, 911, and let ’em know it’s occupied, but most of the time they’re not occupied and we let ’em know that we’re close by watching,” Hall said.
Hall saw a man run away from the house earlier, he said, but the man is gone. By the time the police arrive, there was nobody for them police to question or arrest.
Hall was low-key, but it sounded like he’s been in some pretty hairy situations before.
“We try not to confront anybody. It’s about getting the vehicles back, you know? Let the cops confront the people,” Hall said.
But do confrontations happen?
“I was shot at, probably a month ago. But I had followed a stolen vehicle,” Hall said.
As Hall was talking, an officer walked over to his fellow A Team member, Chad Martin. The officers reminded Martin that, by law, he was supposed to tell them about his handgun, the one in a holster on his hip.
“What I want, just put you hands on the car for me,” the officer said. “I’m just going to take that firearm off you for right now, OK? Because you know you’re supposed to tell us about it.”
“I forgot,” Martin said.
Police Sgt. Jason Allen took Martin about 20 feet away from Hall to talk. Martin seemed confused.
“What’s this all about sir?” Martin asked.
“I’m a little concerned about your group. And about the fact that you guys are armed and you’re not notifying police officers about it,” Allen told Martin.
The discussion goes on for a few minutes, and Sgt. Allen eventually let Martin off with a warning.
Their conversation, though, got at something bigger. Remember the car chase Hall described? Well, the only charges in that case are for reckless driving, and they’re filed against him.
According to the charges, Hall chased the car going more than 60 mph in a 25 mph zone on a one-way street, heading the wrong way. It was near where a kids’ soccer team was practicing. The charges don’t mention any gunshots.
Still, that’s the conundrum with the A-Team: They’re helping get back stolen vehicles, but police say what they’re doing is risky for themselves and innocent bystanders.
After he said all this to Martin, Sgt. Allen refused an interview request. But Police Chief Justin Doll sat down for an interview later.
“Chasing down suspects is not helpful. It actually, in a lot of ways, creates a lot more work for the police department,” Doll said.
Doll said he understands the frustration over vehicle thefts and why people might support what the A Team is doing.
“But I don’t think that support’s going to last if one of those people hurts or kills some innocent people who are going about their daily routine and aren’t involved at all,” Doll said.
Tips on stolen vehicles or other property should be sent to the police, so they can handle it, Doll said.
The department is growing its ranks, Doll said, and that’s aimed at least in part at decreasing response times. Still, he said, even with more officers on the streets, police will always respond to crimes that threaten people before crimes that threaten property.
“I get that,” Hall said. “I’d rather them go to be on a shooting or a domestic violence (call) than an unoccupied stolen vehicle. They’re doing what they can, you know. I’ve got nothing against APD. They’re great guys. They’re doing their jobs.”
But, Hall said the police simply cannot keep up with the volume of stolen cars and trucks.
Why does Hall feel like he’s the one that needs to do this?
“Why not? You know, I mean, do what you can. I was raised to do what’s right, I guess,” Hall said.
The Acilquq Dance Group performing an invitational song on stage to kick off the second day of this year’s Elders and Youth conference in Anchorage. The three-day gathering of more than a thousand people from across Alaska takes place just ahead of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention each fall.
Today heard a keynote address from Clare Swan, a Dena’ina Athabascan elder from the Kenaitze tribe on the Kenai Peninsula. Swan’s speech focused on the changes she’s seen in her lifetime, including the effects of commercial pressure on subsistence fishing, and population growth in Southcentral Alaska. In spite of immense changes, Swan told the younger generation much of their work remains the same as decades ago.
“While this world is very different, and being a teenager is very different from the time I was, we all walk the same paths,” Swan said. “And you guys, wherever you go, wherever you build – there’s a Dena’ina word, that’s susten. It means ‘breaking trail.’ You will always be breaking trail for the rest of the people to come.”
The conference held break-out sessions focused on regional and language issues, as well as workshops on topics as varied as moose-hid tanning and cedar weaving to suicide prevention and college prep advice.
The audience also heard about a change in security protocols at this year’s AFN, which kicks off Thursday. AFN board member Georgianna Lincoln said there will be metal detectors at the entrances of the downtown Dena’ina convention center.
“The board wanted us to have a safe, and productive convention, but one where we know we’re in a safe environment,” Lincoln said. “And unfortunately with what’s happening around the world outside of our native communities we often don’t see that.”The Ahtna Heritage Dancers performing at the start of Elders and Youth Day 2. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)
AFN’s Director of Communications Jeff Silverman clarified that the decision to install metal detectors was made by the Dena’ina Convention Center. He added the move isn’t a response to any specific threat, but was a “sign of the times.” Items prohibited will include explosives, alcohol, drug paraphernalia, as well as noise-makers, signs bigger than 14 inches and large objects that could be used for demonstrations. Though there will be exceptions for elders and artists entering the building, attendees are warned there could be long lines on Thursday morning.
Today also saw the launch of a new political group meant to bolster native influence in elections and legislation. The new entity, Native People Action, “aims to ensure traditional values are reflected in tribal, local, municipal, state and federal government.” Executive Director Grace Singh said part of the groups focus is mobilizing new voters on issues of public safety, education and aspects of traditional life like subsistence — as well as providing information to voters ahead of the 2018 elections.
The 34th annual Elders and Youth conference wraps up Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has hired Larry Burton as Chief of Staff. Burton grew up in Alaska and worked in the offices of Congressman Don Young and the late senator Ted Stevens, as well as in the executive branch. He also worked for BP for 17 years.
Sullivan said Burton is well versed in Alaska issues and also understands Washington, D.C. Burton replaces Joe Balash who has been nominated to be an Assistant Secretary of Interior.
President Trump has nominated an Arctic Slope Regional Corporation senior executive to be the assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs.
Tara MacLean Sweeney, if confirmed, would be the first Alaskan to serve in the position, which oversees the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education.
Her nomination has Alaska’s U.S. senators literally cheering.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “What a fabulous, fabulous nomination.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan: “Historic. Super-well qualified.”
Sweeney is a graduate of Barrow High School and Cornell University. She’s now Vice President of External Affairs for ASRC and a past co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Until this spring, Sweeney also chaired the Arctic Economic Council. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says Sweeney led international efforts on broadband and shipping.
“She is at a level as an Alaskan that is just enviable,” Murkowski said. “And I think, again, we could not have identified an individual who has a broader perspective including that of coming from the ANC (Alaska Native corporation) side.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan sees the nomination as part of a trend that will put Alaskans at the helm of critical agencies for the state. Sullivan points to Joe Balash, nominated to be an assistant Interior secretary with sway over public lands, oil and mining. Also, Chris Oliver, head of NOAA Fisheries. And now Sweeney.
“A big part of our job (as senators) is educating our colleagues and some of the federal agencies on unique aspects of Alaska,” Sullivan said. “Now we have Alaskans running these agencies for the country. And Tara Sweeney is going to be phenomenal.”
David Solomon, a Gwich’in activist from Fort Yukon, is happy, too.
“Oh it’s awesome,” Solomon said, outside the U.S. Capitol. “It’s good to see our Native leader be in the front line now. We’ve been recognized.”
Solomon was in Washington, D.C. to rally opposition in the Senate to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ASRC owns subsurface rights in the refuge and Sweeney has been a lead advocate in favor of drilling there. But Solomon takes a broader view and says Sweeney’s selection is good for Alaska Natives.
The position requires Senate confirmation.
The new PBS documentary by Ken Burns and Lynne Novak on the Vietnam War takes a look at a conflict fought decades ago that lives on for many veterans to this day. As part of the series, we’re looking at how Alaskans experienced the war.
Former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles enlisted in the Army during the mid-60s, just as the war began escalating. Knowles’ opinion of the war began to change after he returned to civilian life, and the parallels he sees in today’s conflict in Afghanistan.
In the early ’60s, most young men in America expected that at one point or another they’d be drafted into military service.
“After I got to college I proceeded to get kicked out, both for academic and disciplinary reasons,” Knowles said.(Photo courtesy of Tony Knowles)
During an interview with Alaska Public Media, Knowles said he was working on an oil rig in Colorado, and as winter started baring down he figured he might as well enlist.
“I’d always wanted to be a paratrooper, so I decided I’d join the Army, get in the paratrooper, and see the world,” Knowles said.
At 21 years old, Knowles served in an intelligence unit for the 82nd Airborne. He arrived in Vietnam in the fall of 1964, when there were only about ten thousand American military and civilian personnel in the country, serving mostly as advisers to the South Vietnamese. Knowles said his role was using satellite imagery, infrared, and other tools to figure out where to drop bombs.
“Initially what we were looking for was areas that could be bombed in the belief that we could win this war without committing a lot of ground troops,” Knowles said. “That didn’t turn out to be that successful.”
By the time Knowles’s tour was over, the military was gearing up for a very different kind of war in Vietnam. There were now 200,000 troops in the country, no longer just as advisers, but many directly fighting the North Vietnamese. Just as Knowles was leaving in the fall of 1965, a major operation in a combat zone revealed an extensive number of tunnels, caches of weapons, and enormous stores of food. Provisions for the enemy’s war effort. It made Knowles realize the Viet Cong were vastly more established than he’d been led to believe.(Photo courtesy of Tony Knowles)
“It really brought into question whether technology could win the war,” Knowles said. “And as we found out it didn’t.”
As he transitioned out of the military, Knowles felt his confidence in the military’s mission and the country’s infallibility erode. At that point in the mid-60s, the nation’s attitude toward the war wasn’t yet as polarized as it would eventually become. But back at college, Knowles said the information coming in through the media and from the government about the war’s progress didn’t mesh with what he’d seen personally during his deployment.
“It seemed to be that what you heard just didn’t represent the truth, so you said ‘well what are we doing there, and what is it doing to us with the Americans who are getting killed? How many Vietnamese were getting killed? And what is the purpose?’” Knowles said.
According to Knowles, what really changed the national opinion of the war was the draft. He said that spread skepticism across families in every part of the country, particularly when the lottery system was introduced in 1969.(Photo courtesy of Tony Knowles)
“You were gonna be drafted,” Knowles said. “And so that made people think ‘now why are we there, and why is my son or my brother or my father going to that war?’ Without that, it distances the public from what the military is doing.”
That distance is one of the reasons Knowles thinks the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan, which has eclipsed Vietnam as the longest-running conflict, has consumed the better part of two decades. Whereas draftees generally did one tour in Vietnam, today’s volunteer military is filled with a smaller number of people deploying to combat over and over.
“We have people, and I know friends, who have served three and four, five tours,” Knowles said. “So you have a military that the general public doesn’t think about very much because they don’t have cousins and relatives and uncles involved in that war. It’s just a much smaller group of people who are doing that.”
Knowles sees many of the mistakes of Vietnam being repeated in Afghanistan: an over-reliance on technology, working with a corrupt regime, and a murky sense of what troops are actually fighting for.
For more Alaska stories about the Vietnam War, visit Vietnam Echoes.
A member of Governor Bill Walker’s cabinet is taking a key position at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency confirmed Tuesday that Chris Hladick will become the regional administrator overseeing EPA’s work in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Hladick is currently commissioner for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The Walker administration announced that Hladick will step down from that post on November 1. He will take the reins at EPA Region 10 in December.
Before joining Walker’s cabinet, Hladick spent over two decades working for communities in rural Alaska. He was city manager for Dillingham, Unalaska and Galena.
While Hladick was Unalaska’s city manager, he was involved in reaching a settlement with EPA related to Clean Water Act violations from its wastewater treatment facility.
At EPA, Hladick will oversee regulation of a wide range of activities in the Northwest — from superfund sites to the proposed Pebble Mine.
Walker announced that outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre will take Hladick’s place.
The fate of toddies, sours and mules at Alaska distilleries is still uncertain. The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is struggling to decide whether the businesses should be allowed to serve cocktails. At a meeting Monday, the board revisited an advisory instructing distillers to stop mixing drinks. But, they didn’t come to any new conclusions.
“We’ve been doing this from the start,” Rob Borland told the board. “We’ve been making fine liquors. We’ve been squeezing our own juice for our cocktails, we’ve been doing all of that kind of stuff from the beginning.”
Borland is the owner of Ursa Major Distilling in Fairbanks. He’s one of several distillers who called into Monday’s meeting to oppose banning mixed drinks.
Last month, the ABC Board upheld an advisory prohibiting the sale of cocktails made with products not produced on-site.
Since then, some distilleries have continued to serve cocktails made with mixers they produce themselves. Things like syrups, tonic water, ginger beer and liqueurs. The state hasn’t issued any violations for this.
But in a memo ABC Board Director Erika McConnell said the cocktails distilleries are serving are not what she envisioned as ‘the distillery’s product’ when she sent out the advisory. So, she went back to the board for more guidance.
Jared Curé owns the Narrows Bar in Juneau. He told the board anything considered distillery products should be bottled and sold like their liquor.
“It’s just a slippery slope,” Curé said. “A lot of these people that are chiming in, I don’t think they’re bad actors but if we allow this kind of model to go on in certain ways without putting clear controls on it, people can push the limits even further.”
The board was split on what to do.
Ellen Ganley said they shouldn’t ban distillers from using non-alcoholic beverages.
“I think we have to be really careful here because we do have nine businesses that are in at least some respect having the rug pulled out from underneath them,” Ganley said.
Thomas Manning disagreed. He said for something to be considered a distillery product, it needs to be part of the manufacturing process.
“I think that someone standing behind a bar and pouring orange juice into the vodka is not manufacturing onsite,” Manning said. “That’s mixing a drink.”
Bob Klein recused himself from the discussion as the board’s chair. But, speaking as the CEO of Anchorage Distillery, he said regulating non-alcoholic products is a slippery slope.
“It’s just very, very dangerous ground we’re treading on,” Klein said.
Rex Leath asked whether the board is even allowed to have a say about products that don’t contain alcohol.
“I’m not comfortable trying to regulate anything that’s non-alcoholic,” Leath said. “I don’t feel like I have the authority to do that.”
While that is true, Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks said once the drink is mixed, it’s a different story. Milks is counsel to the board.
“If you have a glass of orange juice in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other hand, the board cannot regulate the hand with the orange juice,” Milks said. “But if you pour them together, then the board can regulate that.”
After several failed motions, the board couldn’t come to an agreement. Instead, they’ll revisit the advisory at a November meeting. At that point, new draft regulations for distilleries should be available from Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office staff. Until the issue is clarified, the agency will not issue violations to distilleries selling drinks using products they make on-site.
Chefs and bartenders from Anchorage and the Mat-Su area prepared plated desserts, dessert cocktails and edible centerpieces for judges and participants to sample and vote for. Anchorage residents put their sweet tooth to good use at the second annual Sweet Rivalry event, a baking competition that raised around $30,000 for Alaskans who experience intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Nine competitors each had 60 minutes to create a work of dessert art on a plate. Each group was given a secret ingredient to work with: maple pecan.
Some chefs kept it simple, like a chocolate hazelnut cake from Glacier Brewhouse. Others were more creative. Kaladi Brothers and Phat Kid Food Truck presented a beet sponge and potato funnel cake with charcoal gelato. Yes, real charcoal. Bee pollen, edible flowers and butterscotch were used as garnish.
The dessert that won was from Dipper Donuts. Co-owner Laura Cameron took first place for salted brown butter donut holes with dark chocolate creme brulee and a port wine poached pear on top. Cameron was happy to gain attention for her shop, which is opening in November.
“We just want customers to be able to taste our donuts, and so far it’s going pretty well,” Cameron said.
Then, there was the edible centerpiece competition, where Lindsay Kucera, sous chef of Rustic Goat, and her team made an Alpenglow Napoleon that won first place. Their dessert had layers of homemade puff pastry, with cardamom and labrador tea marshmallow fluff, filled with cranberry fluid gel and a crab apple butter with chai spices. Kucera said she used local ingredients.
“All the crab apples, the cranberries and the labrador tea was all picked by me here in town,” Kucera said. “There’s competition, but it’s so friendly. Everyone is rooting for each other, because it’s for such a great cause. And you get to do something that just has enough pressure that you feel a little bit under the gun but it’s exciting and it just makes it so much more rewarding.”
Part of the proceeds from the event go towards The Arc of Anchorage’s studio and gallery, Sparc. The gallery provides a space for individuals with sensory issues or other challenges to learn ceramics, painting, beading and even cooking.
One the state’s top prosecutors said repealing the entire law that overhauled criminal justice last year is the wrong move.
“A full repeal of SB 91 is dangerous,” Deputy Attorney General Robert Henderson said in a House Judiciary Committee meeting Monday at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.
Some Alaska lawmakers said they want to repeal last year’s Senate Bill 91, which allowed some low-risk offenders to avoid jail time. Lawmakers including Eagle River Republican Rep. Lora Reinbold. She cited the number of thefts in Anchorage.
“They’re calling it GTA — grand theft Anchorage — right now,” Reinbold said. “It’s outrageous, what’s going on in the city that I love.”
This year’s Senate Bill 54 is scheduled for legislative debate next week. It would scale back SB 91. Last year’s law was based on research that said that longer jail terms are no more effective than actively monitoring offenders outside of jail. In some cases, longer sentences may actually increase the risk of repeat offenses.
Henderson noted that last year’s law hasn’t been fully implemented. The provisions of the law that haven’t gone into effect allow for increased supervision of people who have been arrested before they have trials. Those provisions are effective on Jan. 1.
Capt. Sean Case is Anchorage’s acting deputy police chief. He said the city’s police department fully supports the Legislature passing Senate Bill 54.
Case said police officers have years of experience putting offenders in jail.
“And when the rules are changed, that creates some disenfranchisement. And we’re seeing that,” Case said as a member of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which advises the Legislature. “But I’ll also say that I don’t think that means that the traditional model of policing or criminal justice in the state of Alaska has to remain the same.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Matt Claman said he held the meeting to give Anchorage residents a chance to hear information about Senate Bill 54 in person. The committee is one of three that would have to pass the bill before the full House can vote on it. The Senate has already passed it.
Gov. Bill Walker put Senate Bill 54 on his call for the special session that begins Oct. 23. The bill would increase the minimum penalty for first-time class C felonies from up to 18 months of suspended sentences to up to one year in jail. Another change would increase the penalty for thefts of goods valued at less than $250. And a third change would increase the penalty for people who violate their conditions of release.
Commercial salmon fishermen across the state have had a “banner year.”
Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) released a preliminary harvest summary that estimates fishermen caught 224.6 million wild salmon this year and earned $678.8 million selling the fish to processors.
That’s a 66.7% increase from last year’s catch value. According to Forrest Bowers, Deputy Director of ADF&G’s Division of Commercial Fisheries, there are a couple reasons for the jump: fishermen caught more salmon in 2017, and they were paid higher prices for the fish.
Bowers said Alaska wild salmon is a strong brand in a market that includes farmed salmon from around the world.
“I think Alaska has done a great job with marketing wild salmon,” Bowers said. “Alaska fishermen have made a lot of improvements in their product handling and product quality, and I think processors have taken a number steps to come out with new product forms that appeal to consumers.”
According to the summary, the statewide chum salmon harvest hit an all-time record high this year, and the harvest of sockeye salmon — the most valuable species — exceeded 50 million fish for the third year in a row.
Bowers said these numbers are encouraging.
“I think the main thing that it indicates is that Alaska’s salmon management program is successful,” Bowers said. “You know we have really pristine habitat throughout the state. We’re looking at a long-term approach, so that we can harvest sustainably without impacting future returns in a negative way.”
With strong community support for salmon throughout the state, Bowers is optimistic the good luck will not go away, especially in Western Alaska.
“In Norton Sound, three out of the last four years have been really strong,” Bowers said. We’ve had good fisheries up there, and I expect that trend to continue.”
ADFG will release their final figures for the 2017 harvest next spring.
Smoked salmon is popular across Alaska and the world. For those who want to learn more about the process of making it, there’s an annual two-day workshop in Kodiak. It’s open to novices and masters and shows them how to produce the savory treat on a commercial scale.
Students of Alaska Sea Grant’s Smoked Seafood School are skinning fillets of sockeye salmon at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. They’re preparing the meat to become smoked jerky. Richard Wilson is showing some of his fellow students how he skins fish.
“I usually leave a little bit of meat on the tail, just so you can grab it. Take it and go down and then you go down and just starting pulling it against your blade,” Wilson said. “If you have a sharp blade you’re just going to go ‘schweeep.’”
Wilson and his wife came to the workshop from Naknek, in Bristol Bay, where he works as a fisherman.
“We have a little family operation called Tulchina fisheries and just small just small family thing,” Wilson said.
Smoking salmon isn’t new to Wilson. He’s done it for years, but only for personal use. The annual two-day workshop will teach him and the other students techniques that could help them produce smoked fish commercially. Which is why Wilson’s here, to get information that’ll help him expand his business.
“Oh, we’re coming in here wide open,” Wilson said. “We want to learn it all and see what it takes to actually do a product that’s legal and that’s safe and sellable.”
This year, there are about a dozen students who’ve come from all over the country to attend. That’s not uncommon. Skill levels usually range from backyard enthusiasts to professionals from the seafood industry.
Chad Beatty came all the way from Seattle. He said he’s worked in “technology” for 17 years, but now wants to make the jump to selling smoked seafood. He describes himself as a sports fisherman and said smoking fish isn’t a new concept.
“Yeah, I have some secret recipes and ingredients that way for sure,” Beatty said. adding that making this career change will “marry my passion with my profession.”
The class covers a lot in two days. It includes preparing and producing smoked fish products, teaching safety regulations, and getting up to speed on different machines.
Chris Sannito is a Seafood Technology Specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. He’s also one of the instructors at the workshop. He said teaching the class is one of his favorite things to do. Sannito loves smoking fish and the creativity that goes along with it.
“It’s kinda like winemaking,” Sannito said. “There’s hundreds of different techniques and everyone’s uncle makes the best-smoked salmon, and we’re trying to just lay out what is considered a safe product, and let people have the flexibility in creating their own methods too.”
Sannito said he’s learned a lot teaching the workshop over the years. And helping people learn how to make safe and delicious smoked fish is really fulfilling.
“You know we’ve been doing it for thousands of years and this is kind a putting the modern twist on it,” Sannito said.
This year’s batch of students worked on salmon jerky, the cold and hot process of smoking, and smoking herring. Sannito said all the students should leave at the end of the class with their arms full of the smoked fish they helped make.
The state is closing the book on a Dalton Highway fuel spill that occurred four years ago. State Department of Environmental Conservation on scene coordinator Tom DeRuyter said clean-up and remediation was fairly extensive after an Alaska Petroleum Distributing tanker truck trailer rolled in May 2013, spilling 3,000 gallons of diesel along the highway near milepost 81. DeRuyter said the effort addressed soil contaminated around a ditch dug to collect the fuel, as well as treatment of nearby forest.
“It was deep into the moss that was in that area,” DeRuyter said. “And they had to put in some collection trenches.”
DeRuyter said soil frost limited deep contamination, noting that a sheen did form on a small nearby pond, which had to be skimmed. He said the clean-up and remediation occurred over about two months following the spill, but follow up sampling dragged out, due a problem with the trucking company’s insurance provider.
“Using another state consultant that was not familiar with Alaska or our regulations and we went through most of a field season without getting the samples that we really wanted,” DeRuyter said. “But we got the site re-characterized this past year and are heading toward closure with it.”
Results of sampling conducted in August will be evaluated by the DEC by year’s end to make a final determination on closure of the project.
The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has another deadline looming.
Corporation Senior Vice President Frank Richards told lawmakers in Anchorage on Monday that the corporation’s board is operating under a December 31, 2017 deadline to find a customer for Alaska’s natural gas.
It has been ten months since the state took the lead on the mega-project that would transport natural gas from Prudhoe Bay to Cook Inlet, then ship it to buyers in Asia.
Members of finance and resources committee in both the state House and Senate met to hear a quarterly report on the progress of the project. Corporation President Keith Meyer was not at the meeting, Board Chairman Dave Cruz said he is in Asia marketing the state’s gas.
So, Cruz started the meeting. And he began by asking lawmakers to consider the impact that their discussions with members of the media can have on the corporation’s efforts to market the project.Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack discuss meetings with potential buyers of Alaska’s LNG during a press conference on Friday Sept. 30, 2016 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)
“The world is watching us. This is not just some little project in Alaska that the world doesn’t know about,” Cruz said. “And every local news story that is picked up by our industry and world press it places a great challenge on our team when they have to first defend the project against the negative comments before being able to sell it on its merits.”
For the next hour, lawmakers peppered Cruz and other members of the corporation’s executive board with questions about project finances, employee turnover and how much money the state expects to make on its share of the project.
Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, both accused employees of evading questions on the project’s finances.
Von Imhof said she met with employees at the corporation last week and they “danced around her questions,” on how fast the corporation is burning through the roughly $102 million it has budgeted to spend on building a gasline project. She said she spent the weekend digging through documents and determined that it has about $70 million left to spend.
That is a fraction of the roughly $45 billion needed for the project to be built. Richards said the corporation is currently spending about $3 million a month, though the board has authorized it to spend more than $6 million monthly.
Lawmakers also asked about deadlines. Last year, Gov. Bill Walker gave the project until September, 2017 to generate enough activity to justify continuing to spend millions on the project.
The state corporation held an open-season asking potential customers and investors to show formal interest. And while it did not result in any firm commitments, Walker said he is encouraged by how well the state has engaged with potential buyers .
But, Walker stopped short of saying the state should put more money into the project.
When lawmakers asked Richards if the corporation plans to come to the legislature for more money during the next session — he said it all depends on whether it finds a customer.
The first full day of the 34th annual Elders and Youth Conference kicked off in Anchorage this morning. The gathering of more than a thousand people from across Alaska takes place just ahead of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention each fall. It aims to promote indigenous identity and share cultural knowledge between generations.
The event is organized by the First Alaskans Institute. In opening remarks, FAI vice president Jorie Paoli spoke of this year’s theme: “Part Land, Part Water – Always Native.”
“Alaska is, always has been, and always will be a native place,” Paoli said. “And Alaska is better because we’re here.”Elders and Youth attendees heading into the main room at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)
The crowd heard remarks from both Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, both of whom then took questions on a range of topics. Multiple times, the two mentioned a forthcoming administrative action on climate change, but did not elaborate on specifics or a timeline. Walker said he’s been moved to act on the issue, particularly since visiting subsistence communities across the state.
“When I was at Kivalina and I saw what was happening there with the erosion, uh, this is not in theory, this is not in theory, this is real life, day to day, issue,” Walker said. “Some of the discussion, some of the whaling has changed because thickness of the ice, you can’t pull a whale up onto the ice because the ice isn’t as thick as it was before. These are life changes that will change the life of Alaskans, of Alaska Natives. We need to make sure that we’re at the front lines because we are as a state at the front lines.”
Walker and Mallott also spoke of the state “not doing enough” on public safety in rural communities, even referring to the issue as a “crisis.” The men also touched on the importance of protecting subsistence resources, although on that topic the youth keynote speaker brought the room to its feet with applause and cheers.Whaler Chris Apassingok giving the youth address to Elders and Youth Conference with Gov Bill Walker holding the microphone. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)
“I am Agragiiq Chris Apassingok, and as you see in the pamphlet, I am the son of Daniel and Susan Apassingok.”
The 17-year-old whaler from Gambell on St. Lawrence Island delivered the first part of his speech in Siberian Yupik. He then switched to English to recount his education in subsistence hunting, starting with mice, squirrels and birds, all the way up to the bowhead whale he struck on a hunt with his family this past spring. The incident caused a backlash against the teen on social media when a radical animal rights activist criticized Apassingok online – an event the young man said strengthened his resolve to keep practicing traditional hunting.
“We must never be discouraged by any accident or anybody that may threaten us. I am part land, I am part water, I am always Native,” Apassingok said to the crowd, drawing applause. “Will you stand with me as I continue my hunting? Will you stand with me as we all continue our subsistence activities.”
And the crowd did stand, giving the young man an ovation. Elsewhere in his speech, Apassingok talked about how even in his own short lifetime he’s seen hunting conditions change, with less sea ice and rougher seas hampering traditional hunting.
The Elders and Youth conference continues through Wednesday at the Dena’ina convention Center in downtown Anchorage.
Igiugig is more than half way through their local foods challenge. The village decided to try eating only locally produced food for six weeks when the students read about a similar project in Australia. They also incorporated a traditional hike into the experiment.
Big Mountain, 23 miles east of Igiugig, is a customary meeting place between people from Igiugig and Kokhanok. 15 adults and students from elementary to high school braved the four-day hike in the wind and rain. No dehydrated camping food lightened their packs. Since the walk was a part of the food challenge, their menu included moose, dry fish and fresh produce.
“It was tough because some of us had to carry apples and heads of lettuce and stuff like that instead of just packing Mountain House [freeze dried food],” eighth-grader Kaylee Hill said.
All seemed to agree that one part of the trip was most difficult — swimming Belinda Creek.
“That was our biggest obstacle,” Tate Gooden, one of the adults leading the trip, said. “After walking most of the day along the beach that was flooded due to the wind, so we were walking through waves, we were already wet. Then at the end of the day, we had to swim across a frigid creek. It was a little daunting, but everybody rose to the occasion.”
The first group that swam across got a fire going so everyone could dry out quickly. It provided an opportunity for the adults leading the hike to talk with the students about preventing hypothermia.The hikers set up a system to ferry bags across Belinda Creek. Then they all swam the stream. (Photo by Tatyana Zackar)
The sun came out on Saturday for the final stretch of the hike. The hikers celebrated with a traditional foods feast at Big Mountain. People who stayed behind in the village brought the meal by skiff. After the meal, because there is a runway at Big Mountain, everyone was able to fly home.
“Part of the goal was to connect to the landscape that we inhabit and then also connect more to our bodies, and I think we did that. I think at the end everyone was empowered by the fact that we made it,” Gooden said.
Back in Igiugig the local food challenge continues. Moose meat dipped in seal oil, bone soup, dry fish and berries are just some of the foods Igugig has been dining on for the last few weeks. Many have made accommodations, participating in the challenge with differing degrees of rigor. Some have decided to eat only foods produced in Alaska. Some have resolved to stick with minimally processed whole foods.
Hill has made eating whole foods her goals. She said pizza is the food she misses most. But almost four weeks, into the challenge she feels the benefit of eating well.
“I feel like I’m getting a lot more sleep than I used to get,” Hill said.
Her father, Karl Hill, is the only one in Igiugig sticking to the most rigorous version of the challenge, eating only foods produced within a 100 mile radius of the village. He too has noticed that he is getting better sleep.
“One of the main things I’ve taken away is that it just takes a lot of preparation to be able to eat this way,” Karl Hill said.
Overall, he noted that the communal nature of the project has kept people motivated.
“I think doing it as a whole community is key to having more people stick with it at one level or another. We have different levels of participation, but I think everybody is having a positive experience of it,” Karl Hill said, adding with a laugh, “We do talk about food a lot.”
The six-week project wraps up on Oct. 28. Residents of Igiugig have been taking their weight, blood sugar and heart rate every month during 2017. When they finish the food challenge they will compare the results to see what affect their participation had on their health.
Last Monday, a radio engineer in Juneau loaded four nondescript black cases into a truck and drove it to air cargo.
It was one of three emergency radio broadcasting kits of its kind, designed in Southeast Alaska. On Thursday, it arrived in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria wrecked communications infrastructure.
Rich Parker helps keep Southeast Alaska public radio stations on the air (including KTOO).
Part of Parker’s job as an engineer working on broadcasting infrastructure means maintaining the emergency radio kits – and he prepped Juneau’s for the Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corporation.
The emergency broadcasting kit has everything an engineer needs to set up a small radio station in less than a half-hour. Sitka and Ketchikan have similar systems.
“This is what’s called a Radio to Go,” Parker said. “It’s a kit with studio components: mast with an antenna, a small transmitter and mic and other equipment you need to set up an emergency studio.”
The kit has flexible power options. The audio equipment can be powered by a vehicle using an inverter, and the transmitter can even operate at reduced power by wiring together car batteries.
CoastAlaska built the kit. The organization pools business, overhead and staff among a group of Alaska public radio stations, including KTOO.
Mollie Kabler, the executive director of CoastAlaska, said the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had heard about the kit and contacted her.
“Since it’s a custom built piece of equipment, I didn’t have anywhere to send them to get one,” Kabler said, “but I said ‘we’ll send it.’”
An engineer from public radio station WNYC met the kit in New York and took to WIPR in Puerto Rico. The kit will help the station stay on the air during the hurricane recovery.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was harshly critical of the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015. He said then lifting sanctions would fuel the economy of a country that sponsors terrorism.
“Billions are likely to be used to pump up the terror machine around the world and target American citizens,” Sullivan said on the Senate floor in 2015.
Now, President Trump has mandated that Congress decide what to do with the agreement. Sullivan still doesn’t like the arrangement. He said it’s too lenient on Iran. But Sullivan said the U.S. should not back out of the deal.
“I think a better way to deal with it right now is to vigorously enforce it,” Sullivan said Friday in a phone interview.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other top security officials say Iran is in technical compliance. Sullivan said Iran has violated the letter and spirit of the deal, similar to what President Trump said in a speech Friday. Sullivan said the U.S. should give Iran time to change its ways.
“And then we should undertake what President Obama and Secretary Kerry said we would do, which is apply snap-back sanctions,” Sullivan said.
In 2015, though, Sullivan mocked that as an unworkable solution when the Obama administration proposed it.
“I know what we’ve heard from the administration,” Sullivan said in 2015. “‘Don’t worry. If there’s a violation of this agreement these sanctions will just snap back into place. They’ll snap back. No problem. Piece of cake.'”
At that time, Sullivan said it can take years to impose sanctions and get companies and other nations to divest.
One reason Sullivan gives for staying with the agreement now is to retain America’s leadership position with allies who also signed the deal. He said several European countries are more interested in doing business in Iran than they are in containment.
Just last month Premera announced it would drop its health insurance rates on Alaska’s individual market by more than 26 percent. But the drop may not be quite that steep after all, at least for one type of plan. The new factor is President Trump’s decision Thursday night to stop paying Cost Sharing Reductions.
CSR is a type of subsidy under the Affordable Care Act. For certain low-income households, CSR lowers what they have to pay out-of-pocket when they see a doctor.
Premera, the sole insurer on Alaska’s individual market, said it will still provide the out-of-pocket discounts to eligible customers, as required by law. But to cover the cost, it will raise monthly premiums for the silver plan.
Alaska Insurance Division Director Lori Wing-Heier said if the government eliminates the CSR payments, the rates for a silver plan in 2018 will go up five or six percent from what they would have been.
Most people who buy on the individual market qualify for a subsidy to help them pay their monthly premiums. They may not feel the increase, because the premium subsidy goes up as the premium goes up. But those who earn too much to get the subsidy will have to pay more to remain on the silver plan.
Also, Trump’s move could widen the federal deficit. The Congressional Budget Office said ending the CSR payments, while continuing to subsidize premiums, would actually cost the government $194 billion over 10 years.
On Friday, the Defense Department announced changes to military recruiting that will make it harder for legal immigrants to enlist and qualify for citizenship.
The new policy effectively ends the expedited track to citizenship for green card holders who enter the military, eliminating the incentive many had to join. Another change is an end to the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program started under the Obama Administration in 2009. Margaret Stock is the founder of the now-suspended MAVNI.
“Its an immigrant recruitment program,” Stock said.
Stock is an Anchorage-based lawyer who practices immigration, citizenship and military law. Last year she ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as an Independent. She’s also a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a MacArthur fellow — the prestigious so-called “genius grant.”
The MAVNI program was intended to attract immigrants with high-value skills such as language and cultural proficiency that aid in military operations abroad. According to Stock, recruitment of foreign nationals has been grown more restrictive since tighter green card standards were put in place in 2003. Friday’s policy change furthers that trend.
“It hurts our national security,” Stock said. “It means we’re not going to have enough people who are qualified to serve in our nation’s military. We need people who speak foreign languages and have cultural expertise, and can blend in with local populations. And now we’re not going to have that. So, it’s a bad day for national security.”
Stock said a number of new background screenings are being added for immigrant enlistees, on top of those already required for green-card eligibility and to qualify for military service. This comes at a time when there’s a backlog for completing security clearances at the Office of Personnel Management, according to the Defense Department. Green card holders entering the military could wait up to a year for the clearance process to be finished and be eligible to start their service.
That means it is now faster for immigrants seeking citizenship to just remain civilians, Stock explained.
In its release, the Pentagon said the changes ensure higher security among prospective service members and potential citizens. According to Stephanie Miller, the Defense Department’s chief of accessions, the change will affect some current personnel who weren’t finished with security screenings when they began to serve. Certifications that counted towards citizenship for those individuals will be nullified.
A number of Alaskans stand to be affected by the change, according to Stock. Some immigrants who have lived in Anchorage have been among those to join the military through the MAVNI program. They include Specialist Susan Tanui, a native of Kenya and former All-American runner at UAA, who was the first-place female finisher in the Army’s 10-mile race in Washington, DC last weekend.
It’s not a number to celebrate, but the consistently high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska need discussion and attention. Why does Alaska stay at or near the top in the nation for these terrible statistics? What’s being done to combat family violence, and how can everyone help address it?
HOST: Lori Townsend
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- Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) staff
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.