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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

In Barrow, Pepe's is likely history, but town's biggest hotel ever will open soon

Wed, 2014-04-09 12:38
In Barrow, Pepe's is likely history, but town's biggest hotel ever will open soon The new Barrow hotel on Alaska's North Slope will have 70 guest rooms, about twice as many as the old one, and three conference rooms. It will be the largest ever in Barrow by far.April 9, 2014

Troopers Name 2 Men Killed In Alaska Plane Crash

Wed, 2014-04-09 09:58

Alaska State Troopers say the remains of two pilots have been found in the wreckage of a small commercial plane that crashed near a Southwest Alaska town.

The pilots who died in the crash Tuesday evening near Bethel are identified as 42-year-old Derrick Cedars of Bethel and 46-year-old Greggory McGee of Anchorage.

The burned wreckage of the Cessna 208 operated by Hageland Aviation was found near Three Step Mountain.

Responders found the remains of the men in the wreckage.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, which occurred during a training flight.

The NTSB also is investigating the crash of another Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 last November. Four people were killed and six injured in the crash of that commuter flight.

Hageland Aviation is part of Ravn Alaska.

AK Beat: Alaska soldier charged with murdering his 3-year-old son

Wed, 2014-04-09 07:12
AK Beat: Alaska soldier charged with murdering his 3-year-old son Nathaniel Ulroan was charged with the premeditated murder of his 3-year-old son earlier this month. According to a news release, Ulroan, 23, was also charged with one count of kidnapping, one count of assault consummated by a battery and one count of communicating a threat. ​April 9, 2014

Plane Down Near Bethel, Two Reported Onboard

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:52

A Cessna 208 with two pilots on board has crashed outside of Bethel.

Ravn Alaska spokesperson Steve Smith confirms the downed plane was a Hageland Aviation training flight with two pilots on board, and no passengers.

State Troopers say the plane was overdue just after 6:00 p.m. Tuesday and within the hour a local pilot reported seeing burning wreckage to troopers.

Clint Johnson, the Chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Transportation Safety Board, says a report came in of smoke on the horizon.

“When they investigated it they found what they believe was a Cessna 208 on the ground and it looks like there was a pretty substantial post crash fire, but we are very much in the formative stages,” Johnson said.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says an Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter responded with both troopers and fire personal on board and has located the wreckage.

Neither Peters nor Clint Johnson have information about the two pilots.

“This is an active rescue, at this point right now. Troopers have primacy, also the National Guard in Bethel. We wait until they’re done, and we take the investigation from there. At this point right now, it is an active search and rescue,” said Johnson.

An NTSB Investigator from Anchorage is traveling to Bethel Tuesday. Hageland Aviation flies under the banner of Ravn Connect, a company operated by Ravn Alaska, formerly known as Era Alaska.

NTSB prepares to visit site of Hageland Aviation plane crash that killed 2

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:51
NTSB prepares to visit site of Hageland Aviation plane crash that killed 2 A plane crash outside of the Southwest Alaska community of Bethel on Tuesday evening killed the two people aboard, Alaska State Troopers reported. The NTSB is planning to visit the crash site Thursday.April 8, 2014

Alice Rogoff and Kay Fanning: Publishers who came home to the North

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:24
Alice Rogoff and Kay Fanning: Publishers who came home to the North Like so many others, Alice Rogoff's path to Alaska was far from ordinary. And like some, she fell in love with the Last Frontier in a way she never expected. With the purchase of the Anchorage Daily News, Rogoff has solidified her place -- and journalism's role -- in the state.April 8, 2014

Medicaid fraud crackdown continues with 4 new cases associated with Good Faith Services

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:23
Medicaid fraud crackdown continues with 4 new cases associated with Good Faith Services Charges were filed last week against four more individuals involved with the now-defunct Good Faith Services, a personal care attendant company. The state has now charged 45 people associated with the company.April 8, 2014

FBI agent: Coast Guard murder suspect left little evidence at crime scene

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:23
FBI agent: Coast Guard murder suspect left little evidence at crime scene An FBI special agent confirmed dozens of photos as his own Tuesday afternoon in the murder case against James Michael Wells. The evidence included boxes of ammo consistent with bullet fragments found at the murder scene, but none matched the supposed murder weapon, and he testified stockpiling guns and ammo isn’t uncommon among Alaskans.April 8, 2014

Alaska gas line board may get a Texan if fast-tracked Chenault bill passes

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:22
Alaska gas line board may get a Texan if fast-tracked Chenault bill passes House Speaker Mike Chenault said that not making the country's top pipeline experts eligible for appointment to an important group like the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. was simply a technical oversight.April 8, 2014

After rough year, top Iditarod contender Jake Berkowitz says he's done mushing

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:22
After rough year, top Iditarod contender Jake Berkowitz says he's done mushing After a year that saw him withdraw from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race and a mauling at his kennel, Big Lake musher Jake Berkowitz is calling it quits -- at least for now.April 8, 2014

Alaskans need to rethink coal power plants in light of ocean acidification

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:21
Alaskans need to rethink coal power plants in light of ocean acidification OPINION: It fills me with dismay that Alaska has not had a conversation about ocean acidification even as some of its leaders continue to push new coal-fired power plants.April 8, 2014

Anchorage Assembly sets reimbursement rules for campaigning officials, begins considering $10 million surplus

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:17
Anchorage Assembly sets reimbursement rules for campaigning officials, begins considering $10 million surplus The Anchorage Assembly has decided on new reimbursement rules for officials who travel on city business and campaign along the way, and a Wednesday work session will help it decide what to do with a $10 million windfall.April 8, 2014

Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame: Mary Jane (Evans) Fate

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:02

Mary Jane Fate, a Koyukon Athabascan born in Rampart, labored tirelessly to improve all aspects of Alaska Native people’s lives. As one of the original Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act lobbyists, she worked with others to convince the White House and Congress of the fairness and justice in conveying 40 million acres and $1 billion to Alaska Natives through the passage of the Native claims act in 1971.

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For her full bio, visit the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame website.

Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame: Beverly D. Dunham

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:00

Beverly, “Bev”, Dunham is a pioneer in Alaska journalism and a tireless community advocate. She is described as being ahead of her time and a strong role model to many women and young girls growing up in Alaska.

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Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame: Eleanor Andrews

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:58

Eleanor Andrews has been building the human infrastructure capacity of Alaska for nearly five decades. She has been a successful business woman, as the owner of the Andrews Group, and also has been a highly regarded public servant. But it is the effectiveness and sweeping nature of her advocacy on behalf of community that is most amazing. Andrews is most widely known as a “civic entrepreneur” – that is a person who inspires institutions, businesses and individuals to invest in the community at the same time that they being successful at their work.

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Alaska Dispatch To Buy Anchorage Daily News

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:31

Alaska Dispatch is making an aggressive move to position itself at the forefront of the the state’s media landscape.

It announced Tuesday that it’s buying the Anchorage Daily News – Alaska’s largest newspaper.

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The $34 million dollar deal between Alaska Dispatch Publishing and the California-based McClatchy Company, which currently owns the 68-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, was signed Tuesday morning..

“The whole idea behind this is to develop a much more comprehensive news product than what Alaska Dispatch or the Anchorage Daily News offer now that reaches all of Alaska,” Tony Hopfinger, the executive editor of Alaska Dispatch, said.

Hopfinger says he hasn’t spoken to Anchorage Daily News employees yet, and future changes to the staffing and structure of the company are uncertain.

“We will certainly merge the two companies together and there will be one, combined news operation,” Hopfinger said. “We can say that there will be one news website, but when that’s up and running and happens…I don’t know yet. And the paper will continue 7-days-a-week.”

Hopfinger says with the combined newsrooms, the goal will be for the Dispatch to delve into issues on a broader statewide level.

“That’s the first thing you’ll notice is we’ll have more people and a larger, healthier newsroom and then we’re also looking at trying to eventually get more people positioned in other bureaus around the state,” Hopfinger said.

He says the Dispatch has been looking for ways to improve its product and reach more Alaskans. And after tracking newspaper sales in the Lower 48, the Dispatch reached out to McClatchy in August last year.

“When we saw the Boston Globe and the Washington Post sell, and other newspapers, frankly, last year, it began to occur to us that there might be an opportunity here in Anchorage to combine forces and create a more comprehensive journalism operation,” he said.

The sale is expected to be finalized in early May.

Calls to the Anchorage Daily News were not returned by deadline.

Can an Aggressive Russia Remain Our Nice Arctic Neighbor?

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:30

Pro-Russian activists seized public buildings in eastern Ukraine this week, and U.S. officials say they suspect the actions were not spontaneous but engineered by Russia. That, combined with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea has Arctic experts wondering what this means for international relations in the Arctic and whether the era of cooperation with Russia is over.

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So far, despite occasional fears from the West of a Russian land grab in the Arctic, Russia has behaved as a good neighbor in its dealings with other countries in the Arctic Council. It led the way to treaties on pollution control and search-and-rescue, for instance, in effect pledging its mighty fleet of icebreakers to help its neighbors. But sometimes Russia shows a harsher face. Like in December, when Putin told his top military officers they should pay special attention to building their forces in the Arctic. He told them Russia will be stepping up development in the region and must “have all the levers for the protection of its security and national interests.” This week Putin also instructed his security forces to beef up the Arctic frontier.

 

Russia watchers in Washington say there are signs that, whatever its intentions in Ukraine, Russia might remain a good neighbor in the Arctic. The best sign is the meeting of the Arctic Council late last month in Canada. The Russian delegation came as scheduled, even as Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper was criticizing Russian aggression in Crimea and demanding Russia’s expulsion from the G8.

Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says his contacts within the U.S. Coast Guard told him last week they were still talking to their counterparts across the Bering Strait.

“I think everybody realizes it’s in our own mutual interests to cooperate and not run the risk of some disastrous sea accident just because of the broader international difficulties,” he said.”

In the big picture, Ebinger says Putin must realize he can’t develop his petroleum assets in the Arctic without the help of American or Western European oil companies. On the other hand, Ebinger says he expects an emboldened Putin will press for territory beyond Ukraine. That, he says, will trigger tougher sanctions against Russia and the spirit of cooperation in the Arctic is likely to be crushed by a grimmer mood in Moscow.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it’s unclear if cooperation will continue in the Arctic.

“I think right now everyone is walking very carefully,” she said.

Conley says Russia and the other Arctic nations still have a strong interest in maintaining their good working relationships.

“But, I think we do recognize that should the Ukraine crisis escalate I think it’s clear there will be some spillover effect which will impact the Arctic,” she said.

Already, the U.S. and Norway have called off a naval exercise with Russia in the Arctic. That’s outside the realm of the Arctic Council, but such exercises do help the countries develop the integration needed for multinational rescues and pollution control operations as envisioned by the council.

Robert Huebert, associate director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies  in Calgary, says he expects the Russians to continue to play nice in the Arctic for the time being, either because they still believe in the cooperative alliance, or because they want to make their actions in Crimea look like an isolated incident. Huebert says figuring out Russia’s true motivation is a puzzle for Western nations.

“On the one hand it’s also in their interest to have the Arctic remain outside all of this, but if the Russians have become more assertive, more aggressive, there’s a requirement to stand up to it,” he said.

As Huebert sees it, Russia has touched off a national security chain reaction that is likely to spread north, because Putin’s takeover of Crimea has both Sweden and Finland feeling they might be next. That has revived their interest in joining NATO. If either country becomes a full member, Huebert says Russia would take it as a direct military threat, an attempt by NATO to encircle the Arctic.

“The Russians, since about 2004, 2005, have always listed one of their core security threats … is an expansion of NATO onto its doorsteps,” he said.

Huebert acknowledges his perspective on Russia tends to be darker than most, but he never really believed in Russia the nice Arctic neighbor. Huebert says the Arctic Council experience only proves the countries can cooperate to set up a framework for cooperation.

” I don’t know if you have kids, but it’s always easy to get the kids to agree to all the rules about sharing toys until the actual toy shows up,’ he said.

The real test, Huebert says, comes when the Arctic Council stands between Russia and something it wants.

Why Alaska women earn less and what they can do about it

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:29

Engineers make some of the highest salaries in the state, but only 18 percent of them are women. (Photo courtesy of BP p.l.c.)

President Obama signed executive orders on Tuesday that aim to tighten the pay gap between men and women.

The president’s actions took place on National Equal Pay Day, a day symbolizing how long women have to work into 2014 to catch up with what men earned in 2013. The day originated in 1996 to raise public awareness of the wage gap.

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In Alaska, a statute prohibits employers from paying females less than males for the same work. But there’s still a pay gap – for every dollar a man in Alaska earns, a woman earns roughly 67 cents.

State Labor Economist Caroline Schultz says occupation and industry selection is the main reason behind the pay gap.

“Women are never going to earn as much as men if women don’t choose to pursue high paying occupations,” Schultz says.

Engineers make some of the highest salaries in Alaska, but only 18 percent of them are women. They’re making on average $72,000 a year while their male counterparts make close to $96,000.

Supervisors in oil, mining and construction industries also make high salaries. Only 5 percent of them are women, and on average they earn less than half what men make in the same position. These 2012 figures from the Department of Labor represent total annual earnings and don’t distinguish between full- and part-time work.

Schultz says work flexibility is another factor in the gender pay gap. Alaska has a predominance of jobs in natural resources, often in remote work sites.

“That can sometimes be more of a challenge to women, because women traditionally take on a larger burden when it comes to family care. So, you know, if they need to leave early to pick up the kid from school, a woman is more likely to take a flexible job, maybe that pays a little bit less, than a man is,” Schultz says.

What women can do about it

Tamiah Liebersbach is the Women’s Economic Empowerment Center coordinator for YWCA Alaska. She says discrimination is a contributing factor to the pay gap, even if it’s not done on purpose.

“Some sort of idea that maybe a woman isn’t as committed to her career, if she has a family – those kinds of stereotypes do play a role, I think, in not just the wage that a woman gets, but the opportunities that she’s given to build her career,” Liebersbach says.

YWCA Alaska will host a Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit for the first time on May 5, Alaska’s Equal Pay Day. The summit includes a session on the art of negotiation. Wage disparity is also a focus of the Alaska Women’s Summit, established last year after state Sen. Lesil McGuire commissioned a report on the status of women in Alaska.

Barbara Belknap is a Juneau activist working on the issue of equal pay for women. She’s also anAlaska delegate to Vision 2020, a national coalition focused on women’s economic and social equality.

Belknap says negotiating salary is one way for women to take the matter of pay disparity into their own hands.

“Before you go into the interview, understand what the pay scale is for what you’re applying for, know what the going rate is, do some research,” Belknap says.

A couple of years ago, Belknap made a YouTube video demonstrating how to successfully negotiate pay.

Through the video, Belknap is spreading a message she never got. She says it never occurred to her to negotiate salary when she was appointed executive director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in 1997.

“They said, ‘Well, we were paying your predecessor too much money, so your salary is going to be this much money.’ And I remember the little thought bubble in my head going, ‘Oh really, really?’ But I didn’t say anything,” Belknap says.

Belknap received pay increases over time, but says her starting salary was $8,000 less than the starting salary of her male predecessor.

State economist Schultz says whatever the reasons may be for the pay gap, the result is the same – women have less money:

“At the end of the year, at the end of a lifespan, at the end of a career, women have earned less money consistently through 25, 30, 35 years of working. And that really adds up.”

And this fact, Schultz says, leads to other questions.

“What does it mean for Alaska’s economy and what does it mean for women in Alaska, that in general, they have less money than men do? How does it affect their spending? How does it affect child care? How does it affect children?”

Schultz doesn’t know the answers. She also doesn’t know what happens in corporate offices during salary talks, but as an economist, she’ll continue to collect and present the data that could lead to decreasing Alaska’s pay gap.

Amendment To Restructure Judicial Council Stalls Before Vote

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:28

A constitutional amendment that would reconfigure a commission tasked with vetting judges was pulled from a vote in the Alaska Senate on Monday and then again on Tuesday after struggling to pick up the necessary support.

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Senate Joint Resolution 21 would make it so that the governor’s public appointees on the Judicial Council would outnumber the attorney members two to one. It would also require the attorney members to go through confirmation by the Legislature. Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has pitched it as a way to add more rural members to the council and increase public oversight of judicial selection.

The Alaska Court System and the Alaska Federation of Natives have come out against the amendment, and Democrats in the minority have argued that the change would allow the Legislature to stack the judiciary. In recent years, the Judicial Council has been a political target for conservative advocacy groups that are unhappy with the way the courts have ruled on abortion cases.

Because SJR 21 would amend the Constitution, it needs approval from two-thirds of the Legislature. Sen. Lesil McGuire, who chairs the Rules Committee tasked with scheduling the measure, says it’s not quite there yet. Enough urban Democrats and moderate Republicans have registered opposition to the amendment to keep it from going through.

“It’s a question about whether the votes are there for sure.”

The measure has been re-scheduled for Wednesday’s calendar to give Kelly the chance to secure another ‘yes’ vote.

This is the second time this session a constitutional amendment was scheduled for a vote in the Senate only to be withdrawn from consideration. The other constitutional measure would have allowed public funds to be spent at private schools, including religious ones.

McGuire says more constitutional amendments have gotten close to passage this year because the Senate is no longer controlled by a bipartisan coalition.

“Most of the things that were on the far right and the far left were kept off the table,” says McGuire. “So the agenda over the past six years was right down the middle of the road for Alaskans. So, what you’re seeing now is a conservative Senate. And as a result of that, you’ve got members that have been waiting to get out of that starting gate with their conservative messages.”

If Kelly’s amendment fails to attract more support, it could be held in the Rules Committee indefinitely.

Any constitutional amendment that passes the Legislature gets put on the ballot for a vote.

This story has been updated to reflect Tuesday’s floor action.

State Reviewing Sulfolane Cleanup Standards

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:27

The state will take another look at its cleanup standard for sulfolane contaminated water in North Pole. Last November, the Department of Environmental Conservation set a 14 parts per billion clean up threshold for groundwater tainted by historic spills at the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery.

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