Alaska News Nightly: June 4, 2012

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio

EPA Holding Bristol Bay Watershed Draft Assessment Public Comment Hearings

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

The EPA is holding a public comment hearing on its draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed until 9:00 p.m. Monday night in Anchorage. There will be more hearings around the state on the assessment later this week. Advocates for and against the proposed Pebble Mine are reacting to the assessment with differing and predictable points of view.

The draft assessment is just that – a draft. It does not have legal authority, and does not rule in any direction. But some opponents of the mine see the assessment as potentially good news, including Bella Hammond. She’s the wife of former governor Jay Hammond.

She says the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay and the mine can’t coexist.

“The fishery is far more important … it’s a wonderful source of protein,” Hammond said.

And it’s more than just food, she’s also worried about the mine’s potential effects on the long-lived fishing culture on Bristol Bay.

The opponents to the mine aren’t the only ones reading the tea leaves.

Industry officials are lashing out at the EPA over the draft assessment

“If they’re going to do something, it’ll be something aimed right at Pebble. Even though they say the report is not about Pebble, we’re mentioned in the executive summary 25 times,” John Shively, the head of the Pebble Partnership – the company aiming to mine Bristol Bay for all sorts of metals, including copper and gold, said.

Shively says the Pebble Partnership has spent more than $120 million and eight years, studying whether mining there is worth it.

But the EPA, he contends, rushed its research, analyzing 20,000 square miles in less than a year. Pebble Partnership has not finished applying for the permits, and the EPA admits it is unusual to release an assessment prior to permitting.

To Shively, that looks like an overzealous federal agency regulating state waters – something he says, the state is in charge of.

“If you want to do the watershed assessment, you ought to do it correctly. And if you’re going to do the assessment correctly, it’s going to take you several years. So you ought to go back and get that piece right,” Shively said.

You can expect to hear the same arguments from both sides until the final assessment comes out. The EPA says that will likely come by the end of the year.

F-16 Squadron Move Would Seriously Affect North Star Borough School District

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Air Force’s plan to relocate the F-16 Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force base will have serious implications for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District if the move takes place.

One-thousand-twenty-four.  That’s the estimated number of students that the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District stands to lose if a squadron of F-16s are relocated to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.  School Superintendent Pete Lewis says that’s a big enough loss to force the closure of the three schools on base.

“There wouldn’t be but you know 50 kids left, a hundred kids left on the base.  It would be difficult for us to continue to provide the quality of education we currently offer, so we would have to look at multiple scenarios in terms of what we might do,” Lewis said.

According to the Air Force, the school district could see a $1.5 million reduction in federal funding if the plan moves forward.  Lewis says the relocation will change how money is allocated to the district.

“Well I think it will be an adjustment in the foundation formula the money that comes from the state and then we also receive impact aid money from the federal government and that is also formula driven and it is a part of how the foundation formula is calculated so it would be a loss in revenue for us,” Lewis said.

The School Board has amended their agenda for a work session Monday night. They will discuss the 2012-2013 school year budget.  There is no word on whether the board will start to look at the effects of the Air Force’s plan.

Remains Repatriated To St. Paul

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

After more than a hundred years in the Smithsonian Museum collection, the remains of two people from St. Paul Island have been returned to the community.

Group Unhappy With Redistricting Board’s Amended Proclamation Plan

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Unalaska

Alaskans for Fair Redistricting released a statement last week calling the Redistricting Board’s Amended Proclamation Plan “terrible.” Vince Beltrami is the co-chair of AFFR. He says the latest plan could result in the loss of a protected seat in proposed district 38, which pairs urban communities in Fairbanks with rural communities as far out as the Bering Sea Coast.

Beltrami says if the district loses its benchmark seat, the Voting Rights Act will no longer apply in that district and the change would be permanent.

Taylor Bickford is the executive Director of the Alaska Redistricting Board.  He says AFFR has no reason for concern.

With the June First filing deadline over, Vince Beltrami says he is also concerned about the timeline.

The Redistricting Board’s current plan is still awaiting approval from the Department of Justice.  The Board sent their most recent plan to the Department on May 25th.  DOJ has 60 days to consider it.

Most Elections Find Challengers As Election Lists Close

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Division of Elections on Friday saw a large rush of candidates filing paperwork to get themselves on the statewide ballot for this year’s elections.

Health Care Access Complicates Issues For Expecting Rural Mothers

Anne Hillman, KUCB – Unalaska

Limited access to health care in bush Alaska makes giving birth a bit more complicated for rural pregnant women than for expectant mothers in urban areas, like Anchorage or Nome. Women from villages are required to spend the last month of their pregnancies in nearby towns with full-service hospitals. As part of an ongoing series examining efforts to promote cultural understanding and respect between urban and rural Alaskans, APRN contributor Anne Hillman learned how this rule affects families from Pilot Station, a village near Bethel.

Y-K Delta Fish Buyer Plans To Market Salmon Outside Alaska

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

With the statewide salmon fishing season just starting up, many Alaskans are eager to get the highly prized fish for their freezers. But for one Yukon Kuskokwim Delta fish buyer, there is a clear goal: marketing Kuskowkim River Salmon to areas outside Alaska.

Launching The Trip Of A Lifetime

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A group of 20-somethings from Juneau set out on the trip of a lifetime last week. They’ll be kayaking through Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, then hopping on bikes and riding through the rest of the Americas. Their final destination is Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina.

About hundred friends, family and well-wishers gathered at Sandy Beach in South Douglas on Friday to wish the group good luck on their epic adventure. Organizer Chris Hinkley said the idea behind the trip is to see what the rest of the world has to offer at a leisurely pace.

“We don’t want to put a time limit on anything,” Hinkley says. “It could be a year, it could be three years, kind of when the money runs out. But we’re going to stop where we want to stop, and move how fast we want to move, and no time to be anywhere.”

Hinkley, Kanaan Bausler, Andrew Flansaas, Colin Flynn, and Max Stanley plan to do the entire trip. About a dozen friends will join for different legs of the journey — most of them recent college graduates; all under the age of 25.

Hinkley says they chose Tierra del Fuego as a stopping point, partly because it seemed like as far as they could go without needing to hop in a car or on a plane.

“Just kind of the longest line you could possibly draw on the map from Juneau, you know?,” he says. “So it was always something that intrigued us, like, ‘Wow, everything connects man. You can go all the way through there and make it all the way.’ So we’re gonna go for it.”

They’ll be shooting video of the people and places they encounter along the way. Bausler hopes to make a documentary about the trip when they get back.

“When we find unique communities that we feel really represent elements of sustainability or happiness, or just like unique characteristics that really are like contributing well to living a good life in connection with your surroundings, we want to document that and share it with everyone,” he says.

Bausler says they don’t have a budget, but some expenses have already been covered through fundraisers and gear donations. That includes a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5-thousand dollars for video equipment, and their kayaks, which are on loan from Seaward Kayaks of British Columbia.

“We had a lot of support from local businesses that really changed the game for us,” Bausler says. “And allowed us to really turn this thing from a vision or a dream into a real reality that’s actually happening.”

They’re also getting plenty of support from their families. Bausler’s dad, Carl, says he did a similar trip when he was 19, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains to Alaska. With advances in communications since then, the elder Bausler says he’s more excited than nervous for his son.

“You know when I came up here, I’d call my folks maybe once a month from a pay phone and it would be a collect call and they had no idea where I was,” says Carl Bausler. “And with today’s technology, you get an email and it’s got the GPS coordinates, and you can do the Google map and you put the satellite portion on, and you can almost see where they’re getting their fresh water from, where the streams are coming down.”

Hinkley says they’d all eventually like to return to Juneau. But for now, they’re just going to enjoy the journey.

“I always envisioned myself coming back here and raising kids,” says Hinkley. “But who knows. There’s an adventure ahead of us, so we’ll see where it takes us.”

As they set out in their kayaks Friday afternoon, with the wind at their backs, the group raised their paddles in the air and saluted their friends and family cheering from shore.

You can track the group’s adventure at

Aleutian Island’s Unangan Name Restored

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

Four years ago, Rat Island’s namesake rodents were eradicated. Now, the name is being done away with as well.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially dubbed the remote Aleutian island Hawadax, an Unangan word meaning “entry” or “welcome.” That was the island’s traditional name, before a Japanese shipwreck in 1780 unleashed a plague of rodents.

“People from Atka had used the name Hawadax in relation to that island even as late as the 1950s,” says Karen Pletnikoff.

She requested the name change on behalf of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleut Corporation. Pletnikoff says response to the proposal was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

“I think the revitalization of the Aleut culture comes in many forms and this – renaming Rat Island to Hawadax – is just one more step in that process of cultural revitalization and of being more accurate, now that there are no rats on Rat Island.”

An eradication campaign led by the federal government and environmental groups wiped out the rodents in 2008. Today, native seabirds are recolonizing the uninhabited island’s rocky cliffs.