A small southern Southeast Alaska ferry line is of large value to the region’s economy. That’s according to a new report studying the Inter-Island Ferry Authority.The authority, known as the IFA, carries about 52,000 passengers a year.A single ferry leaves the eastern Prince of Wales Island port of Hollis each morning. It arrives in Ketchikan about three hours later, and then waits ‘til the evening to sail back.The Inter-Island Ferry Authority ship Stikine sails through Ketchikan’s Tongass Narrows. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.A new study shows it’s an important part of the region’s economy. (Read the report.)“No one is no more dependent on IFA’s daily timetable than those trying to get fresh or live seafood to market,” says Meilani Schijvens of Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates. She authored the report, funded by a state grant to the authority.Schijvens says the ferry carries 3 million pounds of seafood a year, with a value of $15 million.Researchers talked to Prince of Wales Island fishermen, divers and logistics workers for the report.“And the businesses told us that without the IFA, they wouldn’t be in business,” Schijvens says. She says the ferry also supports seafood processors in Ketchikan.The report says tourists and others traveling to the island spend close to $6 million a year. And islanders headed to Ketchikan purchase about $10 million in goods.“We talked to the floor manager in Wal-Mart there and he let us know that approximately 10 percent of all of his customers are coming off the ferry. And those numbers add up,” Schijvens says.A map of southern Southeast shows the route taken by the IFA ferry. (IFA image)The Inter-Island Ferry Authority study also shows close to 4,000 students sailing the route in a year. About the same number traveled for medical care in Ketchikan or elsewhere.Other details of economic and human impacts are included in the full report. (Read the report.)“I think what it means to us is being able to explain to other people what we mean to them,” says Dennis Watson, the IFA’s general manager. He’s also mayor of Craig, the largest city on Prince of Wales.He says it’s important to note that the ferry authority covers three-quarters of its costs through ticket sales. That‘s far more than the state ferry system, and better than its cousins in Washington state and British Columbia.Watson says that still leaves about a $750,000 hole in the IFA’s $4 million-a-year budget.The Parnell administration has put $500,000 in a funding bill, though there’s no guarantee it will make it through the Legislature.Watson says some of what’s left will be raised internally.“The board has entertained a fare increase just for adult walk-ons. The seniors and children or vehicles won’t be affected by it,” he says.That’ll be a few dollars on top of the $46.25 one-way fare.The Inter-Island Ferry Authority has provided Prince-of-Wales-to-Ketchikan service for about a dozen years. It also ran a northern route for a few seasons, but it didn’t attract enough passengers.Before that, the Alaska Marine Highway System made port calls, but they were less frequent.Report author Schijvens says that didn’t do a lot for island residents.“They absolutely made it work for them at the time. But this is so much better, in terms of being able to have student groups travel, and to go from Prince of Wales to Ketchikan and back again during the day, and not have to get up in the middle of the night, and being able to go one way by ferry and to also come back by ferry,” she says.Before it began, IFA critics predicted it would have to rely heavily on state funding to survive. The report says conditions have changed and the authority is doing well, given the situation.That includes fuel costs that have risen five-fold since then and the island’s population shrinking by about a fifth.
Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.Listen now:Alaska Communities To Be Compensated $28.5M for Tax-Exempt LandsLiz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries.Obama to Expand Pacific Marine SanctuaryLiz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.President Obama announced he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development. The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department.Kodiak Fishermen Find a Niche Consumer MarketSteve Heimel, APRN – AnchorageSmall boat fishermen out of Kodiak have found a premium market for their catch, based on the idea of buying local. The jig fishery uses gear as light as ten pounds, and is open to anyone who buys a permit. A number of restaurants are willing to pay more for fish caught that way.Steel Creek Fire Near Fairbanks Draws Air ResponseDan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksA new Fairbanks area wildfire drew a major response last night. A forestry official reports that ground and air resources were tapped to attack the Steel Creek Fire, near mile four of Chena Hot Springs Road.Ferry Workers Reach Tentative Labor AgreementCasey Kelly, KTOO – JuneauThe largest labor union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers has a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the state. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the Alaska Department of Administration reached the agreement last week after more than six months at the bargaining table.GCI Doles Out Cheeseburgers To Celebrate Launch of 3G ServiceBen Matheson, KYUK –BethelGCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers Friday. Residents in the community have been frustrated by slow connections speeds through GCI.Right-Wing Lt. Gov. Candidate Vies for Ballot SlotDan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksA Fairbanks woman is part of a team trying to get a new party on the Alaska ballot. Maria Rensel is running as an Alaska Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor.Plans for a Skatepark Get Rolling in KwethlukCharles Enoch, KYUK – BethelVillage youth in the Kuskokwim village of Kwethluk will soon have a chance to do something few of them have done before: skateboard. Construction of a new skatepark there will begin next month. The park is the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta.Loo Dedication Draws Small Crowd in KetchikanMaria Dudzak, KRBD – KetchikanA ribbon cutting ceremony for a new public facility was held last week in downtown Ketchikan. The christening of the Stedman-Thomas Neighborhood Loo attracted about 40 people on a sunny and windy morning.
Eklutna, Inc. and the Greatland Trust have partnered on a land conservation project that will preserve over 1,000 acres of Eklunta, Inc. owned land for subsistence use. Download AudioThe land is a prime area for hunting, berry picking and fishing and contains high quality salmon and migratory bird habitat. Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen says the deal helps balance growth and development in the Valley with land conservation and cultural values. He says the land is “conserved for future generations of Eklutna people.” The lands will remain under Eklutna Inc. ownership for use by shareholders, but public recreation access through permits will continue. Phil Shepherd is executive director of the Greatland Trust.“We’ve been working with Eklutna four years now on a number of projects throughout their holdings, and they are voluntary agreements that place their lands in conservation status,” Shepherd said.Shepherd says the conservation agreement, although voluntary, is a legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust that permanently restricts future development and subdivision on the lands. “The funding comes from a variety of sources, grant funding, and we also get funding from wetland mitigation,” Shepherd said. “We pool all those funds together and use the funds to purchase the conservation easement and then put together a land management fund.”Shepherd says the land management fund is accessible to both Eklutna and the Trust.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last week to review the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill response. An environmental group based in Homer was part of the first push to change the existing dispersant rules.Download AudioIn some ways, this review began as a result of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.“British Petroleum sprayed almost two million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico and we recognize we really don’t understand the toxicity of this product; we don’t know what’s in it,” says Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inletkeeper, a member organization of the Earthjustice coalition. “So, we got together with other groups across the nation and we petitioned EPA to finally release this rule.”Deepwater Horizon Spill – (Photo via nature.com)Mathy Stanislaus is the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.“I am responsible for, among other things, overseeing the emergency planning and response program for EPA,” Stanislaus said.He says there is already a rule in place. But the BP spill caused a wave of community concern and feedback that EPA is now addressing. The proposed changes would take a more in-depth look at dispersants and their short and long-term impacts in different environments.“Looking at different kinds of conditions – How do these agents react to cold conditions versus warmer conditions? How should we look at different kinds of species? So, it’s a far broader set of considerations than are currently in the rule and what we incorporated during Deepwater Horizon,” says Stanislaus.The revisions would also take a more aggressive approach to monitoring dispersants. Stanislaus says there would be parameters in place to decide whether or not to use them. Then, he says the rule would push for minimizing use to decrease impacts to the shoreline and wildlife.“So we monitor those impacts and if it were to exceed the level that we have established, then we would stop using dispersants,” says Stanislaus. “So, we bring those kind of monitoring requirements as part of the basic structure of the rule.”The revisions include more research on the toxicity of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents. There would also be new criteria for listing products as appropriate for oil spill response based on effectiveness and toxicity. EPA states that dispersant manufactures will use a peer reviewed laboratory method for testing the products.“To make sure that it is a rigorous scientific analysis of the agents for EPA to be able to evaluate and list it, pursuant to this rule,” says Stanislaus.But the wildlife and environment aren’t the only concerns addressed in the proposal. There would be additional human health and safety information requirements, which Shavelson says, is very important.“There were an untold number of illnesses in the gulf from the BP oil spill and the use of dispersants and we don’t have a good handle on that,” says Shavelson. “So, we really want to understand what that means if we’re going to use dispersants in and around Alaskan communities.”He says he’d like to see some of the studies move outside the lab to get the most accurate and diverse set of data possible. Especially in extremely biodiverse cold water environments like Alaskan waters, he says it’s hard to be sure exactly what will happen.“I think we need to talk to our scientists and get a better understanding on where you could have a controlled experiment where you’re not going to have undue impacts but you’re going to understand how dispersants behave,” says Shavelson.EPA is accepting public comments on the proposal 90 days following publication in the federal register.
One of Sean Parnell’s final acts as governor was to remove the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard. The cause was a federal investigation documenting problems with fraud and the handling of sexual assault. Now, a new adjutant general is tasked with restoring trust in the force. At a pair of confirmation hearings on Tuesday, Laurie Hummel was asked about her plans for reforming the Guard, and went through a personal line of questioning along the way. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.During her first confirmation hearings before the Legislature, Adjutant General Designee Laurie Hummel was asked a lot of the standards, like what leadership is (“People believe in your abilities, they believe in your principles, and they want to follow you”) and what’s the timeline for National Guard reform (“I don’t believe it will be completed this session”).She was asked about terrorism and drones, her tenure at West Point and her academic background in geography. She walked the committees through her 12-page C.V., which lists four graduate degrees and 17 military medals and awards — including a Legion of Merit. She talked about her service in Afghanistan and work with NATO.But in addition to her resume and her policy positions, Hummel was also questioned on her personal life. Hummel’s military background comes from her 30-year career in the Army. But her husband, Col. Chad Parker, commanded a brigade in the Alaska National Guard until recently.In the House State Affairs Committee, Chair Bob Lynn wanted to know if her spouse would continue to serve in the Alaska National Guard alongside her. Hummel responded that her husband was taking a job with the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. HUMMEL: He is not within the employment of the DMVA, and of course, that is necessitated in order to comply with our nepotism statutes.LYNN: So he will still be in the National Guard, but not in the chain of command here, so he is not retiring from the National Guard.HUMMEL: That is correct, sir.During his time in the National Guard, Parker handled some of investigations into wrongdoing. Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, also wanted to know if Parker had ever talked to Hummel about difficulties the National Guard had in addressing sexual assault.LYNN: Your husband didn’t tell you about it?HUMMEL: No, actually, my husband — it wasn’t really discussed at home.Hummel said she learned about the problems by reading the news.At a separate hearing before the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, questioning took a different tack. Hummel was prodded on whether the state should adopt a Uniform Code of Military Justice to create more accountability in the Guard, and she was repeatedly asked if such a code should penalize extramarital affairs.Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux made the first inquiry. The Anchorage Republican has a history with Hummel, having beat off an election challenge from Hummel last year.“If someone were having an extramarital affair, or something of that nature, that would be adjudicated under the military, as opposed to our civil laws?” asked LeDoux.Rep. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, then continued down that line of questioning on extramarital affairs.“[I] was curious as to your thoughts as far whether any of that might be unreasonable, and whether under your leadership you would think that wouldn’t it be better for it not to be in the code because you wouldn’t see enforcing it,” said Hughes during the hearing.Hummel responded that she believes the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a “sound document.”After the hearing, Hughes said there was no specific motivation behind her questions. But she also said she wondered if Hummel’s personal experiences would prompt her to “change some of the standards.” Hughes said she knew that Hummel had previously been married to Eric Feige, a former state legislator, before getting remarried.“Whether through someone went through that would enforce it, yes, there is a curiosity about that,” said Hughes, referring to enforcement of provisions in the military code.Hughes said she learned of Hummel’s marital history during campaign season, but would not elaborate on what exactly she meant when talking of the adjutant general designee’s “personal experiences.”“I was out in Palmer. I wasn’t hanging out in Anchorage, so I never went into any of the activities or debates or anything like that,” said Hughes. “So, I was busy.”Hughes said she was satisfied by Hummel’s answers to her questions. Both she and LeDoux plan to support Hummel’s confirmation.Hummel said she did not have time for questions after the hearing.
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – JuneauAfter a weeklong stalemate on the budget, the Alaska State Legislature is making moves to gavel out tonight [MONDAY]. It’s been eight days since theymissed their adjournment deadline.“Download Audio”
It’s the fourth day of the Iditarod, and dozens of teams are in the middle of their mandatory 24 hour rests. Mitch Seavey was the first to declare his rest in Takotna, and is cleared to leave just before 11 o’clock Wednesday. The elder Seavey is a regular in Takotna, and says there are plenty of reasons for that.Download Audio Jessie Royer, left, eats in Takotna with Mark Sass, Brent Sass’s father, as well as Richie Diehl and Pete Kaiser. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/ Alaska Public Media)“It just works out just about right here. They aren’t too tired, but they’ll make good use of the rest. And the amenities here are great, especially the hot water to feed your dogs. It’s really important,” said Seavey. Two-time champion Mitch Seavey, pictured here in McGrath, is taking his 24-hour break in Takotna. (Photo by Zach Hughes, Alaska Public Media)The long break gives mushers the chance to spend a little more time examining and caring for their dogs in ways that aren’t possible during short three or four hour rests. For Jodi Bailey, that’s time spent refueling and recalibrating her team.“The dogs will get four big feedings while they’re here, they’ll get snacks. And actually this has been…the trail conditions are such that [it’s] actually taking a toll on the feet, so I’ve actually gone through the team twice and massaged the feet with a really nice liniment massage oil,” said Bailey.Bailey says the snow is rough for those running in the middle of the pack because it’s getting ground down to the consistency of sugar, which is hard on paws. Bailey’s own priorities during the 24 were not so different from her team.“I’m trying to eat and sleep myself a lot,” said Bailey. Takotna has proven to be a popular stop for winning mushers along the Iditarod’s northern route. (Map by Ben Matheson/Alaska Pubic Media)There’s a strategic benefit to comfort. Many mushers pick Takotna for their 24 because the hospitality extends beyond hearty food and an abundant selection of pies. Signs warn tourists and media away from resting teams, lest they intrude. In spite of the amenities, Norwegian race rookie Lars Monsen is set up in a tent next to his sled and dogs. Which is how he likes it.Lars Monsen tends to his dogs–all 16 still running–with a tent-for camping beside-them. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes / Alaska Public Media.)“Total calmness and privacy. You know, I’m totally alone, that’s much better,” said Monsen.But for many, Takotna has simply too many distractions. Several front-runners have been stopped in Ophir since the early hours of Wednesday morning, with several more speeding out of Ophir at eight or nine miles per hour. Suggesting there’s no rest for the weary, until at least Cripple or Ruby.
Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)Download AudioThe board tasked with regulating Alaska’s nascent marijuana industry has approved draft regulations for how customers will be allowed to consume pot they buy in certain retail stores on site.The proposed rules, which will go out for public comment, call for retail stores that will be permitted to have on-site consumption to have the consumption area cordoned off from the rest of the store by a secure door.Items purchased to be consumed at the store could not be removed from the premises. Regulators likened it to bars, where patrons are not allowed to-go cups for beers they don’t finish.There would be transaction limits, and stores would have to monitor patrons for overconsumption. Gimmicks such as contests involving use of marijuana or pot as prizes would be prohibited.Retail pot shops have yet to be licensed in Alaska.
Citing primarily cost, Alaska Dispatch News Executive Editor David Hulen said his company dropped its contract with the Associated Press on Thursday.Download AudioInside pages of Wednesday’s Alaska Dispatch News — minus the AP content. (Photo illustration by Rashah McChesney, KTOO – Juneau)“There’s no bad blood, there’s no grudge. I’ve got absolutely nothing against AP. But as a service that we pay money for, it just didn’t pencil out for us,” Hulen said.Going forward in the Dispatch’s print and online editions, readers will no longer find content from the AP. AP member radio stations, newspapers and TV stations will no longer be able to use the wire service to access Dispatch content. They’ll have to contact the paper and negotiate permission directly.Andrew Jensen, managing editor of the weekly Alaska Journal of Commerce, said the loss of Dispatch News photos could cause him some trouble.His Anchorage-based newspaper sometimes competes with the Dispatch for stories, but he occasionally relies on their photographers. The Journal of Commerce doesn’t have a staff photographer.Actual losses to other statewide media are hard to quantify, and this is where the story gets a little complicated.Up until 2014, the Alaska Dispatch was online only. Its employees ran a robust news website financed by Alice Rogoff, former chief financial officer of the U.S. News & World Report and the wife of billionaire David Rubenstein.Then Rogoff struck a $38 million surprise deal with California-based McClatchy Company to buy the state’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. That merger resulted in the Alaska Dispatch News.Former Dispatch writer Craig Medred broke the story at craigmedred.news that Alaska Dispatch Publishing LLC had sued McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., over that deal. Part of that lawsuit involves the Anchorage Daily News’ contract with the AP.The lawsuit alleges that McClatchy misrepresented a contract with the AP, leaving the Dispatch on the hook for more than $340,000, according to documents Medred posted.It is unclear what the loss of that revenue will do to the AP’s coverage of the state. Currently, the AP operates a one-person Juneau bureau – where I just finished a stint covering the state legislature — and a three-person Anchorage bureau. Its journalists generate original stories in addition to aggregating and curating photos and stories from its member news organizations. It circulates that news to members in the state and around the world.AP Director of Media Relations Paul Colford said it won’t change the way the company provides news in Alaska.“We have every intention of continuing to provide a strong and vital news report in Alaska. Period,” Colford said.At the Dispatch, Hulen said he doesn’t think readers or other AP members in the state will notice much of a difference.“If you look at it closely, we were not using very much AP content and haven’t for some time. And I think it’s also, if you look closely, I’m not sure that much of our content was actually being used around the state, maybe kind of as filler. We have not used an enormous amount of AP content.”What Dispatch journalists don’t generate, Hulen said often comes from other content-sharing services. He said the company recently added Reuters, which is a wire service that competes with the AP.“We get a bunch of services,” Hulen said. “We get The New York Times, we get The Washington Post, Bloomberg, we get Tribune. We get The Christian Science Monitor and now we get Reuters, and so we’re not using AP but I’m not sure a normal reader would see much of a change.”Hulen said he strongly supports the work that AP journalists do and that he supports the organization’s continued presence in the state. But, as newsroom budgets are reduced statewide, less content is produced, and the AP’s sharing service has become less valuable to the Dispatch.“People are doing good work, they’re doing the best they can. But everybody is also doing it with much less horsepower than they may have had 5 years ago. Say if you’re in Ketchikan or Fairbanks or Kenai for that matter, right? Just as the things have, you know, as the media economics have evolved — but that’s not at all to disparage the good work … that people are doing on any given day.”Hulen said the Dispatch has informal content-sharing agreements with several media organizations in Alaska and that those will continue.Editor’s note: Rashah McChesney is a former Associated Press reporter who covered the Alaska legislature as a temporary employee earlier this year. Also, KTOO and Alaska Public Meida are AP members and, separately, KTOO and the Alaska Dispatch News occasionally share news content.
Cook Inlet oil platforms are visible from shore near Kenai, Alaska. The dominant oil and gas producer in Cook Inlet has struggled with aging infrastructure and reported three pipeline failures this year. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)The federal agency charged with regulating pipelines and hazardous materials is looking into another natural gas leak on a Hilcorp platform in Cook Inlet.Listen nowPatricia Klinger, a spokesperson for the the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, wrote in an email that the agency is aware of the leak and investigating it.It is the third report this year of equipment failure on Hilcorp-owned infrastructure in the inlet, including another ongoing gas leak and an oil leak.In an emailed statement, company spokesperson Lori Nelson said Hilcorp started an audit of its pipelines in the region in response to its other gas leak. During an inspection, the company discovered that a pipeline on its Steelhead Platform was measuring more gas leaving the platform than what was arriving on shore.Nelson called this a “metering discrepancy,” but she said the company took the line out of service on April 1, as a precaution. Nelson wrote that the company flew over the area several times, but did not find evidence of a gas leak.The company was also responding to an oil leak from its nearby Anna platform on April 1 and has shut down two other oil platforms in Cook Inlet to deal with a natural gas leak that has been visibly bubbling to the surface of Cook Inlet since February. Icy and winter weather conditions have complicated repair of both lines.The line from the Steelhead platform has been emptied of natural gas and filled with seawater since April 3.The state agencies involved in the other spills in Cook Inlet acknowledged that they are aware of the situation on the Steelhead Platform, but would not comment on record about the situation.Lois Epstein is an engineer and the Arctic Program Director for the Wilderness Society. She joined calls from other environmental groups in Cook Inlet for an audit of Hilcorp’s aging infrastructure.“They are very open about their business plan, which is to take over old fields and make them profitable for the company,” Epstein said. “We need to see whether they’re cutting corners. We need to ask a lot of hard questions about their operations.”Epstein said the company should not be allowed to expand its operations in Alaska without addressing concerns about its safety record.
There’s renewed optimism about finding a deposit of natural gas in the Nenana Basin that can be developed. Doyon, an Interior regional Alaska Native Corporation, has explored the area for 10 years without commercially producing gas, but their president and CEO said new data is yielding promising results.Listen nowAaron Schutt spoke to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.“Very clean data,” Schutt said. “It was better than any other data we’ve gathered before and there were more targets than we expected to see as well.”Doyon has spent $100 million looking for oil and gas in the Nenana and Minto Basins.”What we have learned is the Nenana Basin has generated a tremendous amount of gas and certainly some oil,” Schutt said.Schutt said to expect an announcement in November.
Milken Education Award winner Valerie Baalerud (center) holds a check with (left to right) Eagle River High principal Marty Lang, Baalerud’s daughter and her husband. (Photo by Wesley Early , Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)Eagle River High School teacher Valerie Baalerud was sitting near her students in an assembly waiting to hear a talk from state Education Commissioner Micahel Johnson. Then the topic of the Milken Educator Award came up.Listen nowThe prestigious award comes with a $25,000 check from the foundation.“I was totally shocked,” Baalerud said. “I was talking with some students about who it might be. We were all sort of making our bets and then at least one of those students said, ‘I think it could be you, Mrs. Ballerud.’ And I laughed and said I could always find a way to spend that money or something. And then they said my name and I was like, ‘Oh no!’ And she goes, ‘I knew it!’”Baalerud grew up in small-town Pennsylvania. She says her hometown of Granville Summit has a population of about 60. She jokes there are more cows than people. She says she’s always been a history nerd and picked up teaching as a career because her first husband was in the military, and wherever the family moved, teaching jobs were available.Members of Eagle River High’s JROTC program present the amount of the Milken Award to the assembly. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)She ended up settling in Eagle River with her family and has been at Eagle River High School for eight years. Eagle River High principal Marty Lang says Baalerud earned the award.“She is whip smart. Her energy is so infectious that when she’s in front of a classroom, kids just can’t help but love what she’s doing and love history,” Lang said. “She brings that every day to every class. It doesn’t matter at what level, she’s just such a dynamic teacher and a great ambassador for education that she’s more than deserving.”The real purpose of the assembly was a surprise to almost everyone at the school. Lang was among a very small group of people who knew about the award.“That’s the hardest part,” Lang said. “I found out sometime, I think, in mid-December and so for two months I’ve had to hold onto this secret that’s so much fun.”Baalerud employs some creative teaching techniques. In an economics class today she incorporated a concept from the TV program Stranger Things to explain price floors and price ceilings. She also has her AP World History students describe their favorite historical events for their final exams. She also has her students create 1920s style radio shows. Baalerud’s dedication goes way beyond the classroom.Valerie Baalerud talks to the assembly after receiving her award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)“I’ve done everything here at the school itself,” Baalerud said. “I’ve taught flag football; I was head coach for a while. I coached DDF — Drama Debate and Forensics. I’ve coached track and field. I’ve done a little bit of everything, and I think that’s really important as a teacher, to get to know your students outside of the classroom as well as in, and I’ve really enjoyed doing that.”Baalerud says she plans to spend the award money on an upcoming family trip this summer.“It’s really nice to have a cash prize with it. I’ve never won anything before… I won a bike when I was I was in second grade. This is way better,” Baalerud laughed.Baalerud is one of 44 recipients of the Milken Educator award this year, and the sole Alaska award winner.
The City of Utqiagvik is a member of Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, which recently wrote a letter to the Interior Department about the draft offshore drilling proposal. (Creative Commons photo)Some of the oil industry’s biggest supporters got a lot more than they asked for in the Trump administration’s latest offshore drilling proposal. In early January, the Interior Department proposed opening up the vast majority of Alaska’s offshore areas to oil leasing. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Governor Bill Walker and others are already asking Interior to scale back, limiting oil lease sales to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and Cook Inlet.Listen nowNow, Voice of the Arctic Inupiat (VOICE), an advocacy group of Inupiat leadership organizations across the North Slope, including tribal councils, municipal governments, Alaska Native Corporations and others, is also weighing in.To be clear, VOICE isn’t against oil development. Last year, the group made a big push to allow drilling in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When it comes to offshore oil development in the Arctic, VOICE doesn’t yet have an official position.But it does have a position on how Interior went about its latest proposal.In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, VOICE wrote, “with respect to the Arctic [Outer Continental Shelf] announcement on the [Draft Proposed Program], we feel the concerns of local organizations were ignored and that deeply disturbs us.”VOICE chairman and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation president Rex Rock Sr. said, ”we expressed our concerns and we felt that we were being ignored, such as the Barrow and Kaktovik whaling areas and the 25-mile Chukchi Sea buffer.”In the letter, VOICE writes those particular areas are “critical to Northern Alaska food security” — they’re used by local communities for whaling and other subsistence hunting.Interior’s draft proposal would allow oil drilling in these waters, although the proposal states that excluding the Barrow and Kaktovik whaling areas and the 25-mile Chukchi Sea coastal buffer “may warrant further analysis.”Rock said North Slope leaders had already made it clear to the federal government that those areas should stay off limits.“We had already worked this with the past administration and said, ‘here are the areas that we ask that you stay away from,’” Rock said.Rock added, “we’ve always said that for us consultation is huge, you need to come in and talk to the people that are here.”VOICE’s letter concludes that Interior decisions affecting the North Slope “must be based on consultation, coordination and engagement with Alaska Natives.”The Interior Department has not yet responded to a request for comment on the letter. However, Interior has stressed the plan is not final; it’s still possible to remove many of the areas where offshore drilling is currently proposed.A public hearing on Interior’s draft offshore drilling plan proposal is set to take place in Anchorage on February 21.Reporter Ravenna Koenig contributed to this story.
Sea ice extent is near record low levels in the Arctic ocean and that has implications for weather patterns around the globe.Brian Brettschneider says that in the past climate models have struggled to connect ocean conditions with what happens in the atmosphere. But he says two new studies (you can find here and here) do a much better job describing that link.Brettschneider says what happens in one, really drives the other.Listen nowInterview Highlights:What we’re learning is that the reduction of sea ice is affecting the flow of the atmosphere. And we see the response is a deepening of low pressure in some areas and an increase of high pressure in other areas. That affects which direction the wind comes from and where the storm tracks are located, so lots of impacts that are more fine scale than the fact that it’s warming here, or cooling off there.What are those specific impacts?What we’ve come to understand is the response to this new state of the climate system is a deepening of the Aleutian low pressure system, a weakening of the Icelandic low pressure system and an increase in the Siberian high pressure system. These are semi-permanent features, they’re typically there for months at a time in the cold season and they drive the weather across the entire globe.Why does this matter?When we have this idea that we’re in a warming world, when we just paint that one broad brush, that’s very important over longer time scales. But understanding how these finer scale patterns are going to set up, matters more on more human time scales. We’re talking interactions that are much more complicated. And as we do more of these models and studies, we get a better idea of how things are going to change at the regional scale.