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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

FERC Nominee Approved Despite Murkowski’s Objection

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:16

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. One of those nominations was approved over the outspoken objection of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, had two members confirmed on Tuesday.  Cheryl LaFleur, acting chair of the Commission, was approved in a 90-7 vote.  The vote for the second nominee, Norman Bay, had a much closer vote of 52-45.  The vote on Bay’s nomination fell along mostly partisan lines, though two Democrats did break ranks to vote with the Republican minority.  Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of the more vocal opponent’s of Norman Bay’s nomination.  Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy committee, says that part of her reason for opposing the nomination has to do with President Barack Obama’s intent to make Bay, a first time Commission member, the chairman of FERC.

Upper Valley residents may be familiar with FERC.  It is the agency that, among other things, licenses hydroelectric projects like the proposed Susitna dam.  That’s far from all there is, however. Senator Murkowski explained in a floor speech on Tuesday what else FERC does.

“In the energy world, FERC regulates ‘midstream everything.’ The Chairman is its CEO.  Under his or her leadership, FERC regulates: Interstate natural gas and oil pipelines; LNG import and export facilities; The sale of electricity at wholesale (and therefore the large and wholesale power markets that increasingly affect the affordability of all electric service, including at the retail level); The transmission of electricity in interstate commerce – basically the nation’s bulk power system, practically speaking, its high voltage transmission networks; The reliability of that bulk power system; The licensing of hydroelectric facilities and the safety of dams; And the list goes on and on. ”

Senator Murkowski contends that Norman Bay is not ready for the leadership role.  Bay has worked as an employee of FERC for five years.  Under a proposed compromise agreement, he would serve on the Commission for nine months before taking over as chair.  In the meantime, acting chair Cheryl LaFleur would head the agency.   Senator Murkowski says there isn’t certainty at this time as to what exactly would actually take place, however.

“You have to ask the question: What are its terms? Will Acting Chair LaFleur have the opportunity to serve fully and completely as chair? Will it be clear that Mr. Bay is not a ‘shadow chairman’ or ‘chairman-in-waiting’ during this crucial period? At a minimum, before we make a choice about who should lead FERC, the president owes senators a clear timeline of who will be in charge, and what powers will be given to her or him.”

Senator Murkowski also questioned the reason that Cheryl LaFleur, the Commission’s only female member, would be “demoted” in favor of someone who has never served.  She says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated it has to do with changes to policies put in place by former FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff.

““One hint came from our Majority Leader, Sen. Reid. He recently told the Wall Street Journal that Ms. LaFleur ‘has done some stuff to do away with some of Wellinghoff’s stuff’ – without, of course, defining what ‘stuff’ that was, and without acknowledging that much of Mr. Wellinghoff’s ‘stuff’ was either controversial or incapable of withstanding legal challenge.”

Senator Murkowski also says that Norman Bay’s tenure as the head of FERC’s enforcement division has also raised questions.  In the past, she has said that she would not necessarily oppose Bay’s nomination were it not for President Obama’s plan to promote him to chair.  On Tuesday, however, she mentioned questions about Norman Bay’s handling of enforcement for FERC.  In the end, Bay’s nomination was confirmed, albeit not by a large margin.

While Senator Murkowski says she does not always agree with Acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur, she does support her nomination to continue on the Commission.  Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Senator Murkowski, refers to LaFleur as a “liberal Democrat,”  but says that the Senator has been impressed by her ability to lead.

Who ultimately ends up as chair of FERC will be up to President Obama.

Earthquake Rattles Yakutat; Felt in Whitehorse; No Damage Reported

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:15

A strong earthquake near the Canadian border rattled portions of Southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory just before 4 this morning.

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The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the earthquake occurred at 3:49 a.m. Thursday in an area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.
(Credit U.S. Geological Survey)

Natasha Ruppert is a seismologists with the UAF Geophysical Institute’s Earthquake Information Center. She says the magnitude-6.0 quake was centered in a rugged area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.

“This earthquake was in a very remote mountainous region – glaciated region, Ruppert said.”

Ruppert says that’s a very seismically active area, with a very complex intersection of tectonic structures. She says the Earthquake Information Center routinely monitors hundreds of small quakes in the area every month.

“Most of the earthquakes are very small and not felt by anybody,” she said. “But once in a while, you have a significant earthquake that’s large enough to be felt by people in that area.”

The Associated Press says Yakutat-area residents reported feeling the temblor, and that reports also were received from as far east as Whitehorse, about 200 miles east of the epicenter.

Ruppert says the Earthquake Information Center didn’t get any reports from residents of the Interior.

Skiing on Eagle Glacier Connects Alaska to the World

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:14

It’s a warm July day in Girdwood, but after a 10-minute helicopter ride into the Chugach Mountains to Eagle Glacier, it starts to look and feel a bit like winter. The temperature drops, and snow blankets the ground. About two dozen women—most from Alaska Pacific University’s cross country ski team—take advantage of the summertime snow during a week-long training camp.

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The athletes workout five hours a day, and spend their down time in a rustic building precariously perched beside a 5,000 foot cliff.  Olympian Kikkan Randall has been coming to the trainings for 14 years, and says they’ve helped her become one of the world’s top speed skiers.

“I’ve always been really proud of Eagle Glacier and the opportunities we have here,” she says. “We can ski twice a day, and we can do so at a moderate altitude where we don’t have to modify our training intensities, so it’s pretty unique.”

While snow is a constant, relatively warm summer temperatures create less-than-ideal skiing conditions on the glacier. As the athletes trudge up a steep hill on the 10 kilometer track, they struggle to push through the slushy snow.  But Erik Flora says the tough environment has its perks.

“Every time the Olympics come up people pray for nice weather, but the trail always turns to a mess,” he says. “You have rain, sleet, soft snow and that’s the magic of Eagle Glacier because as you can see in the course here it’s not easy…. We have a term for it: championship weather.”

APU skiers aren’t the only ones benefiting from the weeklong training. Each year at least one international athlete travels to Eagle glacier. Two years ago Aino-Kaisa Saarinen came from Finland and quickly befriended APU skier and Olympian Holly Brooks.  The two reunited at the Sochi Olympics last winter where Saarinen took home two silver medals.

“We ran into Aino Kaisa and she stopped us and she started crying and said I want to thank you girls, because I think spending time in Alaska and spending time with you really helped me and my team earn this medal,” Brooks recalls. “Of course we wished that the U.S. had been able to bring home that medal, but that was really a priceless moment for us.”

This summer Norway’s Celine Brun-Lie traveled 4,000 miles to train on Eagle Glacier. Since thereare no places to ski in the summer in Norway, Brun-Lie says she’s having a blast in Alaska. And while she recognizes that many of the women she’s skiing with will be fierce competitors on the World Cup circuit come winter, right now she’s just trying to learn as much as she can.

“I can teach Kikkan [Randall] something, she can teach me something, and then in the winter maybe I beat her because of what she taught me, or she beats me because I told her something,” Brun-Lie says. “But I think that’s the way it should work, and that’s the fun thing about sports.”

The women’s training session ends Sunday, and APU’s men’s team will be on the glacier at the end of July.

USKH Named One of the Nation’s Best Firms to Work For

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:02
USKH Named One of the Nation’s Best Firms to Work ForUSKH Inc, now Stantec, is the 12th highest rated Multidiscipline Architecture/Engineering Firm to Work For in the country, according to ZweigWhite.July 17, 2014

Alaska News Nightly: July 17, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:01

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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NASA Testing Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring Technology With High-Flying Ex-Spy Plane

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

NASA is piloting a mission out of Fairbanks with a specialized plane that can fly high enough to test technology destined for satellite applications.

Report Investigates Coal Dust Hazards In Seward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska Community Action on Toxics has issued a new report on the hazards of coal dust in Seward.  The organization is recommending further monitoring, but city officials deny that local air quality is poor.

Musk Ox Killed After Attacking Sled Dog

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Living with wildlife isn’t always easy, as a recent incident with a musk ox attack in Kotzebue makes clear.

In Transition: When a Family of Five Calls One Room Home

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau charity organization St. Vincent de Paul has a record high number of people staying in its transitional housing shelter. Usually, around 55 people live in the 26 units. At the moment, there are 66 occupants, almost half are children.

FERC Nominee Approved Despite Murkowski’s Objection

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  One of those nominations was approved over the outspoken objection of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

Earthquake Rattles Yakutat; Felt in Whitehorse; No Damage Reported

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A strong earthquake near the Canadian border rattled portions of Southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory just before 4 this morning.

Skiing on Eagle Glacier Connects Alaska to the World

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA – Anchorage

In most places, summer isn’t the best time to ski. But atop a mile-high glacier in Girdwood, elite skiers have converged from across the country and the world, to train.

People Mover Teams Up With Google To Make Bus Route Planning Easier

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system is trying to become more people, and tech, friendly. You can now use Google Maps to figure out your bus route.

People Mover teams up with Google Maps to make bus route planning easier

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:55

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system is trying to become more people — and tech — friendly. You can now use Google Maps to figure out your bus route.

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As I unlock my bike from in front of the Downtown Transit Center, I type the name of my next destination into my phone. Instead of showing me bike trails and roads, it tells me which bus to hop on to get back to work – the number 45, scheduled to leave in two minutes.

The Google Maps app displaying bus route information for Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

It took me about 15 seconds to plan my bus route. On other days I’ve poured over paper schedules or stared at timetables on bus stop walls. With the new system, I used Google Maps on my smart phone just like if I was looking for driving or biking directions. Mary Burt was waiting for the same bus.

“I think it’s a great idea. Just wish I had a smart phone. ‘Cause I get on the bus and I’m hurrying up looking, what’s the connection I can make at the next stop? How can I coordinate? If I could just download instructions, it could be wonderful.”

Public Transport Director Lance Wilber says that was the idea — to make the bus system more accessible, especially for visitors.

“It’s really like Expedia for buses. Or Orbitz. You make travel arrangements. You find out where you want to come, where you want to go, and the time you want to do it and it just brings it right up on the screen.”

People Mover has been working on the project for two years. They had to convert their bus schedules and routes into a data format that Google could use with their mapping program. Soon the transportation department will make the information available to anyone who wants to use it to design different transport apps. Wilber says they want to link the bus route planner with maps of the trail system as well.

When it’s time to board the bus, I glance at my phone but check my route the old fashioned way, too.

“Morning!” I say to the bus driver as I deposit my coins. “Where do I get off to go to the University?”

He patiently explains.

Settling in, I chat with other riders, like Roy Mcdole, who has used the buses for years. His dad used to be a driver.

“This is the route he drive. My dad was the singing bus driver, back a few years back,” he says proudly.

A People Mover bus. Hillman/KSKA

Mcdole doesn’t have a smart phone. But like many other frequent riders, he doesn’t really need a trip planning map.

“Most of the time, people just know where they’re going.”

Turns out, thanks to Mcdole, the driver, and the map tool, now I do, too.

I pull the yellow cord. Ding! “Stop requested,” announces the automated female voice. Then the bus driver tells me I should wait until the next stop. He can get me even closer.

You can check out the trip planner online here as well.

Jacqueline Dailey elected president of RurAL CAP's board

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:44
Jacqueline Dailey elected president of RurAL CAP's boardDailey, representing the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, brings her extensive human resources experience to a leadership role. July 17, 2014

Bradbury earns scholarship to attend conference

Thu, 2014-07-17 16:21
Bradbury earns scholarship to attend conferenceThe SMPS Alaska Chapter recently awarded its 2014 Continuing Education Scholarship to Monica Bradbury of DOWL HKM. This $1,500 scholarship was awarded to assist her in attending the national SMPS Build Business Conference in San Antonio, Texas. July 17, 2014

Need joins the University of Alaska Foundation

Thu, 2014-07-17 15:49
Need joins the University of Alaska Foundation Harry W. Need IV, MPA, CFRE has been hired as the director of gift planning. July 17, 2014

Controversial Alaska mine project wins small victory in Congress

Thu, 2014-07-17 15:24
Controversial Alaska mine project wins small victory in Congress  Supporters of the embattled Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed are making a desperate effort in Congress and the courts to keep it alive in the face of warnings from the EPA that it could devastate the finest run of wild salmon left on the globe.July 17, 2014

Report: Burglary in Alaska down 65 percent since 1985

Thu, 2014-07-17 14:08
Report: Burglary in Alaska down 65 percent since 1985 Statistics released Wednesday by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage show the state’s rate of reported burglaries has dropped by more than half over nearly three decades.July 17, 2014

Hospital guard who also works in state crime lab charged with raping teen

Thu, 2014-07-17 13:56
Hospital guard who also works in state crime lab charged with raping teen An Alaska Regional Hospital security guard who also works as a forensic scientist at the state’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage is accused of raping a 17-year-old girl who’d been alone in the ER waiting room.July 17, 2014

In a grand experiment, Kenai setnetters try using shallower nets to protect king salmon

Thu, 2014-07-17 13:35
In a grand experiment, Kenai setnetters try using shallower nets to protect king salmon Kenai commercial setnetters face special restrictions ordered in an effort to minimize the by-catch of fabled Kenai River king salmon while still allowing them to harvest a strong run of sockeyes.July 17, 2014

Treadwell says he wants to replace IRS with "fair tax"

Thu, 2014-07-17 11:24
Treadwell says he wants to replace IRS with "fair tax" Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mead Treadwell at a debate Tuesday in Homer called for a new tax system that would replace the Internal Revenue Service.July 17, 2014

Scott McMurren: You're in charge of your in-flight comfort

Thu, 2014-07-17 10:47
Scott McMurren: You're in charge of your in-flight comfort In peak travel season, many of the most popular creature comforts cost extra. Get used to it.July 17, 2014

Worst wildfire season in decades in Canada’s Northwest Territories

Thu, 2014-07-17 10:13
Worst wildfire season in decades in Canada’s Northwest Territories Some of the hottest and driest conditions seen in decades are fueling a big wildfire season in northern Canada.July 17, 2014

Finland: Northland Resources axes jobs and goes into formal reorganization

Thu, 2014-07-17 10:12
Finland: Northland Resources axes jobs and goes into formal reorganization Layoffs, suspended payment of bills and a delay in startup of a new mine are features of a restructuring program aimed at getting the company's finances in order.July 17, 2014

Motorcyclist killed in Hillside crash

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:32
Motorcyclist killed in Hillside crash Thirty-one-year-old Nicholas Byers, of Anchorage, died following the early morning crash on Glen Alps Road, Anchorage police said.July 17, 2014

U.S. labor secretary expected in Anchorage this weekend for official visit, Begich fundraiser

Thu, 2014-07-17 08:57
U.S. labor secretary expected in Anchorage this weekend for official visit, Begich fundraiser U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is taking an official trip to Alaska this weekend. He’ll advocate for an increase in the national minimum wage and also headline a joint fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and the Alaska Democratic Party.July 17, 2014

AK Beat: Alaska's Irene Bedard rumored to be Will Smith's next co-star

Thu, 2014-07-17 08:46
AK Beat: Alaska's Irene Bedard rumored to be Will Smith's next co-star The Alaska Native actress who provided the voice for Disney's Pocahontas is rumored to be the top prospect for the female lead in an upcoming Will Smith sequel.July 17, 2014