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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Danish Shipper Plans More Arctic Trips

Wed, 2014-01-08 12:45

The company that made the first commercial transit of the Northwest Passage plans to increase its shipments through the legendary waterway next year, suggesting such traffic is coming sooner than anyone anticipated.

Since 1903, Coast Guard records show only four tankers have made full transits of the Northwest Passage, including one each in 2011 and 2012. No cargo ship has made the voyage and the Nordic Orion is the only bulk carrier to have done so. Photo by The Canadian Press.

“We hope and expect to do it,” said Christian Bonfils of Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish shipper which owns the Nordic Orion.

The vessel made history last September when it hauled 15,000 tonnes of coal to Finland from Vancouver through waters that were once impenetrable ice. It took four days less than it would have taken to traverse the Panama Canal, and its greater depths allowed the Orion to carry about 25 per cent more coal.

Sailing through the passage saved the company about $200,000 and resulted in a nicely profitable voyage.

“We had a very smooth voyage and not any major delays,” said Bonfils. “We’re very pleased about it.”

Ramping up shipments

The company is talking with the Canadian government about ramping up those shipments, Bonfils said. The number of planned transits is under discussion.

“It’s a bit too early to say,” said Bonfils from Copenhagen, Denmark. “The window for doing this changes every year. We need to slowly explore what is actually possible to do here.”

A federal spokesman confirmed the company has broached its plans for multiple transits with the government.

“Nordic Bulk Carriers representatives have met with Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada representatives to discuss anticipated transits in 2014 through the Northwest Passage,” said Kevin Hill of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is responsible for the Coast Guard.

Those discussions have included possible icebreaker assistance, Hill said.

Travel through the Northwest Passage

That means an era that many experts relegated to the future is already here, said Rob Huebert, an Arctic policy expert at the University of Calgary.

“The game is afoot,” he said.

Huebert suggested that previous surveys reporting almost no interest in the Northwest Passage were simply the result of shippers playing their cards close to their vests.

“When you look at the number of ice-strengthened vessels that came out of the woodwork for (Russia’s) Northern Sea Route, it’s obvious that some companies have been quickly building up capacity. It’s obvious now the companies aren’t being forthright in terms of what their capabilities are.”

In Russia, 421 vessels applied for permission to use that country’s northern passage last season.

Now that Nordic Bulk Carriers has shown it’s possible — and is acting on that information with more crossings — other shippers are likely to follow suit, said John Higginbotham, a professor at Carleton University and former assistant deputy minister of transport.

“I expect more companies to take advantage of it,” he said. “I think there’s some Canadian companies that got scooped. I believe they only woke up to this development.”

Higginbotham said the ice in the Passage varies in extent from year to year. But the old, tough, multi-year ice that once blocked the route is largely gone.

“It is thinner and more rotten and (has) less volume than ever before,” he said.

However, one commercial transit does not a Suez Canal make. That waterway gets 18,000 ships a year.

Route lacks facilities, nautical charts

Since 1903, Coast Guard records show only four tankers have made full transits of the Northwest Passage, including one each in 2011 and 2012. No cargo ship has made the voyage and the Nordic Orion is the only bulk carrier to have done so.

The Northwest Passage lacks adequate nautical charts, ports, search and rescue stations and icebreakers available to commercial ships. Unlike in Russia, the federal government has not made upgrading those facilities a priority.

But Bonfils said his company is convinced there’s money to be made in sending goods through a waterway that once bedevilled generations of mariners.

“It’s a good addition to what we do because we have the ships already,” he said.

“We don’t expect a boom in ice-class bulk carriers being built because all of a sudden you can sail the Northwest Passage. This is more of an addition (instead of) a stand-alone business.”

Expect more shippers to reach the same conclusion, Higginbotham said.

“Where there’s cargo to make money, ships will go.”

-By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

This content is made available to Alaska Public Media through a partnership with Eye on the Arctic.

Judge in manslaughter case seeks review over 'manifestly unjust' sentencing requirements

Wed, 2014-01-08 12:17
Judge in manslaughter case seeks review over 'manifestly unjust' sentencing requirements Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan sought a referral to a three-judge panel in the case of 20-year-old Brian Albert Pfister, convicted of manslaughter after a botched home invasion. Spaan argues the case's unique circumstances make mandatory sentencing restrictions on Pfister's parole unjust. January 8, 2014

AK Beat: Baby polar bear's first steps

Wed, 2014-01-08 08:03
AK Beat: Baby polar bear's first steps VIDEO: A baby polar bear takes its very first steps. It's as cute as you think it will be.January 8, 2014

Healthy New Year’s Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Wed, 2014-01-08 08:00

For Christmas this year, my adorable nieces in Fairbanks gave me the holiday death plague. Complete with hacking cough, sore throat, congestion…you get the idea. I feel like death warmed over. A pair of socks or some homemade drawing with macaroni glued to it would have sufficed. Instead, I have the voice of a 6-pack-a-day smoker and the feeling of a hangover without the joy of the previous night’s festivities. Merry Christmas, Auntie Heidi!

So here I lay on my couch, with the Food Network buzzing in the background. My girl Ina Garten is making some delicious Italian Feast of roast fish with polenta and celery salad. The plague has done nothing to curb my appetite (DAMN IT) and all I want to do is reach through the television and have a little taste for myself.

A staycation for one seems to be what the doctor’s ordered. Even Milo agrees. He’s barely moved from his perch atop the couch all day.

In my delirious, sick-y state I decided I needed to bake something. I KNOW, I KNOW. I’m a terrible baker. Recipe exactness is for the weak and timid. Which is my excuse for why nearly every cake I’ve ever made looks more like a pancake than an actual cake. But I’ve really wanted to make this holiday muffin recipe I received in the mail, and my house is still full of Christmas decorations so it still feels very festive here on the West side of Anchorage. And therefore, I made muffins. Which turned out super delicious, and may even be deceptively healthy. So therefore, Happy New Year’s resolution to you, too! (Just ignore the enormous amount of sugar in them.)

Here’s to a happy, healthy, delicious 2014!

Click for more recipes from Chena Girl Cooks.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
(Adapted from

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground ginger
2 eggs
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 can (or 7.5 oz.) pumpkin puree
1/2 c. warm water

For streusel topping:
1/2 c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. brown sugar
scant 1/4 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
3 T. cold unsalted butter, cubed

(1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray, or use cute polka-dot liners like I did.

(2) Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl or mixer with the whisk attachment.

(3) In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, oil, pumpkin, and water.

(4) Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until JUST blended (don’t overmix!)

(5) Fill the muffin tins 3/4 of the way with batter.

(6) Mix all of the streusel ingredients except for the butter. Add the butter after the other ingredients are fully incorporated, and use your fingers to crumble up the butter into the mix until only small pieces of butter remain. Top each muffin with a small handful of streusel.

(7) Bake for 30-35 minutes, checking after 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

xo H

Alaska governor narrows Medicaid abortion reimbursement criteria

Tue, 2014-01-07 22:16
Alaska governor narrows Medicaid abortion reimbursement criteria Critics blasted the Parnell administration on Tuesday for issuing regulations that restrict what constitutes a medically necessary abortion qualifying for Medicaid reimbursement.January 7, 2014

Emergence of rare Tlingit war helmet raises a chorus for homecoming

Tue, 2014-01-07 21:31
Emergence of rare Tlingit war helmet raises a chorus for homecoming The discovery of a priceless Tlingit war helmet that sat misidentified in the archives of a western Massachusetts museum has Tlingit tribal leaders calling for the artifact to be returned to Southeast Alaska.January 7, 2014

Former Alaska tribal leader headed to jail for siphoning funds

Tue, 2014-01-07 21:25
Former Alaska tribal leader headed to jail for siphoning funds A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former president for the Native Village of Tatitlek to 18 months in prison for her illegal spending sprees fueled by tribal funds.January 7, 2014

Another 'reality' show, another reporter, another load of ...

Tue, 2014-01-07 20:44
Another 'reality' show, another reporter, another load of ... OPINION: When it comes to Alaska reality TV, it seems there's no tale too tall to pawn off on Outside reporters.January 7, 2014

Statoil awarded exploration license off Greenland

Tue, 2014-01-07 20:29
Statoil awarded exploration license off Greenland Exploration rights off Greenland are added to Statoil's leases and licenses for territory off the coasts of Norway, Russia, Canada and Alaska.January 7, 2014

Judge Sen Tan To Retire

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:53

Judge Sen Tan has announced that he will be stepping down from the bench.

In a brief letter sent yesterday, the Anchorage Superior Court judge informed Gov. Sean Parnell that his retirement would be effective on July 1. Tan did not give a specific reason for leaving his post or supply information on his future plans.

Tan has served as a superior court judge since 1997. Larry Cohn, who directs the Alaska Judicial Council, says Tan earned high marks through his career.

<<18s “Judge Tan has consistently received very high ratings from those who are most familiar with his professional work as a judge, including attorneys, and law enforcement officers, and court employees, and jurors,” says Cohn.

While Tan was respected in the legal world, a conservative advocacy group campaigned for his removal in 2012. Alaska Family Action urged voters to oppose Tan’s retention because of a ruling concerning abortion that he made in the late 1990s. Tan ultimately secured 55 percent of the vote.

Cohn doesn’t think that Tan’s retention should have been politicized.

“To those critics who are dissatisfied with the content of decisions he’s made, we strive to have impartial and fair judges and independent judges who follow the law. And the law is not necessarily popular.”

The Alaska Judicial Council will be taking applications for the judgeship through February 7. The group plans to provide its recommendations to the governor in June.

Polar Star Called Off After Ice-Bound Ships Get Free

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:42

The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is standing down from a rescue mission in Antarctica on Tuesday after the vessels it was going to assist broke free on their own.

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The Polar Star had been called in to clear a path for two ice-bound vessels: a Russian research ship and a Chinese icebreaker. The Polar Star departed Australia for Antarctica on Saturday and would have arrived on scene Jan. 12.

Allyson Conroy, the Coast Guard’s chief warrant officer for the Pacific Area, says the stranded ships got favorable winds Tuesday and were able to break out of the ice on their own. She says the ships are now in open water.

That means the Polar Star’s services are no longer needed.

Conroy says the icebreaker will now continue on to its primary mission in Antarctica — to resupply the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station. It’s the first time the cutter has returned to Antarctica since 2006.

The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only active heavy-duty icebreaker. It recently had a major overhaul, and it made a stop in Unalaska last June before undergoing ice trials in the Arctic. It’s homeported in Seattle.

Small Plane Makes Emergency Landing On Anchorage Road

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:35

Crews load the Cessna 172 Cutlass onto a tow truck. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

A small plane had to make an emergency landing on Tuesday afternoon on a street in East Anchorage.

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Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Anchorage Police Department Lieutenant Mark Thelen says the pilot of the Cessna 172 Cutlass experienced engine trouble shortly after taking off from Merrill Field.

“They basically flew right up Boniface here in case they lost power completely; they didn’t wanna have to go over houses and whatnot, so in case they had to come down on a road,” he said. “They got down to this point here and they just couldn’t keep it in the air any longer and set it down on the roadway.”

APD says neither the pilot or the two passengers were injured, and the plane did not hit any vehicles as it landed.

The NTSB is investigating the incident.

Murkowski Calls For End To Crude Export Ban

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:33

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today called for lifting the decades-old ban on crude exports.

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Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage: Senator Lisa Murkowski

In a speech to the Brookings Institution, she said the oil boom in North Dakota and elsewhere in the Lower 48 calls for a wholesale review of the energy export rules.

“The regulatory edifice that governs the export of American made energy is antiquated and at times … absurd,” she said.

She says if the country doesn’t act, the light oil flowing from North Dakota will create a glut on the market, while most of the nation’s refineries are set up to handle heavier crude from the Gulf of Mexico.

She’s not proposing comprehensive energy export legislation. She says the executive branch has the authority to change the rules, but she says she can introduce smaller targeted bills if needed.

New Rules Adopted For Abortion Payment Conditions

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:32

State regulations take effect next month that further define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of receiving Medicaid funding.

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Notice was sent to the state health department Tuesday. The new rules, blasted by critics as unconstitutional, take effect Feb. 2.

The new certificate to request Medicaid funds features two boxes.

The provider would have to certify the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or the abortion was performed to save the woman’s life. Or, the provider would have to indicate an abortion was medically necessary to avoid a threat of serious risk to the woman’s physical health from continuation of her pregnancy.

Susitna-Watana Dam Timeline Pushed Back

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:31

Due to hefty cuts in Governor Parnell’s proposed capital budget, the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project is having its timeline pushed back by four months.

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Buccaneer Seeks New Revenues In New Year

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:30

Just weeks after top executives for Buccaneer Alaska were fired, the company is making moves to shore up its financial situation.

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Technology Gives Exhibit Statewide Presence

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:29

This week, you can travel to the Anchorage museum without going further than the local public library.

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Era Alaska Changes Name To Ravn Alaska

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:28

The umbrella brand Era Alaska brought together Hageland Aviation, Era Aviation, and Frontier Flying Service five years ago. That’s history now.

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Era Alaska is no more. It’s now Ravn Alaska. That is, R-A-V-N. CEO Bob Hajdukovich says the name fits what the company is setting out to do.

“The bird raven really covers the whole state of Alaska, it’s prolific, it’s smart, it’s strong, it’s efficient, all the things we want to be. In that regard it was like the perfect mascot, for lack of a better word,” said Hajdukovich.

The name change has been in the works for several months. When Era came together in 2009, there was and one for helicopters and one was for the airlines. Last January, the independent Era helicopters went public and began to advertise nationally.

“So the confusion between the two names came to a discussion point where it just made sense to try to change our name because we had become more than what Era was originally and the history of Era,” said Hajdukovich.

The state department of transportation must approve the registration and then Era can do business as Ravn Alaska. There will be a logo of a raven in flight. Passengers will see those on the aircraft tails over the next 12 months.

Ravn is the name to remember, but the companies that make up the Ravn family retain some identity, at least on paper. Era Aviation’s corporate name is now Corvus airlines. That’s actually latin for Raven. And Frontier Flying Service and Hageland Aviation are now flying as Ravn Connect. That reflects the nature of smaller commuter aircraft trips.

The change comes as many are still struggling with the aftermath of the fatal crash of a Cessna 208 outside St. Mary’s. Hajdukovich says the name change is unrelated.

“That hit us close to home it was a personal even for a lot of our company. We don’t want to diminish the trauma and anxiety. From that timing standpoint, it’s just awkward. But we’ve been planning this for the last eight months certainly,” said Hajdukovich.

People can contact the airline at its usual phone numbers, and

Why The Capital City Isn’t As Likeable As It Should Be

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:27

Photo by Jason A. Howie/Flickr Creative Commons.

The City and Borough of Juneau has yet to join the more than one billion users on Facebook, though other governments use social media regularly. While city employees may be personal users, most don’t use it in a professional capacity to push information or interact with the public. But the city of Juneau is beginning to develop a social media policy.

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“We’re kind of in this, like, social media limbo right now,” says Laurie Sica, clerk for the City and Borough of Juneau. She’s helping to develop a social media policy, and admits she has a lot to learn:

“I’m learning how to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – what else – Instagram, Pinterest. There’s just tons of them. I’ve just been trying to get up to speed so that I can speak intelligently about it and how it’s used. These things change so fast, it’s like, ‘Ah.’”

Until the City and Borough of Juneau has a social media policy, city departments are not to open accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Those that already use social media, like Juneau Public Libraries and Eaglecrest ski area, can continue to do so.

Sica says there’s a lot to consider when developing a social media policy for government use, like how much staff time should be allocated to using it, “What happens if staff update the city’s twitter account from home? ‘Oh my gosh, they’re working, we’ll have to pay them.’ That kind of stuff, you know.”

Juneau Public Libraries Director Robert Barr doesn’t consider social media much of a time suck for his staff.

“It’s not a whole lot of effort on behalf of staff. We just kind of lump it in to our typical promotional efforts. This is just one more check box on the list. Just do a quick post on Facebook,” he says.

The public libraries system has had an internal social media policy since June 2011. It has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a blog.

City manager Kim Kiefer knows it’s time for Juneau to establish a policy that allows other departments to be active online.

“We’re behind the curve for sure with social media. In government we need to try and reach out to everybody in the community and I think we’re probably missing a group of the population because they don’t go to to get information. They want it yesterday and I don’t know that we’re providing it in a way that they can get it.”

The City of Fairbanks has had a social media presence since March 2010, and an internal city policy for six months. Public information officer Amber Courtney says the social media policy makes sure all information is shared in a positive and honest manner, “It’s just ensuring that we have a level of trust with the people who are sharing the information, to make sure that our tone is always professional and respectful, that we’re cognizant of the things we’re sharing and how they’re going to impact the public. For example, we definitely don’t want people sharing photos of accident scenes where somebody might have been injured.”

In Fairbanks, the city, police department,emergency communication center, and mass transit are all on Facebook. Other departments that want to set up an account must get approval from the mayor.

The push for Fairbanks to get on social media stemmed from attending FEMA workshops. Courtney learned that the public relied on Facebook and Twitter to get information from the government about disasters and emergencies.

“And so I thought, ‘Well, we definitely need to kick that into gear and start building our audience so that should something untoward happen, we have access to as many people as possible and I know that that information goes exponentially. There’s 44,000 people within a 10-mile radius of where I sit that have a Facebook account so if I can get to ten percent of them, that’s amazing, because it just goes from there,” Courtney says.

The City of Fairbanks has more than 340 likes on its Facebook page, which Courtney hopes will grow to at least ten times that. She says posting information about snow removal doubled thecity’s Twitter followers, now at more than 800. Courtney will soon have more time to grow the audience on both sites. Her job duties have recently shifted to make social media a primary responsibility.

A sampling of social media sites geared for Juneau residents:

State pushes Susitna-Watana dam timetable back by more than a year

Tue, 2014-01-07 17:48
State pushes Susitna-Watana dam timetable back by more than a year While the Parnell administration is proposing a 90 percent cut in state funding on the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project, the schedule to file for a license has slipped by more than a year, with more time needed to complete 58 studies.   January 7, 2014