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.Download Audio
Five gay couples are behind the lawsuit challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. The suit was filed Monday in federal court. And in this case, the political is especially personal.Download AudioCourtney Lamb is in the early stages of planning her wedding.“I’ve asked people to be like, you know, bridesmaids. And I have my veil and my shoes.”She has ideas for a dress, too. For a location, she’s thinking Girdwood. And when it comes to the reception, Lamb wants it to be more fun than traditional.(Courtesy Stephanie Pearson)“Like I want a cupcake tower, not like a big eight-tier cake,” says Lamb.There’s just one big wrinkle: Lamb doesn’t know if the state will allow her to marry her fiancée by their wedding date.She and her partner Stephanie Pearson are one of five gay couples fighting an Alaska ban on same-sex marriage. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government must recognize gay marriages, judges all across the country have decided state-level bans are unconstitutional. On Wednesday, Idaho’s ban was struck down. The same thing happened last week in Arkansas. Oklahoma, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas have all seen similar decisions from the federal courts this year.Lamb thinks there’s a good shot that gay marriage could be legal in Alaska — and even nationwide — by next May.“We’re planning our wedding, and if this goes through and it’s legal by the time we have all of our plans finalized, then that’s wonderful,” says Lamb. “And if not, then we will have a big party with our friends and still celebrate ourselves and our relationship.”Fellow plaintiffs Matt Hamby and Chris Shelden are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. They’ve already been married — twice.The first time was in 2008, in Canada, where same-sex marriage has been legal for nearly a decade.“We were married outdoors, and that time of year it was raining a lot, so we took a lot of umbrellas with us,” says Shelden.Matthew Hamby and Chris Shelden in 2012. (Photo by Chris Hamby)They read their vows again this Christmas Eve, this time in Utah. A judge had ruled against the state’s marriage ban that week, and the couple was already there visiting family. So, they took advantage of the moment.“Of course, when you fill out the license, you have to state that you’re not married,” says Hamby. “So, of course I said, ‘Well, we are married. We’ve been married since 2006 in Canada.’ And she says, ‘Well, as long as you’re marrying the same person, it’s okay.’”That’s when they realized the possibility for Alaska.“I think that we saw that if Utah could see that change, that Alaska’s constitutional amendment was probably unconstitutional before the United States Constitution, too,” says Shelden. “It really did give us hope.”Hamby and Shelden have been a couple for nearly a decade, and they’ve lived in Alaska longer than that. Shelden moved here in 1994. Hamby came up in 1997, right before voters adopted the first gay marriage ban in the country.HAMBY: I thought it was almost devastating. It seemed like I was moving to a place that was creating a different tier of status for gay people.SHELDEN: Yeah, you feel like do you even want to stay, but we love Alaska and we don’t really have any desire to be anywhere else. And yet we don’t feel like we’re protected. We don’t feel like we have the same rights as other people. We don’t feel like we can take care of each other properly.It’s more than just a social stigma, they say. They wanted to get a specific title on their house for legal purposes, but they can’t because their marriage is not recognized.Hamby says there’s just a greater burden placed on them when dealing with state government.“Straight couples just have to check a box and put a name and social security number on there and say they’re married,” says Hamby.Gay couples have to provide an affidavit and have a handful of legal documents like vehicle registrations and wills ready to go to prove they’re together.Shelden says if their legal challenge is successful, that would be a thing of the past. And he thinks having legal recognition matters for the gay community, especially its younger members.“For the security of our relationship, it’s not that important. For our ability to take care of each other, it is important,” says Shelden. “But I think this is more important than us.”The State of Alaska is expected to defend the marriage ban in court.Opinion in Alaska has recently been shifting toward gay marriage. According to a survey released by Public Policy Polling on Wednesday, 52 percent of Alaskans favor gay marriage, while 43 percent oppose it. Last year, the numbers were essentially flipped.
Volunteers for Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan march in the Colony Days parade on June 7, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.Download AudioThe Colony Days parade lasted two whole hours this year.In between the floats from sports teams, churches, and the local utility, there was a lot of this:PARADE MARSHALL: All right. Dan Sullivan for Lt. Governor. Here’s Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, hello, and his wife Lynnette.It was a literal parade of political candidates, where it felt like just about every other participant was asking for your vote. Sullivan had a volunteer wearing a green wig and propped up on stilts for his float. Members of Palmer Rep. Shelley Hughes’ entourage formed a kickline. Her opponent, Democrat Peter LaFrance, had a guy dressed as a yeti. Out of 86 floats, 20 were manned by political candidates or organizations. Because it’s good advertising, political floats are each charged $100, while all other entries go free. All the major candidates for governor participated, and so did most of the U.S. Senate candidates. But events like these are especially important for first-timers running for office, like Cathy Tilton.“It’s important to show up at the parades to get your name out there and to meet with the constituents and talk to them and make sure they know you’re in the race,” says Tilton.Tilton is a Republican running for an open House seat in the Chugiak area. She’s been to Colony Days before, and she says the difference between an election year and an off year is pretty obvious. “During a non-election year, the parade is not as full of floats and people,” says Tilton. “I’ve heard there’s 85 this year, and I think there’s been years where there’s been maybe 30? So, it’s a little more robust this year we can say.”This isn’t the only event Tilton will go to before the August 19th primary. There are Fourth of July events, and the state fair, and plenty more. That’s a lot of marching to do, and a lot of fried food to consume.“Well, it’s all going to depend on how many doors I walk to how many funnel cakes I’m allowed to have,” Tilton jokes. Tilton’s not the only one to see a difference between parades in odd years and even years.“From when we were younger till now, there’s a lot more political [campaigning] now,” says spectator Stacie Queripel. “It’s become very political.”Queripel grew up in Palmer, and she’s been attending Colony Days for years. She has some misgivings about all the campaigning. She says the parade now feels more like political event than a community celebration.“The kids don’t really get into it as much anymore,” says Queripel. “You don’t see the 4H groups in it as much anymore, and it’s kind of sad.”About a block away from Queripel, Jim Daggett of Wasilla is hanging out by the orchestra. He’s got a “Sean Parnell for Governor” sign that he picked up during the parade, and he doesn’t have a problem with all the candidate appearances.“They gotta shake hands and kiss babies, right?” Daggett laughs.Daggett says it’s nice to see everyone out in person. It gives him a sense of whether the candidates are taking the campaign seriously and if they have popular support – something you can’t really tell from a campaign ad. Rose LeCuche, also of Wasilla, is standing next to him, and she agrees. Appearances like these aren’t driving her decision on election day, but it gives her a sense of who’s running and what a candidate is like.“It’s a time for them to actually look people right in the eye, and to shake their hands,” says LeCuche. “You can’t completely judge a person’s character by what you see for a few seconds, but you sure can get an impression.”And between the signs they wave and all the bags of candy they hand out, the candidates marching are hoping it’s a good one.
Chinook salmon. Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.Chinook salmon continue to swim up the Yukon River, the latest indication that the long ailing run may have turned a corner toward recovery.Download AudioAn Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar counter near the Canadian border at Eagle continues to tally king salmon. It’s near the end of the run, but counts have remained pretty good, anywhere from about 800 early in the month to nearly 300 August 10 and 11. That’s well down from the over 3,000 counted daily during the peak of the run a month ago, but State Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt says the extended strength of this year’s Chinook return is surprising.“We’re actually at just over 83,000 chinook salmon. That’s the most we’ve passed over the border since this project began in 2005.”The number is more than predicted by computer models and lower river return assessments, and well in excess of a border passage objective of 55,000 kings. This year’s return is the second in a row that appears to show movement toward rebuilding a run that once averaged over 150,000 Canadian origin fish, but has tanked in recent decades due to over fishing and suspected environmental factors. The downturn resulted in extreme fishing restrictions, Schmidt expects will be relaxed next summer.“We’re still going to make sure we’re meeting escapement goals, but it does mean that there is hopefully more fishing in the future for Yukon River fishermen” she says.Schmidt cautions that management of next summer’s fishery will hinge on what’s predicted by computer models that try to account for complex factors including the ages of the fish expected to return. She says a salmon research project near the river mouth also being used to predict run strength has been seeing more young Chinook.
Representatives from the Mat-Su Borough have met with state officials regarding violations of the Clean Water Act at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, but the details of those discussions have not yet been made public.Mat-Su Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos confirms that the borough is in discussions with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to come to an “amicable solution” regarding the violations. Spiropoulos says he cannot share specifics because a resolution has not yet been reached.Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke, whose district includes Talkeetna, believes the real goal of the meeting was to make improvements, rather than punish the borough. Kowalke also says he cannot discuss details from the meeting.Michael Solter, Compliance Program Mangaer for ADEC, says results may take time to manifest, since wastewater remains in the treatment system for more than six months. Solter believes that the state and the borough both recognize the issue and are working in good faith to solve it.Last November, the ADEC sent a letter to the borough, which operates the Talkeetna sewer and water system, stating that the state intended to begin enforcement actions for numerous violations the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the Talkeetna Sewer Lagoon has consistently been out of compliance on levels of fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen contained in treated water leaving the system and flowing to the Talkeetna River.The Mat-Su Borough attempted numerous temporary fixes last summer, including skimming grease from the surface of the lagoon, replanting vegetation, and artificially aerating the system. While those efforts did yield results, they were not enough to bring the system fully into compliance.Further meetings between ADEC and the borough are expected to take place next month.
(Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)What does it mean to have equity? Is it a simple measure of equal access to employment, housing and education, or something much deeper?Listen NowHOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS:Jorie Paoli, First Alaskans InstituteMao Tosi, Anchorage community activistKevin McGee, First Vice President, branch 1000, NAACP Anchorage chapterStatewide callersParticipate:Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcastPost your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).Send email to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by email, RSS or podcast.
Download AudioThe Municipality of Anchorage is launching a new initiative to make the community and the economy more inclusive. The city received a grant to participate in the Gateways for Growth Challenge. The goal is to develop a strategic plan for incorporating new arrivals from rural Alaska and other parts of the world into the city’s economy. Mara Kimmel, the mayor’s wife and a co-founder of the Alaska Institute for Justice, is spearheading the project. She says it’s about more than just getting people jobs — it’s about helping them maximize their skill sets.“This gives us the opportunity to figure out who’s out there, what skills and expertise they bring, and how we can mobilize those skills to the benefit of our economy. And in these days of shrinking economic resources, it’s really important that we active everybody, and we tear down barriers to marketplace and to our community.”Kimmel says they will look at things like language barriers and limited public transportation.The grant and matching funds from the state and Wells Fargo total $29,500. The money will be used to conduct research around the city with individuals and organizations about how to make Anchorage a more inclusive place and to expand entrepreneurship. More than 40 community businesses, non-profits, and government agencies are participating. Twenty communities around the country received grants.
An adult male red king crab in Bob Foy’s Kodiak laboratory. (Photo by Eric Keto / Alaska’s Energy Desk)Ocean acidification could threaten some of Alaska’s most important fisheries. Researchers warn that populations of red king crab in the Bering Sea – made famous by the show The Deadliest Catch – could collapse by the end of the century.But it’s possible the crabs might be able to evolve and adapt to the changing oceans. The big question is – will they have enough time?Listen nowRobert Foy directs the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Kodiak Laboratory. (Photo by Eric Keto / Alaska’s Energy Desk)Biologist Robert Foy reaches into a tank in his Kodiak lab, as about 20 red king crabs move around on the bottom. They are giant. They are spiny. They are kind of terrifying. But not to Foy. He scoops one out by the back leg.“As long as you stay away from the first two, the pincers, you’re just fine,” Foy said.Foy directs the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Kodiak Laboratory. His seawater lab is wall-to-wall crabs, in tanks and re-purposed containers: baby tanner crabs no bigger than a quarter and adult king crabs the size of my torso; crabs in tupperware, crabs in laundry baskets, crabs stacked in what Foy calls the “crab condominium.” A tangle of pipes and wires feed seawater into the different tanks, each one carefully calibrated by temperature and pH.This lab offers a peek into the future. The tanks represent the oceans around Alaska decades from now. And Foy says that future is alarming.“The expectation in change in pH over the next five decades in Alaska is fairly dramatic,” Foy said.The change in pH is a measure of how acidic the ocean is becoming. In simple terms, the more carbon dioxide is dissolved in the water, the more acidic it becomes.Ocean acidification is the less-well-understood fellow-traveler to climate change, the other impact of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. And like climate change, it’s expected to happen faster at high latitudes — like the waters around Alaska — than in the rest of the world.Foy began this work about a decade ago, and his lab has been able to run long-term experiments, over years. It’s some of the first concrete evidence we have of what ocean acidification might mean for marine species.Eggs in a female red king crab. The laboratory studies the impacts of ocean acidification on crabs from the earliest life stages. (Photo by Eric Keto / Alaska’s Energy Desk)And Foy’s first results are discouraging – at least for red king crabs. Under conditions similar to what researchers are eventually predicting for Alaska, pretty much all the young red king crabs died.“If the results in the laboratory are accurate, and there’s no acclimation, you would see stock failure about 100 years from now,” Foy said.That’s in part because it’s harder for many crabs to make and maintain shells in more acidic water: the chemistry isn’t right. But Foy’s team found that a bigger problem may be the sheer energy required for crabs to keep their internal pH right, when the external pH is wrong.In very acidic water, most red king crabs didn’t make it past their early life stages.But some did. And that’s giving researchers like Foy hope. Because if the survivors have some trait, something in their genetic make-up that helps them cope with more acidic waters, it’s possible they could pass that on to their offspring and the species could evolve.But with oceans changing so fast – is there time for that?“That’s the question,” Foy said. “Even if they could acclimate in a short period of time, or even adapt over a longer period of time, what kind of abilities will they have to do that physiologically if it happens over the scale of 50 years? That’s only a handful of generations for a crab species.”Crabs are housed in tanks with varying pH and temperature, to mimic the conditions researchers predict will prevail in Alaska waters decades from now. (Photo by Eric Keto / Alaska’s Energy Desk)This question is something crab fishermen are very aware of.Edward Poulsen is a partner on two Bering Sea crab vessels. He grew up in the industry; he says his dad was one of its pioneers.“It’s one of those things where you don’t want to think about it too much,” Poulsen said. “Because if you think about it too much, it’s pretty depressing.”Poulsen knows the science. So do his fellow vessel-owners. He says everyone is concerned. But the potential problems are far enough in the future, and it’s not clear there’s anything fishermen can do about it.“A lot of us, this is all we know, this is what we do,” Poulsen said. “And now the government’s telling us, ‘Your future might be at risk.’ I think it’s a little bit like you want to put your head in the sand and ignore what could be coming down the path.”Poulsen says fishermen basically have two choices: they can try to diversify their business, and branch out into other fisheries.Or they can hope the crabs adapt.
(Photo Courtesy of Erik Velsko)A fisherman based out of Homer posted images on social media of halibut bycatch headed for the grinder at Kodiak’s Trident Seafoods processing plant.Listen nowThe post got a lot of attention online and sparked criticism of Trident, the Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet and a body that regulates the commercial fishing industry.A conveyor belt whisks bright red fish with bulging, quarter-sized eyes and spiny fins past workers inside Kodiak’s Trident Seafoods processing plant.“Today we’re processing rockfish caught in the waters around Kodiak, ” Paul Lumsden, plant manager for Trident Seafoods operations in Kodiak, said.Trident is the largest primary processor of seafood in the United States and is heavily invested in Alaska.“We’re a company built by fishermen for fishermen and we don’t just buy pollock or cod or crab or salmon or halibut, we buy everything that we can sustainably harvest and feed the world with. Halibut is a very important part of our business,” Lumsden said.Longtime fisherman Erik Velsko says if Trident really cares about halibut and sustainability some things need to change.Velsko recently called out Trident on Facebook posting photos and video of excessive halibut bycatch at the plant that appeared to be from the local trawl fishery and which was going to be turned into fishmeal.An overview of rock fish being sorted by workers at the Trident Seafoods plant assembly line in Kodiak, Alaska on Saturday May 27, 2018. (Photo by Daysha Eaton / KMXT)“Totes full of halibut and you know obviously they had some markings and looked a little damaged. They were not gutted or dressed, as we call ‘em, longline – so the only place they could have come off of was a trawl vessel,” Velsko said.In all, Velsko alleges there were around 15 totes, each containing about one thousand pounds of fish. The images were taken in fall 2017, when a fellow fisherman captured them but wanted to remain anonymous, so Velsko posted the images to his Facebook page this May with a paragraph alleging wastefulness.“I just threw it up there not really thinking anything of it and the next thing I knew it was all kinds of people commenting and re-sharing it,” Velsko said.At last check, Velsko’s post had been shared more than 500 times.The Trident plant in Kodiak processes many varieties of fish from all gear types. The majority of the fish processed at the plant is pollock. But they also process a significant amount of fish caught with bottom trawl gear such as pacific cod, flatfish (like rock sole, arrowtooth flounder, rex sole, and flathead sole) and rockfish. Bottom trawling involves pulling a net along the ocean floor. Sometimes they haul up halibut too.“Every fishery has some element of bycatch and it is impossible to just catch exactly what you’re after,” Julie Bonney said. Bonney is the Executive Director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank and a paid advocate for the trawl fishery.Rock Fish on the Trident Seafoods plant assembly line in Kodiak, Alaska on Saturday May 27, 2018. (Photo by Daysha Eaton / KMXT)Bonney says the trawl fishery operates under strict regulations. They’re not allowed to keep a single halibut. She says most are discarded at sea, but ones that aren’t sorted out end up at the processing plant.“The plant is required to enumerate every one of those fish and it goes on a fish ticket. NOAA enforcement examines every fish ticket and if they feel that the vessel was egregious in terms of their sorting practices, then that vessel will get a monetary fine,” Bonney said.Bonney said there is an overall bycatch cap of 1,705 tons for the Gulf trawl fishery. It is hard to tell, she added, whether the halibut that appears in Velsko’s Facebook post was collected into those blue totes over one delivery or many deliveries of hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish headed for market.The Trident plant manager also saw Velsko’s post.“I did see the photos, yes,” Lumsden said. “And that was alarming to me. It was disheartening to say the least.”But Lumsden says the images were taken out of context.“The frustrating thing is when you see a 30-second video like that and you don’t know the background,” Lumsden said. “When that video shows a full tote, a thousand pounds of fish being dumped into a truck [it] gives a false representation like there is just tote after tote after tote after tote and that is simply not the case.”Velsko, the fisherman who posted the video, says he believes what is happening with halibut at the Trident plant in Kodiak is legal, but immoral and wasteful, and it was especially upsetting to him in light of recent restrictions on the halibut fishery due to conservation concerns.And Velsko says there’s a reason that he waited six months to post the photos and video. He wanted the issue to be front and center at the upcoming meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which is scheduled to take place in Kodiak June 4 – 11. A report about observer coverage is on the agenda.
Defendant Reuben Yerkes (l.) sits by then-public defender Jude Pate in Sitka Superior Court in May of 2017, shortly after confessing to killing his girlfriend of two months, Ali Clayton. Yerkes subsequently was transferred to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, where he has remained for the past 13 months. Yerkes will appear in person in Sitka Court on September 4 for sentencing. He’s accepted a plea deal and a sentence of 45 years, with a discretionary parole review after 15 years.(KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)A Sitka man accused of killing his girlfriend last year has taken a plea deal, and now could face up to 45 years in prison.Listen nowThe move puts an end to over a year of legal wrangling between the state and the City of Sitka over privileged evidence, and spares the grieving community a lengthy trial.40-year-old Reuben Yerkes appeared via video conference in Sitka Superior Court Thursday afternoon. He’s been held in Juneau at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center since shortly after his arrest in May of 2017.Yerkes was charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, and one count of murder in the second degree, in the shooting death of 28-year-old Ali Clayton, his girlfriend of about two months — crimes carrying penalties of up to 99 years in prison.In his settlement with the state, Yerkes agreed to plead guilty to a single reduced count of Murder in the Second Degree, and take a sentence of 60 years in prison, with 15 suspended — for a total of 45 years.Presiding Judge Trevor Stephens wanted to make sure that Yerkes understood that he was waiving his rights to a trial — and to an appeal — by accepting the deal.Stevens — Mr. Yerkes, has anybody made you any promises to get you to plead guilty to the reduced charge on count 1 of Murder in the First Degree, other than what’s been discussed here in court today?Yerkes — No, Your Honor.Stevens — Has anybody made any threats to get you to do this?Yerkes — No, Your Honor.Stevens — Have you had enough time to talk this over with counsel?Yerkes — Yes, Your Honor.Stevens — Do you need any more time now?Yerkes — No, Your Honor.Yerkes turned himself in to Sitka police early in the morning of May 6, 2017, and confessed to shooting Clayton in her Davidoff Street home, after the two had been in an argument.The pair met while both were working in City Hall in Sitka: Yerkes as a paralegal, and Clayton in the Finance Department.As part of the criminal investigation, the state seized the computers used by both — but the City claimed privilege over the contents of much of Yerkes’ computer, since he had been actively involved in other outstanding municipal legal cases — most notably, legal action surrounding a landslide in 2015 which took three lives.The evidence dispute forced the court to push back the trial date to September of this year.But now, that trial will not happen. Judge Stephens — who has been covering the Sitka Court since the retirement of Judge David George in April — said that he would take time to familiarize himself with the case, and to review a pre-sentencing report where he hoped to learn more about Yerkes.Stephens told the many friends and supporters of the Clayton family present that it was relatively rare for a judge not to accept all the terms of a plea agreement at sentencing. But then he turned to Yerkes on screen and said, “I don’t know enough about you that I would commit to go along with this.”Stephens ordered Yerkes to appear in person for sentencing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 4.If Judge Stephens signs off on the 45-year sentence, Yerkes would have a discretionary parole review after 15 years — the first third of his sentence — and a mandatory parole review after 30 years.