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KNBA News - Red Dog Zinc Mine Sues Northwest Alaska Borough Over Tax Increases

Jan 18, 2016

In Northwest Alaska, tax increase prompts lawsuit

By the Associated Press

A world-class zinc mine operating in northwest Alaska is suing the Northwest Arctic Borough, claiming the borough has enacted an unfair severance tax. TeckAlaska claims the tax will double or triple payments by the Red Dog Mine to the borough.

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Tribes seek info on AVCP layoffs and alleged mishandling of federal funds

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA - Anchorage

Four tribes in western Alaska are calling on the Association of Village Council Presidents to broaden the focus of a special meeting originally intended to address regional governance, and to set a date for the gathering. The tribes of Akiak, Akiachak, Kwethluk and Tuluksak, all members of AVCP, say they want to discuss recent layoffs at AVCP and allegations the regional entity mishandled federal funds.

Last year, the regional for-profit corporation Calista created a group to study problems with legislation affecting tribal governments, Native for-profit corporations, and Alaska Native people. Three proposals were developed on governance: to strengthen AVCP, to create a borough, or to create a new regional tribal government with the ability to impose taxes. Tribal representatives met in October and voted for a special meeting.

Then, on Jan. 8, KYUK in Bethel reported it had obtained documents showing AVCP used grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to keep a vocational flight school going. In December, AVCP said laid off 30 employees, 7% of its work force, citing budget troubles. AVCP also announced a 5% pay cut for general staff and a 10 salary reduction for senior management.

AVCP is the head nonprofit for the 56 villages in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.

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Starving seabirds searching for food, far from shore …

By Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Welcome to “Changing Arctic,” a program about dramatic transitions under way in the far north.

The seabird known as the common murre lives along the North American coastlines, feeding on nutrient-rich small fish such as capelin and herring. But murres are dying by the thousands throughout southern Alaska – apparently because they’re not finding enough food.

 “Why are they starving? We know what’s going on. We just don’t know why – the mechanism to indicate why are they starving.”*

Robb Kaler and many others have been looking for the answer to that question for months now, since they first started getting reports of massive die-offs that’ve left thousands of murres dead or near death along the coast of Alaska over the past several weeks. Kaler, a migratory bird expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, has been studying the problem since early last year.

 “We started getting reports of dead birds washing up on beaches in late March in Seward, in Resurrection Bay.”*

Kaler and other experts say there’ve been many such mortality events involving murres in recent decades.

 “It happens from time to time.”*

But this event differs, says wildlife biologist Heather Renner, who works at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in Homer.

 “This one seems really, really big and widespread geographically, which is the unusual thing.”*

So widespread that some of the seabirds have made their way inland hundreds of miles from the ocean, including a few found around Fairbanks, about 350 miles north of the coast.

 “It’s unparalleled. There’s never been a record of common murre north of the mountains, no record in the Interior before.”*

Dan Gibson is a retired manager of the bird collection at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ Museum of the North who’s been studying Interior Alaska’s bird species for more than 50 years. He’s also a member of the Arctic Audubon Society, which he says started getting reports of murres around the holidays. That’s unusual, and so is the scale of the problem statewide.

“But this is still way, way off the charts. There’s nothing that I’ve heard about or read about that parallels this. It’s pretty amazing”*

We’ll talk more about the murre die-off and some suspected causes in next week’s Changing Arctic.

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