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AK Beat: YKHC president to retire

Alaska Dispatch

YKHC head to retire: Longtime president and CEO of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. Gene Peltola has just four months left on the job. He's headed into retirement, announced last month via a letter he sent to YKHC's board of directors. Under his tenure, which began more than 20 years ago in 1990, Peltola oversaw the once-struggling organization's growth from a staff of 250 to one of more than 1,300 employees. He has been a longtime advocate of quality healthcare, stable finances and the use of technology in enhancing access to and management of care, according to a press release about his retirement issued Friday afternoon. A recipient of the Alaska Federation of Native’s Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honors, Peltola plans to spend retirement hunting, fishing and sharing more time with his family, children and grandchildren.

Anchorage labor law repeal OK'd for ballot: Just two days after hearing oral arguments in the case, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled a citizens' referendum -- aimed at repealing Anchorage's controversial labor law rewrite known as AO-37 -- can go to the voters. The city initially tried to block the municipal union sponsored effort to overturn AO-37, called, "The Responsible Labor Act" because it said the ordinance was administrative in nature and not subject to a referendum. A lower court ruled in the unions' favor in August, and the city appealed to the Supreme Court. The Friday ruling does not mean that the issue will appear on the upcoming April municipal ballot. A lower court is in the process of deciding if Mayor Dan Sullivan's veto of the Assembly's decision to put the initiative on the April ballot is legal. Mayor Sullivan said he wants to see the matter before voters in November, 2014 or as late as 2015.

Accident leaves bus driver seriously hurt: A bus owned by Kenai-based Unique Bus Charters crashed with a semi truck on the Richardson Highway about 55 miles northeast of Valdez at about 11:44 a.m. There were 49 people aboard, including students from the Kenai Central High School and Skyview High School cross-country ski teams headed to Valdez for a ski race. Troopers said the bus rear-ended the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities semi truck, as it followed the semi because of blowing snow. Three people were transported to the hospital in Valdez, including the bus driver, who was pinned in the bus, a student who slammed into the seat in front of him and the semi-truck driver. The bus driver had to be extricated, and there was a request for the driver to be flown to Anchorage for treatment, but poor weather conditions have hindered the move. The extent of his injuries is unclear at this time, said Ipsen.

APD seeks missing boy: Anchorage police are asking the public’s help in finding a 12-year-old who is thought to be a danger to himself and others, as they believe the boy is armed with a handgun. Emil Kvasnikoff was last seen early Friday morning walking near the 9600 block of Victor Road, “possibly headed for a bus accommodation facility,” Anchorage Police Department spokesperson Dani Myren wrote in a press release. The Alaska Native boy is 5 foot 1 and 120 pounds with black hair and brown eyes; he should not be confronted if located, Myren wrote. Police say Kvasnikoff was last spotted wearing a white hoodie, a light brown Carhartt jacket, blue jeans and boots, and he may be wearing one or more backpacks. Anyone with information is asked to call the police immediately at 786-8900. UPDATE: Anchorage police notified the public via Twitter around 1:45 p.m. Friday that Kvasnikoff had been apprehended: "Police have located & taken into custody 12 yo Emil Kvasnikoff without incident. TY to an alert citizen who notified APD after seeing him!"

Missing fisherman found dead: Alaska State Troopers said searchers found the body of 78-year-old Frank Okleasik of Nome on Thursday evening. Okleasik had been reported missing on Wednesday afternoon after he failed to return home from an ice fishing trip. AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen said Okleasik was an experienced outdoorsman who carried an ice stick or ice pick -- used to check for unsteady or rotting ice -- with him when he went to the Nome River to fish. After chartering an R-44 helicopter from Bering Air and organizing more than 70 people to look for Okleasik, troopers said local residents found his body when they saw his ice pick sticking out of the snow near an open lead of water. Ipsen said it appeared as if Okleasik had fallen into the river and had been trying to use the pick to get out before he succumbed.  His body has been flown to Anchorage for an autopsy.

Man found dead, frozen to ground in Bethel: Police in Bethel said they found 37-year-old Marvin Paine dead and partially frozen to the ground Wednesday afternoon. Bethel police told local radio station KYUK that they believe Paine had been drinking, and may have sat down in the wet snow on Tuesday night, just before temperatures dropped enough to re-freeze it. Paine’s body has been flown to Anchorage for an autopsy, but local police said they believe his death as due to cold weather exposure. Paine’s death comes on the heels of the opening of the first-ever winter shelter in Bethel, a village of 6,000 along the banks of the Kuskokwim river in Southwest Alaska. Paine, who is from the nearby village of Akiachak, died less than a mile from the Bethel Winter House Shelter, which is being housed in the Bethel Covenant Church.

Norway oil fund hits per capita benchmark: Thanks to oil wealth, everyone in Norway is a millionaire. Sort of. According to a report from Reuters (via Financial Post), the Government Pension Fund Global, which invests money from the Scandinavian nation’s petroleum productions (it’s currently the world’s seventh-largest exporter), reached a value of about 5.11 trillion krone (about $828.66 billion on Thursday) in a nation of just over 5 million people. On Friday, a Norwegian krone was worth about .16 of a U.S. dollar, so after conversion the figure would be about $160,000 for every Norwegian citizen. Still, that figure remains impressive, and has helped spare Norway the kinds of difficult cuts and austerity measures facing other European nations. Alaska’s Permanent Fund, a similar type of fund, had a value of $49.1 billion Friday.

In Iceland, a whale of a beer: Beer and whale both have a long history of being consumed in the North, but perhaps for the first time, you can have both at once. Steðji, an Iceland microbrewery, has teamed up with an Icelandic whaling company, Hvalur, to produce a beer that incorporates whale byproducts, notes Food Republic. The beer is brewed using whale meal, scraps of bone and tissue that are byproducts of producing the more lucrative meat and oil Hvalur produces. The brew was produced with for a traditional midwinter festival, Food Republic notes—and probably with an eye for free marketing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it got some, including blowback from cetacean conservation groups.

A new use for Southeast Alaska's "Hobbit Hole": These days Zach Brown is a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, completing an advanced interdisciplinary degree in Environmental Earth System Science, but he grew up in Gustavus, the child of National Parks Service employees. Brown has recently teamed up with a few fellow Stanford Ph.D. students in an effort to launch the Inian Islands Institute, which they envision as a place for “experiential” learning about environmental systems. “It’s an exciting thing to think about: bringing students out into the wilderness to think about ecology and conservation and human-environment interactions,” Brown told The Stanford Daily.

Bloody bear tracks startle Iditarod legend: An encounter with bloody bear tracks convinced Denali musher Jeff King and his dog team to abandon a training run near Denali National Park Wednesday, according to the Fairbanks Daily-News Miner. “The thought of running into a bloody bear in January wasn’t something that appealed to me,” King said. Since Jan. 3 others in the area have spotted the bloody tracks, too. King said he believes the bear is dragging something and may have gotten a leg caught in a wolf snare. While most bears are hibernating by early January, it is not uncommon for a few to still be wandering around because they chose a bad spot to den, or are sick or old, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

New Year's Eve gunshots disrupt Tanana TV and Internet: A New Year’s Eve tradition in the Interior village of Tanana -- 150 miles west of Fairbanks -- has left the town without Internet service, and some residents with dark television screens. The Fairbanks Daily-News Miner reports it’s a New Year’s tradition in Tanana to fire off guns at midnight.  The trouble is, someone fired a .410 shotgun into overhead Internet and cable television lines. Yukon Telephone and Supervisions Cable TV -- which provides internet and cable to local residents -- said it will take about three days to splice the damaged lines once the parts arrive.  So far no suspects have been identified. “You can’t fix stupid,” Ralph Eller, owner of YTSC TV told the News-Miner.

Awaiting recycling, pile of Christmas trees go up in flames: Motorists on busy Minnesota Drive, near the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage got quite a show Thursday afternoon. A large pile of old Christmas trees -- dropped off at the area Carrs store for recycling -- set the evening sky ablaze as they began burning around 4:45 p.m. The Anchorage Fire Department said its crews put out the fire quickly, and that no one was injured. But the cause of the blaze has not yet been determined. The trees were slated for chipping, to be used on local park trails and erosion control.