Download AudioA crowd of about 40 gathered in the drizzling rain outside Juneau’s federal building this afternoon to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer. The vessel left Seattle on Monday after weeks of public outcry.Alaska Climate Action Network organizer Elaine Schroder is passing out a rainbow of signs to people arriving at the rally. Handwritten slogans in splashes of yellow and blue.“Let’s take a look at them,” she says. “This says ‘Alaska moms for a renewable future: there is no creature more dangerous than a mother bear protecting her cubs’ so that’s one of our more adorable signs. ”Shell’s massive oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, is now sailing to the Chukchi Sea. In May, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to the company to start exploratory drilling this summer off Alaska’s Arctic coast.“And we’re saying ‘no’ to Shell. You’ve got to keep the oil in the ground. What we’re talking about here is extreme extractions.”Concerns from environmental groups include the likelihood of a spill, the impact on coastal Native communities and climate change.“We want renewable energy sources and that’s what our money should be going for.”In a statement, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says the Polar Pioneer will meet “rigorous safety standards” during its exploration.Some of the signs at the rally are taped to kayak paddles, a nod to the kayaktivists in Seattle. Lorena Guillen and her husband are Seattleites on vacation.“We’re trying to see the glaciers before they disappear,” Guillen said.They were active in the protests down south but weren’t expecting to spend their trip this way. Then they saw a flyer in a Heritage Coffee shop.“It was really nice to see the sign in the coffee shop because] it was like ‘yes,’ this is exactly the fight we need to continue and not give up,” Guillen said.Mid-rally, a car swerves into a handicapped spot. The vehicle has a large wood and paper structure strapped to the top. Elaine Schroeder explains.“Right now what just drove by was a replica of the Polar Pioneer. Only we call it the “Polar Profiteer” rather than the Polar Pioneer,” Schroder said.“Polar Profiteer” will make another appearance at the Fourth of July parade, Schroder said. But the group hopes the Polar Pioneer doesn’t arrive to its next destination.
Alaska Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Curtis Thayer. (Photo via Alaska Chamber of Commerce)Around 100 business owners and industry leaders will head to Juneau during the upcoming legislative session as part of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative fly-in to speak with lawmakers about issues affecting the state’s business climate.Download AudioAlaska Chamber President and CEO Curtis Thayer says the participants represent groups from Nome, Anchorage, Ketchikan and many places in between.“We have banks, shipping companies, insurance companies, people involved obviously in oil and gas, some of the Native corporations will be joining us, small businesses, so it’s really a cross spectrum,” Thayer said. “There’s not one industry that particularly stands out over the other.”The Chamber’s priorities for the upcoming session focus on a sustainable state budget, discussions regarding the Permanent Fund, oil taxes and what new taxes could look like.Thayer says individual discussions with legislators could cover a wide variety of other issues as well.“But, in polling our members, right now the sustainable budget, PFD and taxes are the most important issues to them, so I think we’re pretty much in alignment, but they will go in there and talk about their regions, their individual businesses also,” he said.The Alaska Chamber of Commerce represents 650 businesses statewide, and Thayer says the group traveling to Juneau will be representative of the larger organization.Thayer says the group’s next step will be budgeting time with legislators.“We’ve been very fortunate the majority of the legislature makes appointments for our members, and so we set those appointments; they go in groups of 3-4 and spread out across the capitol,” he said. “And if you can imagine what 100 members going out there, that’s quite a few appointments to set up.”Thayer says participants will also hear from a variety of speakers, attend a luncheon with state lawmakers and will have a chance to chat with Governor Bill Walker at a reception at the governor’s mansion.Thayer says there are about 30 slots left for this year’s Legislative Fly-In. And he is hoping to finalize the roster during the third week of January.The trip will take place February 3-4.
Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai.(Courtesy of the Department of Corrections)In the year since the major criminal justice reform bill, Senate Bill 91, was signed into law, there has been plenty of debate over whether it’s working to reduce Alaska’s prison population, and the Legislature is reconvening to consider changes to the bill. But as lawmakers decide whether to tweak criminal justice reform, an organization is forming on the Kenai Peninsula that also hopes to reduce the number of Alaskans ending up back in jail.Listen nowWhen someone leaves the Kenai Peninsula’s two state correctional facilities, they may be re-entering the community without a support system. They might not even know what the first step in rebuilding their life is.“A lot of times people coming out of incarceration, you open the gates and it’s like opening the screen door for a two-year-old,” Audrey Cucullu explained. She’s the executive coordinator for the Kenai Reentry Coalition. “We don’t really know what to do, like, ‘Ok, what do I do now?’ Because a lot of times people just know how to survive.”The coalition got its start a little over a year ago. With about $150,000 in funding and help from about 20 agencies and organizations, the group is setting up shop in a Peninsula Community Health Services building in Kenai.The idea is for the coalition to be that first step outside of prison doors, a one-stop shop for anything someone might need to get a foothold in their community, from parenting classes to dental care.The coalition won’t directly be providing these services, but it will streamline what’s available and potentially spark additional help. Jodi Stewart is the probation liaison with the coalition and a Department of Corrections employee.“Some people need help with employment. Others need help with getting just the basic things met like food, shelter. Others need just an extra person to call when they don’t know what to do next,” Stewart explained.Both Cucullu and Stewart say the need for these services is high on the peninsula and around the state. According to the Department of Corrections, about 70 percent of people leaving prison in Alaska will end up behind bars again. Stewart added that the probability for children of incarcerated parents winding up in jail also sits around 70 percent.Other communities around the state have been working to reduce that statistic. Juneau, the Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Anchorage all have re-entry coalitions, but are they working?Devon Urquhart is the coalition coordinator in Anchorage, and she says they’re working on that answer. All four groups receive some funding from the state to hire case managers that meet with prisoners three months before they get out in order to get them lined up with services.All four groups receive some funding from the state to hire case managers that meet with prisoners three months before they get out.“Each returning citizen has a plan that the case manager works with them on to make sure they have housing, to make sure they have employment and that their connected to the right treatment and wellness resources,” Urquhart explained.Case managers continue working with clients for another six months after their release and can handle about 40 cases at a time. The coalitions started getting referrals from correctional facilities back in May.The state is tracking those clients through a database to see how many return to prison, essentially measuring the recidivism within the program. That could mean measurable success for the coalitions to point to after the first round of clients complete the program in early 2018.“If this works and we’re seeing the kind of results that we need to see and we want to see, it means everything to us,” Urquhart said. “Our communities are safer. People are connected to their families. We have healthy returning citizens.”The Kenai Peninsula coalition plans to use that same system eventually, but they want to get some services off the ground first.“It’s going to be a rollout. Right now, we’re working on peer support services because with peer support services, we can get people better connected with the services that actually already exist in all of the communities,” Cucullu explained. “That might mean somebody needs a ride to get a driver’s license, or to get to treatment, or to get their assessment done.”Coalition partner Peninsula Community Health Services is working to hire four peer support professionals by the end of October.The coalition has also held community meetings on the central peninsula and in Homer to find out where there are gaps in services. It has additional meetings planed in Seward and Ninilchik over the next two months. The coalition hopes to open its doors officially in January.
Erynn Bell of Anchorage (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – anchorage)This week we’re hearing from Erynn Bell in Anchorage. Bell is the owner of Rethink Home, a used furniture store.Listen nowBELL: I went back to Ohio a few years ago to clean out my grandfather’s house, who was a semi-hoarder. It was just really interesting to go through all of his belongings and see how wonderfully made these older items were. It seems like nowadays, a lot of the decor, a lot of the furniture is disposable furniture that’s meant to last a few years. Whereas a lot of the furniture that I see at the store now and that I’d seen at his house may be 100 years old, but it’s still in great shape, because it was built to last.Anchorage is very transient community. So people move in and out of state, and can’t always take their furniture with them, even if it was just purchased a couple years ago. So, we have a lot of really nice used furnishings and a lot of fun vintage decor. It’s a very eclectic, I guess is the way to describe it.There’s always something new coming in every single day and it’s just amazing to see what people in this town in their homes or in their storage units that they are cleaning out. The whole point of Rethink Home is to rethink what is beautiful. Just because it’s used does not mean it’s not beautiful.