Popular footwear brand XtraTuf is on a mission to prove to their disappointed loyal customers that the iconic boots are not just “Sort-of-Tough.”
Two years ago, parent-company Honeywell transferred production of XtraTuf from Illinois, to a factory in China, and the product that rolled off the line was nowhere near what Alaskans had come to expect. XtraTuf says the quality is back and they want to replace any pairs purchased that didn’t hold up, no questions asked.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has a new tool in the war on icy roads.
A Fairbanks green technology advocate is trying to muster interest in an alternative model for financing energy and other projects. Fairbanks resident Robert Shields runs the local non-profit Alliance for Reason and Knowledge.
The Alaska State Museum in Juneau is getting a lot of help from other Alaska museums ahead of its move to a new facility in 2016.
As the staff works to pack up the more than 32,000 artifacts in its collection, museum professionals from around the state are lending a hand, and learning what it takes to safely store and transport priceless historical objects.
In the basement of the Alaska State Museum, Eva Malvich uses a box cutter to slice a thin piece of gray cardboard into a small rectangle. Mounted on the cardboard, supported by four pieces of foam, is a makeup brush with an ornately carved metal handle. Malvich doesn’t know much about the brush, except that it came from a woman who collected items for her vanity.
“But then, you know, with objects you have to preserve them forever,” she says.
Malvich is director of the tribally owned Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel. The name means “The people’s way of living.”
“We’re the only museum in the [Yukon Kuskowkwim] Delta,” she proudly declares.
After a career in public administration, Malvich started working at the museum about a year ago. She had no practical experience, so she’s learning the best way to handle and preserve objects. She points to a piece of cardboard, like the one on which she just mounted the makeup brush.
“I used to wonder what the heck this was, because we have boxes of this,” she says. “I used to think, why do I have so much cardboard? Now I know it’s called blue board and it’s useful for making containers for my objects.”
Malvich is learning under the direction of husband and wife team Scott and Ellen Carlee. Ellen is the Alaska State Museum conservator. Scott is curator of museum services. His job is to assist and advise other museums and historical societies throughout the state.
“I help them with projects that they are working on. I help them get grants,” he says. “I actually have a small grant that I can give out to help them do projects. I can do assessments.”
During his travels, Carlee says other Alaska museum professionals wanted to know how the state museum was going to move its collection to a new State Library Archives and Museum building, scheduled to open in 2016. That’s how he got the idea to bring them to Juneau to see the project firsthand.
“I thought, well, it would be really nice to have them help me. But I would feel bad if it was, you know, on their own nickel,” Carlee says. “So I thought we should at least try to pay for their travel expenses. So I wrote this grant to the Institute for Museums and Library Services to help fund this travel down here as a professional development opportunity for these museum professionals throughout Alaska.”
The grant is for $83,000, which the state museum is matching. Carlee says each museum professional will get to visit Juneau twice – once during the packing and planning phase and again during the actual move.
“We’re calling them XOs, because ‘outside museum professionals’ is a little hard to say all the time and to write down,” Carlee says. “So XOs, just, we kind of think of it as like external operative or something. Somebody from the outside is coming in to help us.”
Anjuli Grantham is Curator of Collections at the Baranov Museum in Kodiak. Located inside the Russian American Magazin – a two-story log structure built in 1808 – it houses a treasure trove of colonial Alaska history. The museum’s not moving anytime soon, but Grantham says the staff is redesigning all of its exhibits.
“That’s going to mean that a lot of the objects that are currently in collection storage are going to be on exhibit,” says Grantham. “So, it’s going to require a lot of shuffling of things. It’s a perfect opportunity to implement some of these new solutions.”
Grantham had some experience preserving and caring for objects prior to working for the Baranof Museum. Still, she says the opportunity to learn from the staff at the Alaska State Museum is unique.
“This is what they do,” she says. “They conserve objects and they create these really amazing storage solutions for fragile objects of many different types of materials. It’s kind of like, now I’m here under the tutelage of masters.”
Grantham and Malvich were the fourth group of XOs to visit Juneau as part of the project. The grant is providing travel for 27 museum professionals from 12 Alaska institutions. Carlee says he works with between 60 and 70 museums around the state.
For more than a year, getting in and out of Akutan has meant taking a hovercraft. The vessel ferries passengers to and from the island’s airport. But high costs and inconsistent service have sent the Aleutians East Borough looking for a better solution. Now, they think they’ve found one.
Akutan’s airport isn’t on Akutan. It sits on neighboring Akun island, across about six miles of choppy straits.
Last year, the Aleutians East borough started using a hovercraft to get people to and from the airport. But borough manager Rick Gifford says the vessel’s expenses have gotten out of hand.
Gifford: “Most of the crew is brought up from Seattle. It’s four or five people at a time that have to be on the hovercraft. It was costing the borough over $3 million a year, and it’s just not sustainable.”
He’s hoping to cut those costs by replacing the hovercraft with a helicopter. The borough is going to lease the aircraft from a company in Homer.
Gifford: “It looks like could save upwards of a million dollars and maybe more depending on how it goes.”
Marty Robbins is the general manager of HoverLink, the Seattle company that’s managed the hovercraft for the borough. He says the partnership is ending on good terms, and he’s happy with the service they’ve provided.
Robbins says the hovercraft has been able to operate about 70 percent of the time since it started running.
Robbins: “And that’s, you know, about what we thought it would be going into it, was we would have that sort of weather and sea condition limitations.”
Gifford says the helicopter will definitely have days where bad weather keeps it grounded, too. But he’s hoping those will coincide with closures and groundings at the airport.
That hasn’t been the case with the hovercraft.
Gifford: “There were days when the airplane could come over and the hovercraft couldn’t operate because of sea conditions. And there were days when it was foggy and the hovercraft could run and the airplane couldn’t run. But with the helicopter, it’ll be more consistent with what the airplane can do.”
The helicopter only holds six passengers, as compared to 40 on the hovercraft. Gifford says they’ll make up the difference in speed. It takes the helicopter six minutes to get to Akun, while the hovercraft took 30 or 40 minutes.
The helicopter does have weight limitations, and it won’t be able to haul fuel or vehicles like the hovercraft could. Akutan’s mayor Joe Bereskin says they’re still deciding what to do about that.
But Gifford says the rest of the service should stay the same. That includes the fees that passengers will have to pay to get to the airport. A one-way ticket will still be $100.
Gifford says even the helicopter isn’t a permanent solution. Eventually, they’d like to return to the water to connect Akutan to its airport.
Gifford: “We feel the ultimate solution is that someday we need to have a dock and a breakwater on the Akun Island where the airport is, and then run a conventional vessel back and forth.”
That could take three to five years to set up — to say nothing of funding. Meanwhile, the helicopter is due to start flying alongside the hovercraft in February.
They’ll overlap service for about two weeks before the hovercraft goes into storage, and the helicopter becomes a full-time airport taxi.
The state Department of Transportation is considering a highway project that would route the Parks Highway around Wasilla, instead of through it. The small Matanuska – Susitna Borough community has long been at the center of Parks Highway congestion, since vehicles have to pass through traffic signals at local intersections while traveling through the city.
Officials and court records have revealed new arrests and information in Friday’s shooting and bogus kidnapping in Juneau, now tying it to drugs and an early morning highway gunfight that no one had reported to police. The case involves heroin, which has become extremely profitable in the capitol city in the last few years.
When police shutdown the outbound lanes of Egan Drive late Friday morning, they now say they were searching for evidence from a highway gunfight stemming from a drug deal.
Friday’s shooting at the Coho Park Apartments after midnight was followed by an early morning exchange of gunfire from two moving vehicles on Egan Drive between “the parties” involved in the first shooting. That’s according to a press release the Juneau Police Department put out Monday.
Police say there were no injuries in the second shooting and that it went unreported.
Police had shut down the outbound lanes of Juneau’s main road artery by 10:22 a.m. Friday to collect evidence.
So far in the alleged drug deal turned shooting turned highway gunfight turned faux kidnapping, police say they’ve arrested three people, all Juneau residents:
- 44-year-old James Depasquale, aka James De Pasquale III. Police say Depasquale was shot twice at the Coho Park Apartments and was taken to the hospital from the scene. The latest police statement says “the parties” involved in the initial shooting were also in the highway shooting; it’s not clear how, if at all, Depasquale could be involved in the second shooting after he’d been hospitalized. Police could not be reached to clarify.
Court records show charges for seven felonies and one misdemeanor pending against Depasquale that are consistent with drug dealing, gunplay and tampering with evidence. They also show that about 11 hours before he was shot, the courts had issued a warrant for his arrest – he’d been on probation for an assault in July.
- Second, 24-year-old Jerall Torres. Court records show he’s facing two felony charges. One is for drugs. The other is for gunplay specifically from a moving vehicle. The vehicle hunt that police solicited the public’s help with Friday was for a truck that Torres reportedly left the initial shooting in. However, officials picked him up around 8:12 a.m. Friday in a sedan with…
- 26-year old Amanda Phillips. Phillips is facing a felony charge for tampering with evidence. Police accuse her of hiding the handgun that Depasquale used.
All three are due in court today.
Police have mentioned two more people somehow involved, but haven’t identified them by name:
- A 22-year-old woman who reported her kidnapping and escape from a man involved in the initial shooting Friday. Police now say she was “voluntarily involved” with Depasquale and Torres and that the kidnapping was likely a fabrication.
- Finally, police mentioned an unidentified third man involved in the highway shooting. Police did not elaborate on his role.
A police spokesman said Friday up to 6 search warrants were pending.
(Click here for a full screen version of this interactive timeline of Friday’s events.)
Amid an economic disaster and food shortage, Savoonga, a community on Saint Lawrence Island, harvested a 57-foot bowhead whale on Friday, the second whale for the community last week.
For eight hours on Friday, Isaac Kulowiyi, President of the Savoonga Whaling Captain Association, says whaling crews fought 13 miles of opposing tides and currents to tow the giant bowhead to land. Then most of Savoonga— men, women, children, and elders— gathered on the beach to help haul the animal ashore.
“Every time Savoonga gets a whale, especially this time of year, it’s a real blessing for the community,” Kulowiyi said. ”Everybody gets together and works as one person.”
Kulowiyi says, after dividing the meat among the whaling captains, the captains divided the portions among the crew, and from there, passed the meat throughout the community and then onto Gambell, the other village on the island.
These two whales come amid an island-wide food shortage. After gathering one-third of its yearly walrus harvest, Saint Lawrence Island, declared an economic disaster in August.
Perry Pungowiyi, Alternate Commissioner for the Savoonga Whaling Captain Association, says though not walrus meat, these whales substitute for a sizable portion of this year’s lost subsistence intake. He said this while standing on the beach on Saturday, carving the bowhead.
“This replaced a lot of our walrus meat, and there are a lot of happy stomachs out there,” Pungowiyi said. ”It can’t compare with walrus, but these two whales are a substantial portion of what we don’t have in our homes as food.”
Though the whales substitute some of this year’s lost walrus protein, the whales do not replace the walruses’ lost ivory, a important cash source for many of the island’s residents and their families. Kulowiyi says whales are not as profitable as walruses. Besides baleen, the bowheads do not provide much cash opportunity for the community.
Even with the island’s food shortage, both Kulowiyi and Pungowiyi say residents will send parcels of the bowheads to relatives, friends, and former community members on the mainland. Adeline Pungowiyi, office clerk for the Savoonga Whaling Commission, calls this sharing a tradition.
“So we try to share everything with our family that moved out,” Pungowiyi said. ”We cannot forget the people who moved from Savoonga. I know they want some. So we continue doing that.”
These whales were Savoonga’s two final strikes of the year, an annual quota set by the Alaska Whaling Commission. The community will have to wait until spring to harvest another one of these animals.
For over 80 years, hundreds of polar bear skulls from St. Lawrence Island have been sitting in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Now, under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the artifacts may be returning to the tribe that buried them.
Between the 1930’s and 1950’s Dr. Otto Geist—who was at the time affiliated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks— excavated hundreds of animal bones, mostly polar bear skulls, from human burial sites on St. Lawrence Island.
The oldest artifacts, according to a notice by the National Park Service, date from about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D and derive from the Old Bering Sea culture of the island. Many bones were taken from the grave of the hunter and whaler Kawarin. The remaining bones were extracted from the Kukulik Eskimo burial mound.
Because the items were removed from burial sites, they classify as funerary objects. And though their extraction at the time was legal, the 1990 passage of NAGPRA gives the tribes and lineal decedents associated with the items the right to claim ownership of the objects. And this week, after several years of historical, genealogical, and oral history research by the Bureau of Land Management and the American Natural History Museum, the BLM is contacting the objects’ associated entities—descendents and the Native Village of Gambell and the Native Village of Savoonga— with the option of repatriating the artifacts.
Robert King, BLM Alaska State NAGPRA Coordinator, says about a dozen similar repatriations have occurred in Alaska under NAGPRA. And this process, King say, is not only “respectful,” but “healing.”
“It’s a recognition that tribes and individuals, they connect to a specific sets of either human remains or burial objects or sacred items or items of cultural patrimony,” King said.
According to a National Park Service notice, no human remains were removed during these excavations.
Canada’s Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today that Canada will make a claim to the North Pole, but has not finished the science around its Arctic seabed.
Baird and Canadian environment minister Leona Aglukkaq, who also chairs the Arctic Council, made public Canada’s claim to the extended continental shelf in the Arctic, in a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons.
“We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional work and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole,” said Baird.
The ministers explained the country’s scientific submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
This submission includes claims to both the Atlantic and Arctic seabeds. There is no extended continental shelf Canada can claim in the Pacific Ocean.
While the science on the Atlantic is complete, the government is only presenting “preliminary information” on its Arctic claim.
The findings outline Canada’s claim to the seabed and undersea bed beyond the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, which would extend Canada’s ownership of natural resources in the area.
“Fundamentally, we are drawing the last lines of Canada. We are defending our sovereignty,” explained Aglukkaq.
The submission is part of Canada’s responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Canada’s western Arctic is rich in resources and communities keen to participate in responsible development.
But tapping into the economic potential of the region, which includes the Yukon and Northwest Territories, remains a challenge. Particularly when it comes to transportation and infrastructure.
The independent Canadian think-tank The Centre for International Governance Innovation (or CIGI) , recently held a workshop in Canada’s Northwest Territories to explore some of these questions.
Titled “Western Canadian Arctic Marine Transport and Governance Roundtable,” the workshop explored some of the shipping challenges Canada faces its northwestern-most regions.
“If I look at the bottle half full, you’ll see the enormous human resources that we have up in the Arctic,” says CIGI’s John Higginbotham.
“You’ll see some promising signs of work in the federal government in this area in some projects. You’ll see the vigor of the private sector in the surprising and welcome transit by the Nordic Orion of the Northwest Passage… So that’s the bottle half full.”
However, Canada has a lot of work left to do if it wants to compete with other circumpolar countries, he says.
“The bottle half empty is when you compare the scale and speed and resources and programs and policy direction that you see in Norway and Russia in terms of very large national efforts they’re putting into Arctic development. We really are not in that league at the moment.”
Recently, Alaska’s Board of Fisheries set up an experimental harvest in the Aleutian Islands that they thought might benefit small communities like Adak. But, Adak had their eyes on a much bigger prize.
A slide that sent rocks crashing onto frozen Mendenhall Lake in late November actually caused a small tsunami. It also posed a scientific question as well as concern that rock slides are another unpredictable hazard for people exploring the frozen lake this winter.
A slide that sent rocks crashing onto frozen Mendenhall Lake in late November actually caused a small tsunami.
Apparently no one witnessed the rock slide, but Thanksgiving Day hikers on Nugget Falls Trail reported seeing jumbled piles of ice tossed by waves onto the beach. Refrozen ice plates 6 to 8 inches thick can still be seen on the lake.
“The first thing I noticed was that there was broken lake ice on one side and then there was broken lake ice on another side,” said Laurie Craig, a naturalist at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center.
With no evidence of glacier calving, Craig said trying to figure out what happened was like “geologic forensics.”
A spotting scope trained on Bullard Mountain showed evidence of a rockslide. Tree limbs also were seen in the rubble ice.
“We could clearly see evidence of where this narrow band of rock cascaded down off the mountainside and broke the lake ice that was right up against it,” Craig said. “And then it reverberated under the lake and hit against rock on the other side, which broke there as well.”
How does that happen?
If the rocks had hit water, there would be a big splash and a wave would travel across the lake. That’s simple enough, she thought, but Mendenhall Lake was covered with ice.
Craig posed the question on Friday to Joel Curtis, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Juneau.
“How does the water pop up on the other side of the lake under the ice? Let’s say the ice is thicker out in the middle. It’s a very, very interesting physics problem and I am asking people who are geekier than I am to look at this,” Curtis said.
One of the scientists he consulted was Dr. Eran Hood at the University of Alaska Southeast, a hydrologist and glaciologist. The two came up with this:
“The wave that was formed propagated right along with the ice, although the wave was dampened because it had to lift the ice. But it still was enough to get across Mendenhall Lake and have water squirt out on the other side.”
Technically, Curtis said, it was like a small tsunami under the ice.
The take away?
Ice is not as rigid as most people think. While the ice on Mendenhall Lake may look stable, it is not, Curtis said. Definitely avoid the face of the glacier, ice caves, creeks, icebergs and the area where the lake flows into Mendenhall River.
“And of course, the freeze/thaw cycle can cause rock slides on any of the steep slopes,” he said. “We all really love the lake and love going out there, but you have to be safe when you do.”
On Jan. 11th, the U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire and Rescue will hold ice safety training and demonstrations at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center.
Juneau Animal Control is investigating two recent dog attacks in the Capital City.
About 4 o’ clock last Wednesday afternoon, Bridget Kuhar and her dog, Otis, set out for a walk near Bartlett Regional Hospital. Kuhar is a yoga teacher and musician. Her husband and bandmate, George, was playing music that afternoon at Wildflower Court nursing home. Kuhar had just brought him his guitar.
“The dog hadn’t really been for a walk that day. So I was going to walk from Wildflower Court down to Twin Lakes and back and go home,” Kuhar says.
It was a clear, cold day, and the sun was beginning to set.
Otis is an 11-year-old black mutt. He was on a leash and walking with Kuhar on the sidewalk near the intersection of Salmon Creek Lane and Hospital Drive. Kuhar says she noticed three dogs across the street, behind some sort of gate or fence. The next thing she knew they were running toward her.
“It happened very fast,” she says. “You know, I was just trying to figure out what to do if they did come over, because I knew they were going to attack my dog. They just had that posture about them.”
Kuhar says her first instinct was to turn away. She and Otis stepped off the sidewalk, but the other dogs were already on top of them.
“I started screaming and I wanted to stay on my feet,” Kuhar recalls. “I tried to stay on my feet to use my legs to kick and punch the dogs. Two of them went for his head and one went for his back.”
She says they all ended up in a ditch on the side of the road, rolling around in the snow. All three of the other dogs were pit bulls. Their owner was the first to arrive to help, but there was little either of them could do. Kuhar says she tried to protect Otis as best she could.
“I was fighting two dogs on his head. I was losing for sure,” she says. “There wasn’t really any fighting I was doing. It was like hitting cinder blocks.”
By this point a few people in cars were stopping to try and help. One of them was Dr. Lindy Jones, a physician at nearby Valley Medical Center.
“Initially I was very overwhelmed at the viciousness of this whole scene,” Jones says. “Particularly how these dogs were just trying to rip the dog apart.”
Eventually, Jones was able to help Kuhar get the two dogs off of Otis’ head. The owner of the pit bulls was able to get the third dog to release as well. Kuhar, Jones and Otis all ran to Jones’ car.
“I took her up to my clinic,” Jones says. “She was bleeding from her hand, the dog was bleeding from multiple puncture wounds. Yeah, it was definite carnage.”
Kuhar went to the Emergency Room at Bartlett, where she was treated for bite wounds to her right hand and forearm. Otis spent the night at the vets, but was able to come home the next day.
“He’s really chewed up, but there’s no major damage to his internal organs,” Kuhar says. “He had a pretty serious wound to his front leg, there was some bone exposed, and there was some tearing of his shoulder. So I think they got a little bite and a tear on his shoulder, so he has, like, a drain in his shoulder to keep the fluid from building up.”
Juneau Animal Control cited the owners of the pit bulls for the incident, but declined to identify them.
Kuhar says she doesn’t know who the owners are, but says they agreed to pay her medical bills and Otis’ vet bill.
She says she’s thankful to the owner who helped pull one of the dogs off Otis, and to Jones for his heroics.
“Certainly without Lindy interfering my dog would be dead,” she says. “I might be dead too.”
Kuhar says she doesn’t want to get involved in the debate over whether pit bulls are dangerous.
Jones says he hadn’t thought much about the issue before the event. Now, he says, it certainly has shaped his opinion.
“A responsible pet owner should consider whether or not it is appropriate to have three potentially vicious dogs by themselves,” he says. “Because I think the ability of one individual to control three vicious dogs like this is nearly impossible, as we experienced here. I mean, the guy who owned them could not even control one of them.”
Gastineau Humane Society Executive Director Chava Lee says the pit bulls’ owners will have to meet certain requirements for public safety. That includes signs on their property warning of the dogs’ dangerous status, special collars, leashes and muzzles, as well as possibly having to get the animals fixed.
Animal Control is also investigating a separate dog on dog attack on Thanksgiving, which resulted in the death of the dog that was attacked.
An Alaska prison inmate is in an Anchorage hospital tonight, according to Alaska State Troopers following an assault by a fellow inmate. The alleged assault happened on Friday evening. A corrections officer at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward called it in.
Troopers say Jason Rak, 25, assaulted another inmate, Forrest Ahvakana, 48. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says Ahvakana was beaten, but it is not certain if a weapon was used. Peters says Troopers believe the attack was planned.
Kaci Schroeder, spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, did not return calls, but Brad Wilson, with the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, says the incident is indicative of understaffing at state corrections institutions
Spring Creek has had previous disturbances. In October of 2012, inmates assaulted a corrections officer, and in August of this year, more than a dozen inmates faced disciplinary action after they destroyed toilets and sinks in their cells.
Wood is a primary heating fuel in the interior, but the practice of burning less than dry logs often results in elevated fine particulate pollution in the Fairbanks area. A local business has a solution.
A group of Bristol Bay fishermen have filed suit against Trident Seafoods, Magone Marine Services, and the owner and operator of the vessel Lone Star, which sank in the Igushik River during the middle of this past year’s salmon fishery. The resulting oil spill shut down the fishery, costing most Igushik Beach set netters their season. They say they have still not been paid for their lost income for the season.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation is bracing for an FDA decision on genetically modified salmon and Sen. Mark Begich has asked the head of the agency not to exploit the holiday season to release what’s expected to be an unpopular report.
At issue is a U.S. company’s plan to create Atlantic salmon eggs for fish farms that include a Chinook salmon gene.
AquaBounty hopes to produce fish that grow to market size in half the time – Begich calls it Frankenfish.
“FDA has never approved anything of this nature, which is basically cloning, and from that perspective I don’t think they’re prepared to understand the potential long-term impacts,” Begich said.
Last year, on the day after Christmas, the FDA officially announced its initial ruling in favor of gene-modified salmon.
Begich says it’s like they were trying to slip something by when Americans weren’t looking. An FDA spokeswoman, though, says they publish documents when they’re complete. In a letter last week, Begich asked that they avoid such surprises this season, and he says they assured him the document isn’t coming soon.
“At least they’ve responded, which is a good sign that they recognize how important this issues is and they can’t rush it through at the end of the year because they want to,” Begich said.
Nearly 38,000 people wrote comments to the FDA about AquaBounty’s plan. Most were against it. Begich, like Alaska fisherman, says the modified salmon could escape and damage the state’s wild stocks, and he says they’d hurt Alaska salmon in the marketplace.
AquaBounty says its fish will be sterile and reared inland, in Panama, so that they can’t escape and harm natural populations. Canada last month cleared the firm to produce genetically modified salmon eggs for commercial use at its hatchery on Prince Edward Island.
The state-owned housing agency is trying something innovative to increase access to affordable housing in Anchorage.
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is developing mixed housing in East Anchorage that will combine low income apartments with regular ones.
Tucked between a trailer park and the Glen Square Mall along Mountain View Drive are 6.5 acres of property with a view of the Chugach range. A 70-unit apartment complex will soon be built here.
AHFC CEO Bryan Butcher, says it’s the beginning of what he hopes is a new direction for the organization.
“The great thing about this location is that the city of Anchorage is pretty land poor when it comes to developing housing,” Butcher said. “You can find scattered areas all over the place but there’s really not a lot of room to build housing so to find a piece of property of this size that can be developed to this extent in an area so central to downtown Anchorage as well as the Mountain View Area we’re really fortunate to have and we’re really excited about this being the kickoff of this kind of development in Anchorage.”
Butcher steps out onto what is right now an empty swath of land covered by snow. He says the development is needed in Anchorage.
“We’re especially excited about the affordable housing part of it, because Anchorage and frankly the entire state of Alaska is so short on affordable housing it’s very difficult for folks to find housing so being able to add 70 new units of housing stock to the city of Anchorage we think is tremendous,” Butcher said.
The apartments will be near employment centers, around the corner from a bus stop and within walking distance of Clark Middle School. Butcher says it’s first of a series of upcoming projects that will step away from the failing model of separating where poor people live from where everyone else does.
“It used to be there was a focus on public housing or lower income housing. And it works better as a community to have it mixed and to have a mixture of all Anchorage residents living in one area as opposed to kind of separating things out,” Butcher said.
At any given time there is just 1-2 percent vacancy rate on rentals in the city and the average 2 bedroom apartment goes for more than a thousand dollars a month.
Mark Romick is the Director of Planning for AHFC. He says the project, which is the first development by the agencies new non-profit subsidiary, will save money. Romick says with federal and state funds dwindling, the agency is looking for new ways to access money and moving toward more projects that are paid for through public private partnerships.
“They’re federal tax credits that are provided by the treasury to projects where the private sector is investing in the development of low income housing,” Romick said. “So Alaska housing through its subsidiary will be a general partner in a limited partnership with a private investor.”
Michael Courtney is Director of Operations for AHFC. He says the organization is working with local businesses and community organizations to make sure the developments meet the needs of residents and fit into the neighborhoods.
“One of the other things about AHFC is we try very hard to be a good neighbor, fit well into the neighborhoods,” Courtney said. “So we’ve been working with the Anchorage Community Land Trust, been attending the Mountain View Community Council meetings, talking to businessmen in the community to make sure that this development is going to work in well with their employees and in the neighborhood.”
The Mountain View development comes at a time when the AHFC is for the first time, putting a five-year time limit on able-bodied residents. Courtney says the Anchorage development and others like it will help those working to get out of public housing in the area find something they can afford once they graduate from the program.
“It just increases the housing opportunity in Anchorage an gives people more choices in areas that they might want to be in,” Courtney said.
Future developments could also include some commercial properties for coffee shops, cafes and retail on the street level.
The total for the Mountain View project is about $27 million. It’s set for construction in 2014.
Five past champions are registered for this January’s Kuskokwim 300. 9-time and defending champion Jeff King will seek his record 10th title. 1995 Champion Ramey Smyth returns, along with former winners Paul Gebhardt, Martin Buser, and his son Rohn Buser. 15 teams are signed up, and that’s a good sign, according to race director Zach Fansler.
“It’s a really excellent field already for this year’s K300. 15 is a phenomenal number and I would not be shocked if we see 10 to 15 more. We’re talking to lot of mushers.. a lot of mushers like to check out conditions and see where their team is at. One thing that’s becoming en vogue is if you’re going to send out one team, you can send out two,” said Fansler.
Registered to race from the region are Mike Williams Junior and Mike Williams Senior, along with Aniak’s Richie Deihl. There is no official registration yet from Pete Kaiser.
Norwegian Joar Ulsom returns, along with Cim Smyth, Kristy Berington, Tony Browning, and 23-time Iditarod finisher Tim Osmar.
Two rookies are signed up: Steve Watkins and Warren Palfry of Canada. Fansler says the field has a good depth to it.
“It’s one of the best fields we’ll have in terms of size, in terms of fan friendly mushers, that everyone enjoys seeing out here,” said Fansler.
Just 6 weeks from the start of the race, Fansler says the organization is in a big push to finalize sponsors and get volunteers set up for the race. He says this year is a milestone year.
“This is our 35th anniversary. We take pride in that this is the kind of event we’re always trying to make bigger, but it’s not just about growth, it’s about sustainability, and making sure that we’re taking the steps to make this event benefit everyone in our community and put a great spotlight on Bethel. It can raise the profile on our sport, our mushers, our town, and the whole Y-K Delta,” said Fansler.
The 2014 Kuskokwim 300 kicks off January 17th.