The year 2014 has proved to be a slow one for Arctic shipping. Just 31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013.
Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says this year has served as a reality check on some of the over-heated Arctic predictions of recent years.
“I think 2014 kind of shows that development and Arctic shipping may be further off than we might have thought a few years ago, that the ice is not melting as quickly as previously predicted,” he said.
Humpert says shipping is a good indicator of economic activity on the ground in the Arctic. 2007 and 2012 were low ice years, fuelling excitement about Arctic resource extraction, container shipping, even large-scale tourism. Then this year, the ice rebounded a bit. Not only did the number of ships drop off, but Humpert says the purpose changed, too.
“Last year (2013) we had a lot of oil carriers, we had one LNG carrier, we had iron ore, we had timber – a lot of natural resources,” he said. ”And this year we had actually a few passenger ships, we had heavy lift vessels so that indicates there was building equipment, like an oil platform being transported into the Russian Arctic.”
Humpbert closely watches the Northern Sea Route. (That’s the course over the top of Russia – meaning, if you’re coming from Asia, you go through the Bering Strait and hang a left.) It’s not just ice that’s putting a damper on Arctic activity. Humpert says Russia is feeling the effects of sanctions, resulting from its move on Ukraine. That has scaled back Russian oil activity, and low oil prices haven’t helped. Humpert says he hears a new tone among Arctic forecasters these days.
“I think, in general, the pendulum of excitement and reality, it might be swinging back to reality a little bit,” he said.
Joël Plouffe, a Montreal-based managing editor of the journal Arctic Yearbook, has noticed the same thing. Plouffe says the opening of the Arctic has been oversold as a major and immediate boom, but it remains a region where access is limited and development expensive.
“This is the reality. The boom is not there. And whatever will happen will take years and years and years,” he said.
Still, he does see some exciting developments this year, starting with the Northwest Passage. (That’s the course you’d be on if you went north through the Bering Strait and turned right, over Alaska and Canada.) It sees much less traffic than the Northern Sea Route, but this year, Plouffe says, one transit was a commercial ship travelling without a separate icebreaker.
“The shipping company called Fednav was the first shipping company to actually take some minerals out of the Canadian Arctic and take them out to China using the Northwest Passage, and using drones to help them in Arctic waters,” Plouffe said. “So that’s something new and this pattern will continue.”
And, he says, this year saw the first shipments of oil from Russia’s Arctic waters. Plouffe says expectations of a sudden boom have helped focus some American attention on the Arctic, at least in Congress and among some journalists. Now Plouffe hopes that focus can be expanded to concern for people –the high energy bills in rural Alaska, for instance, and the safety of travel in the region.
“It might not be as sexy as talking about the big boom, but there’s a lot of work to be done to explain to people that eventually what will happen in the North when there will be less ice there will be more human activity,” he said. “So this is not a boom. This is just more human beings travelling in the north and being more vulnerable, also.”
Both Plouffe and Humpert say climate change is transforming the Arctic, even if the pace of its impact on shipping has been over-hyped at times. Humpert likened it to the Gold Rush, which forever changed California, although many reports at the time of easy riches proved to be exaggerations.
After considering a delay in legal marijuana sales, Gov. Bill Walker has confirmed that implementation of rules regulating the drug should meet the schedule approved by voters. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
At a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event earlier in mid-December, Gov. Bill Walker made a crack about how he wished he could delay the work of marijuana regulation for four years. During campaign season, back when he was still a candidate and the fate of a marijuana ballot measure was yet to be decided, Walker spent little time talking about the initiative except to say he opposed it. Now obligated by voters to do something about it, Walker told the Fairbanks audience he would like to delay some parts of the marijuana initiative by 90 days.
But in a press release on Tuesday, the governor announced he plans to stick to the schedule set by the initiative, with marijuana business licenses available by May of 2014. According to those tasked with the work of implementation, making that deadline is still going to be tight.
“There’s very little leeway or room in that timeline,” says Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s alcoholic beverage control board
That board is working with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to come up with an implementation plan. At a recent meeting with governor, participants concluded that is possible to meet the terms of the initiative. It’s just not a guarantee.
“When you actually go look at the process for meeting those deadlines, really, everything has to go right. What we were pleased [about] when we had the meeting with the governor’s office is that everyone is on board with making everything go as right as possible.”
The marijuana initiative gets added to the books on February 24, and the law will basically go into effect in stages. Possession of the drug outside the home will become legal at that point, but the state legislature will be given the chance to set some of the terms governing commercial operations. Then, a regulatory board has until November 24 to craft its own rules for the industry. Those rules then go to the Department of Law for legal review. It won’t be until next February until marijuana ventures can submit licensing applications.
While that sounds like a long time, Franklin says there are plenty of opportunities for hold-ups, and a lot of that depends on what the Legislature decides to do with the new marijuana policy. Lawmakers could just let the existing alcoholic beverage control board manage the cannabis industry, but they could also create a separate marijuana control board to govern it. Initiative proponents have supported this idea to prevent regulatory power struggles between the alcohol and marijuana industries, and bill to create such a board is already being drafted by Senate judiciary chair Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican.
Franklin says if the legislature goes that route, and serves it with a new agency, it will be impossible to meet the initiative’s deadlines.
“There is no question in my mind that if the legislature creates a separate marijuana control board and a separate marijuana control agency — and that agency has to be hired and put in place and put somewhere physical, and they all have to learn and understand their new jobs, and then they have to work with their brand new board in their brand new industry creating brand new rules from scratch — they will not meet those deadlines,” says Franklin.
Bruce Schulte represents a marijuana industry trade group, and while he’s not as emphatic as Franklin, he doesn’t totally disagree.
“I don’t know that it would be impossible, but certainly it would take up valuable time if a new board is to be created,” says Schulte.
That leaves the members of his group — the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation — in a bit of a bind. Schulte says they like the idea of marijuana and alcohol being regulated separately, but they also want to see implementation happen as quickly as possible. Constitutionally, the Legislature cannot weaken or undo an initiative for two years. But because so much of those two years need to be spent on rule-making before retailers can sell the product, Schulte is worried that leaves the new marijuana law in a vulnerable spot.
“Optimistically, the first stores would be open by August, maybe September, of 2016,” says Schulte. “So, at that point, you’ve got barely six months to establish a track record and to generate some revenue and prove that it can be done responsibly before the legislature then has the opportunity to shut the whole thing down.”
Schulte thinks it’s possible to create a separation between alcohol and marijuana regulators while still meeting the initiative timeline. He says that could be done by establishing an independent marijuana board, while keeping it in the same agency as the ABC board and having it share the same staff.
“I think that would be a compromise,” says Schulte.
If the legislature opts not to create any sort of marijuana control board, the ABC board will be granted regulatory authority over the drug by default.
Gov. Bill Walker has delegated his authority on the Point Thomson lawsuit to his lieutenant governor, while still leaving open the possibility of his involvement.
In a letter signed on Monday, Walker granted Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott the power to decide if Walker’s prior litigation against the state while an attorney in private practice should prevent him from participating in decisions about those same cases in his new role as governor. As a partner at the Anchorage law firm Walker & Richards, Walker sued the state over a settlement with Exxon to develop Point Thomson, and the case became a point of contention during the campaign against incumbent Sean Parnell. Parnell argued that Walker’s lawsuit would halt development of natural gas reserves on the North Slope, while Walker responded that the agreement amounted that the agreement amounted to a closed-door deal by bypassing the legislature.
The letter comes just days after his former law partner and current attorney general, Craig Richards, relinquished his own authority to participate in such litigation in more specific terms. On Friday, Richards wrote that his chief assistant attorney general, Martin Schultz, would take on those cases until his “former clients no longer have financial obligations” to him. In addition to the Point Thomson case, Richards wrote he would recuse himself from a number of municipal property tax proceedings concerning the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Walker and Richards sold their law firm shortly after the election to attorney Robin Brena, who chaired the Walker transition team’s oil and gas committee.
Subsistence harvests are managed by federal agencies with input from local residents through regional advisory councils. But, local residents aren’t stepping up to be on the councils.
Both boys charged with chasing down a herd of muskox before killing several of the animals just outside of Brevig Mission have now reached a deal with state prosecutors, bringing to a close a case that started back in 2012.
More than two years ago the two boys—at the time aged 10 and 13—were charged with shooting at a small herd of the iconic animals with rifles and shotguns over the course of several days before ultimately chasing the herd down on four wheelers and killing seven of the animals—five cows and two bulls.
The names of both of the boys involved with the incident are not being released due to their age.
In all, the pair faced dozens of charges, including a combined 11 counts of wanton waste of big game, when they first appeared before a Nome judge in January.
The younger of the two boys faced seven charges of wanton waste of muskox, as well as eight misdemeanor hunting violations and tampering with evidence. Alaska statue calls for a $3,000 penalty for illegally killing a muskox.
In a Dec. 2 plea bargain, the younger boy reached a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a guilty plea to “one consolidated charge” of wanton waste, he was fined $500—with $500 suspended—and ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution to the state, just a fraction of the $21,000 fine he could have faced. The boy also has to forfeit his Yamaha four wheeler and the four guns used in the muskox killing. In addition, the terms of the deal rescinds the boy’s hunting privileges for one year.
In July the older of the two boys reached a similar deal, pleading guilty to one count of wanton waste in exchange for a single $3,000 fine and the forfeiture of all equipment—including guns and four wheelers—used in the incident.
In the deal reached with the older boy earlier this year, state prosecutors said many of the financial penalties and other punishments the boys faced were reduced due to their young age.
One of the biggest names in long-distance dog mushing has signed up for the Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports four-time champion Lance Mackey entered the race Monday.
He’s replacing Jimmy Lebling, who had planned to run his first race with a team from Mackey’s Comeback Kennels.
Mackey says changes among his kennel staff led him to decide to enter the race. The Fairbanks musher says the Quest is in his backyard and it’s hard not to want to be a part of that.
Mackey will race against three other former champions, including Allen Moore, who has back-to-back titles the last two years.
Former champions Hugh Neff and Jeff King are also part of the 28-team field.
A shooting death at the University of Alaska Fairbanks earlier this month has been ruled a suicide. Forty-eight-year-old student Scott Austin was found dead from a gun shot, next to his car in a campus parking lot on the morning of December 3rd. Austin’s death was initially suspected to be an accident, but UAF Police Chief Keith Mallard says an autopsy performed at the state medical examiner’s office, found Austin’s injury to be consistent with suicide.
“This was further collaborated with a note that was left in his residence,” Mallard said.
The Alaska Dispatch News reported earlier this month that Austin was a sophomore petroleum engineering student, who had attended UAF since the fall 2012 semester. Austin was an Air Force veteran, originally from New York.
The National Marine Fisheries Service held outreach meetings in Kodiak and Homer in December.
Fishermen and NMFS representatives discussed the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer program.
The overall feeling at the meeting seemed to be discontent with a grain of salt. Many fishermen who attended voiced their frustration with the observer program in general. But, many also said that they understand what its purpose is. That sentiment is nothing new to Martin Lefled.
“I’m with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, based out of Seattle, and I’m the director of the observer program in Alaska for the federal fisheries,” Lefled said.
He says NMFS has received a lot of feedback and it’s listening.
“So, the council and NMFS recognized that something wasn’t working that the program has some flexibility to change,” Lefled said. “So, we’re changing it to the area that is working.”
Lefled says the greatest change will be to the way observers are placed on partial coverage category vessels. Starting in 2015, observers will be placed when a vessel is selected through the Observer Declare and Deploy System or ODDS.
In the past, large vessels with 100 percent coverage and vessels greater than 57 and a half feet fishing with trawl gear or hook-and-line fixed gear fell under what is called trip selection. Vessels between 40 and 57 and a half feet fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear were previously under vessel selection.
“So vessel selection was not working very well,” Lefled said. “So the change is that we’re going to treat all of those vessels just like we treat the bigger trip selection vessels, because that worked very well.”
So, all partial coverage category vessels that use trawl gear or are greater than or equal to 40 feet and use hook-and-line or pot gear will be in the trip selection pool.
Vessel owners and operators will be required to log each fishing trip onto ODDS at least 72 hour before departure. Then, they’ll be immediately notified if the trip has been randomly selected. If chosen, a NMFS contractor will provide the observer.
“And that’s going to fix the problem where previously, they were being selected for a two month period. So, the burden was very great,” he said. “So, we think we’ve made it more workable for the fleet so the impact of the observer coverage is going to be for just that trip that’s been picked. [There is a] relatively low rate so not that many trips will be picked. It will still be a burden, but just for a trip. And I think everyone can deal with a trip.”
The other main change to the program, Lefled says, is the rate for the larger vessels that are 57 and a half feet and greater is going up to 27 percent. So, about one in four trips will be picked.
The no selection pool comprises vessels fishing with hook-and-line or pot gear that are less than 40 feet, all catcher vessels of any length with jig, handline, troll, and dinglebar troll gear, and vessels that are conditionally released due to life raft capacity. Additionally, starting in 2015, vessels voluntarily participating in NMFS’ Electronic Monitoring Study will not be selected.
Malcolm Milne works with the North Pacific Fisheries Association. His group has been involved with testing and designing what he calls a reasonable and applicable electronic monitoring system. He says E-M could be a more economical alternative to a physical observer.
“The numbers are all over the board but it’s something like a thousand dollars a day for an observer on a boat – that’s what it’s costing the program,” Milne said. “We’re trying to get a system where we can bring those costs down and therefore provide more coverage across all the fisheries.”
Milne says he doesn’t foresee E-M replacing observers anytime soon. But, he says the program has potential; they’ve just got to work out the kinks.
“It’s still in its development stage- that’s for sure,” Milne said. “But, there’s been a lot of cooperation and a lot of frustration between the industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service, between getting the program running and what the goals should be and what direction we should be going with it. It’s a ways off.”
The idea of taking a camera instead of a live observer seemed to go over well with many fishermen in the room. But they still had questions about other facets of the program.
A few voiced concerns about an observer bumping an IFQ holder off a trip if there’s not enough room to carry both. Others worried that some observers don’t communicate enough with crews and write down complaints that they say aren’t entirely valid.
Chris Sylce of the Katrina M. had a suggestion for the program – allow tenders to transport observers on and off boats so they don’t have to be picked up on the docks.
“Where if the tenders could bring them to the grounds, we deliver to the tender, they get on their boat, we do a trip, they get back on the tender, they go back to town or they get on the other boat that’s coming to deliver,” Sylce said.
He thinks it would streamline the process, cause less hassle for some boats, and even out the playing field for others. He says it would be in the best interest of the program.
“And if they want to get their 24 percent coverage, this is huge, in my mind,” Sylce said. “Say I get selected for Trip 2 for an observer. Well, I [could] leave on Trip 1 and I just don’t go back to town. I deliver to a tender all winter. Technically, I do one trip all winter but I make 25 deliveries. So, I’m never going to have to take that observer because I never go to down.”
Martin Lefled says the council and NMFS are discussing the tender issue and are taking other concerns into consideration as well. But, big changes will only come after thorough research.
“We want to make sure the science has integrity,” Lefled said.
So, he asks fishermen to work with the program for another year as it develops more throughout 2015.
It appears the dispute over how much to clean up contaminated groundwater in the North Pole area will continue into the new year. Officials with the state’s environmental regulatory agency are still reviewing studies to help them decide on a safe cleanup level for the chemical that leaked from a North Pole refinery into the area’s groundwater.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation suggested last fall that DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig may issue a decision on a cleanup level for groundwater contaminated with the industrial solvent sulfolane around the end of the year.
But DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell says that’s unlikely to happen.
Sulfolane leaked for years from the North Pole Refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills closed the refinery last summer, citing increasing costs, including those related to the sulfolane cleanup. A portion of the facility is now used as a fuel terminal.
“Currently, there is no estimate for when DEC will issue a final cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said.
It’s a complex issue, made even more so because there’s no accepted standard for how much sulfolane a human can be exposed to before it poses a threat to health.
O’Connell says DEC officials are continuing their analysis of data as part of the review of a DEC staff recommendation for a stringent cleanup level of 14 parts-per-billion. Hartig agreed to the review in April in response to a request by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills owns the North Pole refinery that leaked sulfolane into the groundwater, apparently before it bought the facility in 2004.
Flint Hills officials suggested a year ago that DEC should instead set a less-stringent cleanup level that would allow 25 times more sulfolane than the agency’s recommendation.
O’Connell says much of the data that DEC is weighing on the subject was presented during a two-day session in September by a panel of experts the DEC asked to look into the issue. The experts with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, focused on studies on reference doses for sulfolane. That refers to the maximum amount of a toxic substance that can be ingested before it poses a risk to human health.
“Those discussions were in regards to the reference dose, which is one factor of a number of factors that go into calculating a cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said
O’Connell says a report on the two days of discussions has been posted to the TERA website.
Alaska State Troopers are seeking the public’s help in a search for a 72-year-old Wisconsin man who disappeared in August.
Troopers say Roger Yaeger of Eagle River, Wisconsin, traveled to Alaska over the summer to view wildlife. Family members last heard from Yaeger Aug. 8 when he visited a relative in Wasilla.
Troopers traced Yaeger’s subsequent travel to Fairbanks, where he turned in his rental car a day or two after his Wasilla visit.
Troopers were contacted a few weeks ago by relatives who said Yaeger didn’t return emails for an extended period of time. According to troopers, Yaeger had told relatives he was going to travel around Alaska and would update them around Christmas.
Troopers say there is no record of Yaeger flying in Alaska or leaving the state.
It will cost passengers more to ride the state ferry starting in the summer. That’s when fares for most Alaska Marine Highway will increase by 4.5 percent.
According to the Department of Transportation, tickets booked after the first of the year for travel after May first will reflect the new rates. Tickets booked before the New Year will fall under the current rates.
The new fare structure is spurred by the recommendations of a recent rate analysis. The Marine Transportation Advisory Board saw the preliminary recommendations of that report during a recent meeting in Ketchikan. DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the department was planning to raise fares even before the recommendation.
“The department knew its rates were out of balance and by increasing most fares by four-and-a-half percent that was consistent with a lot of other recommendations that were coming through the department as a way to help increase revenues to offset operating costs. So the department would likely move ahead with this rate increase regardless,” Woodrow said. ”So by announcing it now, we’re giving the general public the most amount of time possible to prepare for that increase.”
The analysis was conducted by Northern Economics. It recommends the Marine Highway System set rates so that they to cover between 39 to 65 percent of operating expenses. Revenues currently cover less than one-third of the operating budget, according to the department.
Woodrow says the complete rate study will be released to the legislature in February. More changes in operating costs may come after that.
“The rate increase that was just announced was one of the first preliminary recommendations from that report,” Woodrow said. “The study is not complete yet so we’ve not released the first report. We’ll do that when we release the full report to the legislature this upcoming session.”
The analysis suggests that rates more than 25 percent above average not change. Woodrow says that means about 30 fares within the system will remain unchanged, including the route between Skagway and Haines, the highest per mile rate in Southeast.
Alaska is bringing back the bear to license plates.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Alaskans next spring will be able to choose license plates of blue and gold that reflect state flag colors or a new version of plates last offered in 1976 that feature a grizzly bear.
Outgoing state Rep. Peggy Wilson sponsored a measure last session to bring back the grizzly plates. House Bill 293 passed unanimously in the final days of the 2014 session.
The old grizzly plates had red lettering, beige mountains and a brown bear on its hind legs on a white background.
The new plates feature a darker bear on a fading blue background with a silhouette of the Alaska Range.
Gov. Bill Walker has made his final decision on his administration and education commissioner.
Walker has named Sheldon Fisher head of Administration, a department with a wide range of government responsibilities including overseeing the Division of Motor Vehicles as well as the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Fisher has been an executive at McKinley Capital Management since 2011. Before that, he led the sales and marketing team at Alaska Communications. Fisher also made a failed bid at public office in 2010, when he launched a primary challenge against Republican Congressman Don Young. Young took 70 percent of the vote. For the past month, former DMV director Amy Erickson has served as the acting administration commissioner.
Walker, in concert with the Board of Education, has also reappointed Mike Hanley as a commissioner. Hanley was originally named education commissioner in 2011, by then-Gov. Sean Parnell. Hanley — along with environmental conservation commissioner Larry Hartig, transportation commissioner Pat Kemp, and public safety commission Gary Folger — is one of four department heads from the previous administration who Walker has decided to keep on his cabinet. Before being named education commissioner, Hanley spent 20 years in the Anchorage School District, with six of those as a principal.
All of Walker’s commissioner appointments must be approved by the Legislature this spring.
An Anchor Point girl is in stable condition after losing both of her legs in a traffic accident on Christmas Day.
That’s according to a post by her aunt, Emily Haakenson, on a GoFundMe account she started to raise money for the girl’s medical treatment.
11-year old Angelica Haakenson and her pregnant mother, 29-year old Mathany Christine Satterwhite, were driving on Sterling Highway on Thursday when their truck broke down.
The Peninsula Clarion reported Nathan Sargeant was helping family jump the truck when Anchor Point resident Larry Pyatt, slid into them with his vehicle.
Both Sargeant and Pyatt suffered minor injuries and Satterwhite was thrown into a ditch. Haakenson was pinned between two of the vehicles, resulting in multiple spinal fractures and severe trauma to her legs.
The mother and daughter were flown to Anchorage for emergency treatment. Satterwhite and her unborn child survived. Both of Haakenson’s legs were amputated above the knee.
Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $41,000 from about 600 donors, including local residents, peninsula businesses, and area emergency services.
Angelica Haakenson is a sixth-grader at Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point.
A Sunday house fire in Koyuk has claimed the life of one woman and seriously injured one other person.
Alaska State Troopers received the call around 2 p.m. Sunday. Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen said in an email that “the call was a fire and that a person was found dead.”
The fire was extinguished by the time Troopers arrived on the scene, but not before the smoke and flames took the life of 82-year-old elder Ethel Adams. Another man in the home, 41-year-old Dale Adams, was seriously burned in the fire.
Dale’s sister Beda Prentice said people ice fishing nearby heard an explosion before seeing the thick black smoke.
“They heard a couple big pop noises, big noises from our home, and we’re assuming the kerosene heater blew up,” she said.
Beda thinks her brother Dale was burned trying to turn the heater off—and save the woman who raised them both as her own children—from the growing flames. “I know my brother was trying turn it out,” she said the heater, “because he has burns on his hands and arms and around his face.”
Beda said her brother was medevaced to Anchorage Sunday night. He got out of surgery Monday afternoon. He remains in the intensive care unit at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
One other person was in the home during the fire—a young boy—and Troopers say he escaped the flames unharmed and is now staying with relatives in Koyuk.
Family members have been notified of the blaze and are in Anchorage with Dale Adams; the remains of Ethel Adams will be sent to the state medical examiner to determine the exact cause of death.
The source of the fire is still under investigation, Troopers say. A deputy fire marshal traveled to Koyuk Monday to determine the cause of the fire.
The family of Ethel Adams is collecting donations to assist both in the burial of Ethel and the road to recovery for Dale.
Monetary donations to the family can be made at Credit Union 1 account 657799, type S76. When prompted, enter the letters PRE, the first three letters in the name of account holder Beda Prentice.
Airline miles can be donated to Alaska Airlines mileage account number 48355086 under the name of Beda Prentice.
Questions for other donations for the family can be addressed to Beda Patience at 907.963.2214.
The house fire comes just one week after the Koyuk Covenant Church suffered a fire of its own—when flames from the building’s wood stove caused smoke damage throughout the sanctuary and burned a hole in the floor beneath the stove.
No one was injured during the Dec. 21 church fire, but the blaze left the building unusable until funds could be raised for more extensive repairs.
Anchorage police say a woman died when she was struck by a vehicle as she walked on a rural municipal street.
Police say 59-year-old Delores Greene was struck on O’Malley Road near its upper end in the city’s Hillside area.
The accident occurred just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday near O’Malley Road’s intersection with Main Tree Drive.
Police say Greene may have been crossing O’Malley when she was struck by a sedan driving west. The driver stopped and cooperated with police.
Friday the Alaska Supreme Court overturned an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulation from 2007 that declared domesticated livestock, specifically Kodiak’s bison herds, were feral if they stayed outside of their designated state grazing lease areas for too long. As feral animals, they would be fair game, and could be hunted like any other wild animal, subject to Fish and Game regulations.
Alaska’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget has a big job ahead of her. Governor Walker announced on Friday that he wants to put a hold on six large projects until they can be thoroughly reviewed. The projects are the small diameter gas pipeline, the Kodiak rocket launch complex, the Knik Arm bridge, the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, the Juneau access road and the Ambler road.
OMB’s new director Pat Pitney says she wants Alaskans to be involved in the conversation on how to trim the state budget as the price of oil falls. Pitney is a former vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
She says budget cuts are necessary, but the Walker administration wants to be strategic about where they happen.
The survivor of the Dec. 6 avalanche at Rainbow Ridge returned to the site in the Eastern Alaska Range last week to recover the bodies of his friend and dog. Michael Hopper says he had to go, because Alaska State Troopers had ruled out a recovery mission until the danger of avalanche in the area subsided. That could’ve taken months.
Michael Hopper says he and a companion set out a week ago intending to scout out the area where his friend, Erik Peterson, and his dog, Rowdy, were buried, to determine whether a recovery mission was even possible.
Both Hopper and his companion, Dan Perpich, are experienced backcountry skiiers. He says they knew it was risky to return to the site. He says they proceeded cautiously during the 2-and-a-half-hour trek to Rainbow Ridge from the Richardson Highway, about 10 miles north of Isabel Pass.
“It was still unnerving, I have to admit,” he said.
Hopper says once they got back to the debris field where his friends were buried and surveyed the area, they decided a recovery was do-able. They mapped-out a safe route away from avalanche-prone areas, and started digging.
Hopper said Perpich was the ideal companion for the mission, because he’s a veteran who’s been through courses at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center out of the Black Rapids Training Site.
“He’s received plenty of training in avalanche awareness and also in rescue and recovery of all sorts,” he said. “So he was a pretty handy guy to have along.”
Hopper and Perpich worked two full days of work to remove the bodies and bring them out.
Hopper says it was a relief for both him and Peterson’s family to recover the bodies, because he’d been nagged by the thought of leaving his friends behind until the danger of avalanche subsided. That could’ve taken weeks, even months.
“We felt it was important, I think, to his family, to know their son was off the mountain. There was a sense of rightness about that,” he said. “And it was also good for me to find my dog as well.”
Hopper says he also found comfort in how he found his dog.
“Probably the only light in this dark mission was when we found Rowdy, he was curled up right up against Erik’s back. And he had his right paw on Erik’s shoulder. And it looked very, very much just like he’d just curled up right up against Erik and went to sleep.”
Hopper speaks quietly, and stops to clear his throat every couple of minutes. He says that’s because he re-injured his lungs during the recovery mission after damaging them when he was buried in the avalanche. He managed to dig himself out that time, but not before breathing in a lot of snow and accumulating fluid in his lungs.
“I’m under strict orders now not to play outside for a month,” he said.
Hooper told Alaska State Troopers last Tuesday that he’d recovered Peterson’s body. He turned it over to the Troopers, who in turn transported it to the state Medical Examiner’s office.
Hooper says the Peterson’s remains will be returned to his family in Rhode Island for interment.
State prosecutors have dropped their case against two Unalaskans accused of running a major drug operation out of their home and business. Now, it’s up to a federal court to determine the outcome.
Tam Nguyen and Thu McConnell were arrested in May after police tied an alleged heroin sale back to their convenience store.
When officers searched the Dutch Harbor Asia shop and the couple’s home on Biorka Drive, they found one of the biggest caches of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine they had ever seen in Unalaska. The street value was more than $500,000.
A grand jury indicted Nguyen and McConnell on multiple felony counts this summer. That paved the way for a trial in state court.
But last week, assistant district attorney Laura Dulic signed an order dismissing all charges against the defendants ”without prejudice.”
Dulic did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
According to a press release from the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, the decision came after talking with federal prosecutors.
Nguyen has also been indicted in U.S. District Court. And federal sentences are tough when it comes to distributing drugs and possessing firearms.
But those charges are based on evidence collected by Unalaska police. And defense attorneys have been fighting to get most of that thrown out of both state and federal court.
The attorneys argue that Unalaska police didn’t have probable cause to conduct searches back in May — when they traced an alleged drug sale to Dutch Harbor Asia.
It all started when officers asked a criminal informant to help them buy drugs in the community. The informant reached out to a man named Eric Roach, who allegedly paid a visit to Dutch Harbor Asia.
After that, Roach allegedly gave two packets of heroin to the police informant. And officers swooped in. They seized the store and detained Tam Nguyen while they waited for a magistrate to approve their first warrant.
In a motion filed in state court in August, David Mallet argued that “the police did not exert any of the standard control over any suspected drug buy between Roach and the defendant [Tam Nguyen].”
Mallet alleged that the police did not search Eric Roach to see if he was carrying drugs before he went into the store. Mallet said there’s no recording of the alleged sale — and no concrete proof that his client sold drugs.
Without that, Mallet argues that there’s no justification for a search warrant. The attorney defending Nguyen in federal court has made similar arguments.
The Unalaska police department is not commenting on the case until it’s resolved, according to deputy chief Mike Holman.
A federal judge is scheduled to consider Tam Nguyen’s request to dismiss evidence in January. In the meantime, Nguyen will stay in jail.
But his partner doesn’t have to. Now that the state’s case is closed, Thu McConnell has been released from custody.