Alaska News

Shell Finds Fracture in Hull of Icebreaker

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-07 12:36

Photo: Shell

An icebreaker leased to Shell had to return to Dutch Harbor early Friday morning after its hull was found to have a rupture. The MV Fennica carries the company’s capping stack — a critical piece of safety equipment for Shell’s plan to drill two wells this summer in the Chukchi Sea.

Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Eggert says the ship’s crew noticed the problem around 3 a.m.

“The Motor Vessel Fennica was departing from the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska when the crew discovered that they had water coming in to their Port No. 4 ballast tank. At that point they returned to port and tied up at the Delta Western dock,” he said. “Divers there discovered a one-inch wide by three foot long fracture in the ship’s hull.”

Eggert says the Coast Guard has begun an investigation into the cause and will examine Shell’s proposal to repair the ship. The spokesman says a marine pilot, an expert in local navigation who maneuvers a vessel as it leaves or enters a port, was on board at the time the breach was discovered.

A Shell spokesman, in an email, describes it as a “small breach.” He says the vessel was in charted waters at the time. Whether the damage will delay Shell’s plans for the already short Arctic drilling season is unclear. The spokesman says that will depend on the extent of the required repairs.

If the final permits for the Chukchi operation are approved, the government would require Shell to have the Fennica nearby, with the capping stack ready to deploy within 24 hours of a blowout. The Fennica is a 380-foot Finnish-owned multipurpose icebreaker. Shell is also leasing its sister ship, the Nordica, for ice management.

If Shell is able to return to the Chukchi, it will be the first time since its 2012 season, which was plagued with shipping and towing problems.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketckikan Advances A $3 Per Pack Tobacco Tax

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-07 10:42

In a split vote Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to move forward with a proposed tobacco tax. Borough staff now will draft an ordinance for the Assembly to consider at a later meeting.

The proposal calls for the borough to work with the City of Ketchikan on a tax that would be similar throughout the community. The suggested tax is $3 per pack of cigarettes, or 75 percent of the wholesale price on other tobacco products. Tobacco substitutes, including e-cigarettes, also would be taxed at a similar rate.

Assembly Members Glen Thompson, Mike Painter and Jim Van Horne opposed the measure, while John Harrington, Alan Bailey, Bill Rotecki and Todd Phillips voted in favor.

Bailey says he supports the proposed tobacco tax, because he believes it will help discourage people from taking up the habit.

“This is a simple question for me. Can I make a decision that will help assist the lives of youth? Not a problem. You bet. Yes. And if that upsets some people who believe this is excessive, I can live with that,” Bailey says.

Painter argued that the tobacco tax is all about money, and has nothing to do with promoting health.

“People that are addicted to tobacco, whether it’s chewing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, e-cigs, are an easy mark for you revenue hunters. Call it what you want to, this, in my opinion, if it passes, this is extortion. Because the revenue is not going toward the problem.”

The tobacco tax would generate an estimated $1.2 million a year. The proposal calls for 15 percent of that, or about $180,000, to be designated for smoking cessation programs. The rest would be split between the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, based on population.

Earlier in the meeting, Thompson tried to amend the motion to put the issue in front of the voters. He says the public should have a direct say in a new tax.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to give the folks a bite at the apple, because they’re going to look at it as a sales tax. And they like to approve it when we pass taxes on them. And I trust the voters.”

That motion failed 3-4. Painter and Van Horne joined Thompson in voting yes.

Also Monday, the Assembly considered a proposal to legalize fireworks within the borough. The City of Ketchikan allows some fireworks, and the borough currently doesn’t allow any. Enforcement, though, is light.

There was public comment for and against that proposal. Van Abbott says he’d like fireworks to remain illegal, and for the borough to enforce that rule. Abbott says the residue from fireworks is dangerous, and could be getting into residents’ water systems.

“Twenty to thirty percent of the powders and the accelerants contained in these aerial shells and rockets does not ignite, and falls to the earth and more likely than not, onto our neighbors’ roofs.”

Many residents in the borough use roof-catchment systems to collect drinking water. Abbot says the chemicals in fireworks include heavy metals that can harm children, especially.

Don Westlund, who proposed the motion for Assembly consideration, pointed out that fireworks are easily purchased through the Internet, and the borough doesn’t get any sales tax revenue that way.

There also was discussion of the effect of fireworks on animals, and Assembly members talked about how to better enforce the current ban. In the end, though, members referred the issue to the city-borough Cooperative Relations Committee for further discussion.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Earns National Recognition

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-07 10:24

The Alutiiq Museum in the city of Kodiak preserves and exhibits many Alaska Native artifacts from the Kodiak Archipelago region and other areas, and now the State of Alaska’s Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums has designated it as the state’s first natural and cultural history repository.

Marnie Leist is the Curator of Collections at the Alutiiq Museum and says the recognition is especially significant because they’re the second nationally accredited tribal museum in the United States.

They play a part in keeping and protecting Native history.

“Almost 80 percent of our collections are on loan to the museum,” says Leist. “It is our responsibility to help care for other tribal organizations, federal state agencies, to care for the collections in perpetuity. And, because we have a dedicated, professional staff, maybe a 1000 years from now those 7000 year old artifacts are still around for future generations.”

She says that takes physical upkeep of the objects.

“I try to put things in micro climates if they’re sensitive to help preserve them. Large objects, we do dust them and we actually just had a great workshop with the conservators from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology from Boston come and teach us more about how to vacuum objects, like kayak frames and other types of skin objects,” says Leist.

Part of maintaining artifacts is making sure they can survive in their environment. Here’s a very Alaskan example.

“Right now, we’re doing a paper test, so in our long, sunny, bright summer days we have lots of light. Well, UV damages objects, so I created this little test really quickly and here in another couple of weeks, we’ll see how much the paper bleached out in just those few weeks,” says Leist.

Scott Carrlee is the Curator of Museum Services at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau and says granting the Alutiiq museum repository status was easy. He says that’s because it’s one of the seven institutions in the state accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

“That means that they’ve been through a review process. A very rigorous review process,” says Carrlee. “What we are concerned about is this designation is really strictly the collection’s care, collection’s management portion of what the museum does, so the fact that the Alutiiq Museum is already accredited, that gave the committee a comfort level with designating them as a repository.”

Amy Steffian is the director of research and publication for the Alutiiq Museum and refers back to the year she first joined the staff.

“I’ve been with the museum since it opened in 1995 and I’ve seen the repository grow from a young organization learning professional practices, and to see us achieve both national and now state recognition for our practices is really lovely,” says Steffian.

The Alutiiq Museum’s collection holdings range from bone and ivory objects to photographs and historical documents.

The Museum will hold its annual Community Archaeology dig from July 13 to 31where volunteers from around Kodiak can work on an archaeology site to build that collection.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer Feels the Sting of State Budget Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-07 09:48

Homer City Hall – Photo by KBBI

The City of Homer holds a contract with the state to house prisoners arrested by the Alaska State Troopers outside city limits. The contract is still in place but to save money the state will stop paying about $350,000 to Homer. That is nearly 45 percent of the contract revenue.

“I would say we’re somewhere between desperate and just getting by,” says Mark Robl.

Homer Police Chief Mark Robl has recently lost a full time jail officer leaving him with less than 24-hour coverage of the jail.

“To compensate for that we have dispatchers monitoring prisoners through [a] video surveillance link and we have police officers going into the jail and performing jail officers’ duties when they’re not here,” says Robl.

The loss in funds is just another blow and it makes the chances of hiring a new jailer bleaker. Robl has been expecting the cuts since February but he says he wasn’t aware they would run so deep until about a month ago.

“It really makes a bad situation worse to some degree in the summer when we’re stretched so thin on patrol with all of the call volume that we have to deal with,” says Robl.

Robl will probably have to pull officers off patrol or have them work overtime to fill in as jailers. KBBI reported earlier this year the Homer Police Department was already stretched thin under perhaps the highest caseload per officer in the state. In a budget request for 2015 the department reported a caseload of about 570 cases per officer. Homer City Manager Katie Koester isn’t sure if hiring more staff will be possible anytime soon. On top of the jail cuts this year the city could lose another $320,000 in state funds called revenue sharing. Koester says the Homer City Council decided it would be unwise to rely on that money after the state warned it would eventually take it away.

“It was put into the general fund. It basically was used for balancing the budget and covering operating costs. That being said council has said, ‘don’t do that anymore.’ You have to consider it as one time funding because of the uncertain nature of it,” explains Koester.

This potential loss in revenue comes at a time when the city’s budget is already vulnerable.

“The city government has kind of been trimmed as close to the bone as it can be over the last few years since we lost the revenue from non-prepared food sales tax. The city went through a big exercise in trying to become more efficient,” says Koester.

Koester says now if it’s going to save money the city has to look at cutting services. There is a town hall meeting planned for July 20th at 5pm to explain the city’s position.

“We’re just going to have a conversation with the community about how to close this gap and what services we provide and how much they cost. I encourage the community to come out on July 20th for that and we will advertise that on our website and through other venues,” says Koester.

Koester isn’t optimistic the city’s situation will change for the better in the near future considering the state’s fiscal environment. She says we’re all in for some tight times. Chief Robl says he’s just hoping for a new jail officer to take the strain off his department.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Businesses Make A Plea to Restore Tongass Rec. Funding

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-07 08:25

Fifty Southeast Alaska business-owners are asking Congress to give more money to the Tongass National Forest recreation program. Funding for trails, cabins and wildlife-viewing sites has declined in recent years, and tour operators worry the Forest Service won’t be able to maintain the attractions they depend on.

The Tongass National Forest makes up most of Southeast Alaska (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Much of the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska depends on the Tongass National Forest for sightseeing, hiking, camping and wildlife-viewing opportunities. And with tourism growing, companies that lead visitors through the Tongass worry federal funding for the biggest national forest is declining too quickly.

“The recreation program for the Tongass is so key to the tourism industry here that once the dollars started to drop it became an issue that a lot of both small and large companies started to take note of.”

That’s Laurie Cooper of Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization active in Alaska. She also works as a guide in Juneau and says she started to notice a decline in trail maintenance and assistance with permitting issues.

“As funding has dropped, the Forest Service has basically said they’re not going to be able to provide the same services they have in the past. And with 80 percent of the land base here in the Tongass National Forest, a good majority of the tourism industry relies on being able to have access for visitors to take them into the Tongass safely and just to operate their businesses.”

Cooper says the recreation budget for the U.S. Forest Service has been in decline across the country, but the Tongass is facing cuts that are 30 to 40 percent deeper than in other states.

According to a letter a coalition of Southeast businesses sent to Congress, the amount spent on recreation in the Tongass doesn’t match up with the proportion of revenue it brings in.

Ten percent of the Tongass budget goes to recreation, but half of the forest’s revenue comes from recreation.

Wrangell District Ranger Bob Dalrymple says his recreation program budget was cut in half over the past two years.

He says he could only afford one seasonal worker this summer. The district usually hires four. It also has a hiring freeze, so vacant positions can’t be filled.

“Two of those are key. One of them is the Anan manager, and the other one is our recreation lead person that coordinates all of the cabin maintenance, trail maintenance and developed recreation, so that had a pretty big impact on the program. We’re still trying to keep things going.”

The Anan Wildlife Observatory is a popular bear-viewing site on the mainland between Wrangell and Ketchikan.

Dalrymple says he doesn’t have enough employees to provide firewood at cabins and campgrounds anymore.

He says trails and cabins in the Wrangell Ranger District are in good shape, but anything can happen.

“I know there’s some blowdown now on the Kunk trail and it has damaged the trail so we’re having a hard time responding to those kinds of fixes. The trail to the hot tubs, the bridge part of the foundation has failed on that. As those things happen we’re going to have to close those access routes until we can come up with some way to get it fixed.”

He says the Forest Service may have to partner with other organizations and increase fees to maintain recreation sites on the Tongass. Fees at Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier Forest Service viewing area are already slated to go up.

Categories: Alaska News

Analysis of National Guard Records Released Under Walker Yields Few Significant Findings

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 17:47

One of the biggest issues of last year’s governor’s race was the state of the Alaska National Guard. A federal report had concluded that it was plagued with problems, ranging from mishandling of sexual assault reports to a general lack of trust in leadership. For months, media outlets tried to get records on then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s response, and the struggle culminated in a lawsuit. The executive branch was ordered to release thousands of pages of documents related to the Guard just days before an election that Parnell lost.

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Recently, Gov. Bill Walker has re-released many of those same records, along with new ones. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has been combing through both sets of documents.

TOWNSEND: So you spent about a month reviewing these documents. What went into that?

GUTIERREZ: Well, between the Parnell release and the Walker release, you’re talking 7,000 pages of documents. I mean, you had eight attorneys plus support staff working on this stuff for about half a year, so it’s a lot of paper. When you print the records out, it’s enough to fill three banker’s boxes. The process of going through them was kind of like playing a very long and very serious version of one of those spot-the-difference games.

Were there many differences between the two batches?

There were a lot, but nothing that really fundamentally changes my understanding of how the National Guard was managed.

Breaking it all down, there were about 1,300 unique documents that the Walker administration released. That includes everything from short one-line e-mails to lengthy reports. When you tally it all up, about two-thirds of those records were technically new. Which is to say, they have new document ID numbers. With the way the Department of Law tracks records, an e-mail chain with 20 different responses would produce 20 separate documents, even if we think of it as a single thread. So, in reality, even a lot of the new documents were just variations on records we’ve seen previously.

Now, of the documents where we had a Parnell version to compare to a Walker version, about 40 percent had redaction differences. In some cases, that meant more information was released in the Walker version, and in others, it just meant that different privileges or fewer privileges were used as a justification to black out information.

Did you see any trends in terms of what was released and what wasn’t?

Where you could compare the Parnell and Walker documents, the Walker documents tended to be more surgically redacted. Like there was one complaint from a National Guardsman that was sent to the Governor’s office in 2013, alleging that his wife was being harassed by a fellow guardsmen and that guardsmen were using state resources inappropriately. The Parnell version totally redacted this complaint, while the Walker version basically just blacked out names.

There were also some cases where the Parnell redactions would be claimed using multiple privileges, so if you want to challenge the redaction, you would have to challenge it in five or so separate ways before it could legally be released. Those would often be cut down to one or two privileges in the Walker versions. So, you’re still not getting the information off the bat, but you would only have to come up with a couple of arguments to appeal the decision.

You talked to the Department of Law about these differences. How did they explain them?

I was told that the instructions given to the attorneys were actually basically the same between both administrations. The Parnell administration didn’t want to release any records when they were asked for them, but once a judge ordered them to hand the documents over, the directive was to err on the side of disclosure while still exercising the appropriate privileges. The explanation given for the differences was actually logistics.

Here’s Cori Mills, a spokesperson for the department.

MILLS: The main factor in why you got somewhat different results was because of the timing. We were really rushed in the October-November timeframe and crunched to try to get out as many documents as quickly as possible, since the Department of Law hadn’t really become involved until the lawsuit was filed.

That meant they couldn’t exactly be painstaking about the process.

MILLS: Because of the short timeframe, we just didn’t have the time to do a more laser-focused review and try to focus on, you know, ‘here are the three words we need to redact’ versus ‘okay, we just need to redact this whole paragraph because there’s definitely information in there that’s privileged.’

Basically, it’s like the difference between actually cleaning your home versus just throwing everything in the closet, because you know you have guests coming in ten minutes.

Was there anything that shocked you or surprised you with this new release?

For lack of a better term, there wasn’t really a smoking gun in any of this. I had some help on the review from a few other reporters, and I think KTOO’s Jenny Canfield may have put it best.

CANFIELD: I don’t think this new set of documents was very enlightening. It just added more confusion to an already big pile of confusion.

Like we are talking David Lynch movie-style confusion. That said, there were some interesting things that came out. Like, before this new release, I didn’t know that thy Parnell administration had actually turned to a media and crisis consultant named Matt Mackowiak to deal with damage control.

It was also interesting just seeing how the Parnell administration handled its operations and how little business the governor himself actually did via e-mail. KTOO’s Jeremy Hsieh, another reporter who worked on this, brought this up when talking to Jenny.

HSIEH: I worked on the Palin e-mail dump when she was the vice presidential candidate, too. It was her Yahoo mail and she communicated in e-mail. And that seems like a big contrast with Parnell. There’s very little — there might not have been any, actually. There were very, very few e-mails that Sean Parnell had actually written.
CANFIELD: I don’t think I saw any. I saw a few addressed to him.

As far as what was shocking, well, there was more information released on an allegation that a woman in the National Guard may have been a victim of foul play. A former contractor with the National Guard wrote the Parnell administration saying that a woman who had allegedly been sexually assaulted had died while pregnant and that nobody knew why because there was no conclusive autopsy.

Jeremy said those e-mails had a special impact for him, now that the case may be reopened.

HSIEH: When Patricia Collins, the special investigator for the Walker administration said in her press conference after her report came out, ‘Hey, we should reinvestigate this dead body, this woman who died under suspect circumstances,’ — that’s a thing that jumped out at me.

It’s definitely one of the darker accusations having to do with the Guard in all of these records.

Going into the session, there were some calls for the Legislature to hold its own hearings on what happened with the National Guard. That didn’t really happen. Did any of these records touch on how much the Legislature knew about the Guard’s problems?

So, there was an anonymous letter that was sent to at least some lawmakers in 2012 that was redacted in the Parnell dump and released in the Walker dump. It was sent from a group that referred to itself as “Friends of the National Guard,” and it was pretty specific and hit on a lot of the things that would come out in the report done by the federal National Guard Bureau.

Sen. Pete Kelly’s name came up a few times in the documents, because at the time he was a special assistant for Parnell handling military affairs. It looked like the Fairbanks Republican had been looped in on some complaints having to do with favoritism. An e-mail from Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer’s chief of staff said that he had received complaints about criminal activity from the contractor I mentioned, but that he didn’t have plans to address it.

There was one exchange where Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, complained that the governor should have done more to loop him in on the federal investigation. And then, there were a lot of e-mails having to do with senators like Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson, Anchorage Democrat Hollis French, and North Pole Republican John Coghill actually asking the administration for more information about how the Guard was being managed.

Do you think things would have shaken out any differently for the Parnell administration if all of these documents had come out earlier?

You know, it’s hard to do the counter-factual, but the team who worked on this did talk about it some. Here’s Jeremy and Jenny again.

CANFIELD: It was just strange to see like, so, what impact would that have had had we known it six months ago? Like, some of the things that were redacted just seemed inconsequential.
HSIEH: Yeah, like one of the things that really jumped out at me was Nizich especially — from the chunk I saw, Mike Nizich, the former chief of staff to Gov. Parnell, would have really short, terse, one-word, matter-of-fact e-mails, and they’d be completely redacted. It’s like what are we missing here, or what is privileged about saying yes or no or okay.

Parnell went into a close election having lost a records lawsuit and, frankly, looking like he was hiding something by first refusing to release the records and then redacting so much of the information. It also made him look like he was unwilling to be held accountable when it comes to really serious questions concerning the public’s safety. That is not a good place to be.

The documents weren’t exculpatory, but they also weren’t really any more damaging than the results of last year’s federal investigation. And reading through the records, there’s not really a clear narrative that presents itself except that the National Guard was not in good shape and there was a crazy power struggle going on within it. There was just so much conflicting information in these records.

It might be a little simplistic, but there’s that whole saying about how sunlight’s the best disinfectant. I don’t see how releasing this information could have put him in a worse position than he already was.

Does this release set a standard for the Walker administration in any way when it comes to transparency?

That was one of the things I wanted to find out when I started digging into it, because it’s way easier to release the other guy’s records, right? And based on the fact that the directives from both administrations’ attorneys general were the same and that Walker still exercised at least some privileges in about 60 percent of the documents he released, I don’t think we can say people asking for records should necessarily expect to see records totally free of black boxes when they make their ask.

Walker’s administration also exercised executive privilege with about 300 cases, and that’s really the privilege that is, at its heart, the administration’s prerogative to use. They could waive it in every case if they wanted, but if they believe it would damage the office’s ability to function or affect state security, they can offer a justification that it shouldn’t be released.

Really, the real standard Walker set for himself when it comes to transparency was well before the release, on the campaign trail. He was critical of Parnell for broadly denying the requests when they were initially made, and said he wouldn’t let things get to the point of a court battle over records.So, if people make similar records requests of his administration, that’s what he should be held to.

Categories: Alaska News

Caribou Emigrate From Adak; Feds Struggle to Stop the Spread

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 17:40

Caribou on Adak in 1985. (Credit: USFWS)

Every summer, a team of federal exterminators set up shop in the southwest corners of the state. Their job is to root out non-native animals that might disturb the Alaska Maritime wildlife refuge.

Besides the usual rats and foxes, the refuge managers decided to target a new pest this season.

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It’s no mystery how caribou wound up on Adak Island. They were imported in the late 1950s so Navy personnel would have something to hunt.

Nowadays, the Navy is gone and the island is a prime spot for big game hunters. But not enough of them, says Steve Ebbert.

He’s a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. As he stands on the deck of their research vessel, sailing less than a half mile from the rocky shores of Adak, Ebbert says the caribou herd is now seven times its former size. And it’s starting to spread.

Ebbert points to a gently sloping beach just across the way on Kagalaska Island.

It’s not clear when the caribou started to swim across the channel to Kagalaska. But Ebbert thinks he knows why. The island is still covered in thick, white lichen — the same plant that used to grow naturally on Adak.

If the caribou are willing to travel for food, Ebbert says they probably won’t stop at Kagalaska when there even more islands to graze on nearby — all federally protected, refuge land.

After an environmental assessment, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided the best way to prevent that outcome was to organize a hunt on Kagalaska.

The team bagged nine male caribou. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t impressed with their haul.

The hunt cost $58,000, plus another $13,000 to butcher and salvage the meat. That part was specifically requested by Murkowski and other officials. But going forward, the senator wants to see a different approach.

The Senate Appropriations committee recently (on June 18) approved a new rule that would keep the refuge from using federal money to sponsor more caribou hunts at Kagalaska.

A similar ban would apply to two other islands, where wild cows have escaped from old ranches. Murkowski and her colleagues also suggest a $2 million cut in funding the Fish and Wildlife Service but a million-dollar bump for the refuge system’s budget. The entire package has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Elaine Smiloff has lived and hunted on Adak Island for years. She had her own doubts about trying to control the spread of caribou.

But Smiloff also says that this year, it got harder for local hunters to track down caribou in their own backyard. Without a boat — which most residents don’t have — their options seemed to shrink.

Usually, Kagalaska wouldn’t be one of them.

That’s one reason why Smiloff jumped at the chance to help federal hunters move huge slabs of meat off that island. More than a half-ton was distributed to local families.

Smiloff would be glad to help get more. But wildlife managers haven’t decided if they’ll try to conduct another hunt before the Senate takes action on the proposal to shut it down.

For now, the Alaska Maritime refuge is more focused on finding out if the first big control effort was a success.

They may have a chance to investigate in August, when refuge staff are scheduled to sail past Kagalaska aboard their research vessel.

Eventually, Steve Ebbert says he wants to find a method for tracking the number of caribou that reach the island. First, he’d have to mark them — with paintballs, or by branding.

But then again:

“You’re capturing the animals, drugging the animals in the case of branding, and marking them permanently — and just releasing them? It doesn’t seem as efficient. If you can shoot them with a dart, you can shoot them with a rifle,” Ebbert says.

The biologist says he wouldn’t call that hunting — more like counting. By elimination.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 6, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 17:40

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Analysis of National Guard Records Released Under Walker Yields Few Significant Findings

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

One of the biggest issues of last year’s governor’s race was the state of the Alaska National Guard. A federal report had concluded that it was plagued with problems, ranging from mishandling of sexual assault reports to a general lack of trust in leadership. For months, media outlets tried to get records on then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s response, and the struggle culminated in a lawsuit. The executive branch was ordered to release thousands of pages of documents related to the Guard just days before an election that Parnell lost.

From Alaska to Australia: A $23M Military Exercise Takes Flight

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

On Monday, military units stationed a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson begin a massive multinational training operation.

Missing Hiker Found Dead Near Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Florida man hiking on Juneau’s Mount Roberts trail system on July 4th was found dead Sunday night.

Troopers Detain Man After Standoff in Selawik

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers have taken a man into custody after he barricaded himself inside a home in the village of Selawik. One person was found dead outside the residence.

Couple Missing from Denali Highway Found Dead

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers say a man and woman reported missing from a campsite off the Denali Highway have been found dead.

In Juneau, A Call To Remove Mississippi’s Confederate Flag from Display

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Some locals are calling for the removal of the Mississippi state flag flying on the main street into downtown Juneau because it prominently features the Confederate stars and bars.

East Coast Theology School Selling Off Alaska Native Art, Feds to Investigate

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The country’s oldest theological school is selling off its Native art collection, and Sealaska Heritage Institute is asking the feds to investigate.

Caribou Emigrate From Adak; Feds Struggle to Stop the Spread

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Every summer, a team of federal exterminators set up shop in the southwest corners of the state. Their job is to root out non-native animals that might disturb the Alaska Maritime wildlife refuge.

Mt. Marathon Attracts A Deeper Field of Competitors

Annie Feidt, KSKA – Anchorage

This weekend marked a new era for the Mount Marathon race in Seward. Foreigners dominated Alaska’s favorite mountain run Saturday. And the top Alaskans say they are happy for the new level of competition.

Categories: Alaska News

Mt. Marathon Attracts A Deep Field of Competitors This Year

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 17:39

This weekend marked a new era for the Mount Marathon race in Seward. Foreigners dominated Alaska’s favorite mountain run Saturday. And the top Alaskans say they are happy for the new level of competition.

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Emelie Forsberg celebrates her Mount Marathon record. Photo credit: Annie Feidt

It was overcast– but not raining– as Holly Brooks drove into Seward Saturday morning to watch the race. The course snaking up to the top of the mountain was visible under a bank of high clouds. Brooks turned to her husband, Rob Whitney and made a prediction.

“I looked at Rob and was like, it’s a record day, I mean these conditions, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

The two time Mount Marathon winner had decided not to compete this year after a grueling winter of marathon ski racing in Europe and Russia. But Brooks- who initially said she wouldn’t even watch the race- couldn’t resist the chance to cheer on the Alaskans. So she was at the finish line when Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg obliterated the 25 year old women’s race record by more than 2.5 minutes.

“She made it look easy. I think everyone here cheered and then it just kind of went silent. Because people were either kind of flabbergasted and/or didn’t know who she is. But now they will.”

Forsberg looked as if she had just finished a polite tennis match instead of a grueling mountain race. She says she typically competes in ultra races that take hours to compete and aren’t as technical as Mount Marathon. And Forsberg says she didn’t know she had the record until the very end.

“I was surprised when I came to the finish line, I had no idea of the time, and I just felt so good the whole way, it’s a super nice race and I really like it.”

Soldotna’s 18 year old Allie Ostrander came in second in her rookie year in the women’s race. The high school running champion also beat the previous record, 50:30, set by Nancy Pease in 1990, by two seconds. Brooks marveled at Ostrander’s time.

“If someone else is going to come in from Sweden and take our record, at least we have an Alaskan who can duck under. She looked great and wow, what a rookie race for her, so it was incredible.”

A few hours later in the men’s race, Kilian Jornet of Spain shaved more than a minute off the record with a time of 41:48. Jornet said his calves were “exploding” on the way up, but he was able to save enough energy to open up a wide lead on the technical downhill. He says he loved the atmosphere of the race, with fans lining the course:

“It’s incredible. Just people all the way up in the mountain, it’s not many races where you have all these people all the way up to summit.”

The previous men’s record holder, Eric Strabel came in 4th Saturday, behind Ricky Gates, of Wisconsin and Jim Shine of Anchorage. Strabel says he’s excited to have a new level of international competition descend on Mount Marathon:

“I’m so lucky to have been in this race and to have those guys out in front to chase, it’s everything a competition should be.”

Strabel will have another shot catch Jornet. The Spaniard says he’ll return to defend his title in next year’s race. And as for Emelie Forsberg?

“Are you going to be back next year? Oh yes! I’m so happy for that, I’ve already made my race calendar for this.”

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Detain Man After Standoff in Selawik

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 16:14

Alaska State Troopers have taken a man into custody after he barricaded himself inside a home in the village of Selawik. One person was found dead outside the residence.

Troopers say the man was taken into custody at about 2:30 p.m. Monday. Troopers flew to the village earlier in the day after receiving a report shortly after 4:30 a.m. that a man was shooting a firearm in the village.

No other details were immediately released. Troopers say they are working to positively identify the person who died, as well as the suspect.

Categories: Alaska News

Couple Missing From Denali Highway Found Dead

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 15:41

Alaska State Troopers say a man and woman reported missing from a campsite off the Denali Highway have been found dead.

The bodies of the pair were found inside a dilapidated trailer in the area after troopers heard noises coming from the vehicle Sunday afternoon. Troopers say there was no response when communication was attempted.

The names of the man and woman were not immediately released. Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the bodies are being sent to the state medical examiner’s office for positive identification and to determine cause of death.

Troopers received a report that Friday evening that the pair was missing from the campsite around mile 79 of the Denali Highway. Troopers say they found signs suggesting gunfire associated with the pair’s vehicle and camper trailer.

Categories: Alaska News

Historic WWII Bomber, Recovered in Nome, Offers Russian Twist to Iconic American Plane

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 14:28

A B-25 J Mitchell bomber left to rust in Nome after World War II is being stripped for parts—and may one day be refurbished—thanks to efforts from a Michigan war planes museum and help from students across the Bering Strait.

The B-25 Mitchell bomber recovered in Nome in June 2015. The plane, destined for the Russia front, still bears the red star of the Soviet Air Force. Photos: Warbirds of Glory Museum.

The B-25 was a U.S. military bomber of the same class that went to Russia through the lend-lease program leading up to World War II, and planes of its kind later dropped bombs on Japan after Pearl Harbor. It flew with the U.S. Army Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, and the Soviet Air Force.

In June, Patrick Mihalek with the nonprofit Warbirds Of Glory Museum in Brighton, Michigan, came to Nome to rescue an unusual B-25. “We came up to Nome to recover a World War II B-25 that was sitting out on the tundra for the last 70 years,” Mihalek said, knowing that the distinctly American aircraft had a uniquely Soviet twist.

“We went through the whole wreckage of the aircraft and disassembled it,” Mihalek said. “Many pieces that we need currently for the ongoing restoration we shipped home.”

That “ongoing restoration” is of a different B-25 known as Sandbar Mitchell, another bomber during the war that went on to become a plane for pilots in training, and eventually dumped water on Alaska wildfires near Fairbanks through the 1960s. It crashed in 1969, and after 44 years spent rusting on a Tanana River sandbar, the museum recovered that plane. Mihalek said the museum will use parts of Nome’s B-25 to get Sandbar Mitchell in the air once again.

“We’re going to continue our main project, which is restore Sandbar Mitchell to flying status,” he said. “There’s a few parts from this [Nome B-25] that are airworthy that we’ll put in Sandbar Mitchell, and then vice versa, the parts that are not airworthy from Sandbar Mitchell, because of damage, we’ll put on the Nome [B-25], so in that way, the [Nome plane] could resemble a B-25 once again.”

Just how the B-25 first came to the Seward Peninsula goes back to 1944. After being assembled in Kansas, the bomber was part of a group of planes allocated to Russia through Franklin Roosevelt’s “lend-lease program” prior to and during the U.S. entering World War II. The plane was officially handed over to Russian pilots in Fairbanks, who were set to fly it to Nome and onward to the Russian front. The Nome B-25, however, never crossed the dateline; a rough landing in Nome left it un-flyable, and facilities in Nome at the time left it irreparable.

But the Russian pilots of the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily—the Soviet Air Force—didn’t let the plane go to waste.

“The Russians stripped it of all the parts and things they could use as repair parts, or replacement parts, that they felt they could use on their other B-25s,” said museum trustee Todd Trainor during his visit to Nome. “Then it was just left there for vandals and scoundrels to take parts and shoot holes in it with guns.”

In the 1980s, former state House Representative Richard Foster visited Skagway and told then-Skagway resident and aviation enthusiast Mitch Erickson about the bomber. Erickson moved to Nome in 1991, and less than a year later, he found the B-25: axed, chopped, and shot up over years of impromptu target practice. He got the plane loaded on a flatbed and hauled away for safekeeping, but one wing still bearing the red star of Soviet Russia remained trapped in the mud.

“We actually had the NACTEC kids there when we pulled the old wing out of the mud,” said Nathan Pitt, the program coordinator for NACTEC, the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center in Nome. “We had to have every hand available to flip that old wing over. And there on the other side you could see the Russian star still on there, barely visible, but it was still there.”

Recovering Nome’s B-25 was built in to NACTEC’s summer aviation program, and students from Nome and across the Bering Strait worked to recover the plane and disassemble its components.

Pitt said it was an application of the skills students learned working on NACTEC’s own ongoing restoration of another plane, a 1962 Piper Colt. The coordination linked the historic plane to their work in the classroom.

“The 1962 Piper Colt is NACTEC’s project that we’re restoring, so the kids were putting rivets in and also taking rivets out [of the Piper Colt], and then they went over to see the B-25 project, where they were taking all the rivets out in order to disassemble the plane,” Pitt said of the multi-day project.

“They could see where this work was done, and they had a little bit of knowledge about the process and the parts that, you know, keep a plane together.”

The Nome bomber now sits in a shipping container within Nome’s Satellite Field T-hangar—itself a relic from World War II—not far from where the wing was dragged from the mud. “Hopefully within the next year, we’ll be able to raise some money to have the shipping container shipped back to Michigan,” Mihalek said.

The ultimate goal would be to get the Nome bomber flying again, but the wing’s spars are corroded and a “substantial donation” would be needed to make that happen. Failing that, Mihalek said it could be assembled as a static airplane, offering a distinctly Russian display piece for the Michigan museum to tell the unique story of the B-25.

Categories: Alaska News

In Juneau, A Call To Remove Mississippi’s Confederate Flag from Display

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 14:04

Some locals are calling for the removal of the Mississippi state flag flying on the main street into downtown Juneau because it prominently features the Confederate stars and bars.

On Monday evening business owner Marc Wheeler and community member Matt McGuan spoke to the Assembly about removing the flag.

For Wheeler, who’s originally from Louisiana, his connection to the Confederate flag goes back generations.

“On a personal level, my ancestors were slave owners, and I feel like that flag symbolizes our country’s original sin,” he said, “and we have to atone for that.”

Mississippi is a part of an all-states flag display organized every year by a group of volunteers who call themselves Friends of the Flags.

In light of recent events, McGuan decided to do something about it.

“That’s not a welcoming symbol. That’s a symbol of intimidation and hatred. It’s a relic of a terrible time in our country’s history,” McGuan said.

Jim Caroll has been a Friends of the Flags volunteer since the display’s inception.

“Well, it’s a state representation of the flags, that’s what we have up, no matter what’s on the flag,” Caroll said.

He says he understands the controversy surrounding the flag, but that immediately removing it is impractical. The flags are replaced yearly using a donated piece of heavy equipment.

Mississippi adopted its current flag in 1894. In a controversial statewide referendum in 2001, voters doubled down on keeping the flag.
But McGuan says the flag doesn’t belong in Alaska.

“If the people of Mississippi want it on their flag that’s their deal, but we don’t have to give it a place of honor in our community,” McGuan said.

Chair of the Juneau Human Rights Commission Alavini Lata [alah-veeney [LA-TA], says the board hasn’t received any complaints from the community. Lata says Friends of the Flags has the final say and the most the commission could do is to talk to them. He says the issue might be addressed at an upcoming meeting, but he doesn’t think taking down one flag would be effective.

“Generally we don’t take action unless something is brought up by the community and we internally haven’t talked about it as a group,” Lata said.

Lata says the issue might be addressed at an upcoming meeting, but he doesn’t think taking down the flag will help.

Georgia removed the Confederate stars and bars from its flag in 2003. South Carolina had flown an actual Confederate flag on its statehouse grounds until late June. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for its removal and five days later, an activist climbed the flagpole and took it down herself.

Mississippi is now the only state with Confederate imagery in its flag.

Criticism of the Confederate flag has grown after the racially charged mass murder of church parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last month.

McGuan says about 10 other community members have met to discuss removing the flag in Juneau. One possible alternative, McGuan says, is to use the Mississippi Magnolia Flag, which was the state’s first official flag.

Categories: Alaska News

Missing hiker on Mt. Roberts trail found dead

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 13:21

A Florida man hiking on Juneau’s Mount Roberts trail system on July 4th was found dead last night.

Alaska State Troopers were notified Sunday afternoon that 35-year-old Michael Patrick Blaisdell was missing. Blaisdell, an Orlando resident, hadn’t been seen or heard from since around 11:30 Saturday morning.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says the agency launched a search and rescue operation with Juneau Mountain Rescue and SEADOGS. Five search teams went up the Mount Roberts trail and Temsco Helicopters provided an aerial search.

“A little bit before 8:00 last night, an aerial search team located Blaisdell off the Mount Roberts trail system near the base of a 50-foot drop in the Bear Valley area,” Peters says.

Blaisdell’s family has been notified. His body was recovered and will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for autopsy.

With Temsco Helicopters, Alaska State Troopers performed an aerial search over Mount Roberts Sunday evening. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

Categories: Alaska News

Some Juneau Whale-Watching Companies Commit To A Higher Standard

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-06 09:29

Seven whale watching companies in Juneau are the first in the state to participate in a voluntary stewardship program that challenges them to go above and beyond federal and state viewing guidelines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has brought the East Coast program Whale SENSE to Alaska.

A whale in Berners Bay, near Juneau, Alaska. (Creative Commons photo by Gillfoto)

It’s a windy day at Statter Harbor in Juneau, where Dolphin Jet Boat Tours stage trips. A new orange Whale SENSE flag adorns each vessel, “so that other boats on the water can see that we’re a member of Whale SENSE and then they know that we’re well trained and carefully observing all the guidelines and protecting the whales,” says Kathleen Turley, port captain for Dolphin. She’s been with the company for 12 years and does everything from maintaining the boats to being an on-board naturalist.

Each tour begins with an educational Whale SENSE talk.

“We’re informing the passengers about the stewardship aspect of the whales, that we’re not just here to see the whales, we’re here to protect them,” Turley says.

Participating Whale SENSE companies display an orange flag on their vessels. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Federal regulations include a hard rule requiring that vessels keep 100 yards away from a humpback whale. Beyond that distance, the rule is to be “slow” and “safe.” Whale SENSE is more specific and has a tiered set of speed guidelines that start one mile from a whale.

“Basically it’s what we do anyway because you don’t want to just roar up on a whale or leave rapidly or anything like that. I think it’s helpful for new captains especially that haven’t been doing this for a long time,” Turley says.

Kathleen Turley has worked for Dolphin Jet Boat Tours for 12 years. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Other guidelines include additional training and coordinating location and viewing times with other vessels. Program participants go through on-board evaluations. Juneau companies Alaska Galore Tours, Allen Marine Tours, Gastineau Guiding, Juneau Whale Watching Tours, Orca Enterprises and Rum Runner Charters are all part of Whale SENSE.

In return, NOAA and Whale SENSE advertise participating companies on their websites. And the companies know they’re taking the extra step to be more responsible.

For the most part Suzie Teerlink says the industry in Juneau does a good job of respecting the whales. Teerlink is a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She’s been studying Juneau humpback whales and the whale watching industry.

“Even though companies generally are following the regulations, because of the growth of the industry and the number of vessels on the water, there was just need for more,” Teerlink says.

In the early 1990s, Teerlink says there were no whale watching boats in Juneau. Now, she estimates there are about 35. She’s heard operators complain of overcrowding. She calculates the industry generates in Juneau between $20 and $25 million a year.

NOAA Fisheries marine mammal specialist Aleria Jensen coordinates Whale SENSE Alaska. Worldwide, she says whale watching is a multibillion dollar industry.

“How are we going to make our little piece of that industry in Juneau sustainable? Because we’re on the map as a whale watching destination, we’re probably one of the top destinations and it’s thrilling that we can offer this experience to visitors but we need to do it right and we need to be really careful about how we behave around them,” Jensen says.

Jensen doesn’t see the growth of the whale watching industry leveling off anytime soon. She says the humpback whale population in the North Pacific is growing at a rate of 5 to 7 percent each year, and with more whales come more vessels to watch them.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker Renames Wade Hampton Census Area

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-03 16:16

The western Alaska census district named for a confederate slave owner and Civil War general has a new name.

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Governor Bill Walker wrote Thursday to the Census Bureau to begin the process of changing the name from the Wade Hampton Census District to Kusilvak  Census District. Katie Marquette is the governor’s press secretary. “That original name had no connection to the culture or history of Alaska and its people. With support of the people I mentioned, Governor Walker felt it was only appropriate that Alaska’s place names reflect and respect the diversity of our great state.”

The city and tribe of the largest community in the area, Hooper Bay, passed a resolution in support of a change and came up with the new, local name. A recent Alaska Dispatch News article brought the history to the forefront. Local and state politicians voiced their support for shedding the name of a Confederate general whose rise to political power was in tandem with terror campaign by a violent white-power group, the Red Shirts.

Edgar Hoelscher is the tribal chief for the Native Village of Hooper Bay. “Everyone knows in the early times, that man was a slaver and never had stepped into Alaska. Why should our area be named after a man we don’t even know about?”

Wade Hampton’s son in law was a territorial judge and named a nearby mining district after the South Carolina politician. That showed up in census data first in 1920 and stuck.

Myron Naneng, Association of Village Council President and Chairman of the Sea Lion Corporation, of Hooper Bay, and has been organizing behind the scenes to get a new name. “Kusilvak means the high one. It’s the mountain located between Scammon Bay and Mountain Village. It’s highest mountain in the area and there’s a lot of history associated with it.”

The peaks, which rise as high as 2200 feet, are visible from several villages and are used a landmark for traveling and navigating. Naneng says stories tell of a mole or mouse that attempted carry the mountain to the Bering Sea, but stopped short of the coast. Several nearby lakes are shaped like animal prints.

Hoelsher says having a local Yup’ik name honors the region’s people. “It shows that our elders and forefather were there, and we’re still living on the ground where they were.”

The name is mostly used for statistical and record keeping. There’s no regional government with the name, but it shows up in countless publications for borough-level information. That will change going foward. Eddie Hunsinger is the state demographer. He explains that the Census Bureau will begin to implement the new name in their records systems. “I don’t think it will be that difficult of a process. We expect that it will be in their next borough and census area release of data.”

That’s expected to be early next year. The Governor writes that he will use the new name from now on.

Categories: Alaska News

Engine Failure Forces USCG Cutter to Return to Dutch Harbor

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-03 16:14

The Coast Guard Cutter Sherman had to return to Dutch Harbor a few days early this week. The cutter and its crew were forced to turn back from a regular patrol in the Bering Sea when one of the ship’s diesel engines malfunctioned.

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The vessel’s public affairs specialist Alex Oswald says the coast Guard Cutter Sherman has a long history.  It was first launched in 1968. “So the ship’s very, very old.” Oswald is a Junior Officer on board. “It’s actually on its way out. This class of ship is call the legend class cutters and they’re in the process of being replaced.  This one is one of the last ones t be decommissioned.”

The Sherman has two turbines and two main diesel engines.  Oswald says one of those engines failed. “I can’t disclose the specifics of what happened, but basically we just had a problem with the engine. We couldn’t get it to work the way we wanted it to, so we shut it don completely and we were just operating on one engine, so we had to come into port to fix the problem.”

Oswald says equipment was shipped into Dutch Harbor as part of the repair work.  He wasn’t able to say if some of that work was contracted locally.

The Sherman is home-ported in San Diego.  In 2001, it became the first coast guard cutter to circumnavigate the globe. The ship and its crew are in Alaska this summer to enforce fisheries regulations and provide search and rescue support. They are slated to depart again Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Computer Models Aid Firefighters

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-03 16:13

The wildfires around Nulato and Ruby on the Yukon River have been burning slowly but steadily this week. The Nulato Fire has covered more than 26 thousand acres, while a series of fires around Ruby have burned close to 65 thousand acres.

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A special crew of fire managers is overseeing the response to these fires from a base at the Galena Airport. The managers are being assisted by computers that help predict the future of a wildfire.

Sam Amato (middle) and Risa Lange-Navarro (right) at work in the Galena Command Post for the Northern Rockies Fire Management Team. Photo by Tim Bodony, KIYU

Sam Amato and Risa Lang-Navarro are sitting at a table in a windowless room, bank of laptops open in front of them.  They are the analysts on Diane Hutton’s Northern Rockies Fire Management Team, which is in charge of fires near the villages of Ruby and Nulato.  While other firefighters live in a world of Pulaskis, chainsaws and pumps – these two live in a world of data.

Temperature, wind speed, humidity, fuel type, fire behavior, satellite imagery, topography, and lots of other variables go into the computer models that Amato and Lang-Navarro run on their laptops – and what you get are predictions.   It’s like a weather forecast, except with fire, showing where the fire is likely to move and how quickly it will get there.

Sam Amato is the long term analyst on the team.  Even though the fire prediction models draw from reams of information in databases and coming in from automated weather observation stations, Amato says that the models still rely on human input to make them work well. “They are very rough estimates.  So we depend a lot on information coming back from the field to help me pick the correct weather station, help me calibrate the fuels, ,change the fuel models to be more representative .  Typically it will take between 3 days and a week to get the models where they are really helpful to the field, unless you are in a unit where there is a lot of fire activity, then they tend to have those pre-calibrated because they are doing this so much on that particular unit.”

Risa Lang-Navarro works more in the short term. As the fire behavior analyst it’s her job to get forecasts to fire crew in the field for the next day or two, while Amato often looks a week or two into the future.

She too believes that it is important to get away from the desk and see the fire with her own eyes. “Not only looking at the fuels and topography out there, but also interacting with the crews and getting their feedback. Because I basically put a fire behavior forecast together and a spot weather forecast together and then it is out in the field.  So getting that feedback, saying ‘OK, am I getting what you guys are seeing out in my forecast. Do I need to change anything?  Or do you need anything else.’”
This past week on the Nulato Fire, the analysts used the computer models to simulate an expansion of the fire to more cabins and allotments upriver to the northeast, and found that if firefighters concentrated their efforts on two particular hot spots, the chances of that expansion were significantly lower.  So on Thursday fire managers assigned a helicopter to drop water on those hotspots.

That’s an example of how managers, like Incident Commander Diane Hutton, have come to embrace computer predictions as a way to eliminate much of the guesswork and allocate resources more effectively.  “And they’ll tell us approximately the probability of when structures or values at risk are going to be impacted, so we know if we have time to get out in front and get some of that done. So they help us on our prioritization on the fire, of where we need to be putting our people.”
Hutton has been an incident commander for 6 years, and remembers a time when a couple of people with laptops would not have been able to drop into a remote site and do the kind of computer modeling that they do today. “Used to take big computers and big servers to run some of the models that they run.  You couldn’t just run them out in the field.  And that has improved probably just in the past couple of years.  Of course you have to have an internet connection, and we been able to do that in the past.  Our team usually gets stuck in some little cabin out in the middle of the wilderness someplace, and so the fact that we can bring in satellite dishes now and have internet connectivity about anywhere we go has  made us be able to use that resource without having to do it from a remote station.”

The main challenge with the whole system is a familiar one to many rural Alaska residents: slow internet speeds.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, July 3, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-03 16:12

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Wade Hampton Census Area Gets A New Name

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The western Alaska census district named for a confederate slave owner and
Civil War general has a new name.

Coast Guard Cutter Sherman Returns To Port To Address Engine Trouble

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

The cutter and its crew were forced to turn back from a regular patrol in the Bering Sea when one of the ship’s diesel engines malfunctioned.

Computers Aid Firefighting Efforts

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

The wildfires around Nulato and Ruby on the Yukon River have been burning slowly but steadily this week.  A special crew of fire managers is overseeing the response to these fires from a base at the Galena Airport.

State Fish And Game Officials Warn Of ‘Rabbit Fever’ Outbreak

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials sent out a warning after a North Pole man was sickened by tularemia, a bacterial infection known as “rabbit fever.”

Associated Press

Haines Assembly Approves Lower Cruise Ship Moorage Fees

Haines has some of the lowest cruise ship moorage rates in Southeast Alaska. The borough assembly approved further lowering those fees for three summers.

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

UAF Addresses Water Quality Concerns

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has taken action to address campus water quality, after testing this spring revealed an issue.

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

AK: Seward’s Mount Marathon Race Hits The Century Mark

Seward’s Mt. Marathon race, which takes place July 4th turns one hundred years old this year.

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage


Categories: Alaska News

AK: Mount Marathon

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-03 12:00

All eyes are on the nation’s July 4 birthday, but the date also marks the anniversary of an Alaska tradition. Seward’s Mt. Marathon race, which takes place July 4 turns 100 years old this year. The race is a one of a kind, grueling, uphill run, and now it is the subject of a documentary film aimed at putting a face on the men and women who take the challenge.

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A runner heads down the mountain in Max Romey’s film, “3022ft.”

The story has it that a bar bet started the Mt. Marathon race. A wager that a man could run to the top of the slippery mountain and back inside of an hour. He almost made it. The first organized race was held in 1915. Max Romey, the University of Western Washington filmmaker, and track and field athlete, thinks that the race is the ultimate challenge.

“In 2013 is kind of when this film started. I went down to Seward to check out this race called Mt. Marathon. So I get there the day before the race I head up the mountain, and it just blew my mind.”

That’s Romey, who along with co-producer Natalie Fedock filmed last year’s race, focusing on nine of the runners to find out what drives them to attack the mountain. The documentary, 3022 ft., was released last month [June] in Anchorage.

Holly Brooks is one of the race’s top competitors and a central character in the film.

Romey, who’s lanky frame perfectly fits a runner’s profile, says the sport of running doesn’t have heroes, like basketball, football and even snowboarding do. He’s out to put his filmmaking skills on the line to show that runners are not as interested in celebrity as they are in pushing past their own boundaries.

“Without the fame and glory, why do people do this. And that’s exactly what this film kind of hits on. It doesn’t hit on the individual people or how they trained or the history of the race, or Alaska. It just sort of hits on the spirit of what drives runners to do this race or do any race.”

But Mt. Marathon is not just any race. It’s unique, even in Alaska. And Romey discovered during the process of filming, it attracts athletes who are racing, not so much to win, but really to conquer something inside themselves.

“To win this race, you have to dedicate your life to it. Basically. You have to be everything you can be on that day. And if you cross that finish line first, there is about two thousand people who will know what you went through. total. They are doing it, not because of the fame, not because of the glory, there is no prize money, and they are literally just doing this because they care about what it means to them, which I think is so special and really admirable and something that we want to capture, which I think we did.”

The runners in the film range from current men’s champ and record holder Eric Strabel, and women’s 2014 winner Holly Brooks to teenager Allie Ostrander, who is the first girl to win the junior co-ed Mt. Marathon contest.

“Mt.Marathon is definitely like the idealistic. tough Alaskan race. It’s just all up, and there are no breaks.”

Romey’s film “3022ft.” tells the story of one of Alaska’s toughest races.

“What’s really cool is what people bring to the mountain. That’s where the character, that’s what flavors this whole story, is like what is actually brought to this race by the people. And that is year’s of training, they do bring kind of their hopes and dreams and everything, but I think, mostly, they just bring their best. When you have a thousand people throwing everything they’ve got at a single rock, like all the stories behind that just turn into something really exciting.”

And it can be a heartbreaking contest. Last year, Olympic skier Brooks won by only two seconds, chased to the finish by mom of three Christy Marvin.

Romey says the female athletes who compete deserve every bit of respect given to the male competitors.

The race is just over three miles.. the first half straight up, but the descent is considered even more difficult.

“I’ve heard it being compared to jumping out of a bus at forty miles an hour.”

So, who would do that? Runners, who Romey says range on a scale from one to crazy. But on a more serious level, the race’s tough course is a measure of personal strength.

“I kind of hope that, what this movie does, is that people don’t hold people in this movie above themselves. I hope that people see the stores in this movie and then internalize that. And are able to say, like, ‘yeah, she did it, and she did it because she believed in herself. And she did it, she had it really hard, but she kind of kept on pushing and she made it happen. And I’m kind of hoping that people see that, and are inspired by that. And that’s my real goal, not to make stars out of this, but to kind of take their strength and pass it on to other people.”

That special strength, that drive to go further, is something that champ Holly Brooks recognizes in herself…

“It isn’t always just about beating other people, but it’s about finding excellence in myself, and that’s kind of the challenge that Mt. Marathon puts in front of you, in the form of a 3, 000-foot bloody, dirty, gritty mountain. ”

This year’s Mount Marathon race promises to be more exciting than ever, with two international running stars competing. Spain’s Kilian Jornet will be in the men’s race and his girlfriend Emelie Forsberg, from Sweden will line up with the women.

Categories: Alaska News