Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.
Public safety director Col. James Cockrell says the department had to find $8.5 million to cut. It’s mothballing two search-and-rescue helicopters, losing some support positions, and tightening its belt in other ways. Cockrell says it’s been hard to cut trooper positions – it’s hard to find good recruits, and troopers fulfill the agency’s mission to fight crime, enforce the law, and protect life and property. Plus, he says the force has always been spread thin.
“Statewide, the population that we serve, we certainly don’t meet the national standards of providing the number of police officers to the population, and we really never have because we’re so spread out and the difficulties of getting into some of the areas that we deal with.”
Of the dozen communities losing troopers, eight are losing one or two each. Fairbanks is losing six, and Soldotna five. Wasilla is losing the most — nine state trooper positons. Cockrell says that’s going to make a bad situation worse.
“When you look at specifically the Mat-Su valley, our troopers are, some of them are 30, 40 cases behind on their case load right now. We’re just not keep up with the volume of activity we have out there and that’s pretty much statewide.”
Cockrell says another area that will feel the change is the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which he says is experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence crime. And he noted the loss of a drug investigations trooper in the Bristol Bay region. But he says urban residents will also see a change.
“We’ll have to prioritize our services and certainly when we have less troopers property crime goes even further down on the list. People crimes, assaults, burglaries in process, robberies and domestic violence and sexual assaults. Certainly our responses to some property crimes will be practically non-existent.”
Cockrell says he saw the cuts coming so kept several positions vacant. As a result he says only one permanent employee was actually laid off, along with six non-permanent positions — four troopers who handled cold case murder investigations, and two who did background checks. Now, he says, the department has to cut another $2.6 million to cover state employee pay raises.
Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. The company has plans to take most of that equipment north for exploratory drilling operations later this summer. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.
Dutch Harbor is a busy place this time of year.
“The flights are all full, the hotel is full, vehicles – trucks for rent – companies that rent vehicles – they’re all rented.”
City Mayor Shirley Marquardt says the bustle isn’t unusual. She compares it to the uptick in business the community last saw when the pollock fishery took off in the 1980s and 90s.
“… and you had the big at-sea processor fleet show up, these big boats participating in this massive fishery and they’re all coming into town and said ‘we need everything.’”
But this year, much of that business can be attributed to oil giant, Shell. Over the next two years, Dutch Harbor will serve as a logistics hub as the company carries out its exploratory drilling plans further north in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
Spokeswoman Megan Baldino says 15 company personnel have been in Dutch Harbor for at least the last two weeks. Now that one of the company’s drill rigs is moored in the bay just out front of town, Baldino says up to 35 people will arrive daily.
“…on any given day the numbers could be lower or higher.”
Because flights to and from the island are limited, the company has chartered flights with Anchorage-based Ravn Alaska. Charlotte Siegreen is Ravn’s spokeswoman.
“It’s usually around one or two a day for the next couple of weeks.”
Currently, only one commercial carrier provides regular service into Dutch Harbor. Siegreen says it’s not yet clear if Ravn will also consider regularly scheduled flights after its contract with Shell ends.
“we don’t have an immediate plans to make any scheduled service changes, but we’re always looking. I can say that.”
With the influx of so many people, Shell has booked a block of rooms at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.
“We are full.”
Lori Smith is the General Manger of Hospitality for Unisea, the seafood producer that owns two hotels in town. She says the oil company has been careful to relinquish rooms it is not using to free up space in a community where temporary housing is extremely limited. Mayor Shirley Marquardt says her administration has worked closely with Shell on that issue.
“We’ve been very up front and very honest with Shell from day one, of ‘if people are going to live here full time, if you’re not going to hire people who live her to do the work, do not come into town and jack up prices and kick people out of their homes.”
Marquardt says so far, housing prices have remained stable. She says it’s unclear how the job market might change.
“It’s too early to tell. When they were here the last time they did hire a lot of local folks for security and logistics and running around.”
Megan Baldino says Shell hasn’t yet made any direct local hires, but they have contracted with a number of local businesses.
“Thee are some areas where we bring in people who we have trained to really specific competency requirements, but in the future there are plans to train and utilize local staffing so we can meet those needs locally.” 00:13
The city doesn’t have a system to attribute tax revenue directly to the oil company’s presence, but city officials say they expect an uptick in revenue collected from both bed and fuel taxes.
An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.
The board tabled the final decision and wants to hold a meeting to hear directly from Bethel residents. It dealt the Bethel Native Corporation a victory in shooting down the city’s formal request to stop the license, but the board can still reject their application.
The board is required to honor protests and reject licenses unless the protests are quote “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” which is what three of five voting members found in their quarterly meeting held in Fairbanks.
Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation said the city’s reasoning relied on bad information.
“The protest is not based on any facts of any kind. It’s based on data from a 5.5 year old advisory vote and the reluctance of the city council to take any other position until they can ‘feel good’ about where the equilibrium of the community is regarding alcohol sales. The equilibrium for Bethel is that the community is wet and to make one that is responsible, defensible, and consistent with the law.”
Bethel Native Corporation is the local corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Alaska Commercial Company store had also applied for a license but dropped their request until citizens vote again. Bethel voted out of local option status in 2009, paving the way for legal sales and unlimited imports of alcohol. The new application is the first in five years.
Bethel Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was surprised at the board’s action.
“I feel like it’s an affront to our city council who put a lot of time into deciding this issue to be told we’re arbitrary and capricious about this. It should be an affront to anyone who lives in this community who feels we should have a local opportunity to make decisions for ourselves.”
BNC has been pushing hard for the store as they have been without a tenant at their multimillion dollar new retail complex since it was vacated by Swanson’s grocery store this spring. They collected 500 letters of support and brought on a prominent lawyer to support their case, Phil Blumstein, who argued the city was evading the state’s liquor laws.
“The legal issue at the center of this protest is whether the city can properly base its protest on its belief that liquor sales should be illegal in Bethel, or its belief that the public believes liquor sales should be allowed in Bethel, where the votes have in deciding the issue the only way the law allows, have repeatedly voted for sales to be legal.”
Several community groups have formally opposed the application, like the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Lower Kuskokwim School District. They cite the region’s high rates of alcoholism and the disproportionate number of alcohol-related crimes and domestic violence. The city’s had a rocky past with bars and liquor stores prior to the 1970s when Bethel banned them.
Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.
The inside of the bus is open and simple. A few of the original 1960s era benches flank the sides of a coffee counter where a teakettle sits on one corner. A two-burner propane stove stands against a wall.
Austin Schwartz pours green coffee beans into a pan and sets a timer. For the next 8 minutes, he slowly shuffles them around.
“Never try to rush the roast,” he says as he slowly swirls his wooden spoon. “It will all happen. In the eight minutes for the first crack. And then just a few extra minutes.”
From his demeanor, it’s unclear if Schwartz has ever actually tasted coffee. “I think people usually regard me as an easy-going person who has a lot of patience,” he says. “I work in the schools with teachers and kids, so I have a lot of practice with patience.”
But he didn’t exhibit that quality when jumping into his new summer venture – Uncle Leroy’s Coffee. Schwartz says he’s always loved a good cup of joe. Then, last December, he had his first cup of small batch roasted coffee, and his adoration bumped up a notch. He bought some green beans and started roasting at home. Less than a month later he saw an old bus on Craigslist, and by June, he had opened up his new mobile coffee roasting shop.
“I’m a day dreamer, so I have ideas. And when I have an idea, sometimes I like to see if I can actualize it. Kind of follow through on it,” he pauses, looking down at the pan. “Because I don’t want to live with regret.”
Now, he drives his aging bus slowly around the city, hoping not to stall in traffic. He pulls into farmers markets, parking lots and food carnivals, roasting and serving simple, black pour-over coffee. No espresso, no lattes.
“The bus is actually really nice for roasting because there’s so many windows,” he explains as the bus begins to fill with smoke, coffee smell filling the air.
The beans start to turn different shades of brown, bouncing about the pan like low-key popcorn.
Schwartz says he can roast about four pounds per hour, then he grinds it up, one cup at a time, serving it like was done 150 years ago. Slowly, patiently, yet still buzzing.
Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.
Signing his first budget, Walker was, for the most part, light with the red pen. The capital budget the Legislature sent him had already been cut from about $600 million to a little more than $100 million, so there were few projects to target. And after two special sessions and a compromise between Republicans and Democrats, Walker decided to mostly leave the worked-over operating budget alone.
The only big adjustment Walker made was on oil tax credits. Walker put off payment of $200 million in oil tax credits to send a message.
“We have to have that discussion about what can we afford — what can we afford in the way of paying companies to go out and do exploration work in our state. That’s really what it comes down to,” Walker said at a Wednesday press conference.
Walker added that the action was a way of sharing the pain among Alaskan people and interests at a time when the state is looking at years of budget deficits.
The payment delay only affects companies who are exploring for oil — not actually producing it. The state will still issue about half a billion in credits to companies that are extracting the resource.
And as far as the delay goes, it’s just that. All of the credits will still have to be paid out eventually, even if they don’t count against this year’s budget. Walker said there isn’t a legal avenue for striking them from the books.
“I’m not aware of any,” said Walker. “We haven’t looked for any, and that’s not the goal.”
The payment of oil tax credits was a major part of Democrats’ agenda this legislative session. The minority party regularly offered amendments that would have cut them from the budget, but all of them were unsuccessful.
Walker told reporters that his move on the budget should push the issue to the forefront when legislators reconvene.
“As we see this growing to the point that it could potentially be the largest expenditure we have in the state — these payments for exploration — that we have to get a handle on,” said Walker.
Including the oil credit delay, the budget Walker signed spends just under $5 billion in state dollars.
When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt.
Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.
The traveling Chautauqua movement began on Lake Chautauqua in New York in the late 1800s. They brought lectures, theater and music to rural communities but it mostly died out after the rise of radio and motion pictures.
In 1981, Patch Adams — yup, the one Robin Williams played — and the Flying Karamazov Brothers revived the movement. Natalee Rothaus was with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council in 1992 when the New Old Time Chautauqua first visited Juneau.
“It’s so much fun and it’s so much goodwill, spirited. You know, you’re working with people who are doing this for the love of it. They’re not coming in just to do a show. It’s not just a gig, it’s a Chautauquan family,” Rothaus says.
The New Old Time Chautauqua is a nonprofit whose members volunteer their time and fund their own travel during their month-long tour each summer. It’s Chautauquan tradition to share knowledge, partner with local organizations and build community through laughter, entertainment and education.
“The last time we did do a parade, it was quite wonderful. I myself wanted to run away with the circus,” says Rothaus.
One Juneauite actually did. Valerie Snyder, owner of Douglas’ BrownBoots Costume Company, joined the Chautauqua in Bellingham last month for a crammed week of rehearsals before they hopped the ferry up to Ketchikan. During their parades, Snyder says, “People are genuinely surprised and we get community members to march with us. In Ketchikan, I ran up the sidewalk and I did a little face painting to all the little kids waiting on the side of the street. ”
So far on this jaunt, the group has performed in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg.
Snyder is the only Alaskan from Southeast in the troupe. She plays violin, juggles, hula hoops, and contributes a little singing and dancing.
“Just expect fun and warmth and friendship. We’re just here to entertain and put a smile on your face,” Snyder says.
Their three-day routine begins with an open potluck Thursday at the Douglas library. Think of it as a Chautauqua launch party with a chalk drawing competition and community music jam.
Friday is the workshop day at Centennial Hall, where the Chautauquans and community members will teach circus skills, how to build a fire using friction, the Chinese meditative art of Qigong, how to fold a fitted sheet, and lecture on health.
There will also be pop-up performances downtown. The only ticketed part of their visit is their headlining vaudeville show Friday evening, which features music, aerialists, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and lots of shtick.
On the Fourth of July, they’ll march in both the downtown Juneau and Douglas parades.
New Old Time Chautauqua founder and original Flying Karamazov Brother Paul Magid hopes to inspire change person to person. The troupe will perform at the Johnson Youth Center and the Juneau Pioneer Home, too, as part of their service mission.
Magid describes the spirit behind their group in his 2012 TEDx talk:
“And it’s a our love of music, play, laughter and for each other that bridges all religious and political differences whether it’s on a baseball field, in a grocery store, or at a maximum security prison.”
After Juneau, they’re headed to Hoonah, Haines and Sitka.
Full disclosure: All proceeds from Friday’s ticket sales benefit KTOO Public Media.
The Sockeye Fire is nearly contained, and fires continue to burn throughout the state. Now, many are questioning whether or not fireworks will be available and legal for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The state has lifted its fireworks ban, with the exception of Western Alaska. Many municipal and borough restrictions are still in place, however.
Robert Hall is the owner of Gorilla Fireworks, which operates stands in Houston and North Pole. He says it is almost certain that the North Pole stand will not open, and doubtful that the city of Houston will lift its ban on the sale of fireworks.
“[It is] very unlikely that we’ll open in Houston. They’ll make a final decision on Thursday based on a lot of different factors, not just weather.”
Hall says one of those factors is the strain that the Sockeye and other fires have placed on fire departments in the Mat-Su Borough. He also says consideration for the victims of the Sockeye Fire will play a role.
“These people in Willow are friends of ours. Our kids went to school with their kids. They’ve been through an awful lot, and that’s a consideration, too.”
Currently, the sale of fireworks is banned in the City of Houston. A final decision from the city is expected on Thursday. Robert Hall says the city consults with the state’s Division of Forestry and local fire departments to make its decisions regarding fireworks.
“I’m very comfortable that the City of Houston will make the right decision, and that, if they made the decision today, it would be not to open firework stands.”
Hall says that, if the Houston stands do open, that they will only be selling sparklers, fountains, and other fireworks that are not designed to leave the ground.
Whether or not fireworks are available for sale this week, the Mat-Su Borough has placed a ban on use of fireworks, and borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan says code enforcement officers will be patrolling over the course of the weekend.
When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide last week, President Obama called the ruling “a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up.”
Mildred Boesser stood 5 feet tall, and she was one of those people. On the day of the ruling, Boesser was on her deathbed at home in Juneau, surrounded by family.
“Friday she was still up and in the chair and talking and holding court and doing well,” says Sara Boesser, Mildred’s daughter. “But she was ready to go and she said, ‘Why am I still here? Why am I still here? I am ready.’ And then the Supreme Court ruling came through and she said, ‘That’s why I’m still here,’ and she was so happy.”
The wife of an Episcopalian minister, Mildred spent decades fighting for gay rights and marriage equality. Just last year, shetestified to the legislature in support of a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“For the record, I’m 88 years old. I’ve lived in Alaska since 1959. I’ve been married for 65 years to the same man and together we’ve raised four children. I’m also a Christian and my faith informs what I do,” Mildred said. “I can’t begin to tell you how saddened I am by the fact that in this great state I love so dearly, a person can be fired legally from a job, evicted from housing, denied credit or financing simply because of whom they happen to love.”
Mildred’s advocacy work stemmed from her daughter Sara.
Sara recounts her mother visiting her while she was a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was the early 1970s.
“I was working at a bookstore called Madwomen Bookstore downtown and it had a lot of feminist and progressive and some lesbian books,” Sara says.
As they were leaving the store, Sara decided at that moment to tell her mother:
“At the crosswalk, light hit green and we started across the crosswalk. I said, ‘Mom, did you know that I’m a lesbian?’ She kind of kept going and she looked at me and said, ‘No, but I’m glad you told me, but that doesn’t change anything about what I feel for you.’ And we got across the crosswalk.”
Throughout the years, Mildred spoke up in the State Capitol Building, in city halls across Alaska and knocked on doors in support of gay rights. Sara says her mother never missed an opportunity to testify in the Capitol, even when Sara herself was discouraged.
“At some point it became too difficult for me to go back to those same legislators and tell them again that we are no threat. I couldn’t do it anymore,” Sara says. “And my mother still would. She wouldn’t even sometimes tell me she’d done it and then I read about it in the paper and think, ‘Wow, way to go Mildred.’”
Liz Dodd is a close family friend. She worked alongside Mildred in 1998 against the state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Dodd says the hearings were antagonistic and she recalls times when lawmakers were rude.
“You would have this bank of legislators sitting around their little dais there and little Mildred at the table in front of them, soft spoken, just preaching love basically,” Dodd says.
Sara Boesser was honored to be Mildred’s daughter.
“People would stop me on the street always and say, ‘I love your mother. She’s my surrogate mother. She’s my grandmother. She’s a mother to us all.’ I was always very proud of her,” Sara says.
The respect was mutual, says Dodd. Dodd recounts her last conversation with Mildred.
“She started to talk about Sara and how Sara was her hero and how Sara inspired her and made her stronger,” Dodd says. “And she said, ‘I had brought this person into the world and then all through the years, I’ve watched her in absolute amazement at who she is.’”
After the Supreme Court ruling, Sara announced to her mother and father that she and her partner of four years are getting married.
“The last day that she was alive, she said, ‘I’m sorry I’m going to miss your wedding.’ I said, ‘Oh, don’t worry mom. You’re my first invitee and you’re going to be there with us, don’t you worry,’” Sara says.
Mildred Boesser passed away at age 90 on June 29, 2015. She is survived by her husband Mark, her four daughters and countless others who considered Mildred their mother.
Two men have been sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 21 months in federal prison for burglarizing the post office in Sand Point.
Twenty-one-year-old Sheldon Wilson Shuravloff, and Keith Lee Wilson, Jr., 19, both of Sand Point, previously pleaded guilty to burglarizing the Sand Point post office in the early morning hours on December 28, 2014.
The burglary caused more than $15,000 in damage to the post office and shut down the facility for a week while the investigation and repairs were completed.
The shutdown meant residents in Sand Point were without medicine, baby formula and household items that arrive by mail.
In a statement to the court, Sand Point’s Postmaster, indicated that the vandalism also delayed delivery of fishing permits and gear essential to the operation of the Sand Point fishing fleet.
Upon release from prison, both Shuravloff and Wilson will remain under court supervision for three years. During that time, both men will be required to complete 250 hours of community service and pay nearly $16,000 dollars in restitution to the United States Postal Service.
During the sentencing, US District court Judge Timothy Burgess called the burglary an extremely serious crime that had a tremendous impact on the Sand Point community as a whole. Judge Burgess specifically noted the intangible harms suffered by the community as a result of Shuravloff and Wilson’s actions.
According to Judge Burgess, both men have amassed lengthy criminal records that stretch back to their early teens.
Governor Bill Walker has approved a number of state assistance programs to help victims of Kenai Peninsula wildfires.
The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is opening a disaster assistance center in Sterling in July.
Spokesperson Jeremy Zidek says people who suffered damages because of the fire can apply for the state’s individual assistance program. That’s broken into two parts: individual and family grants and temporary housing.
“And the individual family grant program can help people with damages to their primary residence, their primary means of transportation, any essential personal property that was damaged by the fire, or if they have any medical expenses that were a direct result of the fire, those costs could be eligible for a grant,” Zidek said.
The temporary housing program helps people who can’t return to their homes because they’ve been damaged past a livable condition.
It can provide housing for up to 18 months for homeowners and up to 3 months for renters.
“We try to find housing that is comparable and the cost is picked up by the individual assistance program,” Zidek said. “The idea is to get people back into their homes as soon as possible, or some type of housing, so they can start that recovery effort.”
The center will be at Sterling Elementary School on July 7-8 and will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days.
“And then go to the Disaster Assistance Center with a description of damages and losses, photos are very helpful, homeownership documents, insurance information, personal identification, and some type of proof of occupancy,” Zidek said. “From there, a verifier may be able to go out with them at that time and take a look at the damages on their property, verify that, and then complete the application.”
Anyone who is not able to come to the center while it’s open can still complete an application online or by phone.
After an outbreak of wildfires across the state the Alaska Division of Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service have seen a marked increase in the number of people looking for work in the firefighting effort. But, Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says both agencies already have a list of candidates to draw from.
“The Division of Forestry and the Alaska Fire Service take applications during the month of April for positions regarding firefighting jobs for the summer,” Mowry said. “We take all those applications and we keep them in a pool.”
Applicants are chosen from that list when the need for their skill set arises. Mowry says the spring selection process is a time to ensure firefighters and some support personnel are red card certified. That’s a special certification earned through training and physical fitness tests.
Mowry doesn’t know how many people have inquired about jobs or what their motivation is. He says some probably assume that fire season is a good time to find job openings.
“That may be the case in some cases but there is training involved in all this kind of work whether you’re fighting fires or your working the warehouse,” Mowry said. “And I’m sure there are people who just want to help out and help the whole firefighting effort and we really appreciate that, but that’s not necessarily the way it works.”
Mowry says people who want to help with the fire effort can always reduce fire danger around their own home. He advises anyone interested in working with the Division of Forestry or the Alaska Fire Service to research how to become a part of next spring’s application process.
Also, anyone willing to rent vehicles and equipment for firefighting efforts can apply online through the Alaska Division of Forestry webpage.
A man charged in the beating death of another man in 2010 has been sentenced to 55 years in prison.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports 27-year-old Carl Leedom was sentenced in Anchorage Superior Court Monday on a second-degree murder charge. Leedom had been the last of three defendants charged in the August 2010 death of 23-year-old Harvey Albright.
Police said the trio attacked Albright because Leedom believed he had stolen his backpack, which was filled with money. Assistant district attorney Jason Gist said Leedom had delivered the fatal blow when he hit Albright in the head with a gun, crushing his skill.
During Monday’s sentencing, the state presented a recording of Leedom admitting to the murder.
When he was given the opportunity to speak, Leedom said he was sorry.
It could be weeks before the wreckage of a sightseeing plane that crashed in steep, rugged terrain in southeast Alaska, killing nine people, is recovered.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson said authorities were waiting for a helicopter capable of lifting the parts to become available. He said that process could take three weeks.
Johnson said NTSB investigators were trying to wrap up their on-scene work Tuesday. He said a preliminary report on the crash could be released as early as Friday. But he said it would only contain basic information.
Eight cruise ship passengers on a flightseeing shore excursion were killed along with their pilot when their plane went down Thursday in Misty Fjords National Monument, near Ketchikan.
It took two special sessions for Alaska legislators to agree to a budget after a crash in oil prices contributed to a severe reduction in the state’s available revenue.
Barring a huge rebound in oil prices, things aren’t expected to get much easier.
While legislators made big cuts in spending, they won’t be able to repeat the same level of cuts to Alaska’s infrastructure budget, for which state money was reduced largely to the amount needed to meet federal match requirements. And Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal says finding cuts in government operations is always tough.
Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette said Walker signed the operating and capital budgets late Monday. The signing was not announced, and details were not immediately released. The new fiscal year starts Wednesday.
Shell Gets Federal Approval to Head North, With Some Stipulations
Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Letter of Authorization to Shell on Tuesday. The authorization allows the oil company to “take small numbers of Polar bears and Pacific walrus incidental to activities occurring during it’s ‘Outer Continental Shelf 2015’ exploration drilling program in the Chukchi Sea” this summer.
Study: Climate Change Is A Chief Threat to Polar Bears
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A new federal study shows Alaska’s two polar bear populations could be greatly decreased in a decade.
On His Way Out, Mayor Sullivan Collects A Couple Souvenirs
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Today marks the end of Dan Sullivan’s six years as mayor of Anchorage.
State Lifts Burn Ban, OKs Fireworks Before the 4th
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
State officials lifted bans today (Tuesday) on open burning and use of fireworks for most of Alaska.
In Petersburg, Childcare Shortage Leaves Parents Hanging
There is not enough child care in Petersburg. One of the preschools, The Petersburg’s Children’s Center, has a waiting list of 45 kids.
Study: Kings Are Smaller Than They Used To Be
Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham
Chinook salmon returning to Nushagak and ten other Alaska rivers have gotten smaller in the past few decades, according to a study done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Kenai Borough Re-Evaluates Controversial Fish Habitat Protections
Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering an ordinance that would scale back habitat protections for anadromous waters throughout the Kenai Peninsula.
A new federal study shows Alaska’s two polar bear populations could be greatly decreased in a decade. The research also shows global warming is by far the biggest threat to polar bear populations across the arctic compared to other stressors like hunting and pollutants. The information is critical to wildlife managers as they develop and implement a recovery plan for the species that’s expected to be released this week (July 2nd). The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.
Todd Atwood is a research biologist with the United States Geological Survey and lead author of the study. He says indirectly greenhouse gases are driving the loss of polar bear habitat- sea ice.
After fishermen pointed out what they thought was a change in the size of king salmon returning to the Copper River, researchers from Fish and Game looked at data from 10 Alaska rivers.
Fish and Game Regional Fisheries Management Coordinator Bert Lewis says they found that king salmon today are smaller than they were 30 years ago, which is as far back the size data they used went.
“Then we started to take a more detailed look at the data and found that the primary reason for this decline in size was a shift in the dominant age class of the fish returning to spawn.”
It’s not just a matter of younger fish swimming home. Lewis says the older fish also appear to be smaller now than they used to be.
The trend held true on all ten rivers studied. The Yukon, Kuskokwim, Kogrukluk, Kanektok, Goodnews, Deshka, Kenai, Copper, Unuk and, here in the bay, the Nushagak.
The team doesn’t know why the fish are getting smaller, but Lewis says the fact that they’re all getting smaller helps narrow down the cause.
“It suggests that something is acting on them all in the same way. And that. What are they all exposed to at the same time? The marine environment. And we know that the marine environment has been changing.”
Lewis says the loss of big females could mean fewer chinooks in the future.
“The size of a fish is important, especially when we think about large females that come back, because they have many more eggs and their eggs are bigger, so they get better survival rates and they also use habitat where they spawn and lay their eggs in larger gravel substrate that is not available to smaller fish and that also increases the survival.”
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering an ordinance that would scale back habitat protections for anadromous waters throughout the Kenai Peninsula. Opponents of the ordinance claim these freshwaters salmon migrate to must be safeguarded. Supporters believe the protections impose on the rights of property owners.
The Borough’s Anadromous Waters Habitat Protection areas have been mired in controversy ever since the protections were extended to include all anadromous waterways in the Kenai Peninsula Borough area. The current law prohibits any kind of land development within 50 feet of the protected waters’ shorelines. A few waterways are excluded from the law, including waters in the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area. Assembly Member Wayne Ogle of Nikiski is a cosponsor of ordinance 2015-14 along with Kelly Wolf of Kenai and Dale Bagley of Soldotna. The measure would reduce the anadromous habitat protection areas to just the Kasilof and Kenai River Watersheds.
“Our ordinance would basically peel that back where only those two watersheds would be protected like they were back in the 2000 era in which it was introduced,” says Ogle.
In its last meeting the borough assembly heard an outpouring of opposition to the ordinance from residents who were adamant these restrictions are necessary to protect salmon. Michael O’meara of Homer said pulling anadromous waters out from under the habitat protection umbrella would be devastating.
“Cutting off those small tributary systems and streams is a little bit to me like looking at the human circulatory system and saying well all of those little capillaries that lead up to the brain and down to our sexual organs are superfluous so we might as well just cut them off,” says O’meara.
Laura Sievert of Kenai testified that in her opinion, assembly members in favor of removing habitat protections were acting on emotions and political beliefs rather than hard science.
“And even though you aren’t trained biologists. I’m assuming the assembly members have educated themselves on this issue and you know that buffer zones are essential for salmon habitat. Remember your responsibility is to represent the long-term interests of the people of this borough. And I don’t think you’re doing your job if you’re only listening to a few private property owners complain about their rights,” says Sievert.
Assembly Member Ogle says there is no imminent danger to salmon habitat and property owners resent having restrictions forced on them.
“It basically comes down to who is the better steward of the property. Is it the property owner or is it going to be some bureaucrat down at the River Center,” says Ogle.
The River Center is a multi-agency department whose mission is to protect the peninsula watersheds, fish and wildlife. Fred Braun is one of the few residents who spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“I do support the Kenai River and all the regulations. I’m here tonight to speak about the small little streams, the little creeks, Daniel’s Creek, even Bishop Creek; some so small you’ve stepped across them. I also own a one acre lot on Bishop Creek. It’s not a 50 foot buffer it’s a 100 foot buffer. The lot is totally worthless,” says Braun.
Braun says the 100 foot buffer, designed to protect the habitat, prevents him from making any improvements to the property. Ogle argues there’s far more damage being done to salmon habitat by fishermen than by private property owners living on the banks of these waters.
“[I’m] talking about the overfishing, set netting and so forth that has an impact on salmon preservation. I think [that] should be looked at also but I suspect it’s not being done that way because it’s a very politically tough nut to crack,” says Ogle. “It seems to me that property owners are the easiest low hanging fruit that they can latch onto and put restrictions on.”
One side claims their rights are being violated unnecessarily. The other says removing these protections could be the beginning of the end for salmon on the Kenai Peninsula. The Borough Assembly is scheduled to vote on Ordinance 2015-14 in its July 7th meeting. Originally the assembly planned to hold a vote on June 16th, but that vote was called off when it was discovered the Planning Commission had not reviewed the measure.
There is not enough child care in Petersburg. One of the preschools, the Petersburg Children’s Center, has a waiting list of 45 kids. A planned expansion could help drop that number.
It’s mid-morning and a handful of toddlers are stomping and growling around a colorful room. These kids are in the toddler room at the Petersburg Children’s Center.
The center cares for 45 children ages six weeks to prekindergarten. The center also runs an after school program for kids kindergarten through sixth grade called Eagle’s Nest. There are 24 children in that program with a waiting list as well.
The toddlers find their places and settle into story time.
Through the door is Brandi Heppe’s office. She is the Director of the children’s center. She says she takes calls all the time from parents needing childcare.
“I’m very honest with them and I let them know right off the bat that we do have a wait list,” she said, “and I have no problem putting them on there because you never know with people moving or classrooms adjusting or changing.”
The waiting list has increased in the last few years especially with the 3 to 4 year olds.
The center just can’t take more children without a larger space and additional workers. It is a state-licensed private non-profit and follows State of Alaska guidelines which set class sizes. The center employs 11 full time workers and four part-time.
Heppe says smaller class sizes work better anyway.
“We just want to make sure that children are being taken care of and valued and just the quality of child care that we want to come out of here just to go on for years and years because I remember coming here as a child and the quality of the care is the exact same as it is now,” she said.
Across town, Glorianne Wollen is in the Petersburg Harbor Office answering a constant stream of calls. She’s the borough’s harbor master and summer is her busy time. She’s also a well-known volunteer in town and helping the Children’s Center is her new focus.
She says she learned about the center’s long waiting list during a borough assembly meeting.
“So I just started thinking about that: what a wonderful problem to have here in a community where we have too many kids and people who want to go to work,” Wollen said. “So I thought, you know, gosh this should be something that we should try and do something about.”
She heard that the center wanted to build an addition in order to take more kids so she decided to donate her own money to the project. Then she checked in with the borough’s Economic Development Council to see if it was an economic issue. The answer was yes and the council’s board donated $10,000 to the cause. A few more people have come on board and Wollen hopes the momentum continues.
“This is a project that maybe we could help ourselves with rather than going to the state and waiting for them to give us money and know-how to do this,” she said.
The seed money has grown to $22,000. With that, the center is going ahead with the project with the hopes that more funds will come forward. Construction is set to start this fall.
The plan includes adding two classrooms to the west side of the building. The labor would be all volunteer happening on nights and weekends. Local businesses have agreed to help get supplies at cost. The project’s estimated price tag is less than $100,000.
Wollen says it will be money well spent. The expansion will allow 12 more kids into the center.
“Now they just have wonderful programs and these little kids are learning things and sparking interests at young ages and I’m just so impressed with what they’re doing up there,” she said.
The expansion project comes just as the Petersburg Children’s Center celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Wells Fargo bank in Petersburg has set up an account for the Children Center’s expansion project. You can also contact Glo Wollen or the Children’s Center for more information.
State officials lifted bans today on open burning and use of fireworks for most of Alaska. They cited a decrease in fire danger due to recent cool and rainy weather and requests by members of the public to allow cookouts, campfires and pyrotechnics for this weekend’s July 4th celebrations.
Both the state Forestry and Fire Marshal’s Office lifted their respective statewide bans on burning and fireworks today, with some exceptions. Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says his agency’s decision is based mainly on increased rainfall and decreased temperatures that’ve set in over the past few days. And forecasts for more precipitation leading up to the weekend.
“Conditions have moderated in a lot of areas, especially in anticipation of more rain,” Mowry said.
Mowry says Forestry’s burn ban remains in effect in the Anchorage area and in western and southwestern portions of the state. He says the latter two areas haven’t gotten any of the showers that’ve helped reduce fire danger in the eastern Interior and southcentral.
“They’re not getting any precipitation out by Tanana, Galena, McGrath area,” he said. “They haven’t gotten hardly anything, and fires are still pretty active out there.”
Ken Frederick, a spokesman for the Alaska Fire Service, says wildfires burning on military training ranges and other federally administered lands haven’t gotten much rain, either.
“Parts of the military zone – it’s still pretty dry,” Frederick said. “And it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of days to really make a difference on those fires.”
Mowry agrees, and he emphasizes that Forestry is depending on members of the public to be very careful if they build a campfire or spark a charcoal barbecue.
“We’re sort of counting on them to do that, because our resources are stretched pretty thin and we don’t need new fires.”
Likewise, he says, with fireworks.
“Y’know, (the) public really needs to be cognizant of how dangerous fireworks can be,” Mowry said. “Don’t be setting off fireworks in the woods or anywhere where it’s going to cause a fire.”
The State Fire Marshal’s Office also urged extreme caution in a news release issued this afternoon to announce that it had canceled a temporary ban on the sale of fireworks in some areas. Those include the Fairbanks North Star, Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su boroughs, along with the Municipality of Anchorage, and the Tanana and Copper river valleys.
Mowry says Forestry’s decision was based in part on numerous requests from the public to loosen restrictions, because of reduced fire danger and for July 4th celebrations.
But he suggested fans of fireworks might want to wait until later in the year, when there’s less daylight to dampen the show.
“Wait ’til it’s dark and you can enjoy them,” he said.
Today’s announcements come on the heels of news that the amount of land burned by wildfire this month had set a new record. More than 2,400 square miles were blackened in June, easily breaking the old record for the month of just over 1,800 square miles, set in 2004.
The AP reported there were 612 wildfires burning statewide as of Tuesday. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center says more than 1.6 million acres have burned so far this year.