This week, we’re going to Tuluksak, a community of almost 400 people near the Kuskokwim River. George Lamont is a resident of Tuluksak.
“I’m George Lamont and I live in Tuluksak. We’re about 30 miles away from the Kobuk Mountains. We live in a vegetated area…quite flat…about a mile and a half away from the Kuskokwim River up a river called the Tuluksak River.
Right now, there’s a possibility of another flood since 2009, I think.
The conditions are quite bad right now since the snow has been melting, we have a lot of puddles and we have no road maintenance or anything like that. We have no water and sewer. We still live off what they call a ‘honey bucket,’ and we still have to pack our own water.
Electricity is around 65 cents per kilowatt-hour. And our fuel prices, well, last time I heard, it was $10 a gallon and then it went down to $9.50 a gallon.
People mostly play bingo and most of the time there’s what they call ‘fiddling.’ And what fiddling is, is they have a band in the meeting – the group meeting – most of the people in the village go to that fiddling and plus there’s some basketball games
It’s pretty hard living out here in this remote village here.”
Salt Lake City Police Assistant Bureau Commander Bryce Johnson has been selected to head the Juneau Police Department.
City Manager Kim Kiefer announced Johnson’s hire Wednesday afternoon. He was one of three finalists for the job, who visited Juneau last month. They went through what’s known as an assessment center process, where they encountered situations like those they will deal with as chief. They were rated by criminal justice and public safety officials as well as the city manager.
Kiefer says the raters felt confident Johnson had the necessary experience and attributes to lead the 90-person department. She says he also was favored by Juneau Police Department staff.
Kiefer says Johnson was offered the position several weeks ago, but the announcement could not be made until background checks were complete.
Johnson has worked his way through the ranks at Salt Lake PD over the last 20 years, and says he is looking forward to the challenge of being a police chief in what he calls a “neat department.”
He says JPD is intriguing because of Juneau’s isolation.
“For a department that size, it has so many different things going on, from its own tactical SWAT team, its own explosive ordinance unit, its own dispatch center. Even though it’s smaller it still has all the same functions and that’s really one of the things that drew me to Juneau, because you got functions that other departments of that size just don’t have,” he said in a telephone interview with KTOO on Wednesday.
In addition to his police work, Johnson has been a Reserve Intelligence Specialist for the U. S. Naval Reserve, and taught criminal justice and law enforcement at Salt Lake City high schools. Johnson earned a bachelors’ degree in political science from the University of Utah and a Masters of Public Administration from Brigham Young University.
Johnson will be in Juneau next week to work with Chief Greg Browning, who is retiring at the end of the month. Johnson takes over the post on June 3rd.
The 57-year-old Browning came to the department 13 years ago from Amarillo, Texas, where he’d been on the police force for more than 20 years. He started in Juneau as assistant chief and took over as chief in 2006. Browning has said Juneau has been the “highlight of his career.”
JPD Assistant Chief Page Decker is also retiring at the end of the month.
Step by step an Alaska couple and their two children are making their way along the coast of Cook Inlet, from Seldovia, up and down Turnagain and Knik Arms, and down the west side. Reaching Anchorage, they’re connecting with you, on the next Talk of Alaska.
HOST: Steve Heimel
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 31st in King County Superior Court for a Seattle-area man convicted of the 2012 murder of 22-year-old Ashton Reyes of Juneau.
A King County jury earlier this month found Jacob Andrew Mommer guilty of first degree murder and second degree assault, while armed with a deadly weapon.
“Under Washington law we can add a firearm enhancement, which is what we did and that’s what the jury came back with on both the assault as well as the murder charge,” said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutors’ office.
Donohoe said Mommer’s sentence does not allow parole.
“His standard sentence range for both charges, which include the firearm allegations, is 357 to 443 months in prison, which is about 30 to 37 years,” he said.
Reyes was shot on Jan. 3, 2012 in a Subway parking lot at 9305 Rainier Avenue South, during what police described as a drug sale.
Court documents indicate Mommer and another individual allegedly attempted to rob Reyes and her boyfriend, Jason Rose, who were sitting in her car. Police said Rose had arranged to meet Mommer to sell him an ounce of marijuana.
Rose told police and said he testified during the trial that he and Reyes were ambushed as Mommer and the other man robbed them at gunpoint. Rose said he gave them Reyes’ purse and left the vehicle then gunfire erupted. He was struck in the buttocks as he fled across the street. Police found Reyes sprawled across the front seat of her car with a gunshot wound to her torso. She died a short time later at Harborview Medical Center.
Police said Reyes was not a participant in the crimes.
Mommer is 20 years old. He is being held on $1-million bail in the King County Jail until his sentencing, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Donohoe said the second man allegedly involved in the incident has not been identified and the investigation continues.
Reyes was a 2008 graduate of Juneau’s Yaakoosge’ Daakahidi Alternative High School, and daughter of Rick Reyes of Juneau and Terri Reyes of Oregon.
In November 2011, Ashton Reyes graduated from Everett Community College and was a registered dental assistant.
It’s been more than 70 years since Unalaska came under attack during World War II, but you don’t have to look hard to find the remnants. The community is littered with old gunnery installations, battered Quonset huts and bunkers – some of which are being preserved for posterity.
But there’s history, and then there’s hazard, and the shells and bombs that keep washing up on Unalaska’s shores fall somewhere in between.
Out on a quiet beach at the edge of the island, Unalaska’s shooting range is where local gun owners go for target practice.
But the team of Army and Air Force munitions experts that have converged on the range aren’t here to practice anything.
They’ve flown in just to examine a mysterious shell that may date back to World War II.
“Let’s go ahead and take a couple minutes and try to get a quick ID,” Air Force Sgt. Luke Mefford said.
He’s the head of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
The EOD team has come out to Unalaska, Adak and other Aleutian communities over the years to identify and safely destroy leftover munitions from the war.
Usually, these items get picked up beachcombers or fishermen. Even though they’ve have been swimming in salt water for decades, that doesn’t mean these they’re inert.
Army Sgt. Joe Potocki explains:
Potocki: “Some old explosives use, like, nitroglycerin which is highly sensitive. Being so old, not in the state it’s supposed to be in? You mess around with it, it could definitely go off.”
Rosenthal: “That’s scary!”
Potocki: “It is. That’s why we’re around – it’s why we’ve got a job.”
The job that brought them to Unalaska this time was an effort at historical preservation – gone wrong.
The Ounalashka Corporation runs the World War II museum. Their manager, Dave Gregory, says he was out at lunch one day when an employee of a local fish plant dropped off a donation.
“It was about – oh, what – 20 inches long, six inches at the base. And then it kind of tapered down. Kind of a greenish, dirty color I guess,” Gregory said.
Gregory is no stranger to ordnance. He says the museum does like to collect small pieces, to put in its displays. They add some color.
This shell was different, though. It was heavier and bigger than anything Gregory had seen, it didn’t seem like a good thing to keep around. So he called his friends at public safety. They took custody of the shell, and contacted the EOD team for disposal.
In Unalaska, the team is coping with miserable weather. They take turns snapping photos on the windy, snowy beach. One by one, they dart into a running fire truck for warmth while they consult munitions manuals.
Finally, Sgt. Mefford walks up. They have an ID.
“It’s an artillery round, more than likely fired from a naval ship out in the water somewhere,” Mefford said. “Either for target practice, depending on the exact time period, it may have been used against enemy actions.”
Mefford says he can’t share any more information than that, because the rest is classified.
“I can’t really give you specifics on it, just due to our disclosure rules on it,” he said.
The team wastes no time setting up the blast site.
“Are we gonna have enough antenna to get up on top of this, Scotty?,” Mefford asked.
“Yeah we should, because those caps,” Scott Rice, from the U.S. Air Force, said.
They pack the shell in a hole, and cover it with about 6 pounds of C4, a plastic explosive. They poke in some blasting caps, which are tuned into a remote control.
Once it’s set up, we’re directed to take cover several hundred yards away, behind two gravel berms. We’re waiting for the remote control to warm up, when the team asks me if I want to be the one to set off the explosives.
Rosenthal: “Can I?”
Rice: “Yeah, absolutely! It’ll be ready to go in about 30 seconds.”
Mefford: “We’re not doing it yet. We’re gonna let him set his camera up and then give him the go-ahead.”
While we wait for fire chief Abner Hoage to set up his video camera, I get some basic instructions.
Rice: “Alright, so when we get ready to fire this thing, under this cover is one fire button. You just get ready to press and hold one of them, and then press and hold the other. There will be a two second delay and the shot will go off.”
Potocki: “Do you want to tell her what she has to yell?”
Rice: “Ha, oh yeah. Before you set that off, you have to yell fire in the hole three times as loud as you can. Once forward, once off to your left, once off to your right.”
Air Force Sgt. Scott Rice and I trade. He takes my microphone and recorder, and I take his remote detonator.
Without further ado:
Rosenthal: “FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE.”
Rice: “Hold it up nice and high! There you go.”
Rosenthal: “Oh whoa! That is a giant plume of smoke. Whoa. That’s a rush.”
Bits of shrapnel rain through the air – some of them even flying past the berms, carried by the high winds.
Once the dust settles, the team tells me they like to let visitors detonate the explosives when they’re working in the field.
Rosenthal: “Well, thanks for letting me do that, it was really fun.”
Rice: “Alright, we’re good to go. We can go and check it out.”
All that’s left of the shell, is a 4-foot round hole. They measure it and pack up their equipment pretty fast.
Rice: “Alright well, that’s fun.”
Mefford: “That’s Jenga.”
JBER Pilot: “I know the aftermath isn’t as exciting. There’s a hole in the ground!”
The team heads back to the Unalaska fire house for a quick debrief. I ask if any of them thought about the history of the shell before they blew it up, and they say they did.
Mefford: “It’s just neat to come across something your granddad or great-uncle or whatever might have shot 70 years ago.”
Christopher McDonald, US Army: “Probably looked a lot better, though.”
Mefford: “Yeah, probably shinier back then.”
The EOD team is pretty sure that ordnance will keep washing up in Unalaska for a while.
That’s why, when it it’s time for the team to fly back to their base in Anchorage, saying “see you later” seems like a more appropriate than saying, “goodbye.”
A new, smaller Sealaska land-selection measure faces opposition from the federal government.
The legislation would transfer 3,600 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the Southeast-based regional Native corporation.
Sealaska’s timberlands have been logged of much of their harvestable trees. Officials say the acreage will keep timber operations going.
At a Congressional hearing Thursday, U.S. Forest Service official Jim Peña objected to a requirement to transfer the land within 60 days of passage.
“These two parcels would be conveyed without the carefully negotiated replaced to special use authorizations and public access that many stakeholders view as essential,” Peña said.
Peña spoke before the House Committee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. The bill’s author, Alaska Congressman Don Young, chairs that panel.
The acreage is also part of a much larger measure that would transfer about 70,000 acres to Sealaska. (Scroll down to read earlier reports on both bills.)
That bill was also before the committee.
Young said it’s a compromise. (Read the larger bill.)
“First introduced over six years ago, this bill has undergone an extensive vetting process throughout the region. It has resulted in meaningful changes, such as providing for continued public access to lands, and modified certain lands among them,” he said.
The Forest Service’s Peña said the larger measure is much improved. But he wants further changes before the administration lends its support.
Southeast hunting guide Jimmie Rosenbruch spoke for sportsmen’s groups opposing the land transfers.
He said Sealaska’s logging will reduce access, as well as wildlife numbers.
“It’s kind of Sealaska to offer access for guides to utilize these lands for a 10-year period after their Forest Service permit expires. (But) I don’t know there will be much benefit. Having access to clearcut areas wouldn’t be worth anything. There’s no wildlife there. They are D-O-N-E … finished,” Rosenbruch said.
Last year’s version of Young’s bill passed the House, but not the Senate.
And the Senate’s latest version, sponsored by Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, has undergone more negotiation and changes.
Sealaska board member Bryon Mallott said that measure is more likely to be the final legislative vehicle.
But he prefers the House version.
“In my personal judgment, there is more equity and justice in the House bill. But I also know from long, long experience, that what the Native community can easily and passionately feel is equity and justice for others is often very hard to ultimately make possible,” Mallott said.
Young’s Sealaska bills now head to the full House Resources Committee. If either passes, it will go to the House floor for a full vote.
It would most likely be packaged with other legislation. That’s what happened last year.
Read earlier reports on the legislation:
- New Sealaska land bills introduced in Congress
- SEACC backs Sealaska bill, 9 towns oppose it
- Congress Looking At Sealaska Lands Bill
- Second bill proposes smaller Sealaska land transfer
The Arctic Council – the association of the world’s polar countries – has agreed to grant observer status to six non-Arctic nations.
Some people fear the countries are trying to secure long-term commercial interests.
The Arctic Council will now allow China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India and Italy observer status.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski attended the biennial Arctic Council Ministerial this week in Kiruna, Sweden. She says the new observer countries will not vote on policies and agreements, but they will have a voice in negotiations.
“It allows you to be in the discussions, to help formulate the papers that will be reviews,” Murkowski said. “It is more than allowing you to sit in a room with a credential pass around your neck.”
Voting on new partnerships, like the one on oil spill prevention agreed to this week, remains in the hands of the eight polar countries.
And alongside those are six permanent participants – groups representing Arctic natives.
Charlie Ebinger directs the Energy Security Initiative at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. He says people are justifiably concerned that these new countries are using observer status as a stepping stone.
“Obviously those countries want observer status because they believe they have long term commercial interests,” Ebinger said. “The Chinese have interest in mineral deposits in Greenland, both rare earths and uranium.”
And it’s not just mining the countries are interested in. James Collins is a former ambassador to Russia. He says the Arctic is still an emerging market, and more resources will become available as climate change opens the ocean.
“There’s shipping, there’s energy, there’s resource extraction,” Collins said. “And exactly which companies are going to actively pursue those is only beginning to be defined.”
Canada takes over the chair of the Arctic Council this week. And the United States follows suit, so for the next four years, the chair will be in North American control.
Luke Coffey is a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and he says it’s a good sign of U.S. involvement that both Secretary of State John Kerry, and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, attended the Arctic Council meetings. They are the first two Secretaries of State to do so.
But it should not stop there. He says the United States should start to consider a diplomatic post to handle Arctic negotiations.
“For the U.S. to show they are serious about the Arctic it needs to be at a very senior level, which very well may mean a more senior level than ambassador,” Coffey said.
Coffey suggests a deputy secretary of state for the Arctic. Both Senator Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich have called for an Arctic ambassador. Senator Murkowski says the administration does not support the position.
As for the expanding council, Senator Murkowski says the observer issue is resolved after it dominated much of this week’s gathering.
She says no countries will be added to the list of observer states, nor will the European Union, which is seeking the designation.
Still, there are major global players located far from the north that will now have a hand in Arctic policy.
“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘well what do you think their motives are?’ I look at it and say they see that the Arctic is filled with opportunity and promise. Things are happening up there. They want to know what’s going on. They want to be on the inside,” Murkowski said.
She says a country’s observer status is up for review every four years, though she acknowledges no country has lost it since the Arctic Council formed in 1996.
ConocoPhillips says it’s reviewing spending in Alaska, a month after the legislature passed Governor Sean Parnell’s oil tax reform. The tax cut is worth billions of dollars to oil companies in Alaska. ConocoPhillips executives talked about the state’s new tax regime during their annual meeting and an analyst presentation earlier this week.
A state report shows the value of minerals produced in Alaska more than tripled between 2001 and 2011. Mining industry wages have also surged as employers seek skilled workers.
Tanana River ice is on track for a record late break up at Nenana. Later than normal break ups are expected at many interior river communities, due to this year’s cold spring, but there’s special significance for the Tanana at Nenana, where an over 318 thousand dollar jackpot is at stake in the annual Nenena Ice Classic guessing game. Classic manager Cheri Forness says most of the 261 thousand break up time guesses entered by ticket buyers this year, have gone by.
It may not feel like spring yet in Anchorage, but that’s not stopping the Farmer’s Markets from opening.
There are two small piles of snow left in the Spenard parking lot across from Chilkoot Charlie’s, and Mark Butler is determined to make sure they’re gone by Saturday.
“So I’m walking over to our snow pile, the biggest one, and I’m hoping to knock it all down, or at least a big chunk of it, so that we can spread it out and the sun this week will make the snow go away,” Butler said. “We’re going to try it and see if I can get under the icy pile here.”
That’s because Saturday is opening day for the Spenard Farmer’s Market, which Butler helps organize. The Spenard Market is one of six markets throughout the city and the only non-profit, organized entirely by volunteers. Some opened earlier this spring and others will start up in the coming weeks. Butler says, each market is different, and that’s intentional.
“The idea in a community market is not that we’re in competition with each other but rather that people can come to the market closest to them, if they choose, and they can see their neighbors and they can talk about their kids and who’s doing what and what’ happening and what’s happening and so forth,” Butler said. “And we think that that’s very neighborhood building and very positive for the community.”
Butler describes what’s special about the Spenard Market.
“In ours, you really feel like you’re in Spenard. Why would that be? As an example we have a tarot card and palm reader. So, we’re probably the only market in Alaska that has one. We are a bike friendly market. We have a lot of people who come by bike, families show up by bike, we have bike racks and so forth. Ah, we have a mobile-mending booth,” Butler said.
Wait, did he say ‘mobile-mending booth’?
“She mends stuff while you wait,” Butler said.
So you can get a button sewn on your shirt while you shop for locally grown produce and get your palm read. Butler says one improvement to the market this year is a new sound system for musicians. As for those snow piles that Butler is chipping away at it.
“Well it’s certainly not going away easily. It’s like our winter here… there’s a good one, but there will be a summer and there will be a market,” he said.
The National Weather Service says he could be shoveling more snow out of the lot Saturday morning, but it is technically springtime in Alaska, Butler says. And, snow or not, the Spenard Farmer’s Market will open Saturday under the big while windmill sculpture. It runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the last Saturday in September.
The National Weather Service is predicting an “extremely unusual late season snowfall” for the Southcentral Alaska area on Friday through Saturday morning.
Yakutat is gearing up for an influx of birders.
They’re coming to the northern Southeast Alaska community to celebrate the return of the Aleutian tern, a somewhat rare seabird.
There’s a lot yet to learn about its migration patterns. But what Yakutat residents do know is that the seabirds return every spring.
“We have one of the southernmost known and one of the largest known breeding colonies of Aleutian tern,” says Susan Oehlers, a Forest Service biologist and one of the Yakutat Tern Festival’s organizers.
“So we decided we wanted to have a birding festival highlighting the Aleutian terns as well as the other natural and cultural resources here in Yakutat,” she says.
The tern festival began in 2011. This year’s event runs May 30th to June 2nd.
It attracts bird-watchers from around the state and the Lower 48.
But Oehlers says it’s not all about birds.
“It’s a very family-friendly festival. It’s for birders and non birders. So we have field trips looking at birds, but also all the great scenery we have here like the Hubbard Glacier and Russell Fjord and getting out into the bay,” she says.
Bird-banding and calling sessions are among events planned for kids.
The festival has a focus on Alaska Native culture and will include performances by Yakutat’s Mount Saint Elias Dancers.
Tlingit carver Doug Chilton is the festival’s featured artist. Authors and language experts Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer are the keynote speakers.
Festival field trips will take birders to the Aleutian tern’s breeding grounds. But they won’t get too close.
“They are sensitive to disturbance. So we keep a distance from where they’re nesting. But you can still get a pretty close-up view of them and possibly even see one on a nest,” she says.
The Aleutian tern lives in Alaska and eastern Siberia. Researchers are studying Yakutat’s colony to learn more population trends, nesting and migration patterns.
Alaska is celebrating 100 years of aviation this year. And aviator Stu Ramstad is an important part of that history. He grew up in a gold mining family. And became a pilot at age 14 in 1954. He says he didn’t goof off in the air. He considered the plane a tool that you loaded up and used to deliver supplies. But he told APRN’s Lori Townsend, he did have scary times as a pilot and survived two in-flight fires.
The U.S. Senate will vote on the nomination of Ernest Moniz on Thursday.
He’s expected to pass with ease.
Moniz cruised through his committee vote 21-1. That lone dissent came from South Carolina Republican Tim Scott.
Scott’s concern was whether Moniz would scuttle plans for the MOX nuclear facility in South Carolina. That project would convert weapons grade nuclear material into energy.
So Scott’s home state colleague, Republican Lindsay Graham placed a hold on the nomination.
Last week, Graham quietly removed his hold and Moniz is expected to sail through Thursday afternoon.
Moniz, who directs MIT’s Energy Initiative, was under secretary for energy during the Clinton administration. He’s long advocated increasing the use of both natural gas and nuclear power.
The company caught many by surprise when it snatched up 500,000 acres in a 2010 lease sale.
But two years after executives told lawmakers the company could pump one million barrels into TAPS a day, it isn’t even close to serious production.
Former Alaska revenue commissioner Patrick Galvin, now deputy general counsel at the company, said Great Bear is analyzing geological data from wells drilled last year.
“We’ve got a lot of information that we’ve obtained from those first two wells and the seismic data, and we’re still in the process of evaluating that,” he said Tuesday evening.
That’s taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Galvin would not say how many wells he hopes the company will frack, or whether initial projections were too high.
“We’ve got a lot of acreage and a lot of determinations to make as to what a full field development would look like,” he said.
Great Bear plans on cracking the source rock on the North Slope with a mix of chemicals to release oil. About a quarter of the wells in the state have been hydraulically fractured.
Unlike the Marcellus Shale in the Eastern U.S. – these wells would primarily harvest oil, not gas.
And unlike the Lower 48, some environmental groups are welcoming the possibilities. The water table near the proposed well sites is filled with brackish water, so it couldn’t be consumed by humans.
Lois Epstein, an engineer who works with the Wilderness Society, said the conservation community could get behind this proposal; in part because the operations will be on state land, land she said is less sensitive than federally protected acres.
And as an Alaskan, it’s good to see more oil in the pipeline.
“It could be a good thing for the state of Alaska to increase flows through the Trans Alaska Pipeline by tapping into resources near the existing infrastructure,” Epstein said.
The company’s two existing wells are near the Dalton Highway.
“They’ve chosen it for more than just the geology,” said Cathy Foerster, chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “They’ve chosen it because it’s got some ‘close-ology’ – it’s close to existing infrastructure.”
Foerster said in the past companies have started near existing gravel roads and infrastructure and then moved further away as production scaled up.
“Unless you’re going to find another Prudhoe Bay, you can’t afford to build your own infrastructure. You need to rely on what’s already in place,” she said.
The company has not applied for any permits beyond the ones it has for six well sites along the Dalton Highway.
Foerster said she remains optimistic the project will still pan out even though the state is considering new regulations on fracking. A public comment period on proposed rule changes – like requiring producers to disclose fluids online – just ended.
“We’re not proposing anything that’s out of line with other states that are doing hydraulic fracturing of shale,” she said.
Great Bear’s Pat Galvin said he too remains optimistic about the prospect. But the project appears to be taking longer than expected.
The company’s founder Ed Duncan told legislators two years ago that he’d be pumping oil into TAPS by last summer.
Pavlof Volcano put on a light show for residents of several communities on the Alaska Peninsula Tuesday night. Activity at the volcano has increased, and it’s spewing ash up to 20,000 feet.
Cold Bay resident Molly Watson was watching Pavlof for signs of activity from her kitchen window on Tuesday evening.
“And I’d kind of given up, thinking ‘ehn, we’re not going to see anything else, just smoke.’ As soon as I mentally thought that, and I was actually writing it to a friend — I was emailing — and sure enough, I saw this spark, and I was like ‘what is that?!’”
Watson says at first it just looked like a faint glow on the side of the mountain, but that it got clearer over time.
“As it got darker you could really see it shooting up and out — and then you could see the lava flow going down the side of the mountain.”
Pavlof was also shooting up ash clouds — some of them rising up to 20,000 feet. Alaska Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge John Power:
“Most of the plumes that we’ve been seeing are more in the 15,000 foot range, and seem to be falling out of the atmosphere quite quickly. So, so far there hasn’t been any widespread ashfall from this, and it certainly has not gotten up high enough to affect international air travel.”
Nevertheless, an advisory has been issued for all flights in the area, and Power says the Observatory will be monitoring for ash clouds reaching 30,000 feet or above. He adds that other agencies are keeping a close eye on air quality in local communities.
“There is some concern for ash fallout, although in the 2007 eruption, it didn’t pose much of problem for those communities, and we’ll be hopeful that that’s the case this time.”
So long as it is, Cold Bay and Sand Point residents can rest easy, and continue to enjoy the light show.
The recent detection of two cases of rabies in wolves trapped south of the Brooks Range has prompted concern about whether the deadly disease has re-emerged in the interior. Many pet owners in Fairbanks are getting their animals vaccinated as a precaution.
Say so long to summer drivers riding the ferry for free.
Wave goodbye to the winter roundtrip discount.
And printed schedules? Those are on their way out too.
They won’t happen for a while. But the changes are some of the ways the Alaska Marine Highway will address a $3.5-million spending cut mandated by the Legislature.
Ferry Business Enterprise Director Dick Leary described the cuts at Tuesday’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting.
He said managers won’t cut sailings where tickets have already been sold. That means no reductions to the summer schedule that runs through September.
“We also feel very strongly that the winter schedule as it now exists is a bare-bottom service level and so if possible, we don’t want to cut any of the winter schedule,” Leary said. “And that takes us from October first to April 30th. So, of course, you put one and two together and you’ve only got May and June left.”
Managers also agreed that none of the system’s 35 port communities should lose service for an extended amount of time.
But there will be some cuts.
The Taku will not operate on its Prince Rupert-to-Juneau run in June of 2014. That reduces sailings to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake and Sitka. Another ship, the Malaspina, will continue to offer that service.
The Juneau-based fast ferry Fairweather will sail less often during the first two weeks of next May. That affects Sitka and Lynn Canal routes.
Advisory board member Gerry Hope of Sitka said that hurts his hometown.
“It seems like we’re a frequent visitor to your cut-budget system. I want to support you; I want to back you up. But it feels at this point that I can’t get fully on board, no pun intended,” Hope said.
Business Director Leary said other cuts were chosen to avoid further service reductions. The roundtrip discounts will go away this fall. The drivers-ride-free program will end at the same time.
Board Chairman Robert Venables said the marine highway should prepare for further reductions.
“It was obvious that the Legislature’s squeezing all areas of the state budget and that’s going to be a trend that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. This year’s cuts were probably more of a nick than an amputation,” Venables said.
Officials said they would consider raising ticket prices and retiring ferries if further cuts come in future years.
Atka is home to just 71 people. But that’s about to change. The city’s processing plant wants to quadruple its workforce — and with that, the community is ramping up a campaign to replace its dilapidated clinic.
When patients step over the threshold into Atka’s health clinic, they’re taking a bit of a risk.
Millie Prokopeuff: “Because our floor is rotting right now. We had to put a board over it to keep it safe because it was so soft, so that we didn’t lose any patients or anybody coming in.”
That’s Millie Prokopeuff. She’s the village’s wellness advocate, and the clinic’s only permanent employee.
The 33-year-old building houses the clinic on the first floor, and Atka’s city hall on the second floor.
Prokopeuff: “And it’s so old, and the nails are starting to pull out themselves just from the wind and the building swaying back and forth.”
In addition to the structural decay, Prokopeuff says it’s also becoming clear that the clinic isn’t big enough to serve the community anymore.
Prokopeuff: “We have no space. Like if we ever had an emergency of six or more, there would be no – it would be really hard. Because there’s no rooms, no beddings, nothing.”
Atka didn’t used to have a reason to plan for an emergency like that – one that would send six people to the clinic in a single day. But it’s not so far-fetched.
At a ceremony last week, celebrating the completion of some big infrastructure projects in Atka, representatives from the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, gave more details on a plan to triple production capacity at their fish plant.
Atka Pride Seafoods only employs about 15 processors now. But APICDA’s chief operating officer John Sevier told villagers that that’s about to change.
Sevier: “Our plans over the next few years is to put a 65 person bunkhouse here. That will probably be within the next year.”
In one fell swoop, Atka’s population will nearly double — from 71 villagers, to about 140 residents and workers. That’s added incentive to get a new medical facility built, and fast.
City administrator Julie Dirks says now that the village finished its 17-year-long project to build a hydroelectric power plant, she’s zeroing in on the clinic.
The Aleutian Pribilof Island Association is getting involved, and they’re lobbying Congress for funding on Atka’s behalf. But with the federal budget being stretched so thin already, Dirks says she isn’t holding her breath.
Dirks: “[I'm] not gonna sit and wait for them to do it. I’ll still be doing my bit.”
Her bit is lobbying the state. Atka requested $500,000 in capital funding from the state during this legislative session to finish off the design plans and lay the groundwork for even more fundraising. That request was denied – and Dirks says it wasn’t the first time.
Dirks: “I put it in there every year. It’s our number one priority in this village here.”
Dirks says the design is 95 percent complete, and it’s pretty straightforward. It gives the clinic more space to examine patients, a dedicated morgue, and moves the city hall entrance away from the clinic’s front door.
The estimated price tag is more than $3 million, and rising. That’s more than Atka’s annual budget. And while Atkans are used to pursuing expensive projects on a long timeline, with the clinic floor about to give way, they may not be able to wait.