The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s District One presents a unique set of challenges. It stretches from the outskirts of Palmer east along the Matanuska River and Glenn Highway as far as Lake Louise, then North to the Denali Borough border. It encompasses wild and rural land, although many industrial development projects are slated for it’s as yet undisturbed fields. Incumbent District 1 Assemblyman Warren Kehoe announced that he would not run for another term of office. Now long time political agitator Jim Sykes is eyeing the upcoming vacancy. Sykes says the Boro economy is doing okay, and growth can be found in health care, travel, energy efficiency and other ways
“And we need to grow a lot of sectors that are going to complement our life here in the Valley. “
Skyes has been active in Alaska’s political scene for a couple of decades. He once ran for governor, and can point to dozens of community and state issues that he has taken part in
“I’ve been open to a lot of different ideas across my journey of trying to do something good for communities. What I have really tried to do is to make sure that people have a voice and that’s a strong voice, and that they can participate in an open, and honest, process of government.”
Sykes says it’s the contentious problems that give people the chance to come together and forge solutions. He points to his record. He has run non profits, worked for the Alaska Native Review Commission, served on the Railbelt Energy Advisory Board and as the Lazy Mt. CC president. He advocates for alternative energy, lives in a house made of straw bales, and helped establish radio stations in Talkeetna and Palmer. He says he’s got an innovative idea to monitor Borough spending, too.
“We need to put the Borough check book online, so everyone can see exactly how our taxpayer dollars are spent. And when things are put into a fund, people can see if they are transferred out and where. And I think this level of transperancy is easy to do, the taxpayers deserve it. “
But aviator, and challenger, Doug Glenn says he’ll bring new energy to the Assembly. He built up his Glenn Air business in Palmer the old fashioned way
“In high school throwing bags for Woods Air Service, just moving freight. And worked for them for quite a few years and they got me sucked into the aviation business and here I’m stuck. And I’ve been doing my thing with airplanes ever since. “
First time candidate Glenn, grew up in Palmer and is a grad of Palmer High. He has three children, two now in Borough schools. He says he’s worried about their future
“My reason for doing this is more for my kids than anything. I realize there are no decent family wage jobs around here and I know that everybody’s getting sick and tired of hearing that, no family wage job deal, but it’s a fact. You know, there’s WalMart jobs, and I’m not knocking anybody that works for a living, but these12 dollar an hour jobs just don’t cut it. It’s hard to buy a 250, thousand dollar house making twelve bucks an hour. “
Glenn’s taking a strong pro-development stance, is in favor of the Susitna dam project, the transportation initiative and a bridge across Knik Arm.
”And the traffic on Knik Goose Bay road is truly unbelievable. And anybody that says that bridge isn’t necessary needs to take a cruise out there. You know, during the morning or afternoon. Actually, any time of the day. The development’s happening out there, whether people believe it or not. They need to drive to Port MacKenzie, and take a look around, because stuff is happening. “
District one is the site of proposed coal mining projects within the Borough, projects that have divided communities and created a backlash of opposition among some Borough residents. Sykes says he’s taking a long range view
” You know, the coal industry is in a deep, economic slump, that has dramatically slowed exploration and development all over the world. And, while there are still exploration activities going on, I don’t think that anything is likely to happen for a long time, so there may be a good opportunity for more dialogue in the communities. “
Glenn , who does aerial reclamation work for Usibelli coal, says Sutton locals he’s talked to support coal mining
“Ninety percent of the people I’ve talked to, a strong ninety percent, are in favor of that mine opening up.”
Sykes doesn’t deny that development needs to happen, but, he says, representation is all about getting people involved in their own government.
”Cause I am part of this Valley. And I really will work with anybody, and that is my reputation, and I think that’s what we need more of, rather than just trying to see any problem that comes up through the lens of some particular agenda.”
On October first, it’ll be up the Valley voters to decide.
The Senate passed a measure advancing a government funding bill yesterday that zeroes out money for the Affordable Care Act.
Both Senators Murkowski and Begich supported the measure. And Congressman Don Young supported it in the House last week.
Joining us to explain what’s happening – and how this relates to a pending government shutdown, is APRN’s Washington correspondent Peter Granitz. He says Begich supported the measure to make sure Congress maintains funding for the health care law.
An effort is underway to allow Village Public Safety Officers in Alaska to carry guns. VPSO’s are currently precluded from being armed but the shooting death of a VPSO officer in the Bristol Bay region earlier this year has resulted in an effort to change the rules.
Legislation that passed Congress today will allocate $50 million to clean up the 130 oil and gas wells that were drilled and abandoned by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska.
Senator Lisa Murkowski helped negotiate the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, which is expected to generate around $500 million in revenue over the next 10 years. Within the measure, she was able to insert language that guaranteed a portion of the money from the helium reserve sale would go toward the clean up.
Murkowski says it’s an important step toward closing up the legacy wells.
“That’s huge for us; that is absolutely huge because you can assign priorities and say it’s important that we clean it up, but until you have the dollars to make it happen, it doesn’t happen,” Murkowski said. ”The administration has been tough to deal with on this, so I worked very, very hard to make sure that with the revenues from the helium sale, we could address this blight on our environment up north.”
The $50 million will be distributed over the next six years.
Because many federal priorities are competing for a decreasing amount of funds, Murkowski says previously, she was only able to find small amounts of money for the clean up.
“When you just ran the numbers from a very general perspective, it was gonna be 100+ years to get through this, which was absolutely not an acceptable approach,” she said.
Even though the $50 million won’t be enough to clean up all the wells, Murkowski says it should be enough to start making a dent.
President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation official says proposed new fine particulate pollution regulations are designed more to meet federal requirements, than clamp down on Fairbanks area residents who depend on wood for heat.
An iPhone map that led drivers across the Fairbanks International Airport runway has been deactivated. Airport spokeswoman Angie Spear says the map errantly directed users to the east side of the facility.
Athletes at East High in Anchorage highlighted some positive statistics about teens earlier today at the homecoming pep rally. Like the fact that 89 percent of Anchorage high school students don’t smoke. The campaign is called “Strength of our Youth.” The idea is to debunk the myths that “everyone” in high school is making bad choices.
Astrid Williams is a senior at East High School and has been organizing the project. She says the pep rally seemed like a great way to get the message out.
A citizens’ task force charged with reviewing the Anchorage Assembly’s public hearing process has released a draft of their recommendations.
One of their conclusions is that the Assembly erred in cutting off public testimony about a controversial labor law.
The task force was formed after the Assembly voted to end public testimony before everyone had a chance to testify on a controversial labor ordinance last spring.
Jane Angvik chairs the panel, which released a draft of its findings Sept. 20. The task force made nine specific recommendations, including one having to do with the interpretation of the municipal charter.
“The charter says that under the bill of rights that citizens have the right to be heard at public hearings prior to the adoption of an ordinance,” Angvik said. “So we concluded that if you started with a signup sheet and you’ve got people who are signed up and ready to testify, that the Assembly has to listen to everyone; they can’t cut it off.”
That’s exactly what the Assembly did last March when hundreds of people flooded a public hearing on a controversial labor ordinance also known as AO-37.
A ballot measure to repeal that ordinance is awaiting a court test.
Angvik says the task force also recommended limiting the Assembly’s dinner break to 15 minutes, better visual aids during hearings, and finding a way for citizens to weigh in online during public hearings.
The Task Force is composed of 11 residents who met and reviewed the charter, ordinances and the policies and procedures regarding Assembly public hearings.
It had a public hearing of its own about the process on Sept. 3.
Angvik says the recommendations are based on public testimony given at that hearing.
A final public hearing is set for 6 p.m. at the Loussac Library Assembly Chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
A 58-year-old Hoonah man mauled by a brown bear Wednesday night has been medevac’d to Sitka with non-life threatening injuries.
Hoonah Police Chief Corey Rowley says the man was attacked about 9:45 p.m. as he was walking near downtown. He says the man suffered bites and scratches on his legs and back.
“Bites to his lower body and injuries to his back from the claws,” Rowley said.
He declined to identify the man. The bear was a sow with a cub, but Rowley says the man apparently had not come between them.
Coast Guard Search and Rescue Controller Adam DeRocher says their medical staff monitored the case. But a commercial medevac service was scheduled to take the injured man to Sitka for treatment Thursday morning.
Rowley says police searched most of the night for the bear. They were able to locate it in a deep canyon using thermal imaging equipment, but officers were unable to reach the animal and by morning it was gone.
He says his number one concern right now is for the safety of children walking to and from school.
“Absolutely. The initial report we received was that she was trying to drag him off into the hemlock,” Rowley says. “So, that’s a concern.”
Rowley says Alaska Wildlife Troopers are sending resources to Hoonah to help with the search, which continues.
Matt Miller contributed to this report.
A ballot initiative to lower Wrangell’s city sales tax by 1.5 percent is up for a vote of the public in the Oct. 1 general elections.
Alaska is one of only five states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a statewide sales tax. That means its communities are free to establish their own, or not.
Many towns in the state have opted for none.
But Wrangell does have one and right now, it’s at 7 percent. That means every time you buy a taxable item in town, you pay an additional 7 percent of the item’s cost in tax.
Wrangell’s rate stands alongside Kodiak’s as the highest sales tax in the state.
But where does that 7 percent go?
That money the city pulls in from the tax helps fund many of its public services.
That’s anything from the police department and public schools to the spring health fair and Fourth of July fireworks.
Former mayor Don McConachie explains that these tax-funded services are divided into necessary and optional categories.
“The city, through their tax dollars, are obligated to have water, sewer, police protection and all the rest of that type of entity for the public,” McConachie said. “They are not required to have the amenities; the amenities being funding for the radio station, X amount of dollars it is giving to the fireworks, X amount of dollars it has given to other outside interests.”
That means, when money is tight, it’s often those amenities that are cut first.
This initiative would lower the city sales tax to 5.5 percent.
It would save customers one and a half pennies per dollar spent, or $1.50 on a $100 purchase.
Ernie Christian currently sits on the borough assembly. He is also one of the people who drafted the sales tax initiative. He says more money in people’s pockets now means more money for them to spend later.
Tim Rooney doesn’t work for the city of Wrangell anymore, but he was the borough manager when initiative was first brought to the table.
He says the money the community will lose as a whole outweighs the individual benefits.
“My question would be for a citizen, what will that $1.50 buy you in Wrangell?” Rooney said. “However, collectively, what does that $1.50 collected from everyone buy for Wrangell and all of that would go away.”
All of those buck fifties add up to about $503,000 a year.
And that brings us to the proposed cuts.
Jeff Jabusch is the interim borough manager. However, he was the finance director who drafted the proposed cuts with Rooney.
With half a million dollars in annual revenue gone, Jabusch says the city would need to make some substantial changes.
First would be the end of the two annual tax-free shopping days. That would save the city a total of $30,000.
Second, the mill rate would go up and by association, property taxes would be higher.
Both of these changes would increase the city’s revenue to help offset its losses.
Next, there would be a series of funding cuts.
The general fund, which helps support the library and public works, would lose about $100,000. That’s not good news for snowy streets in winter.
“We are used to certain things happening all year round,” McConachie said. “I think you will find people will not enjoy not having snow plowed on a regular basis—where they’re going to wait until there’s two inches of snow out before they send a plow out and different things like that.”
In addition, the senior citizen program would lose $15,000. The health fair would lose $3,000 and $4,000 would be gone from the Fourth of July fireworks budget.
And there is one hot-button issue up for nearly $200,000 in cuts: public school funding.
The state government requires that the city give the schools a certain amount of money every year. It used to be in the neighborhood of $600,000. A few years ago, it was lowered to the $400,000 range.
But, Wrangell decided to keep funding the schools at the higher level.
The borough is also required to pass along certain federal funding to the schools…
“So the total we give them is like $1.5 million,” Jabusch said. “But from taxes—sales tax and property taxes—the amount has been somewhere around $600,000.”
So, the approximately $200,000 proposed cut would be Wrangell going to the local funding level it’s actually required to give.
Jabusch says the schools wouldn’t necessarily be hurt right now, but there is concern about the future.
“As the federal money dries up, and we’re anticipating that, it’s going to be more difficult, if we go back to the $400,000, to come up with some additional money for them down the road,” Jabusch said. “Whereas, if you leave it where it’s at, you’re in a better position down the road.”
The city is keeping that financial buffer in place in case federal funding is cut in the future.
Ernie Christian says he doesn’t think the proposed cuts would be good for the city.
“I want to make sure everybody knows, these proposed cuts were developed by the borough manager and the finance director, and I think they were political cuts and I voted against them,” Christian said. “You know, I would never support any cuts to the schools, but that’s what they came up with.”
“So these were developed by staff, not by the assembly; so if the proposition goes through, I think they need to come back in front of the assembly to determine if you really need to cut anything.”
Tim Rooney says while things like the library, health fair, and chamber of commerce are important to the community as a whole, they are still considered amenities when it comes to budgeting.
“I think Mr. Christian is misinformed; any time that you cut $500,000 from a budget, you’re going to have to make painful cuts, and cut unnecessary programs,” Rooney said. “Some of those unnecessary programs were listed on a page in the budget and that budget was approved by the entire borough assembly.”
“So I would think that if he felt, or if they collectively felt that was a political move, they wouldn’t have approved it.”
Don McConachie says while it’s up to personal opinion how much responsibility the government should have, everyone would feel the consequences of a cut like this.
“I think that if the tax does get reduced approved by the voters, that it will be a detrimental effect to all of the people residing in this community as a whole,” McConachie said.
This initiative will go before the voters on Oct. 1.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the local public radio station, KSTK, faces a cut of $9,200 if the initiative passes.
The Talkeetna Ranger Station has a new name.
President Obama has signed the Denali National Park Improvement Act, which officially renames the Park Service building to the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station in honor of the Athabascan climber who was the first person to set foot on the summit of Denali in 1913.
Preparations for the name change are underway at the ranger station, and a new sign could be ready by next spring.
The Act also approves a land exchange between the National Park Service and Doyon Limited for the construction of a small hydroelectric project and the permitting of a natural gas pipeline along the Parks Highway inside the Park.
The legislation was strongly supported by Congressman Don Young and Senator Lisa Murkowski.
Five people are facing felony drug charges after being arrested Tuesday.
Unalaska police say they’ve been conducting an undercover investigation for the past four months, which allegedly revealed sales of black tar heroin and crystal meth in town.
Beginning around noon Tuesday, police arrested Michael Hindman, 24, Jana Lekanoff, 25, Daylen Luff, 29, Eric Roach, 45, and Zane Zueger, 25. Roach was arrested for allegedly selling meth, and the others are accused of selling heroin, or possessing it with the intent to sell.
Additional charges are expected against the five. Police anticipate at least one more arrest.
When asked about the connection among the five people, public safety director Jamie Sunderland says he would not characterize it as a drug ring.
“I wouldn’t define it as that, I think they all knew each other they certainly were involved with this stuff. Was it a highly organized thing? Undetermined is probably a better way to put it,” said Sunderland.
Sunderland says a confidential informant helped bring the case together. The man worked undercover, buying heroin three times and meth twice. He frequently wore a recording device.
According to court documents, the alleged drug deals happened in grocery store parking lots, and in the bathroom of the Harbor View Bar.
Sunderland says officers spent the early part of the week conducting searches on 11 warrants. They gathered a staggering amount of evidence.
“There’s some distinctive clues left behind when these things happen. There was quite a bit of that, in many locations, in cars, houses, anywhere these folks went they left a trail of drug paraphernalia,” said Sunderland.
Sunderland says police seized at least 10 very small baggies of heroin. They also seized cell phones and a computer, which may yield information about the original supplier of the drugs.
In the meantime, all five individuals are still being held in custody. They made their first court appearance Wednesday morning.
Jana Lekanoff’s mother, Linda, was allowed to speak about her daughter before the court. Linda Lekanoff described Jana as a high achiever, and said she’s beloved by her family.
Zane Zueger’s mother, Debbie, also spoke in defense of her child. She said she hopes the situation will serve as a wake-up call to the people facing charges.
The magistrate has not yet set the financial terms of bail. Further hearings are set for next Wednesday to appoint defense attorneys. A pre-indictment hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, October 3rd at 10 a.m.
Matanuska Susitna Borough voters will consider an alcohol tax proposition on the Oct. 1 election ballot. The 5 percent tax would be used to offset the burden on Borough property owners, but opponents of the plan say it unfairly targets a specific industry.
The ballot wording of Proposition B1 is simple.
“Shall the Matanuska-Susitna Borough enact an areawide alcoholic beverage tax not to exceed 5 percent on sales of alcoholic beverages within the Borough? “
Voters only need to check a Yes or a No answer.
The issue itself is far more complicated. The proposed alcohol tax was introduced in June by Mat Su Borough Assemblyman Steve Colligan. After public hearings, it was approved as a ballot initiative in July. Colligan says he simply wants to reduce the tax obligation on Borough property owners, who now foot the bill for most of the Borough’s expenses. Assemblyman Steve Colligan
..” not a big fan of new taxes. I’ve had people call me about sin taxes, etc. This is a sales tax on alcohol to offset costs that are currently being paid by property owners. And, to me, it’s pure and simple. Why should property owners be bearing the full burden. We’ll see how the public reacts and go from there. “
But the 24-page ordinance covers a lot of ground. Purveyors of alcohol must apply for and receive a non- transferable certificate of registration from the Borough, which is revocable by the Borough. Sellers must collect the tax at the time of sale and hold it for the Borough. The Borough director of finance may conduct audits or investigations into a seller’s tax receipts. Violations of the ordinance can result in a 500 dollar fine and revocation of the seller’s certificate and a prohibition against further alcohol sales. Reports on sales and taxes are to be submitted to the Borough monthly, and sellers need to keep records for six years. The Borough director of finance is charged with collecting the tax and keeping tabs on alcohol sellers.
Duane Hart, owner of Knik Kountry Liqour, a privately owned company with several outlets in the Valley, calls the proposition “unfortunate” , but would not go on record for this story. Hart says similar alcohol tax initiatives have failed in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and in Anchorage.
The Alaska Academy of Family Physicians, and the Mat-Su Health Foundation have jumped on board in support of Prop B-1, citing health reasons. Mat Su Health Foundation executive director Elizabeth Ripley says her organization has completed a community based health indicator survey:
..”and alcohol and substance abuse was ranked the number one issue, in 23 community meetings. It was ranked number one or number two 83 percent of the time. So we have this mandate from our community. Our business community, our medical community, our youth, our education community all ranked alcohol and substance abuse as the number one issue in Mat Su.”
Ripley says state taxes on alcohol have reduced alcohol – related mortality rates. She says studies show that alcohol taxes have reduced the probability and frequency of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse. But critics of thetax say there is little in the proposed ordinance’s language to indicate how the tax revenue will be spent. The only specific mention indicates the revenues will go into the Borough’s general fund, to be spent on education and areawide emergency services.
Alaska’s Cabaret, Hotel and Restaurant and Retailer’s Association, or CHARR represents more than 600 members statewide. CHARR president Dale Fox, says the real problem with Prop B1 is not that it poses a threat to club owners beyond the Borough’s borders, but that there is no assurance that the tax revenues from liquor will be well spent:
“Because all of the money goes to the general fund, and the politicians can spend it any way they want to. If the Mat Su voters are liberal enough to arbitrarily tax a segment of the society to raise government spending, if that’s what they want, then they should vote in favor of this. If not, they should vote no.”
Opponents of Prop B1 also say the proposed ordinance would not only lead to higher prices for consumers, but would add to records keeping burdens for sellers. Not so, Colligan says. He says it’s no different from other sales taxes, now already the norm in Palmer and Wasilla
“Most revenue will come from probably within the city limits where most of the activity is, and in that case it will only be about two percent. It’ll be the difference of the current sales tax and 5 percent. They are already collecting sales tax, so I don’t think that will be an additional issue. Outside of that area, outside the city boundaries, they will have to at the cash register, just like any other business, adjust to collect sales tax. “
Assemblyman Colligan says the fairest tax of all is a consumption tax. He says the Borough will have to cut services unless more revenue sources can be found. Now it’s up to Valley voters to decide.
Mat Su Borough voters go to the polls on Tuesday, October 1 to vote on Prop B1, a transportation initiative and on two Borough Assembly seats.
Hundreds of Alaska Natives gathered outside the state court house in Fairbanks Wednesday afternoon to hear news about a murder case that’s long raised questions about whether justice was served. Four Fairbanks men, three of whom are Alaska Native, are serving long sentences for the 1997 stomping death of local teen John Hartman. The case of “the Fairbanks Four” lacked physical evidence and has been reexamined in recent years by local Native advocates and the Alaska Innocence Project. The groups say new evidence shows the jailed men are innocent.
An Anchorage immigration attorney is a MacArthur Genius grant winner. Margaret Stock was named today along with 23 other recipients across the country. The honor comes with a $625,000 award over the next five years.
Stock is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. And she’s a passionate advocate for simplifying the immigration system and makes the case that immigrants enhance national security. She says the Sept. 11 attacks might have been prevented if we had more people who spoke foreign languages in the military.
It’s been about a week since fire ripped through Glynwood Manor, a 38-unit apartment complex in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage. Investigators are still trying to figure out the cause. Meantime, 32 people are still living at a Red Cross Shelter at the Fairview Recreation Center.
Even though Faamatua Mesik and her family lost nearly all their belongings in the Glynwood Manor apartment complex fire in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage last week, Mesik says she has a lot to be thankful for.
She says they’re sleeping on Cots, or on the floor. They have a place to bathe and they’re fed. The kids are going to school every day.
She rummages through a Walmart plastic bag full of donated clothes she’s carrying around the shelter, now her only real belongings.
“They gave us some dresses, pants, shirts, also some socks for the kids, some sock for the kids, some ladies clothes, you know,” she said.
Mesik’s staying at the Red Cross Shelter along with nine of her family members who were sharing a two bedroom apartment. She moved to Anchorage in May from Hawaii with her three kids, 16, 11 and 8. Her husband joined them at the beginning of September.
The family is originally from Samoa and moved to Alaska for opportunity. They were staying with Mesik’s sister, brother-in-law and their three kids while her husband looked for work.
Mesik explains that she and her husband are trying to find a new place to live, but they’re overwhelmed.
“My schedule is to go, try to get a newspaper, look for a place wherever, then we can go there and check it out, but the problem is I don’t have that much money for first, last and a security deposit,” Mesik said. “Because we just moved here, we don’t have that much money.”
Other shelter residents are having an easier time getting back on their feet.
Jay Phillips had lived at the Glynwood Manner complex for more than 20 years. Now he’s waiting to move into a new apartment. Phillips went back to his apartment this week to see if he could salvage anything but crews told him his apartment was so wrecked that he wasn’t allowed back in.
“I was allowed to stand about at least four feet away from the front door and take a look at the damage, of course it’s pretty devastating,” Phillips said.
As a single person, Phillips says he found the place pretty easily through Neighborworks, a non-profit that helps people find affordable housing. He located a two bedroom apartment on Government Hill for about the same price as his old one.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m told it’s pretty nice. They got carpet layers putting carpet in. That’s what they told me. (Daysha: So when do you think you can move in?) Either late this afternoon or tomorrow morning, hopefully pretty soon,” Phillips said.
But for Faamatua Mesik, the wait to move into a new place is likely to be much longer. A Red Cross worker told Mesik she could apply for aid of up to $500 to help her get into a new place. But with the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment around $1,200, plus a deposit, Mesik is worried. Even if they find a place, she’s not sure how they’ll pay for it.
“I’m trying to think who to ask if they can help us with that; for first month and the security deposit if we find a place,” Mesik said. “So I don’t know where to go.”
Red Cross officials say they plan to keep the shelter open through Friday, but just for sleeping and breakfast, in hope that those displaced by the fire will have new homes by week’s end.
The Mountain View Boys and Girls Club is taking donations of new and gently used items intended for residents of the Glynwood Manor fire between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Alaska State Troopers are investigating what appears to be at least two deaths from a boating incident near Alakanuk.
Today around noon, boaters came across a deceased person on the river bank about 10 miles downriver of the village. Then, the boaters found a second person who was dead, floating in the water. Both people were wearing their life jackets.
A search revealed debris from a boat.
A third person is unaccounted for.
A trooper from the Saint Mary’s post is responding to the village to investigate the cause and the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Troopers will not release any names until the individuals have been positively identified and next of kin has been notified.
The Haines Highway is a stretch of road north of Haines to the Canadian border and toward Alaska’s Interior. The two-lane road follows a prolific salmon river, travels through the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and crisscrosses Native cultural sites. And while a project to expand the highway has been in the works for years, a recent influx of concern about its impact on the Chilkat Valley has slowed its progress.
One of Alaska’s tourism pioneers passed away over the weekend. Stan Stephens was 79-years-old. He was known for his popular charter boat line that provided tours in the Prince William Sound.
As scientists attempt to better understand the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, they are taking a closer look at what the whales eat, but studying the dining habits of beluga whales is harder than you might think.
Sue Saupe is scientific director for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council – or CIRCAC. She and other scientists have been working on a study of beluga whale prey since 2008, attempting to measure the levels of harmful pollutants in the food that ends up in the whale’s bodies.
Saupe says one pollutant is of particular concern when it comes to beluga whales – polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons – or PAHs.
PAHs occur in deposits of oil, gas and coal and can be harmful in high concentrations. Saupe says PAHs are often more abundant in near-shore areas, where beluga whales tend to congregate. The data on PAHs in Cook Inlet is very limited, says Saupe, and the CIRCAC-funded beluga whale prey study is the first real attempt to measure them in whales.
The idea is to measure the pollutants in the prey that beluga whales eat. Saupe says that in the summertime, that’s not much of a problem. With funding from CIRCAC and the National Marine Fisheries Service, scientists conducted the first prey study in 2008 and 2009.
Saupe says the results of that study, along with tissue samples taken from the whales’ livers and blubber, did not show that PAH levels were affecting the beluga whale stock.
“We do not have that kind of information but concerns about PAH levels and concerns about beluga whale reproductive success warrant further study and likely mitigation,” Saupe said.
And so the focus turned to wintertime prey of beluga whales.
A winter beluga whale prey study was funded primarily by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and was supposed to begin in the fall of 2011.
Saupe says the study ran into problems right away, when a planned trawl survey in November had to be cancelled when ice clogged the upper inlet during a run of high winds and cold temperatures.
Trawl surveys were a bit more successful in the spring and fall of 2012 but even then, trawling in the northern inlet turned out to be a challenging and dangerous undertaking. Saupe says bad weather, quick-moving currents and a maze of well heads and pipelines on the ocean floor all made for tough going trying to trawl for sample fish.
“It’s extremely treacherous conditions and that’s why we can find no good resident fish for this area of Cook Inlet,” Saupe said.
As a result, the results of the wintertime beluga whale prey study are inconclusive, at best. Saupe says one thing the study shows is that perhaps the stock of potential prey in northern Cook Inlet is low and that beluga whales get most of their food from southern areas.
Scientists are looking over the results of the studies now and hope to have a completed report in the next couple of months but Saupe says that if your goal is to get a handle on the level of harmful pollutants in the food of Cook Inlet belugas, more study is going to have to be done.