Alaska News

Palmer Waste Dump Plan Draws Opposition

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 10:37

About one hundred people turned out to speak at a Matanuska Susitna Borough planning commission meeting on Monday. At issue – a plan to construct an inert construction debris dump on private land near Palmer.  

Central Monofil Services wants to dump construction debris — some of it containing asbestos– on land near Palmer. The Anchorage based company has applied, twice now, to the Matanuska Susitna Borough for a conditional use permit to use a five acres of a 118 acre gravel pit the company owns as a site for a so called monofil, but the Borough planning commission turned down the company’s first request in 2013.

Now, Alex Strawn, development services manager for the Borough, says the planning department is looking at the new application with a “fresh perspective.”

“Our official recommendation is approval with forty different protective conditions, and on Monday I urged the planning commission to take our suggestion, but also use caution.”

 Strawn says he’s recommending approval, because Central Monofil has checked off a long laundry list of studies and tests and hired a battery of environmental services to meet the conditions of the monofil application, although Strawn admits he has reservations about the dump’s possible effect on the water table.

“So there is some concern that the height of the water table is a moving target. There are other influences that could potentially change the height of the water table. There’s a unresolved issue with the industrial ponds just to the North of the pit, that could potentially affect the height of the water table, and there is also a gravel pit operation North of the proposed development that is intending on doing some dredging operation that could also potentially cause the water table to rise.”

Strawn says current Borough code is not geared to Central Monofils type of development, and he strongly suggests that a liner be put underneath the dump site.  He is also recommending that Central Monofil create a 15 foot buffer between the dump and the water table. AK Dept. of Environmental Conservation requires a 10 foot high  buffer.”

 Borough planning commission approval is necessary for the operation to begin. But proceedings at Monday night’s planning commission meeting were cramped by the absence of two commissioners. A third commissioner was recused from voting, because of a hint of conflict. Stuart Jacques, representing Central Monofil Services, defended the proposal before the commissioners.

“The design and operations plan for the inert waste monofils are reviewed and permitted by ADEC. This proposed monofil is designed in strict accordance with the ADEC requirements. The only waste allowed to be disposed in this monofil is classified as inert material by ADEC. No municipal, toxic or hazardous waste will be accepted at the facility.”

 Laurie Aldrich, AK DEC regional program manager for solid waste, said at the meeting that a number of the Borough conditions placed on the monofil are already covered in the state regulations. Aldrich also said that the state permit application is complete, but is pending on the close of a public notice period which ends on December 29.

 Most of those who came to offer public comment were against the plan, like farmer Ben VanderWeele and homeowners Rose Williams and Craig Kelly.

 ”The whole scenario tells me they are sneaky operators. They tried to get away with illegal practices and got caught. I do not want them as my neighbor. The risks to health and quality of life are just too great.”

“Would you risk the trust and the health of a community because of one company’s financial gain? If our waters become polluted, who will explain that to the mothers and fathers of children who develop illnesses long term.”

“These people here, they’re coming out of Anchorage and dumping all their crap in our yards. We don’t want it.. WE DON’T WANT IT!”

In the end, no vote was taken, and the meeting was continued until December 15.

Alex Strawn says if the planning commission approves the plan, there is a fifteen day period afterward for appeal by any interested party.

Categories: Alaska News

Savoonga Post Office Faces Intermittent Closure Until New Postal Worker is Hired

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 10:10

Savoonga. (Photo by Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome)

Savoonga’s only postal worker resigned mid-November, and now the St. Lawrence Island community of 700 has been without regular postal service for almost two weeks. There’s no indication of when a permanent postmaster will be hired to fill the vacancy.

Savoonga resident Delbert Pungowiyi said he’s never seen their post office shut down for so long. Community members are waiting for their social security checks, food stamps, and money to pay their bills—not to mention medication and other online orders.

“We’re having a hard enough time right now with the elders’ checks, too, that are desperately needed for groceries and paying our bills,” said Pungowiyi. “So we’re really in a hard spot right now. The whole community is really suffering.”

And without checks arriving by mail, he said the community is strapped for cash—prompting many to use debit cards, if possible, to make necessary purchases at the local store.

“The cash flow is really going down at the store and our grocery supplies…” said Pungowiyi. “There’s a real big concern right now for cash flow.”

However, Dawn Peppinger, marketing manager for the U.S. Postal Service in Alaska, said USPS is doing its best to provide temporary relief. Last Monday through Saturday, they flew in a postmaster from Barrow to distribute all the packages that were piling up. And barring any weather delays, Peppinger said a postmaster from Teller was scheduled to fly in Wednesday afternoon to work at the Savoonga office for another week and a half.

Peppinger said the closures can be longer than desired because USPS has to find a postal worker willing to leave their work and family to support another community. It’s ideal, she said, if a community has one or two “postmaster relief” workers, who can step in if the full-time postal worker is out of commission.

“So that any time we have an unexpected absence—you know, someone’s going to get sick, someone’s going to get hurt, or a family member has an issue or something like that causes them to be unable to work that day, then the backup person would be able to fill in for them,” said Peppinger.

The first step, Peppinger said, is getting a couple of postmaster reliefs in each community in rural Alaska. Eventually, they hope to hire a career postal worker for each village, who will have regular hours and benefits. For now, Peppinger said she’s excited that they have a few good applicants for the open “relief” position in Savoonga, whom they’ll interview in the coming weeks.

But Pungowiyi’s biggest concern is that it’s taking so long for the Postal Service to solve what he calls a “preventable problem.”

“What I’m really shocked with is there was no immediate reaction. This was really a perfectly preventable disaster,” said Pungowiyi. “That’s what it’s really come down to: it’s a postal disaster.”

To prevent situations like this in the future, Peppinger encourages anyone interested to apply for postmaster relief positions. You can search open positions online at Peppinger said with USPS closing several facilities in the Lower 48 (and reducing some hours in Alaska), some people may apply for open postmaster positions in rural communities. And anyone who works as a postmaster relief would be eligible to apply for vacant career positions.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Prepare For Marijuana Regulation

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:10

With an initiative to treat marijuana like alcohol now certified, lawmakers are preparing for the issue to come up this legislative session.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, commissioned a legislative report examining the costs and logistics of marijuana implementation. It lays out what authority the Legislature has when regulating the drug, and includes an estimate that the state will net between zero and $3 million from marijuana commercialization in the first year. As regulation costs go down and the marijuana industry matures, sale of the drug is expected to bring in over $20 million in annual tax revenue by 2020.

When it comes to marijuana legislation, McGuire says the number one goal for her is to “implement the voters’ will.”

“The idea that the Legislature would come in and try to subvert the public will, in my opinion, is off the table,” says McGuire.

The marijuana initiative stipulates that the Legislature can create a body like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate the sale of the drug. If the Legislature does nothing, the alcohol board could end up responsible for marijuana.

McGuire plans to file a bill that would allow the substances to be managed separately.

“For one, ABC is overburdened as it is. They have a lot of issues that they’re already taking on as a board,” says McGuire. “And number 2, there is a perceived conflict of interest.”

McGuire says the marijuana and beverage industries could end up competing, which would make it harder for them them be regulated by the same group.

McGuire, who voted for the initiative, says her bill may regulate marijuana advertising and drug safety issues. She also plans to look at the interplay between state and federal law.

“I think this is going to be the most challenging issue we will have to face,” says McGuire. “It’s still illegal under federal law to consume marijuana. So what happens when someone who lives in rural Alaska is transporting that marijuana via their boat?”

In the House, Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn has already announced he plans to file a bill preventing marijuana retailers from operating near schools, churches, and parks. McGuire says multiple marijuana bills are likely to be combined in one omnibus bill.

The marijuana initiative was modeled after similar ballot measures in Washington and Colorado, and it passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Municipal Leaders Hold Joint Meeting to Consider Pot-Legalization Law

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:08

Municipal leaders from all three local governments gathered for a joint meeting Tuesday night with about 120 citizens to talk about the state’s new marijuana-legalization law. The first-of-its-kind meeting was held so the leaders could talk amongst themselves, and with the audience, about how they’re going to put the law into practice.

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Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says he organized the extraordinary meeting with the elected leaders of the borough and its two cities because each jurisdiction will have to make its own decision on how it’s going to deal with the pot-legalization law.

The meeting between members of the North Pole and Fairbanks city councils and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly was the first such local intergovernmental meeting of its kind, says Assemblyman Karl Kassel. (Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC)

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Kassel said. “It involves our entire community. And I think it behooves us to see if we can get all three local governments on the same page, to the greatest extent possible.”

Assistant Borough Attorney Wendy Doxey explained the law and then fielded numerous questions from the 15 or so elected leaders in front of the lively crowd at the Pioneer Park Civic Center. Doxey concedes she couldn’t answer many of the questions dealing with the how the municipalities are going to handle businesses that sell marijuana and pot products, because the law is unclear.

“There’s a lot of clarification that’s needed,” she said. “There’s a lot of gaps in the act as it stands right now.”

Doxey says legislators are going to have to sort out most of those details in the next session.

“Whether they do that by statute and legislation or they leave it to regulations to flesh things out – but something I think has to happen, yes.”

Kassel and several other of the elected leaders thought something has to happen soon at the local level, at least discussions and planning, because personal use of pot will be legal by the end of February. And commercial pot production and sales could begin by the end of next year or early 2016.

Several of the municipal leaders clearly opposed pot legalization and especially sales in their jurisdictions. But borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he believes the borough should move ahead on the issue, and not put it on hold, or ban pot sales, as some Anchorage municipal leadersseem inclined to do.

“I don’t see a moratorium action coming forward – not by me. And I don’t think that’s the right move,” Hopkins said. “I know that Anchorage Assembly is looking at some of these actions. And I don’t think we need to be following the big sister city in the south.”

Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart’s Chief of Staff Jim Williams says his boss, who was unavailable to attend the meeting, feels pretty much the same way.

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, who represents the only area that voted against Ballot Measure 2, didn’t offer an opinion on whether that city would regulate or ban pot sales.

Editor’s Note 1: Click here to read an analysis of Ballot Measure 2 by the Alaska Department of Law.

Categories: Alaska News

Anti-Corruption Measure Cleared For Signatures

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:07

Supporters of a proposed ballot initiative aimed at public corruption have been given the OK to begin gathering signatures.

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The measure would make it a felony for public officials to legislate competitive advantages for or direct appropriations to themselves, business associates, family members, employers or past, present or sought-after campaign contributors.

Contributors would include donors to third-party groups backing the election of those officials.

Those benefiting from violations they induced would also face a felony.

Before leaving office, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the initiative application, giving supporters a year to gather over 28,000 signatures. Their goal is to get it on the 2016 ballot.

A primary sponsor of the measure, Ray Metcalfe, says members of government should make decisions based on merit, not on who contributes to their campaigns.

Categories: Alaska News

Search Goes On for Missing Crew of Sunk Pollock Boat

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:06

Rescuers have recovered the bodies of 11 more crew members from a South Korean pollock boat that sank in the Bering Sea on Monday.

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The U.S. Coast Guard has been helpingRussian officials and good Samaritan fishing vessels look for survivors from the Oryong 501. The trawler was hit by a wave, and sank in Russian waters northwest of St. Matthew Island.

The Oryong 501. (via Korea Times)

More than 40 crew members are still missing. Coast Guard petty officer Grant DeVuyst says rescuers have no plans to stop searching.

“We don’t know exactly how prepared the crew members who are still missing were when they went into the water, so that plays a huge role in how long someone would be able to survive,” he says. “So we’re going to continue searching, continue working with the Russians and the good Samaritans.”

Those vessels are from South Korea and Russia, and they’ve been on scene since shortly after the Oryong 501 went down. The weather has calmed down since then — seas were around 5 feet with visibility up to 5 miles on Wednesday.

DeVuyst says the Coast Guard hasn’t been able to spot much debris from the sunk vessel.

“So far, what our air assets have been able to locate are a couple black life rafts that were floating,” he says. “And that’s the only wreckage they’ve reported.”

He says the Coast Guard has sent the cutters Munro and Alex Haley, plus aircraft from Air Station Kodiak, to help as the search wears on.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Delays Survey on Sexual Assault on Campus

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:05

The University of Alaska system has delayed a campus climate survey originally scheduled for October. The goal of the survey is to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and students’ attitudes on the issue.

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After initial delays this fall, the University of Alaska didn’t want the survey to bump against the holidays and final exams. University attorney Michael O’Brien says a survey about sexual assault on campus may bring about unexpected emotions.

“During stressful times of year, we have an extra duty to be concerned about our students’ mental health and putting them in a situation that could trigger past experiences with sexual harassment or, in particular, sexual assault was a bad idea,” O’Brien says.

This is the first time University of Alaska will do a campus climate survey. Back in April, the White House provided sample questions and recommended that colleges around the country conduct surveys.

Initially, the university modeled its survey after the federal government’s. O’Brien says the questions were focused primarily on sexual violence.

“And obviously we want to know about that, but we also want to know about cyber bullying, online harassment and it doesn’t really talk about that, so because our goal is to get it right, we want to focus on, is there either a better product or something we can add to this to make it the most comprehensive for our community?” O’Brien says.

University of Alaska also heard complaints from other schools that the White House survey was unclear, too narrow and didn’t address the needs of certain student populations.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education put University of Alaska on a list of about 80 colleges nationwide being investigated for mishandling sexual assault complaints or as part of a compliance review. Federal auditors from the Office of Civil Rights visited campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel in October.

A monthly online newsletter for UA employees called The Statewide Voice says the survey will likely be conducted early next year. Around 18,000 students, faculty and staff will be randomly selected to participate.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Divers Finish Up Sea Cucumber Season

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:04

It was a relatively quick season for Southeast Alaska sea cucumber divers. The season closed in mid-November after the fleet landed a little more than a million pounds of the seafood delicacy. Meanwhile, it looks like diving for geoduck clams might not be over so quickly.

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Divers had reached or nearly reached guideline harvest levels in seventeen different areas of Southeast by mid-November. The largest hauls this year came out of Moira Sound and Dall Island near Prince of Wales Island, Ernest Sound closer to Wrangell and in Peril Strait near Sitka.

Processed sea cucumbers (File photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Phil Doherty is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, a Ketchikan based industry group. “I didn’t hear any problems out on the grounds,” Doherty said. “Our quota was just a little over one million pounds which is down quite a bit from some of the levels we’ve seen in the past few years. The season lasted approximately six or seven weeks which is a fast season.”

With larger guideline harvest levels the season has typically remained open past Thanksgiving and into December.

Doherty expected the price to wind up somewhere around $4-4.50 a pound. That’s in line with the price from the last few years and would put the value of the fishery above four million dollars at the docks. To compare, last year’s harvest hit one and a half million pounds and at nearly four dollars a pound the fishery was worth over six million dollars at the docks. The number of divers participating has stayed just below 200 for the past decade and divers have earned an average of around 30,000 dollars in the past two years.

Meanwhile, another dive fishery that also opened this fall won’t be over as quickly. Around half of the 750,000 pound guideline harvest level for geoduck clams has been harvested but Doherty said divers will be slowing down their harvest in the colder months. Divers have decided to cut the length of Thursday openings from six hours to three hours.

“So we’ve really slowed down the harvest of geoducks to try and meet the demands of the market,” he said. “It’s a live market animal and if we put too many geoducks on the market at one time along with what Washington state and what British Columbia are doing then the price goes down. So we’ve slowed down our harvest. The season’s going to last for a while.”

Divers did not fish on Thanksgiving Thursday but planned to go back to work in December. “Normally after the Thanksgiving break, we start to lose a little bit of effort in the geoduck fishery as some of the divers who fished sea cucumbers don’t come back after the break. So we may ramp up the amount of hours that we’re fishing here as we get closer to the Christmas break.”

The price for geoduck clams has ranged between 4-6 dollars a pound in the early season.
Last year the fleet landed over half a million pounds of clams, averaging nearly eight dollars a pound. That made the fishery worth over four million dollars at the docks. For the past few years, just under 70 divers have made geoduck clam landings.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Homeless Shelter To Be Closed At Least A Month

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:03

Mike Ricker is a long-term resident of the Glory Hole, Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, which was damaged by a flood last weekend. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, the Glory Hole, will be closed at least a month after a burst water pipe caused major flood damage last weekend.

Patrons and staff were adjusting to that new reality Tuesday.

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Mike Ricker was about to go to sleep Sunday when the water started pouring down on top of him.

“It came down through the Sheetrock in the ceilings three floors, because it was in the ceiling of the third floor, and down through the light fixtures,” Ricker says. “The lights were on and the water was just pouring down out of them.”

Even though it’s technically an emergency shelter, Ricker has lived at the Glory Hole for about a year. He says he ended up homeless after getting behind on a number of bills. Now he’s working odd jobs and trying to get his life back on track.

Ricker and about 20 other Glory Hole patrons are housed at Juneau International Hostel for the time being. St. Ann’s Parish Hall downtown is hosting the shelter’s regular breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Ricker says he’s grateful to the hostel and church for stepping up on short notice.

“If they weren’t open, then what option would we have, you know?” Ricker asks. “We’d be in a pretty tough situation. Thank God for them.”

Glory Hole cook Katie Parrott says the whole situation is stressful for both staff and clients.

“We just want to make sure that people know that we’re still serving food and handing out sack lunches, so we’re still operating to the best of our ability,” she says.

Parrott served about 10 people lunch on Tuesday, a smaller crowd than normal. She says the breakfast service for 21 patrons was about average.

“So it could be just, you know, a lot of people will be doing things throughout the day, maybe won’t be here for lunch but will be here for dinner,” Parrott says. “It could be that people are trying to find somewhere to store their things. Who knows?”

The closure of the shelter comes after the first big snowstorm of winter hit Juneau over the weekend. Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says the broken pipe had frozen before it sprung the leak.

Lovishchuk says insurance will cover the cost of repairs, but she worries people will forget about the shelter while it’s closed during the holidays – a time when the Glory Hole typically receives a lot of donations.

“One of the concerns that I have is that, you know, our fundraising efforts this year will not be as great,” Lovishchuk says. “So, you know, our operating funds for next year will be jeopardized.”

She says contractor North Pacific Erectors is already working on getting the shelter back in business, and the public can help by continuing to donate money and food.

Categories: Alaska News

Toksook Bay Teen’s Yup’ik Music Videos Gain Popularity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:01

Attracting an audience of over 10,000 Facebook followers, a Toksook Bay teenager is creating his own version of Yup’ik songs and sharing them with an international audience.

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Sixteen-year-old Byron Nicholai created a Facebook page called ‘I Sing. You Dance,’ that recently became very popular in and out of the country after his songs were featured on KTUU.

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Post by I Sing. You Dance.

“They helped me reach up to 10,000, because before KTUU it was only 3,000 (likes), and after that, to 7,000 (likes), then to 10,000. Its crazy for a guy like me in a village to get that many likes,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai has been a drummer in Toksook Bay’s traditional group since 5th grade. He says his video page started when he downloaded an app and started playing around with it.

After he uploaded videos without distortion, his audience told him they prefer his natural voice.

Nicholai hasn’t stopped experimenting with his sound. Nicholai uses a technique in which his voice is augmented by a natural echo off of a drum, a trick he learned from his cousin, Moses Charles.

“One time during a Yuraq practice, he showed me how he did that and I thought it sounded awesome. The phone has to be inside the circle of the drum for you to hear the echo… that’s why I’m kinda so close,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai says his songs aren’t exactly traditional. A Toksook Bay elder, Joseph “Anaruk” Felix, sings with Byron in school and is glad to hear the young man making music projects.

“When I listened to the videos the singing seemed unique to his style and personality, but I like it very much. They don’t have dances attached to them as is our tradition, but it is very entertaining to me. I encourage other people to try this, because it brings us closer to our culture,” said Felix.

Nicholai says he is working on a song that goes with a dance and expects to release it sometime soon. He says he would like to be able to travel to teach about his culture and traditional dancing.

The videos can be found here.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional gut sewing at the Anchorage Museum

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 16:41

The Anchorage Museum is hosting three Alaska Native artists this week. They are teaching students and others about gut sewing, a traditional skill still used today to make rain gear. They’re also learning about the craft from each other and from historical items in the museum’s collection.

Yupik elder Mary Tunuchuk picks up the beginnings of a raincoat made of dried bearded seal intestine and shows a group of elementary school students.

Elaine Kingeekuk shows off different types of guts to a group of elementary school students at the Anchorage Museum. HIllman/KSKA

“This is the back of the hood and this is the arms,” she says.

The semi-translucent material crinkles like paper every time Tunuchuk touches it. She says the guts are extremely delicate when dry. You have to dip the parka in sea water to make it more flexible before putting it on. She says the traditional gear provides the best protection from rain and cold, especially when hunting on the ocean.

“The snow is blowing. The seas are rough. And you’re getting cold. If you have a rubber raincoat you’re gonna freeze to death. But if you have this one, this gut parka, you’re gonna last a little bit longer because it’s going to keep you warm.”

She says the guts are more breathable than modern materials, and they don’t freeze and crack.

Tunuchuk started sewing guts about 50 years ago. She says her husband needed a parka, and as a young wife she had to make one for him.

To make a parka, women start with fresh intestines from seals or walrus. They scrape off the flesh from the 70 foot-long guts and rinse them for hours. Then they blow up the cleaned intestines like a balloon and wait for them to dry. Tunuchuk says she prefers working with bearded seals over walrus.

“One time I asked my husband or one of my brothers to bring home a walrus gut. I’ll never do that again! It’s so much harder to work, to clean. It’s so wide, and everything seems like it’s super glued in there!”

Once the guts are dry, she carefully sews them together using sinew and sometimes sea grass.

“But don’t use a sewing machine or an electrical thing because those stitches are so close together that when you try to pull it out, you might tear it apart.”

Tunuchuk says sewing a parka can take many days. Every village has different patterns and stitches for sewing. She’s learned even more styles by looking at the materials in the collection at the Anchorage Museum.

A bearded seal gut parka sewn by Mary Tunuchuk. Hillman/KSKA

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center director Aron Crowell, says the goal of the residency is for the artists to learn from each other and from the artifacts. And they’re teaching the museum staff about caring for the materials.

“They’re also talking about the processing and the material qualities of intestines and other membranes from inside sea mammals and how those are uniquely suited to Arctic clothing.”

The artists will be at the Museum for the rest of the week. The public is invited to meet the artists on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1 to 3 pm.


Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Selections in Tongass Added to Defense Bill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 07:31

A long-awaited land selection agreement for Sealaska Corporation is among a package of public land bills that are now slated to move quickly through Congress. A deal to attach the package to the must-pass defense bill was announced late last night.

The bill would turn over about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska, the regional Native corporation of Southeast Alaska, for logging and development.

Nationally, the bill moves 110,000 acres out of national control, enables a controversial copper mine in Arizona and expands a Bureau of Land Management program to streamline drilling permits. Outside of Alaska, it also establishes more than 200,000 acres of wilderness and designates new national parks.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski called it a balanced package that will increase economic opportunities in Western states. If it passes, it will be the largest public lands legislation to become law in at least five years.
The bill would sell an old DEW Line radar station to Olgoonik (Ol’ OO-NIK) Corporation, the village corporation of Wainwright. The parcel is about 1,500 acres inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The bill says the corporation must pay market value for the acreage. It also clears federal interests in three municipal lots in downtown Anchorage and, further north, turns over an Air Force tank farm to the city of Nome. In the defense portion of the bill, lawmakers affirm the process the Air Force used when it selected Eielson Air Force Base to house the first F-35A squadrons.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:21

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that it’s proposing much of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas within U.S. jurisdiction as critical habitat for ringed seals.

Shaye Wolf is the climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity. She says the habitat proposal is the largest in history.

“We know that species that have critical habitat are twice as likely that species without it to be recovering,” Wolf said. ”So we know that critical habitat works.”

A critical-habitat designation means federal agencies that authorize activities there must consult with NOAA Fisheries to determine the effects on seals. Wolf says the designation wouldn’t ban oil and gas drilling, but it does require the permitting agencies to take extra precautions to ensure drilling won’t harm the seal’s habitat.

But Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized the size of the proposed critical habitat area. In a news release she said she is concerned, “this designation would severely impact any economic development.”

The seals were declared threatened in December 2012 because of the loss of sea ice from climate warming. Ringed seals use sea ice for breeding and molting.

The agency will take public comment on the proposed critical-habitat designation for 90 days.


Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:20

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

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Categories: Alaska News

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:18

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo: Jim Dau)

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula — their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

Now, a new front has developed in the turf war between reindeer and caribou.

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An unidentified herd of animals has settled near Serpentine Hot Springs, in close proximity to several reindeer herding operations. And the animals’ presence has both wildlife managers and reindeer herders asking: Are they reindeer or caribou?

“Nobody knows if it’s a caribou herd reestablishing itself on the Seward Peninsula, or if it’s a group of reindeer that have run off and gone feral,” said Greg Finstad with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research program.

In order to solve the mystery, UAF’s Reindeer Research Program is teaming up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to genetically test the animals.

The two agencies are soliciting small tissue samples from hunters who harvested game — caribou or reindeer — near Serpentine Hot Spring this summer. Those samples will then be compared with relatively “pure” reindeer samples from St. Lawrence Island, and caribou samples from the Interior, to determine whether the Serpentine herd is more closely related to caribou or reindeer.

Jim Dau is an ADF&G biologist working on the project. He said while the distinction between the two animals may seem slight — it makes a big difference to reindeer herders in the region.

“The reindeer industry has lost a tremendous number of reindeer, especially since the mid 90s. And those losses have occurred primarily when caribou that winter down there leave in the spring. They can just overwhelm a reindeer range and when they leave in the spring they take reindeer with them,” he said.

According to Dau, if the animals are caribou, they’ll likely be viewed as a new threat — especially since they appeared at an unusual time of year: Summer, rather than the typical winter migration period.

On the other hand, if the animals turn out to be reindeer, the reaction would likely be more optimistic.

“If they are feral reindeer, then a reindeer herder can go out and recover them,” said Finstad.

A definitive I.D. would also make it clear which agency is responsible for the animals — for instance, caribou are public resources within the purview of ADF&G; while reindeer are under the stewardship of private herders — and who will have to foot the bill when it comes to monitoring them.

According to Finstad, monitoring is particularly important in the case of caribou. There is very little reindeer herders can do to protect their reindeer from a group of several thousand caribou — but early warnings do help.

“If you have a group of reindeer, and you know where the caribou are, then you do have a chance and you can maybe move them out of the way,” he said.

Still, Dau with ADF&G noted that tracking costs time and money. Warning systems rely on expensive radio collars, plus transportation costs and hours spent placing those collars on the animals.

The total Western Arctic caribou herd is over 200,000 strong. Dau said it’s hard to justify placing a several collars in a relatively small area like Serpentine Hot Springs when he has such a large group to worry about — as well as other stakeholder interests in the region.

“There’s another whole aspect to this,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the Seward Peninsula who are not reindeer herders. They are absolutely delighted to have access to caribou. They want to go caribou hunting and get meat.”

But when it comes to the Serpentine herd, identification is still the first step. Dau said ADF&G is still collecting tissue samples from game harvested between May and August of this year in the Serpentine-Shishmaref-Cape Espenberg area.

Hunters interested in donating samples can bring them to the ADF&G office in Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:17

The ferry Tustumena is getting old. For the last few years, the state has been looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for a replacement vessel with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

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Categories: Alaska News

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:16

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily closed due to a burst pipe and flood Sunday night. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

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Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says 21 patrons and an overnight staff member were at the shelter when the pipe burst.

“I was not there, but from what I heard, you know, the flood gates opened and everybody got really cold and wet,” Lovishchuk says.

City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Management officials set up a temporary shelter at the Downtown Transportation Center. Patrons and staff were later relocated to the city’s Zach Gordon Youth Center.

Lovishchuk says Juneau International Hostel will provide rooms to Glory Hole clients while a contractor assesses the damage to the shelter. Downtown Juneau’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has temporarily offered its parish hall for meal services.

“Everybody was amazingly helpful,” Lovishchuk says. “The city, the Red Cross, the local churches, the Glory Hole board – just lots of really, really helpful entities.”

Lovishchuk says she won’t know until Tuesday what caused the water pipe to burst or how long the shelter will be closed.

Categories: Alaska News

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:15

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what the City of Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing water concerns.

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The compliance order calls for Ketchikan to finish research into options for dealing with the source of the city’s water, and submit engineering design plans for any needed upgrades by the end of 2015.

The city also must continue plans to upgrade its new water treatment plant and start testing for the waterborne parasite Cryptosporidium – something it’s not tested for previously.

All this is expected to cost between $1.75 and $2.25 million. The city does have about $1.8 million left from a low-interest state loan that paid for construction of the new treatment plant. That is a loan, though, so it will have to be paid back over time.

John Kleinegger, water division manager for the city-owned Ketchikan Public Utilities, explained that “KPU issues the bond and the state makes a guarantee, so the financing would come from the revenue of KPU – Electric, telephone and water combined.”

That means the loan will be paid for by KPU customers.

While the loan would cover the low end of the estimate, it’s likely that the overall cost of the compliance order will exceed that amount. City Manager Karl Amylon writes in a memo that additional costs could be covered by KPU reserves.

Ketchikan’s water supply has been problematic in recent years for a couple of reasons.

First: Ketchikan Lakes, which is the source of the city’s drinking water, has higher-than-allowed levels of coliform bacteria. The water is disinfected before it’s distributed, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency still regulates coliform levels in the source water.

Kleinegger said it might be possible to resolve that issue through the city’s ultraviolet radiation treatment system. The city’s new treatment plant combines chemical and UV disinfection. Kleinegger cited a similar system in the Seattle area.

“This is the Cedar River treatment plant, where, like us, they do have higher than acceptable levels of coliform,” he said. “But they were also able to demonstrate to their regulatory agencies that by providing more UV disinfection than is technically required, they were able to achieve a waiver.”

Ketchikan also will investigate taking water from different locations in the lake.

The second problem is that the city’s water supply has a lot of organic material floating in it, and when that material comes in contact with chlorine disinfection, it forms byproducts that also are regulated by the EPA.

The city’s water has too many of those byproducts, despite the new treatment system that was built specifically to address that problem. That new system uses UV and chloramine — a blend of chlorine and ammonia rather than chlorine alone. It brought the levels down, but not quite enough.

“By what we’ve done so far with chloramination, we’ve cut the levels in half, but we’re still not below 60 parts per billion,” Kleinegger said. “We’re close, but close only counts in horse shoes.”

The city has a plan under way to tweak the new treatment plant and get those byproduct levels below the threshold. It involves adding chlorine early on, but not as much, passing the water through the UV treatment, and then adding the ammonia and more chlorine. Kleinegger said he expects that will bring the levels down to an average of 30 to 40 parts per billion.

All of this is part of the city’s ongoing effort to avoid building a really expensive filtration plant. A conventional filtration plant would cost an estimated $35 million to build, and would be much more costly to operate than the current treatment system.

Kleinegger said that despite all the plans to avoid filtration, he is keeping an eye on the technology as it develops.

“If all this doesn’t work the way that we hoped it will, then our next position will be, if we have to go to filtration, to make it as inexpensive, not only to construct but also to operate, as possible,” he said.

The water compliance order has been under development since this summer, and City of Ketchikan officials have participated in its drafting. It is a legally binding document, and violating it could lead to fines, or civil or criminal court actions.

Kleinegger said it’s a way for the EPA, along with state regulatory agencies, to make sure public water suppliers follow regulations.

“They want to get the serious offenders, which unfortunately includes us, on the path of meeting the requirements of the surface water treatment rules,” he said. “The best way to do it is a legal document that both parties have to agree to.”

The City of Ketchikan is on the EPA’s Enforcement Target List, according to City Manager Amylon. But, signing off on the compliance order should satisfy EPA officials, at least for the time being.

The water compliance order will be in front of the Ketchikan City Council for approval on Thursday. Representatives of CH2M-Hill, the city’s water treatment consultant firm, will be there to answer questions, along with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:14

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 2, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:13

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

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NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage & The Associated Press

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

ASD Seeking Solutions To Staff Morale, Hiring And Retention Problems

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Financial uncertainty at the Anchorage School District is leading to morale problems and an inability to attract qualified teachers. The School Board is looking for solutions.

Iditarod Boosts Payout to $70k for 2015 Winner

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Iditarod 2015 will have the highest winner’s payout in the race’s history.   Stan Hooley, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race CEO, says the first to Nome will receive $70,000, that’s almost $20,000 more than the winner earned last year

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula – their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The ferry Tustumena (tuss-tah-MEE-nah) is getting old. The state is looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of southcentral and southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for replacement with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing concerns over the city’s drinking water.

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

Categories: Alaska News