A group of Bristol Bay fishermen have filed suit against Trident Seafoods, Magone Marine Services, and the owner and operator of the vessel Lone Star, which sank in the Igushik River during the middle of this past year’s salmon fishery. The resulting oil spill shut down the fishery, costing most Igushik Beach set netters their season. They say they have still not been paid for their lost income for the season.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation is bracing for an FDA decision on genetically modified salmon and Sen. Mark Begich has asked the head of the agency not to exploit the holiday season to release what’s expected to be an unpopular report.
At issue is a U.S. company’s plan to create Atlantic salmon eggs for fish farms that include a Chinook salmon gene.
AquaBounty hopes to produce fish that grow to market size in half the time – Begich calls it Frankenfish.
“FDA has never approved anything of this nature, which is basically cloning, and from that perspective I don’t think they’re prepared to understand the potential long-term impacts,” Begich said.
Last year, on the day after Christmas, the FDA officially announced its initial ruling in favor of gene-modified salmon.
Begich says it’s like they were trying to slip something by when Americans weren’t looking. An FDA spokeswoman, though, says they publish documents when they’re complete. In a letter last week, Begich asked that they avoid such surprises this season, and he says they assured him the document isn’t coming soon.
“At least they’ve responded, which is a good sign that they recognize how important this issues is and they can’t rush it through at the end of the year because they want to,” Begich said.
Nearly 38,000 people wrote comments to the FDA about AquaBounty’s plan. Most were against it. Begich, like Alaska fisherman, says the modified salmon could escape and damage the state’s wild stocks, and he says they’d hurt Alaska salmon in the marketplace.
AquaBounty says its fish will be sterile and reared inland, in Panama, so that they can’t escape and harm natural populations. Canada last month cleared the firm to produce genetically modified salmon eggs for commercial use at its hatchery on Prince Edward Island.
The state-owned housing agency is trying something innovative to increase access to affordable housing in Anchorage.
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is developing mixed housing in East Anchorage that will combine low income apartments with regular ones.
Tucked between a trailer park and the Glen Square Mall along Mountain View Drive are 6.5 acres of property with a view of the Chugach range. A 70-unit apartment complex will soon be built here.
AHFC CEO Bryan Butcher, says it’s the beginning of what he hopes is a new direction for the organization.
“The great thing about this location is that the city of Anchorage is pretty land poor when it comes to developing housing,” Butcher said. “You can find scattered areas all over the place but there’s really not a lot of room to build housing so to find a piece of property of this size that can be developed to this extent in an area so central to downtown Anchorage as well as the Mountain View Area we’re really fortunate to have and we’re really excited about this being the kickoff of this kind of development in Anchorage.”
Butcher steps out onto what is right now an empty swath of land covered by snow. He says the development is needed in Anchorage.
“We’re especially excited about the affordable housing part of it, because Anchorage and frankly the entire state of Alaska is so short on affordable housing it’s very difficult for folks to find housing so being able to add 70 new units of housing stock to the city of Anchorage we think is tremendous,” Butcher said.
The apartments will be near employment centers, around the corner from a bus stop and within walking distance of Clark Middle School. Butcher says it’s first of a series of upcoming projects that will step away from the failing model of separating where poor people live from where everyone else does.
“It used to be there was a focus on public housing or lower income housing. And it works better as a community to have it mixed and to have a mixture of all Anchorage residents living in one area as opposed to kind of separating things out,” Butcher said.
At any given time there is just 1-2 percent vacancy rate on rentals in the city and the average 2 bedroom apartment goes for more than a thousand dollars a month.
Mark Romick is the Director of Planning for AHFC. He says the project, which is the first development by the agencies new non-profit subsidiary, will save money. Romick says with federal and state funds dwindling, the agency is looking for new ways to access money and moving toward more projects that are paid for through public private partnerships.
“They’re federal tax credits that are provided by the treasury to projects where the private sector is investing in the development of low income housing,” Romick said. “So Alaska housing through its subsidiary will be a general partner in a limited partnership with a private investor.”
Michael Courtney is Director of Operations for AHFC. He says the organization is working with local businesses and community organizations to make sure the developments meet the needs of residents and fit into the neighborhoods.
“One of the other things about AHFC is we try very hard to be a good neighbor, fit well into the neighborhoods,” Courtney said. “So we’ve been working with the Anchorage Community Land Trust, been attending the Mountain View Community Council meetings, talking to businessmen in the community to make sure that this development is going to work in well with their employees and in the neighborhood.”
The Mountain View development comes at a time when the AHFC is for the first time, putting a five-year time limit on able-bodied residents. Courtney says the Anchorage development and others like it will help those working to get out of public housing in the area find something they can afford once they graduate from the program.
“It just increases the housing opportunity in Anchorage an gives people more choices in areas that they might want to be in,” Courtney said.
Future developments could also include some commercial properties for coffee shops, cafes and retail on the street level.
The total for the Mountain View project is about $27 million. It’s set for construction in 2014.
Five past champions are registered for this January’s Kuskokwim 300. 9-time and defending champion Jeff King will seek his record 10th title. 1995 Champion Ramey Smyth returns, along with former winners Paul Gebhardt, Martin Buser, and his son Rohn Buser. 15 teams are signed up, and that’s a good sign, according to race director Zach Fansler.
“It’s a really excellent field already for this year’s K300. 15 is a phenomenal number and I would not be shocked if we see 10 to 15 more. We’re talking to lot of mushers.. a lot of mushers like to check out conditions and see where their team is at. One thing that’s becoming en vogue is if you’re going to send out one team, you can send out two,” said Fansler.
Registered to race from the region are Mike Williams Junior and Mike Williams Senior, along with Aniak’s Richie Deihl. There is no official registration yet from Pete Kaiser.
Norwegian Joar Ulsom returns, along with Cim Smyth, Kristy Berington, Tony Browning, and 23-time Iditarod finisher Tim Osmar.
Two rookies are signed up: Steve Watkins and Warren Palfry of Canada. Fansler says the field has a good depth to it.
“It’s one of the best fields we’ll have in terms of size, in terms of fan friendly mushers, that everyone enjoys seeing out here,” said Fansler.
Just 6 weeks from the start of the race, Fansler says the organization is in a big push to finalize sponsors and get volunteers set up for the race. He says this year is a milestone year.
“This is our 35th anniversary. We take pride in that this is the kind of event we’re always trying to make bigger, but it’s not just about growth, it’s about sustainability, and making sure that we’re taking the steps to make this event benefit everyone in our community and put a great spotlight on Bethel. It can raise the profile on our sport, our mushers, our town, and the whole Y-K Delta,” said Fansler.
The 2014 Kuskokwim 300 kicks off January 17th.
People on the coast who took on storm damage from the early November storms are now able to apply for state disaster assistance funds. The state has set up a phone line and website for people to being their application.
Jeremy Zidek is with the state division of homeland security and emergency management. He says there will be temporary in-person teams in two communities: Kotlik and Stebbins.
“Disaster assistance centers will have verifiers, so once people fill out their application in person, verifiers will go out with them to their homes and verify that damage,” Zedik said.
The Kotlik center will be open on Monday at the School Library. The surge of water ripped up water and sewer pipes and damaged dozens of homes. As homeowners prepare for a cold winter with storm damage, there are two disaster programs that could help.
The first covers damages to homes, personal property, transportation, and medical expenses related to the disaster. For the process to work, the state is asking for homeowners’ help.
“Ready the most important thing people can do to speed the process along is to be ready to fill out their application, have those description of damages, home ownership documentation, insurance information, and personal information ready,” Zidek said.
The cap on individual and family grants is $16,200 dollars. Zidek emphasizes that these disaster funds is a payer of last resort. People must first make insurance claims or take advantage of other assistance programs.
The second disaster program is for temporary housing grants that could benefit Kotlik’s displaced families.
“Folk that haven’t been able to stay in their homes have found shelter with friends or relatives. Our team will be look at that and if people need help finding alternate housing we can do that our temporary housing program,” Zidek said.
The phone number to call 1-855-445-7131. The link to apply is here. The deadline to apply is January 17th.
A man was found dead in an Eagle River home Saturday and police are calling it a homicide, but not yet releasing the cause of death for Andrew Conn, 32.
A friend discovered the body after not being able to reach Conn on the phone.
A woman was charged with second degree homicide Friday night after she called police and said she had accidentally shot a man in a south Anchorage home.
Dead at the scene was Ryan Tamborrino, 24, of a single gunshot wound.
Charged is Bonnie Degenstein, 27. A number of firearms were found on the property and police say alcohol was involved.
The Division of Elections has rejected a petition calling for the recall of Anchorage Rep. Lindsey Holmes.
While the recall group exceeded the number of signatures required by the state, state attorneys weren’t compelled by their legal reasoning for removing Holmes from office. The group needed to prove that Holmes showed a “lack of fitness” for office, and they argued that Holmes violated a compact with voters when she changed her party affiliation to Republican not long after her election.
The recall group plans to file an appeal of the decision. There has never been a successful recall of an Alaska legislator.
Representative Bob Herron is being cited for ethics violations, dating back to when he was first elected to the Legislature in 2009.
The House ethics committee found that Herron knowingly withheld “sufficient detail” on his business ventures with another legislator – Senator Lyman Hoffman.
Herron and Hoffman both represent Western Alaska, and they co-own a school bus company in the Bethel area. Golden Eagle Unlimited has a $930,000 contract with the Lower Kuskokwim School District to transport students.
According to ethics law, any time a legislator has a contract with the state that’s worth more than $5,000, they have to report it. The school district is considered a unit of the state.
The ethics board ruled that Herron knowingly left the contract out of his financial disclosures. The Senate ethics committee made a similar ruling on Herron’s business partner, Senator Hoffman, in November.
The House ethics board spent the past year digging through Herron’s financial filings and conducting interviews. They found that Herron also failed to report the seats he held on the boards of corporations since he was elected. And the board dismissed two other complaints against him.
Herron was in Unalaska this week to attend a community event and hold a public listening session at his legislative office. He declined to comment on the ethics violations. But he did hand off a written statement to KUCB.
It read, “I have never knowingly filed a false, misleading or incomplete disclosure statement.”It went on to say that Herron will comply with the corrective actions the committee laid out and follow the filing requirements. The House ethics committee isn’t going to fine Herron at this point. But the Alaska Public Offices Commission has levied a $7,500 penalty against Herron.
A national commission blames the state of Alaska for the epidemic of violence afflicting Alaska Natives, and has come up with a series of recommendations to strengthen tribal jurisdiction. The state Attorney General agrees there’s a public safety problem, but says the Commission’s solutions aren’t suited to Alaska.
The final piece of steel in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s new engineering building was put into place today. It marks the beginning of the end for a decade of vast expansion at the university.
A light drizzle fell on the audience as a crane lifted the final piece to the top of the four-story structure.
The Christmas tree-clad beam, adorned with signatures of most of the onlookers slid smoothly into place with the help of a couple iron workers.
The new Engineering and Industry Building will provide some much needed space for a program that has expanded by 1,000 students since the year 2000.
According to Chris Turletes, the Associate Chancellor for Facilities and Campus Services at UAA, the $78 million building’s new labs and classrooms will be unusual.
“We['re] building the building with a theme of engineering on display,” Turletes said. “So, you’ll be able to see from other parts of the building what’s going on in the labs and what’s going on in some of the classrooms.”
The building is a piece of a three-part project which also includes renovating and updating the current engineering building and adding a parking garage.
This project is the latest – and likely last – in a busy decade of expansion at UAA, which has seen the expansion of the school’s library, the construction of the new Health Sciences Building, ConocoPhillips Science Building, the Alaska Airlines Sports Center and a few other projects.
But, with the school anticipating decreasing state funding in the future, the trend of expansion isn’t likely to continue.
“In general, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to be in a robust budget environment over the next few years,” UAA Chancellor Tom Case said. “So, right not the emphasis is on finishing up those things that have gotten started; do the deferred maintenance that we can because delaying deferred maintenance just adds to the problem in future years.”
Also on the docket are upgrades for the older buildings on campus – some of which are approaching the half century mark.
The Engineering and Industry building is expected to be complete before the start of the Fall 2015 semester.
Late last month, residents of Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island began finding hundreds of dead seabirds as they washed ashore.
This week, state officials said the event was from a common disease, and is no cause for concern.
On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a press release that tests showed the birds died from Avian Cholera – which is a lot less terrifying than it sounds.
“Avian Cholera is not related to the disease Cholera that affects humans,” Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G, said. “It is only a disease of birds; it’s relatively common around the rest of the world.”
“The unusual thing is that Avian Cholera had not been detected in Alaska before; it had been found in Canada, but this is the first time we’ve found it in Alaska.”
She says even with a large die-off like the one recently seen off St. Lawrence Island, it’s a relatively natural event.
“We had heard that people had concerns of why birds were dying and appearing on the beach,” Harms said. “The good news is although birds died, it’s not something that can hurt people and it isn’t related to the environment or other issues – it is just an outbreak.”
“These outbreaks tend to run their course in a relatively short period of time and in fact we are hearing fewer reports of dead birds as the days go on.”
The Department of Fish and Game recommends putting the carcasses in vented metal oil drums. That way the carcasses can decompose without causing any more illness to spread to scavengers or other animals.
A deadly virus transmitted by ticks is on the rise, and researchers are studying its prevalence in Alaska. The Center for Disease Control recently published a study on the Powassan virus in the Western United States and Siberia.
The controversial Ambler Road was the focus of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group meeting in Anchorage on Thursday.
This week, we’re heading to Whale Pass, a small community on Prince of Wales Island. Bob Meyer lives in Whale Pass.
In 2003, a Sitka couple proposed creating a bear rescue center from the remains of the town’s decommissioned pulp mill – a plan that raised some local hackles.
Ten years later, the Fortress of the Bear is home to five brown bears and two new black bear cubs – and it has converted some skeptics, including a local biologist.
Les Kinnear may sound like he’s talking to a toddler
“Put your foot here. Huh? Baloo, foot! Foot! No? Ok,” he said.
But Baloo is an 800 pound brown bear
“You’re not listening, huh. Ok,” Kinnear laughs.
Kinnear runs Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear with his wife, Evy. He’s standing nose to snout with Baloo, a 4-year-old, 7-foot-tall brown bear, separated by only a couple inches and a metal grate door.
Kinnear was a hunting guide for years, hunting bears along with other big game. Now, he and his wife take care of seven bears in the remains of Sitka’s old pulp mill. All of the bears arrived as orphaned cubs that would otherwise have been euthanized.
“All you gotta do is have one of those little bears sit there and lick your hand, and you know the answer to that, that’s simple,” Kinnear said when asked why he started the Fortress.
The old pulp mill’s two giant clarifying tanks have been converted into bear pens, with high concrete walls.
Waldholz: It has kind of a post-apocalyptic feel in here.
Kinnear: Yes, it does.
It’s not just the bear pens. All the facility’s buildings were salvaged from the pulp mill or hauled over second-hand. Everything is rusty. There are piles of tires, sacks of supplies. A flock of assorted poultry roams around.
It’s a scrappy operation.
When the Fortress was first proposed in 2003, a lot of Sitkans weren’t thrilled.
“We have one of the highest known density of brown bears in the world – in the world!” Phil Mooney, the regional wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game said. “So people were saying, why would you put a zoo here. “
He was skeptical at first. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Letters went to the governor; it was pretty divisive in the beginning,” Mooney said. “There was a big campaign to keep our bears wild, that people come here to see wild bears, not zoo bears.”
“There was a lot of really strong emotional response.”
But Mooney has since changed his mind. He remembers a delegation visiting from the Bronx Zoo. One of the women kept saying how impressed she was with the facility.
“And she turned to me and said, ‘you’re missing it because you’re thinking about this facility as a person. You have issues with the aesthetics of it. The bears don’t care about the aesthetics. They care that they have ¾ of an acre in there and they can dig, and do anything they want, like a real bear would,’” Mooney said.
But what really made Mooney a believer was when the Kinnears invited Sitka’s 3rd through 5th graders out to the Fortress. The Kinnears pitched two tents in the bear enclosure. Inside each was a sleeping bag with a hot dog in the bottom.
“And I’m standing in the back, just watching. And the bear ran straight over to the tents, slit the fabric, pull out the hotdogs and held them up…and the kids were like, I’m never taking food in my tent again,” Mooney said.
Mooney was impressed. He spends a lot of his time on bear education, trying to train people to avoid the kinds of interactions that lead to dead bears and orphaned cubs – trying to avoid, in fact, the kind of situation that brought these bears to the Fortress in the first place.
“This is Kilsnoo If you hold the mic up here you can probably hear them breathe,” Kinnear said.
Kilsnoo was the Fortress’s first bear. Mooney captured him in the summer of 2007, after the cub’s mother was shot trying to enter a lodge near Angoon.
“He was malnourished, dehydrated, terrified, traumatized, he had all the hair burned off his front paws clear to the shoulders, a belly full of tapeworms, a mouth full of broken teeth,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear says he understands why some folks object to the idea of the Fortress – in an ideal world brown bears shouldn’t live in old clarifying tanks.
His grand vision for the Fortress is much more ambitious. He wants to expand the habitats and eventually start rehabilitating bear cubs to return to the wild. This has been done in British Columbia and the Lower 48, but isn’t permitted in Alaska.
“We aren’t going to save a lot of bears,” Kinnear said. “We’ve only done a dozen in the last 10 years.”
“Some of the other places around the country where they process and release, they’re into the hundreds.”
Mooney says releasing bears isn’t likely any time soon, but he says the Fortress has a role even without that. He thinks these bears in captivity might turn out to be some of his best tools for keeping the rest of Sitka’s bears wild
Robin Gattis, the 20 year old son of state legislator Lynne Gattis, faced federal judge Ralph Biestline in court, in a sentencing hearing that stretched for hours, as a packed court-room listened to often tearful impact statements from Deborah Hurd and Dan Scott, the parents of Matt Scott, who died of a methylone overdose in April of last year. Matt Scott was the first in the state to die from using the drug. Hurd carried a picture of her son and a box containing his ashes into the courtroom.
Federal prosecutors had pushed for a twenty year sentence and a one million dollar fine. Assistant US Attorney Tom Bradley asked for the maximum, saying Robin Gattis had a lead role in a conspiracy to import methylone from China and distribute it to minors. Tom Bradley:
“I think it was a very fair sentence. In a case like this, you can never really get justice, because there is nothing the court can do to bring back Matt Scott. So, he (Judge Beistline) felt that that was enough time to punish him and deter others without it being too long. Gattis is young, and perhaps when he emerges after his sixteen year prison term, he’ll still be young enough to turn his life around.”
Gattis was arrested by state authorities in early 2012, for dealing the drug, but the case was dismissed because methylone was not illegal under state law at that time. But methylone was illegal under federal law, and Gattis continued to import the drug, catching the attention of customs officials who had tagged at least three packages shipped to Alaska to addresses of friends of Gattis. One of those friends, Shane O’Hare told the court Thursday that he received packages for Gattis at a Meadow Lakes address. Other packages were shipped to the Kenai Peninsula. When Matt Scott died, federal prosecutors stepped in. Gattis was arrested on the Kenai and charged in August, 2012 and on further investigation, a total of seven young men were charged with conspiracy and the death of Matthew Scott. All other defendents have pled guilty.
Debbie Hurd, Matt Scott’s mother, said afterwards that she had to be content with the judge’s decision
“I’m glad everybody was here for my son.. I still go back to the fact that, who does that? The day after my son dies, asks for his money back and then thanks the supplier. Right? Who does that ? And who faces off on their Facebook saying, ‘ just another day in the life of Robin Gattis’. I mean, come on, you can’t get by that fact. I think the judge was pretty good. And I liked how he said ‘ what would Matt do, what would Matt do if this happened?’ So I did think the judge was good. “
Hurd referred to an email Robin Gattis sent to his Chinese supplier the day after Matt Scott’s death, asking for his money back. Prosecutors used the email and Facebook postings Gattis had authored in their case against him. Robin Gattis told the court that he didn’t send the email, that someone who had stolen his password had done it. But there was no denying the fact that Robin Gattis did not call 911 when he realized Matt Scott was dying. Shane O’Hare told the court that Gattis had texted him as Scott went into overdose, asking what to do.
Hurd came to court supported by a group of more than a dozen young people, all friends of Matt Scott. Kyle Huntington is one of them
“It probably could have been more, but it is better than the ten [years] that what they were looking for. And then, at least he’ll have some time in there to think about what all has happened. And then it is good that they want to put him in rehabilitation and therapy and all that. “
Judge Beistline did not impose the fine prosecutors had asked for. The judge said he wanted to issue a sentence that would deter others, and send a message to young people. Robin Gattis will spend sixteen years in federal Sheraton prison in Oregon, and will recieve 500 hours of drug and alcohol counseling.
After the proceedings, Representative Lynn Gattis said that her son had a long history of defiance and family conflict. She said she and her husband had done what the could for him, including homeschooling and a stint at NorthStar Behaviorial Health Care. “We knew we had a kid that wasn’t listening” she told reporters. “There’s a whole bunch of people out there that are going through this.”
Alaskans have always enjoyed and defended their fish. We love our clam beaches, most of us oppose fish farming and many of us have our own special recipes not only for cooking, but preserving salmon and other fish. Alaska’s remoteness has helped to protect its fisheries, but in more populated parts of the world, small-scale local fisheries are threatened by habitat degradation and outside-owned fleets.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Michele Mesmain, Slow Fish Campaign Director, Slow Food International
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
A Bethel man is in custody for allegedly beating his two-year-old son.
Police were called to a Bethel home early on a morning last week and found the toddler with visible facial wounds and a broken clavicle that would require medevac to Anchorage.
Police say the child was thrown on the ground and kicked multiple times by Maurice Andrews Sr., 30. A strong odor of alcohol was noticed on Andrews at the time of his arrest.
Andrews was arraigned on a felony charge of assaulting a child under the age of ten. Bail was set at $5,000.
Molly, bath salts – the names refer to the designer drug, methylone. Thursday, methylone dealer Robin Gattis was handed down a 16 year sentence in federal court in Anchorage in what is apparently the first case in the country involving a death from the drug.