Hoonah’s village Native corporation may build its own cruise-ship dock, bypassing a city effort funded by the Legislature.
Huna Totem Corp. executives say it won’t use a berthing facility planned by the city, because cruise lines don’t like the location.
It prefers a different spot, closer to its Icy Strait Point renovated cannery attraction, which brings the ships to town.
CEO Larry Gaffaney posted a letter to shareholders recently saying the corporation will pursue funding and construction of its own pier, without city involvement.
Gaffaney also wrote that the city’s preferred site, called Shaman Point, should be protected for its cultural values. He could not be immediately reached for further comment.
The Legislature several years ago awarded the city a grant – now $15 million – to build a multipurpose dock. Lawmakers said cruise ships would be its main customers.
The state Division of Community and Regional Affairs recently suspended that grant, meaning none of it can be spent.
Director Scott Ruby says the state will take it away entirely, if the city proceeds with its plans.
“Regardless of what the state thinks about whether it’s a good location or a bad location, if the cruise-ship industry is saying ‘We will not use it,’ then there’s a problem there,” Ruby says.
He met with Hoonah officials Thursday. He says there was a good discussion, but no resolution.
Hoonah Interim City Administrator Bob Prunella says his delegation gave the state new research backing its dock location.
“The city feels like it’s (done) lots of study, geo-tech study and wind and waves on all three sites. And this one comes out looking like, by far, a preferred site for an operation like this,” Prunella says.
He says a site preferred by Huna Totem and the cruise lines would face rough winter weather. That could prevent other uses, such as commercial fishing boats or barges.
Prunella remains optimistic, even though there have been no recent meetings with the corporation or the cruise lines.
“We will move forward and see how this pans out. Give it another try, make some more effort. I’d like to see effort on both sides to come to something that everyone can live with,” he says.
Community and Regional Affairs Director Ruby also hopes the parties can come to an agreement. But that has to be soon.
His boss, Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell, recently gave the city of Hoonah notice that it would lose the dock grant if no compromise was reached. The deadline is in a week or so.
Hoonah is 40 air miles west of Juneau. It has around 800 residents, including many Huna Totem shareholders.
Talkeetna’s honorary mayor is recovering in his hometown after a dog attack on Labor Day weekend sent him to the hospital. The attack left Mayor Stubbs, a 16-year-old yellow tabby, with a punctured lung, broken sternum, and a four inch gash in his side, as well as other injuries.
A home-built airplane crashed Monday north of Big Lake. The pilot of the plane was killed; he’s identified as Kenneth Whedbee, 66, of Big Lake.
Helicopters had to be used to get to the site.
A passenger, Jason Scott, 37, survived. The plane’s locator beacon went off Monday and a Life Med helicopter was first to arrive, then an Army National Guard helicopter that had been standing by for a training mission was used to lift the victims out.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Clint Johnson says the plane was an experimental home-built Zenith 701.
The Air Force and the Coast Guard continue looking for a plane that went missing Monday on a flight from Yakutat to Anchorage.
The pilot is reported to be Alan Foster, 47, of Eagle River.
A Coast Guard H-60 with an Air Force para-rescue jumper on board did four shoreline searches between Icy Bay and Yakutat yesterday.
An Air Force C-130 is expected to join the search Tuesday.
Weather in the area was described as raining, 40 knot winds, three-quarter mile visibility, and ceiling of only about 300feet.
The Anchorage School Board unanimously approved a new contract for teachers on Monday night.
The district saved money in two ways, by not providing benefits for some part-time teachers and by issuing bonuses that do not count toward benefits for other teachers instead of increasing their salaries.
The new contract impacts about 3,500 teachers who are members of the Anchorage Education Association.
It was negotiated over the past six months.
It gives teachers a 1 percent salary increase for the next three years along with $1,500 bonuses in the first and third year.
About 150 part-time teachers will lose benefits. Salaries for all the other teachers will not keep up with inflation and the bonuses will not count toward benefit programs.
For several years now, the district has been wrestling how to deal with the ballooning cost of benefits.
The district’s CFO encouraged the board to approve the contract and school board members expressed overall satisfaction with it.
Board Member Natasha Von Imhoff, although she voted yes, said she had worries about how the district would pay for the additional $24 million the new contract would cost them and noted that that the district can’t afford it without additional funding from the state legislature.
Every year, the state spends $100 million on school districts’ utility bills. Back in 2010, the legislature established a loan program to help bring down those costs. The loans would cover energy upgrades to public buildings, and they would be paid back with the money saved on heating fuel. But even though rising energy costs continue to be a problem for districts, APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that schools haven’t used the funds as a fix.
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) is in charge of managing what’s called the “energy efficiency revolving loan fund.” They can issue up to $250 million dollars in loans to school districts, boroughs, municipalities, and the university system. Given what a big problem energy costs are across the state, you might expect Eric Havelock, who administers the program, to be swamped with applications.
You would be wrong.
“We’ve had a lot of calls and some basic questions,” says Havelock. “But we’ve actually only received two applications.”
Those came from the Cities of Kenai and Seward, and neither one of them ended up going through with the loan. Meanwhile, there’s been no shortage of private property owners turning to AHFC for financing.
“The idea was to bring the same benefits to public buildings that we had brought to residential buildings,” says CEO Bryan Butcher.
Here’s how the program is supposed to work: A public entity decides they want to get an energy upgrade, so they get a building audit where a contractor guarantees a certain percentage of energy savings. AHFC then provides a loan to cover the cost of the audit and any retrofitting that happens. After the upgrades are made, the building owner pays off the loan using the money that would have otherwise gone to heat and electricity. After the loan is paid off, the energy savings can be put toward another part of the budget.
And what happens if those promised savings don’t materialize? Butcher says the contractor is on the hook for the difference.
“You don’t want to borrow money on the assumption that you’re going to be getting a 25 percent energy reduction, find out it’s only five percent, and then say, ‘Uh oh. What are we going to do now?’”
Butcher only took the reins at AHFC this year, after serving as the state’s revenue commissioner. But back in 2010, he handled government relations for AHFC and helped shuttle the loan program through the legislature.
Originally, the loan fund was going to be started with seed money from the federal government as part of the stimulus package. It was a controversial fight, with the $18 million in funding initially being rejected by then-Gov. Sarah Palin and then being re-approved by the legislature. In the end, lawmakers decided to just use the stimulus money for energy audits, and they separately gave AHFC the authority to bond for $250 million whenever they started getting applications in. Because no loans have been made, no bonds have been issued so far.
Given that the state has 5,000 public buildings, Butcher is surprised by the lack of loan applications.
“Okay, we have a program. We feel like it’s set up to work. We know that reducing energy costs by 15 to 30 percent is going to be beneficial for any community. Why isn’t it happening?”
Butcher says it’s not for lack of trying. He says AHFC has done outreach, and they’ve been looking at why school districts aren’t biting.
“We can’t obviously do this program alone,” says Butcher. “We can set the program up, and we can laud the benefits of it, but it takes a lot of different state and municipal agencies working together.”
Bruce Johnson is the head of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, and he says that Butcher is right — that it’s not unfamiliarity with the program that’s kept districts from applying. It’s a question of who can make long-term commitments about a school district’s budget.
“I think that everyone was aware that this was available,” says Johnson. “But I think we looked at who owns the facilities in the State of Alaska, the two entities are local municipalities, where they have a tax base and are either an organized borough or city, and the state owns the rest.”
Because school districts budget only one year ahead, committing to a five-, ten-, or fifteen-year loan isn’t something they can do easily. The decision to get an energy efficiency loan is really up to the state and local governments that own the school buildings.
Johnson says there’s another big reason AHFC hasn’t seen any takers for their loans. In the past, school districts have had success getting state grants to cover energy upgrades. It’s money they don’t have to pay back or worry about affecting their budget a decade out.
But with oil revenues declining and Gov. Sean Parnell implementing a cap on general fund spending, Johnson thinks there may be more interest from districts in the loan program. Johnson says energy upgrades will be a major point of discussion at the Alaska Council of School Administrators’ September conference. Lawmakers have also had regular meetings on the education budget this summer and have identified energy as an area where spending could be reduced.
“It’s a new era in Alaska,” says Johnson. “This next decade is going to be challenging financially. It’s going to impact public education, and as a result we want dollars in the classroom.”
Better that, he thinks, than paying the heat.
Next month marks a year since the launch of the National Science Foundation’s new Arctic research vessel Sikuliaq. The 261-foot ice class ship, to be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, remains at dock at a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin.
UAF project principal investigator Terry Whitledge is closely tracking work on the vessel.
“We’re a littel behind schedule, but, you know, these things are very hard to predict,” Whitledge said. ”It’s a pretty complex set of systems that have to go together to make everything work. We had hoped originally – way back three years ago – that we would have everything completed by July; well we’ve found a few things that we needed to fix or to alter, and so we’re running maybe 2-3 months behind what we had anticipated.”
The Sikuliaq was originally scheduled to arrive at its home port of Seward in January, but will now likely deploy directly to research next spring. Whitledge says ongoing fixes, including an updated lubrication system for the propulsion drives, are not adding to the cost of the ship.
He says about $145 million of a nearly $200 million dollar budget has been spent.
“Of course, you always want some money for contingency, as we call it, in case there is a problem, but right now we expect it to come in maybe slightly under budget,” Whitledge said.
Whitledge cautions that a lot of the remaining dollars are allocated to management, transportation and testing costs over the next 10 months.
Trials of the Sikuliaq in Lake Michigan are the next step. After that, the University will officially accept the ship on behalf of the National Science Foundation.
An on-board open house is scheduled for November on the Potomac River as the Sikuliaq continues trials in the Atlantic, and begins a long trip to the Arctic through the Panama Canal.
The state has intervened in a case on the side of a man convicted of attempted murder, kidnapping, and assault of the mother of his children. At issue is the authority of a tribal court over a non-tribal member and tribal court procedures.
The Interior is coming off what’s likely to be a flat tourism season. Official numbers are not in yet, but Fairbanks Convention and visitors Bureau president and CEO Deb Hickock doesn’t expect anything surprising.
“If we had a little bump it was just a tiny bump and nothing to write home about, so I would say essentially flat,” Hickock said.
Hickok says a trend of declining long haul road traffic likely continued with more people flying north for Alaska travel. She points to this summer’s hot sunny weather as a plus, but adds the season suffered a late start.
“I know all of us can’t think back that far, but it was a very cold May and operationally, for example for riverboat tours we actually had new ice forming on the river, which was unprecedented, I think,” Hickock said. “But then, I think we regrouped in June, July and August [and] September.”
“People are still coming.”
Looking ahead, Hickok says winter tourism continues to grow in Fairbanks. She cites recognition in the past year by Lonely Planet, National Geographic and the L.A. Times with helping pump up interest. Hickok says Japan Airlines, a major conduit for winter visitors, has a robust draft schedule for the upcoming season.
As the summer tourism season wraps up, Interior operators are already looking to next year – and worrying how they’ll deal with a move by a major industry player.
The Westmark Hotel in Tok is about to shut its doors for another tourism season. But unlike previous years, they won’t open again next May, because Westmark’s owner,Holland America Line, is permanently closing its hotels in Tok and Beaver Creek, in the Yukon.
An owner of a motel in Tok says her business may benefit by gaining customers that would’ve checked-in at the Westmark. But, says Diane Young, co-owner of Young’s Motel, the Westmark’s closure is going to hurt thecommunity’s tourism-dependent economy.
“I mean, it’s going to impact Tok a lot, because that whole complex is closing,” Young said. “That’s a big business for our small community. And I’m sure the same is true with the Westmark in Beaver Creek.”
Holland America officials say the two hotels won’t be needed to accommodate the tourists that the company’s buses bring, because starting next season, Holland America won’t be busing tourists from Fairbanks to Dawson City. Instead, they’ll travel by air.
Company spokesman Erik Elvejord says that’ll enable tourists to spend more time in Fairbanks and Dawson, and less time on the road.
“So, what used to be a two-day motor coach drive of Fairbanks to Tok and then Tok to Dawson City, or the other direction, is now about a two-hour flight with transfers,” Elvejord said.
Young believes Holland America made the change in part due to the often-marginal condition of the rugged Taylor Highway that runs from Tetlin Junction to Dawson City.
But Elvejord says his company’s decision was based on customer feedback.
“We’ve been doing some research with our guests, trying to figure out where to take our product up there, the land-cruise tours, and what people were looking for,” he said. “And we were getting back a lot of research and answers about wanting to spend more time in destinations.”
Elvejord says the change will affect 21 tours around the state. Six of those ran between Fairbanks and Dawson.
He says the company’s new policy reflects what seems to be a growing preference among travelers to Alaska.
“Travelers have evolved,” Elvejord said. “It’s become more of a focus on let’s get there and what can we do when we’re there. And the there has been primarily Dawson and Fairbanks and Denali.”
Elvejord says Holland America will use buses next year to transport tourists on some tours between Fairbanks and Denali National Park that had previously used the Alaska Railroad. The company announced that plan earlier this summer, as part of its efforts to get tourists to their destinations more quickly.
Holland America’s decision has prompted at least one other Interior firm to get out of the tourism business. Officials with Delta Junction-based Whitestone Farms cited Holland America’s move as the main reason that after 27 years Whitestone will pull out of the restaurant and gift-shop concessions at Big Delta State Historical Park.
State Parks Northern Region Area Superintendent Brooks Ludwig says he intends to seek offers from other businesses interested in operating those concessions next year. Ludwig says if he can’t find a suitable concessionaire, he’ll consider operating the businesses with volunteers.
That 911 call a Matanuska Susitna Borough resident dials when emergency medical, fire or law enforcement help is needed, gets answered promptly, but critical response time depends on a long list of variables.
As it stands now, both the Palmer and Wasilla police departments have public safety answering points or PSAPs. The Borough contracts with Palmer dispatch for all fire, rescue and EMS resources, and for law enforcement calls within Palmer city limits. The Alaska State Troopers use MatCom, a division of the Wasilla Police Dept., as a dispatch for law enforcement calls for unincoporated areas outside Palmer or Wasilla city limits and for the city of Houston. All calls made from a cell phone in the Borough go to Palmer. Dispatchers there determine the location of the caller, then re-route the call to Wasilla, if necessary. It’s the re-routing that is causing problems within the system. Joe Blatschka is with Bothell, Washington – based ADCOMM Engineering.
“The population in the Borough, as everybody knows, shouldn’t be any surprise, is growing as well as the call volume is growing, and that will force at some point some operational and structural changes in 911 dispatch. Staff utilization region – wide is not optimized and consolidating can address all of these issues. There’s a pretty significant improvement in call processing time and call processing flow if you were to consolidate.”
Blatschka’s company recently presented a draft feasibility study on consolidating the two dispatch centers within the Borough at a special meeting of the Borough Assembly and the city councils of Palmer, Wasilla and Houston. Blatschka said there is a framework in state law that allows consolidation. That task will take 5 to 7 months, construction or renovation of a new building and a hike in phone surcharges within the Borough.
Dave Magonette , also with ADCOMM, said the two systems are performing the same functions. They both use the Computer Aided Dispatch system, orCAD, which is the primary tool for tracking and handling incidents, but the CAD’s are not communicating with each other.
”Some 911 callers basically have to tell their story twice in order to get assistance, because of the way calls are routed. There is a potential for uncoordinated responses, and this occurs when emergency medical might be dispatched to a location where law enforcement has also been dispatched, but because they’re dispatched by two different agencies, there is the potential that they may not know each other are responding. “
Magonette says nationwide the most common 911 call is a domestic violence call. If a domestic violence call comes in to Palmer from an unincorporated area, it would be transferred to Wasilla to determine if law enforcement or medical help is needed. If EMS is needed, the call is then re-routed back to Palmer. The bouncing back and fourth forces the caller to tell his or her story multiple times, delaying response time and confusing the record keeping.
”The higher call volume due to the population increases was a big driver, we think, for change. That’s going to get even trickier, because of course, the areas of growth are in those unincorporated areas, which, you’ll remember, are being dispatched by somebody different than the folks who are dispatching EMS.”
But the Alaska State Troopers do not see the consolidation as a boon to statewide law enforcement efforts. Major Matthew Leveque, a deputy AK Trooper director, told the group that the Department of Public Safety would prefer to have a number of dispatch centers in small communities to better serve outlying areas
”We just don’t see a way that we can integrate, because there is no model that supports it, and it would seem to harm our ability to serve all of the citizens of the state. “
Other aspects of the study recommend a reduction in dispatch staffing. Magonette says the Borough spends about $3.5 million annually to provide emergency services. He said the consolidation would not necessarily save the Borough money, in fact, it may cost more, but the service level to the public and to emergency responders would be higher.
The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and North Pole Patriots football teams are playing in the medium schools football division this year. The two used to compete against Alaska’s largest high schools. Now they’re part of the small Southeast Conference.
“There’s not many conferences left, so we’re kind of making the rounds through all of them.”
Head coach Rich Sjoross has seen JDHS enrollment fall from a high school with nearly 1,800 students to less than 700.
North Pole High School near Fairbanks also has a dwindling enrollment. Head coach Richard Henert says it’s down to about 740 students this fall.
“Ultimately it came down to the fact that ASAA has a cut off and we’re below that cutoff. “
In 2011, the Alaska School Activities Association added a third football division for schools with enrollments of 326 to 800 students.
ASAA is the sanctioning organization for athletics and other activities.
State Championships Director Isaiah Freeman says three divisions help small schools compete, like Barrow, Eielson, Valdez, or Seward.
“A lot of the smaller schools could never, ever beat the medium schools. Just like the medium schools have a harder time beating like the Bartlett, Chugiak and Dimond’s. That was kind of the reasoning behind the division,” Freeman says.
For years, Juneau and North Pole competed at the top of the large schools division. They made the state playoffs several times; JDHS won the championship twice in the last decade.
Both schools opted to stay in the Railbelt for the first two seasons after their size shrunk. Now it’s hard for JDHS and North Pole to compete with the large schools from Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the MatSu.
Where once there were 70 to 80 Crimson Bears, 47 boys signed up this season, says coach Sjoross. There’s little depth.
It was predictable, Sjoross says, when TMHS was built and started its own football program. “You knew the numbers were going to decrease and something was going to have to happen, and money was going to get tighter and that kind of stuff,” Sjoross says. “So I think we’re making the most of it.”
Thunder Mountain also has about 47 players. The Falcons have been in the Southeast Conference since the team formed five years ago.
While North Pole still has a lot of kids going out for football, Coach Henert calls the move to the SEC realistic.
“Pretty much one out of every three boys that go to North Pole High School plays football. We get a lot of bodies out. Whereas West Anchorage, they have so many kids it’s probably one out of every 10 to 15 boys that plays of football, but it’s the biggest boys in school that play football,” Henert says.
He says making the move was a tough issue for coaches and players.
“You never want to play down, so to speak. Those that are competitive want to step up to challenges.”
But coaches Sjoross and Henert believe Juneau and North Pole can help make the small Southeast Conference stronger.
“We’d like to see programs like Sitka and Ketchikan grow and we hopefully can advocates in the conference there, and maybe help them out and find ways to make football better in Alaska,” Henert says.
Crimson Bears’ Coach Sjoross says the medium schools division, which includes the Northern Lights and Southeast conferences, may be the one to watch this season.
In the Southeast, however, Sitka will not to play JDHS and North Pole. That leaves only four SEC teams and eight weeks in the regular season, so the two stronger teams have scheduled games against some of Alaska’s tougher squads from other conferences.
JDHS players say they’re comfortable in the SEC, especially since the schedule does offer them more competition. The motto this year, says running back Demetrius Campos, is the same as when they played the bigger schools:
“State conference. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Every two years, a special ceremony is held on the beach in Homer to celebrate the heritage of Alaska tribes living in the region. KBBI’s Peter Sheppard attended this year, as the final installment of our series looking at culture in Alaska.
Bethel police arrested a man for possessing what they believe to be heroin. On August 29, police arrested 30-year-old Travis Longbotham of Nikiski. He was staying at the Long House Inn Hotel when employees noticed the smell of drugs coming from his room and called police.
A police officer contacted Longbotham who was the only person staying in the room that night and after investigating arrested him on drug possession charges. He was booked into the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel.
A presumptive test on the drugs tested positive for heroin.
The seized drugs and paraphernalia will be sent for testing and confirmation.
The Village of Alakanuk is getting a $2.2 million grant to pave almost three miles of dirt roads. The money is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation and will pay for part of the road project. The total amount is estimated to cost around $5.2 million.
According to DOT, the repairs will enhance mobility and improve the quality of life in the village by making drainage improvements. They say paving the roads would also reduce dust, eliminating a significant source of air pollution that coats fish that are drying.
The roads would also allow residents access to the village store, tribal office, and city office.
It would also allow easier access to the barges that are shipping in goods.
The project has been listed as a priority in the region for years, according to DOT.
Marine mammal responders have wrapped-up efforts to try and disentangle a southeast humpback whale after removing more gillnet from the animal this week.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the whale’s tail and pectoral fins are free of gear. It was last seen in robust condition and swimming vigorously despite a necklace of line that remained behind its blowhole.
Alaska Region Spokesperson Julie Speegle says NOAA’s Juneau response team was out on the water until late in the afternoon Thursday in Chatham Strait near Angoon.
“They were successful in removing some additional gear from the entangled whale,” Speegle said. “As I understand it, several additional fathoms of netting were removed.”
“And so at this point, the whale still has some netting on it and we’re hoping that it can shed the remaining gear on its own.”
Specially-trained professionals and volunteers made multiple attempts to free the animal since it first got tangled in a gillnet in Frederick Sound near Petersburg on Aug. 23.
In a NOAA news release, Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator Aleria Jensen was quoted as saying responders had exhausted all appropriate techniques that were available in the very challenging disentanglement effort.
According to Jensen, it’s likely that less than 30 fathoms of gear are still trailing from the animal and the entanglement is not immediately life threatening.
Along with removing more netting Thursday, the team also recovered a satellite tracking buoy that Petersburg volunteers had attached to the animal.
A variety of organizations have worked to help the animal including NOAA, The Alaska Whale Foundation, the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center, Alaska Sea Grant, and the Chichagof Conservation Council.
The Arctic sea ice has been surprising scientists for the last six years.
It set a new record for melting back during the International Polar Year in 2007. Last year it beat that record, but at the same time the seasonal ice in the Bering Sea has been increasing – also to a record last winter.
Whatever is driving these changes is also beginning to affect the vegetation on land.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology set up a series of test plots along the Dalton Highway and north, for the International Polar Year, hopping islands into the Canadian Arctic.
This summer, permafrost researcher Vladimir Romanofsky went out to check them. The line of plots ends at Ellef Regnes Island, less than 10 degrees below the North Pole.
Biologist Skip Walker could hardly believe what Romanofsky sent back.
“So he revisited the site and sent us pictures back of our plots, and they were unrecognizable,” Walker said. “The whole landscape has changed.”
What Romanofsky saw and what will be reported at a scientific meeting in December, is permafrost melting and slumping, in a place that is normally frozen year round.
The sea ice was not sufficient this summer to keep the air above the test plots from warming up. What that means for a whole category of plant life on land that needs year round ice to exist is largely a matter of speculation.
Skip Walker is one of the authors of a report published last month in Science magazine that seeks to survey the impacts on land of less ice in the sea.
He says the picture is not going to be as simple as less ice leading to more warmth and more vegetation. Satellite imagery that can basically read the amount of plant material on the ground is not showing such a simple response. And temperatures in some areas are for some reason no longer continuing to rise as more sea ice is lost.
“Temperatures have been going up but recently there seems to be a more heterogeneous pattern,” Walker said. “We’re seeing some areas of the Arctic that continue to warm very quickly and dramatically, and then other areas – mainly in Eurasia – that, we’re not seeing that trend.”
“It’s either flat, or actually declining in some areas. And we’re seeing the same thing with the biomass response.”
It’s a big mystery right now.
UAF atmospheric scientist Uma Bhatt is another co-author of the article. She and Walker are seeing reduced vegetation, less green-ness and more brown-ness. Along with Russia it’s happening along the Alaska coast of the Bering Sea.
“There seems to be a decline in greening and there’s been a decline in warming in the summer, and we think it’s related to cloudiness, but that’s our next paper to figure that out,” Bhatt said.
Both collaborators have noticed that the browning correlates with the way the sea ice has been disappearing from the Bering Sea later in recent years.
“So the vegetation has not become more productive in that area, but we don’t know if it’s related to the sea ice, because the sea ice is gone before things green up in that part, because it’s so far south,” Bhatt said.
For more than a decade now, nearly all the changes hitting the Arctic due to reduced sea ice have added up to warming effects exceeding anything the computer models have predicted.
The warming has fed more warming as positive feedbacks have been stronger than predicted – warmer waters circulating under the ice, more heat stored by increased vegetative growth and a darker ocean all feeding yet more warming. But, the browning begins to look like a negative feedback, and Bhatt says some recently observed changes in sea ice do, too.
“And I think one of the things that is coming out of some of the meteorology work is as you take sea ice away, when you take a little bit away you have one response – things warm up,” Bhatt said. “But when you take more away it might change the circulation totally, and it may not keep warming.”
“There are some new studies that are suggesting that it’s not a linear thing, it changes.”
It’s all frontier science – new observations demanding new theoretical explanations.
The negative feedbacks, while intriguing, remain greatly outweighed by the positive ones, but they no doubt complicate things for the computer modelers and give them some new material to try to integrate.
After 40 years in western Alaska, salvager Dan Magone is selling his namesake diving and marine rescue business. But, Magone will still be there to help when disaster strikes.
Magone says he’s been kicking around the idea of selling for a long time. Then, a new tide of Coast Guard vessel safety rules came along.
“We’re having so much trouble keeping up with the regulations,” Magone says.
Magone says he’s spent millions of dollars trying to get his response vessels up to code. In the meantime, more companies started to show up in Alaska to do salvage and rescue.
“You have the competition and then you have the increase in magnitude of the response needs and the combination of those — I just couldn’t ante up to that level,” he says. “So that’s why I’m merging with Resolve.”
That’s Resolve Marine Group. They’re a salvage and oil spill response company based out of Fort Lauderdale. They worked on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and helped clean up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Magone won’t say how much Resolve paid him. And Todd Duke, a project manager for Resolve who’s been sent to Unalaska, says the company’s still working out the details out of the acquisition.
“Quite frankly, we are still developing our plan,” Duke says. “We don’t expect anything to change much.”
Resolve has plenty of international salvage experience, but relatively little in Alaska. That’s why they’re keeping Magone in charge of the shop in Unalaska, until the 61-year-old wants to retire.
Beyond that, Duke says the biggest shift is in the maritime resources that will be staged in Unalaska. Resolve has already sent a barge, a crane, and an ice-class anchor-handling rescue tug to join Magone’s fleet in Unalaska.
“We’re making the area better because we brought some assets that are different than the assets that are currently here,” Duke says.
They’ll be put to use over the next week, when the Resolve crew joins Magone Marine in Dillingham to work on the salvage of the F/V Lone Star.
The vessel’s been stuck at the bottom of the Igushik River for two months. The Lone Star is a small job compared to the bulk freighters, ship fires and large-scale oil spills that Magone’s tackled over the years.
For his new partner, though, it might be a good look at what Alaska has in store.
A helicopter, its pilot, and two researchers are still stuck near the top of 7,100-foot Mount Mageik in Katmai National Park and Preserve. They’ve been there since Wednesday evening.
Winds will not be significant for Southcentral Alaska this weekend, but rain is hammering the Valdez and Cordova area.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Shaun Baines says rain is falling at a rate up to a quarter inch per hour. He says that is creating concern for small streams that feed rivers.
“Six to 10 inches of water on the Richardson high way at about mile 6.5, so the low river that flows along there is moving onto the road,” Baines said. “They have done some work putting in earthen berm along there to block the water but that’s only helping a little bit, so that sort of flooding is just a little bit of overflow from smaller streams as the rain continues to fall.”
Baines says today’s rain accumulation in Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley has not been significant and there are no flood concerns.