Alaska News

Murkowski Bill Would Impel Izembek Road, Undo EPA Efforts

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 16:22

A bill by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski cleared an Appropriations subcommittee today, but controversy is brewing over sections that would undo two of the Obama administration’s highest profile environmental efforts. The bill would also compel a land exchange to build an 11-mile road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, to connect King Cove and Cold Bay.

If the state of Alaska agrees to the land exchange, the bill would require the federal government to trade some 200 acres in the refuge so the road can be built, according to Murkowski’s staff. Murkowski has long argued the road is necessary for medical evacuations, and she says this bill aims to pin down the feds.

“We’re not going to let the Interior Department say they’re not interested,” she said in a phone call to reporters. “We’ve already gone down that road once before.”

Nationally, the bill would block new rules defining “Waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act. Republicans complain the so-called WOTUS rule is EPA overreach. The bill would also gut new Obama administration limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

Murkowski, as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, is responsible for writing the bill that funds Interior, the EPA and other resource agencies. She says the bill fully funds contract support costs for Native-run hospitals. It also changes the way fighting wildfires is funded, so agencies won’t have to divert money from other programs to pay for major fires.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Tom Udall of New Mexico, says he has deep objections to the policy changes.

“This bill takes dead aim at core environmental laws that have for decades protected the health of our communities, our families and our environment. And for decades were bipartisan,” he said.

Udall says he’ll try to strip those sections out on Thursday, when the bill goes to the full committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Burns Near Dot Lake

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 16:02

Smoke rises from the Tanana Slough Fire burning northwest of the community of Dot Lake on Monday. (Photob by Don York/Alaska Division of Forestry)

A wildfire caused by lightning in the interior is burning near the Village of Dot Lake. The Tanana Slough Fire has burned about 500 acres on an island in the Tanana River. The island is about three miles north of the small Native community off the Alaska Highway near Tok. Area state forester Jeff Hermans says suppression efforts are aimed at keeping the fire on the island.

“Not let it escape out of the slough where theres lots of fuels in front of it in either direction. And so far we’ve been successful in that, it’s tried spotting out a couple of times and we’re able to keep the fire in check.”

Hermans says firefighters hope to conduct a burn out operation to consume fuels on the island when winds are favorable.
Meanwhile, another wildfire is burning in the Yukon Flats, near Ft. Yukon.

The Back Yukon Slough blaze had burned about 40 acres as of Monday night. The human caused fire was about 20 miles northwest of the village. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports that 14 smoke jumpers are working the blaze.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay fishermen prep for a busy salmon season

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 13:47

Fishing communities across Bristol Bay are pulsing with action these days as armies of fisherman work to ready their vessels for the extra-large return of salmon this year.

Still sitting on stilts in the boat yard, the Homeward rumbles to life for the first time this season. The Lummy yard is a beehive of activity with people making all the final preparation before they put their boats in the water.

Carl Spielman is the Skipper of the Vantage Point. He’s hoping to get his boat started up and in the water in a day or two.

“Get the boat up and running, sort of wake it up like a bear coming out of hibernation,” Spielman said.

The same thing could be said about the town of Naknek itself. There is traffic on the road and there is an energy in the air as people are anxious for the season to start.

Spielman looks forward to that feeling each year. He’s been fishing out of Naknek for almost 4 decades.

“Like deer camp, when you go out hunting or something, we come out and see each other for the first time, and we share tools and it’s really fun,” he said.

Lummi’s marine shop’s nonstop roll of customers had the store owners too busy for even a short interview but Sam Yoder who fishes on the F/V Thumper was at the store looking for parts.

“I’m trying to plum in a refrigeration system but unfortunately there pretty slim pickings for parts this time of year when everybody is trying to do the same thing,” Yoder said. “It’s a bit of a struggle. You got to get creative when it comes to putting things together.”

Even though he was a little stressed about finding the right piece he needed the prospect of a large return and the warm sunny weather had him ready to fish, and the slogan on his tank top was a clear sign of that.

“That’s it man, suns out guns out, you know it,” he said.

Yoder has been fishing for 20 years and he wouldn’t think of doing anything else.

“You know, honestly, I don’t know what I would do if I had a summer off,” Yoder said. “I hear the 4th of July is fun but I wouldn’t know.”

All the fishermen in town seemed to have one goal in mind, to get their boats in the water. One boat even had a robotic fish singing the crews theme song for the week.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Fire Around Old Sterling Power Pole Quickly Extinguished

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:44

Power was out for residents from Diamond Ridge to the Old Sterling Highway for about an hour on Monday afternoon. The incident, which took place on the Old Sterling, also caused a small fire.

The outage started just after 2:30 p.m. and affected about 630 Homer Electric customers.

Old Sterling Highway HEA Power Pole Fire – Photo by John Getty

HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher says the outage was caused by the failure of an insulator on a power pole. Insulators protect the poles from the heat of the power lines. The failure caused some sparking on the pole which lit a small fire around it.

“When HEA crews arrived at the pole, they were able to see there was a small fire burning at the pole. We quickly made contact with emergency services. The Division of Forestry arrived along with the Anchor Point Fire Department. They quickly extinguished the fire. It never really amounted to much.”

Gallagher says the furthest the fire got away from the pole was about 25 feet before it was extinguished.

“Our guys were able to go right back in afterwards and make some repairs to the power pole. We had power back on at 3:45.”

He says HEA is prepared for the unexpected, but this unseasonally warm and dry weather warrants some extra caution. There was no additional damage reported and no injuries.

“With this weather we’re experiencing right now, it’s very nice out and very warm, but it’s extremely dry. We’re all very well aware of the fire danger that exists right now.”

The Kenai Peninsula is under a burn suspension until conditions change.

Categories: Alaska News

Road Deterioration Hindering Copper River Access

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:39

A dipnetter’s group is seeking state assistance to repair a sketchy stretch of trail used to access the popular personal use fishery on the Copper River near Chitina. The old section of the Copper River Highway has deteriorated due to past year’s landslides.

President of the Fairbanks based Chitina Dipnetters Association Chuck Derrick recently sent a letter to state legislators, seeking up to $150,000 to fix the former road turned trail.

“That part of the Copper River Highway between O’Brien Creek and Haley Creek is the main ground access to the canyon where you can access the back-eddies and everything where the fishing is best,” he said.

Derrick says if nothing is done, the trail will become useless. He adds that the Dipnetter’s Association has received positive feedback from the State Department of Transportation about fixing the trail. DOT Northern region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says officials recently surveyed the 6 mile section of trail, which she adds the agency already considers impassable.

“There’s a lot of landslides, there’s a lot of material over the road,” Bailey said. “So we anticipate it would take a couple of weeks to go in and make repairs, but we think we could with about a $100,000-$150,000 investment be able to make that road accessible.”

Bailey says the work is not in the DOT’s budget, but if the legislature were to approved funding it could be scheduled in for the fall of 2016. The Dipnetter’s Association’s Derrick says the 350 member group has pledged to cover 20 percent of the repair cost.

Categories: Alaska News

Six cruise ships release treated sewage into harbors

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 12:10

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl sails south through Chatham Strait on its final voyage of 2013. The ship is one of six permitted to release treated blackwater into Alaska harbors this summer. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Did you know some cruise ships are allowed to discharge wastewater while anchored or tied up in port? State officials and industry representatives say it’s safe. But critics fear it’s fouling local harbors.

The Norwegian Pearl pulls up at one of Ketchikan’s cruise ship berths. Many of its nearly 2,400 passengers head out onto the docks.

Toby Hatcher of Portland, Oregon, is one. He says the ship encourages environmental awareness through recycling, low-flush toilets and other means.

“You have to request for your sheets to be changed or reuse your towel, so I hang up my towels and my washcloth. So you just save one for the whole week,” he says.

A regular Alaska cruiser, he’s aware of other efforts to control pollution. But he says he hasn’t thought much about how this and other ships discharge what comes out of the floating city’s toilets, sinks and laundries.

“I guess I’d prefer them not to do it in general at all. However, if they are going to do it, I’d prefer them not to do it right here, where they’re dock,” he says.

But, in fact, they do.

The Pearl is one of a dozen large cruise ships allowed to discharge treated wastewater in Ketchikan, Juneau and some other Alaska harbors this year.

Six, including the Pearl, have permits covering treated sewage, called blackwater. Those ships, plus six others, also have permits to discharge kitchen, laundry and shower runoff, also known as graywater.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issues the permits for “stationary discharges” under new rules that took effect late last summer.

“It has to be treated wastewater through an advanced wastewater treatment system,” says DEC Environmental Program Specialist Ed White.

He says that technology makes it possible to discharge while stationary. Some ships were even allowed to do it under an older, more restrictive permit system. That measured pollutants coming directly out of the ships.

White says the new system allows samples to be taken after being diluted in what’s called a mixing zone. That was proposed by former Gov. Sean Parnell and approved by the legislature in 2013, at the urging of the industry.

“We have some additional requirements for those ships that discharge while stationary. They have to take water samples both on board the ship and also in the water (to measure) what happens in that mixing zone,” he says.

The zone for most harbors is 90 yards from the point of discharge. That’s about a third the length of the Norwegian Pearl.

White says the ships may be stationary, but tides and currents mean the water is not.

“We do have some restrictions. For example, in Skagway, there’s a dock where there would be an overlap. So they either can’t discharge there or they’d get a much smaller mixing zone if they can meet those requirements,” he says.

The dozen ships were issued individual permits while a new general permit system is on appeal.

“We feel that this new general permit does do the citizens of Alaska and the clean water of Alaska a big disservice,” says Daven Hafey of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the region’s largest environmental group.

He says new wastewater treatment systems are an improvement. But they’re not good enough to fully protect fish, shellfish and people.

“Our research shows that Alaska would really be the only place in the entire world that would allow cruise ships of this size to dump those wastes and partially treated waste while tied up to a dock,” he says.

The cruise industry disagrees.

“The water really is virtually drinking water quality when it’s discharged now from the vessels,” says John Binkley, president of the Cruise Lines International Association’s Alaska chapter.

He says releasing treated wastewater in harbors poses no threat.

“It’s a pretty advanced system. The final process in there is sterilization of the water, similar to what they use in hospitals and whatnot. And so it’s really pretty pure water that comes out,” he says.

In addition to the 12 ships granted stationary discharge permits, another six are allowed to discharge while underway, which dilutes the waste further.

In all, 18 ships have the OK to release wastewater this summer. White, of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says another 14 don’t.

“Typically about half the ships in the last few years hold their wastewater and then treat it in whatever way they have and discharge it offshore,” he says.

Beyond Alaska’s regulatory reach.

White says copper and ammonia are among the pollutants measured.

“There’s always going to be impacts of any human activity, so the goal is to minimize those impacts and to restrict any impacts that could cause significant harm,” he says.

Stronger wastewater treatment standards were part of an initiative passed by Alaska voters in 2006. The current permitting system basically replaces those standards.

SEACC appealed the general permit, though the state rejected all but one of its points. Officials say they don’t know when that will be heard. Meanwhile, individual permits allow the same thing.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Dutch Harbor-Bound Oil Rig Departs Seattle

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:56

A giant drill rig operated by Royal Dutch Shell undocked Monday morning from Terminal 5 in Seattle. The Polar Pioneer is headed for Dutch Harbor. It’s expected to arrive in 12 days.

According to the Coast Guard, 24 arrests were made as tugboats moved the rig out of port. A group of so-called “kayaktivists” formed a blockade in an attempt to stop the rig from departing. It’s been docked in Seattle for the last month.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Shell obtained two permits from the Environmental Protection Agency last week that will allow the company to discharge fluids from it’s rigs. The oil giant is awaiting authorization of four remaining permits before it can begin exploratory drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer.

As the Polar Pioneer pulled out of Seattle, officials from Unalaska met with Shell’s Marine Operations team this morning. According to Unalaska City Mayor Shirley Marquardt, staff from the Department of Ports and Harbors as well as marine pilots, members of the Unalaska Police Department and the city Manager were in attendance. Marquardt says this is the third meeting the oil company has hosted to outline their operations with local officials.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Signs Bill Repealing Film Tax Credits

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 11:53

Alaska’s film tax credit program has gone from comatose to dead.

Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill ending the subsidies on Monday. The program was created in 2008, and it’s paid out about $50 million in credits to television shows, movies, and documentaries film in the state.

The program was already scheduled to sunset in 2018, but Walker repealed the program because he does not expect oil prices and state revenue to bounce back by then. In a statement, Walker said he supported the film industry, but the credits were not justifiable when the state is in deficit-spending mode.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican.

Supporters of the program argued that it brought jobs and economic activity to communities used as filming locations. The program has granted credits to television shows like Deadliest Catch and Sarah Palin’s Alaska and to movies like Frozen Ground.

Categories: Alaska News

Hot Shot Fire Crews Expected in Kenai Tonight

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 10:47

Five Hot Shot crews are expected in Kenai tonight to assist with the Card Street Fire in Sterling.

Division of Forestry spokesperson Terry Anderson says the fire slowed down a bit in the early morning hours after rapidly growing to more than 1,200 acres. To the south and east, the fire is burning into territory that was burned during last year’s Funny River Fire.

photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Forestry

“Our concerns are yes, there’s less available fuels, but there’s (other) issues,” Anderson said. “The ground is no longer frozen and so there’s re-burn potential and deep burning potential. In Alaska, we have fuels that are sometimes a foot thick in the tundra. Those are long-term fire care issues that we have to be aware of.”

Anderson says the forecast calls for lightning. That could cause the winds to become very erratic in the area.

“The national lightening forecast for dry lightening, which firefighters always go over in the morning, is a forecast from 1-6,” Anderson said. “Usually in Alaska you may see twos or threes or fours for a lightening forecast. The forecast for the Kenai is a six today. That’s about as high as it gets.”

Evacuation efforts are still underway in the subdivisions from Card Street east to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge boundary mile 76 of the Sterling Highway, south to the Kenai River. This still includes Feuding Lane and Kenai Keyes.

The Sterling Highway is still open as of 10:30 a.m., but officials are asking people to avoid the area if possible.

Maps of the fire are still being drawn up at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Wood Bison Arrive on the Kuskokwim

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 09:46

Lone bison spotted between Aniak and Kalskag. (Photo courtesy of Marco Nichelson)

North America’s largest land animal has made it to the Kuskokwim.

Most of the wood bison released in early April are still in the area around Shageluk, but one group of twenty-five broke off to explore southward and have scattered over an 80-mile area. One of the larger groups can be seen in the area around Holy Cross while one lone wanderer was seen in the area between Aniak and Kalskag.

Cathie Harms is a Wildlife Biologist with Fish and Game who has been part of the project to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska.

“The more they travel and the more they learn the expanse of their habitat and what kind of ground is out there, the better
they’re going to be prepared to survive the coming winters, Harns said. “So it’s a very, very good thing for the established population that they learn this kind of experience by moving around.”

In early April one hundred wood bison were released in Shageluk, Alaska. Seventy-five were cows, twenty-five of whom we pregnant, and the rest were juvenile bulls. In late May an additional twelve mature bulls were sent
out.

“The bison were released near Shageluk and since then they have been eating the grasses and sedges that are in the areas
that have greened up. It’s just brought them a whole bunch of energy and many of them are really exploring the habitat that’s around there.”

Wood bison are the largest land animals in North America, with bulls weighing on average 2,250 pounds. For tens of thousands of years, bison lived in Alaska, filling a role in the ecological system as grazers. They disappeared from the state between one and two hundred years ago.

At this time it is illegal to kill the bison, but hunting will happen once the population can sustain it.

“Hunting has always been part of the plan, but we have to wait until the herd can provide a harvest without stopping its
growth,” Harms said.

“It depends on how many they produce and how the survival is. We don’t know if hunting with be able to be allowed within five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20; it just depends on how they do. But certainly we worked with residents of the GASH region, residents of Southwest Alaska, residents of Anchorage and Fairbanks to put together a
management plan that does allow for hunting.”

This year, biologists estimate that more than twelve calves have been born in the wild. The herds will most likely meet back up again in late July and August for the breeding season.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Grows To 1200 Acres

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 08:35

photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Forestry

The Card Street Fire near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula doubled in size overnight. Now at more than 1,200 acres, the fire has destroyed at least six structures. Division of Fire spokesperson Tim Mowry says it’s burning mostly through spruce.

“When something’s burning in spruce like that, it grows quick and by the time our guys got there it was torching and crowning and that’s a fast-moving fire,” he said.

The fire was called in sometime after 1:30  Monday afternoon. Initially, it was a small grass fire, about an acre in size, but in a place that was only accessible by 4-wheeler.

The Kenai River borders the fire to the south, the Sterling Highway to the north and Skilak Lake to the east. Evacuations of several neighborhoods continued through the evening.

Division of Forestry Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says the fire has expanded south, following wind patterns, since it started. Overnight, it spotted across the Kenai River, but hasn’t jumped. But a shift in the wind, pushing it east toward wetlands late last night helped responders protect residential areas.

“It started north, up by Aspen Lane and Cottonwood Lane areas, adjacent to Feuding lane and has burned to the south and southeast, and a bit to the southwest of its point of origin,” he said.

According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, seven additional response teams from around the state and outside are expected to arrive today.

Late last night and into the wee hours this morning, community members have been mobilizing independent relief efforts- using social media to coordinate camping space for families to shelters for horses and smaller pets.

 

At the Sterling Community Center, thing were quieting down around nine o’clock Monday night. Rochelle Hanson works there. She says so far, people seem far more concerned with how to help than with the actual fire.

“Everybody’s been coming and signing up horse trailers, boats, heavy equipment, I have a 5th-wheel, I have this, I have that. It’s pretty amazing to see how this little community pulls together,” she said.

The community center was one of two designated places for people evacuated. The other is at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Helicopters were being used to try and keep the fire from jumping the Kenai River, but in has crossed in some spots. Ground crews from the Kenai Peninsula Borough were first to respond.

No injuries due to the fire have been reported.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Map Shows Modest Fire Growth For Monday

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-16 04:12

Perimeter of the Sockeye fire, as of 1 a.m. Tuesday.

This map of the Sockeye Fire was released at 1 a.m. Tuesday. The fire grew modestly on Monday, to 7,555 acres. (A previous estimate of 8,500 acres was revised downward.) A temperature inversion helped slow the spread of the fire, but that is expected to lift this morning. Today’s forecast calls for warm, dry weather with possible dry thunderstorms. The Type 1 Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team will take over command of the firefighting effort at 7 a.m. Type 1 incident command teams are deployed to the most complex wildfires, to manage state and federal resources.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Grows On Kenai Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 20:33

A wildfire burning on the central Kenai Peninsula had consumed about 150 acres and destroyed six structures near the community of Sterling by Monday evening. 

Division of Forestry first responded to the Card Street fire at about 2 pm on Monday.

Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says the fire is located in a populous area but no injuries had been reported by Monday evening.

“We do have confirmation that six structures were lost. I don’t know if those were primary residences or a garage or something of that nature,” she said.

According to a release from Brenda Ahlberg of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, just after 7:30 pm Monday, evacuations are in place for residents living in the area of Salmon Run Drive to the end of Fisherman’s Road and Dow Island. Also, for all subdivisions off of Feuding Lane to Sterling Highway and Kenai Keys to the Kenai River.

Alexandrou says there are many more structures in danger, and evacuation notices will be updated regularly.

“The loss of the structures is awful and it is in an urban interface. [There’s] way more urban interface involved than with the experience with the Funny River Fire,” she said.

That’s the wildfire that consumed nearly 200,000 acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge last year.

Alexandrou says the fire has expanded south, following wind patterns, since it started.

“It started north, up by Aspen Lane and Cottonwood Lane areas, adjacent to Feuding lane and has burned to the south and southeast, and a bit to the southwest of its point of origin.”

Alexandrou says support and equipment have come up from Homer, as equipment from the central peninsula went to help fight another fire, the Sockeye Fire near Willow. Additional outside support is expected to arrive soon.

The Kenai Peninsula is currently under a burn suspension until further notice, due to the unseasonably warm and dry conditions over the past few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Doubles In Size On Kenai Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 18:03

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Update: 6:40 p.m. Monday June 15th:

State fire managers are calling the Card Street Fire in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula “very concerning.” It is now 150 acres and has consumed at least six structures. It has doubled in size in just a few hours. The evacuation area has been expanded North and South of the Kenai river to include 200 homes.

Evacuations currently include: Salmon Run Drive to the end of Fisherman’s Road and Fisherman’s Court and Dow Island, all subdivisions off of Feuding Lane to Sterling Hwy and Kenai Keys to the Kenai river. Temporary shelters have been set up at the Sterling Community Center (relocated from Sterling elementary) and K-Beach Elementary School. Pets in kennels may come to the shelter but owners should bring food and medications for pets as none is provided. No injuries have been reported

Update: 5:00 p.m. Monday:

Two wild land fires were reported Monday afternoon on the peninsula. The larger one  was called in at about 1:30 in the Sterling area.

State division of forestry spokesperson Andy Alexandrou  said by 3:00 p.m. it had grown to 75 acres and was posing a threat to homes.

“We have retardant aircraft inbound to assist with the suppression action,” he said. “We have a helicopter there that we replaced (for) our Kenai helicopter that went to Willow yesterday. We brought one up from Homer from Maritime Helicopters. It is on the Card Street Fire right now.”

There were no official numbers, but voluntary evacuations are underway as several hundred homes are located in the area. Personnel from the Kenai Peninsula Borough are responding on the ground.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Continues to Burn; Walker Declares Disaster

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 17:20

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The Sockeye Fire near Willow is now the state’s number one fire-fighting priority. Governor Bill Walker personally viewed the burned area by air on Monday, while forestry officials are bringing in help from the Lower 48 and British Columbia. Meanwhile, about 50 people in a Houston shelter are waiting to find out if they can go home again.

Sunday’s initial response to the Sockeye fire has already cost the Matanuska Susitna Borough $48,000. That was spent before midnight Sunday, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough manager John Moosey, who said Monday that the borough has requested a disaster declaration from the state.

Governor Bill Walker, fresh off a flyover of the fire area, said in Palmer: “I’m accepting it today. We’ll use the steps that are available to me and make this a declaration of disaster.”

Gov. Bill Walker briefed reporters on Monday. (Photo by Eric Keto – Alaska Public Media)

There’s no counting the cost of this fire, which is zero percent contained. Some residents don’t know if their homes survived the flames.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Vern Halter also briefed reporters, saying “it is a very serious fire.”

During Sunday’s hectic initial response to the fast spreading fire, some neighborhoods closest to the blaze were voluntarily evacuated before the Parks Highway shut down. Willow’s Frank Cross was one of the evacuees:

“I saw the fire, and I’m going, man the wind is blowing 35 miles an hour, and the fire’s is five miles north of me, and I thought, I’d better keep an eye on this thing, and I’m looking at it jump at quarter mile intervals because of the wind.

It flamed up behind Kashwitna Lake back on Sockeye and it jumped a half a mile out by the road, and jumped over the road, and it looked like it was jumping a half a mile, a quarter at a time. the wind is pushing this thing.”

Cross spent the night in a Red Cross shelter hastily set up at Houston Middle School. As did Greg Hatfield, who made a run from the fire with his dog.

“I just tied him up over there,” Hatfield said.

“I gotta go round up a dog bowl, something to water him with, feed him with.

Was it just you and your dog?

Yep everything we had pretty much went up in flames.

You sure of that?

Yup. we was one of the first ones. We saw the helicopter going around, we seen some smoke, But there was nothing we could do. About a half hour later, offices started hollering, get out of here, get out of here. ”

Gordon Bovey could see the fire three miles away from his home on the Parks Highway:

“We were outside working and noticed a plume of smoke to the north. My wife called 911 and they had just dispatched the fire department. So from there, our day kind of turned. We realized pretty quickly it was heading our direction. So we started packing up our pets. One of our neighbors was a firefighter, so we had to help him pack up his 25 sled dogs. We packed up our pets and shortly thereafter the Troopers came through and asked us to leave. ”

Meanwhile, Willow dog mushers’ animals were taken to Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake.  Monday afternoon,  handlers were moving dogs, watering dogs, feeding dogs,  dogs dogs dogs. But Buser was taking it in stride, while giving a busload of tourists a tour of his kennel:

“We do daily tours.  They’re gonna come out of the movie and into the dog lot, ” he said.. “Which is four times normal size.”

The fire could hurt the Mat-Su tourist industry, officials said Monday at a Palmer press conference.

Casey Cook, Borough Emergency Services Manager, has asked evacuees to wait at least until Tuesday to attempt returning home. Cook said Monday that the Borough has started damage assessments in individual neighborhoods to determine who’s homes are still standing.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Special Report Into National Guard Calls For More Accountability

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 16:42

A new inquiry into the Alaska National Guard reaches many of the same conclusions as last year’s federal investigation into the force. It finds that sexual assault and harassment claims were mishandled, and calls for increased accountability and transparency to prevent future abuses. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At a Monday morning press conference, the current Adjutant General Laurie Hummel said what happened under her predecessor was unacceptable.

<<”On behalf of the Guard, let me apologize to a number of individuals and Alaskans more broadly for this organization’s mishandling of complaints about serious offenses and for betraying the confidence of people who only sought help and justice.”>>

A new 92-page report confirms the Guard did have problems with its sexual assault reporting mechanisms, and that leadership was not trusted to properly handle complaints. Patricia Collins, a retired Juneau judge who conducted the special investigation, told reporters that some of the causes were as mundane as not keeping proper paperwork.

“When you don’t maintain adequate records of what’s being said to whom and when, you facilitate a culture that sort of feeds upon itself, where those persons that feel like they can bully or take advantage of others do, because there’s no reporting of it.”

Collins said that allowed a few members of the Guard to get away with particularly bad behavior. It also discouraged future victims from coming forward, meaning the number of sexual assaults is likely higher than documented.

The report also looked at how law enforcement and the executive branch handled Guard complaints, going beyond the scope of the federal inquiry.

Of the reports that were filed and ultimately sent to police, Collins’ investigation found that law enforcement operated appropriately. She also concluded the previous administration was aware of at least some of the problems with the Guard and could have addressed them in a more systematic manner. However, she says the response from the office of then-Gov. Sean Parnell was characterized more by mismanagement than malice.

“I did not find an overt cover-up. I did find a very unfortunate lack of information sharing between the National Guard and the governor’s office — a lack of protocols that, at least in my view, should be in place to ensure better communications between those offices.”

Going forward, Collins recommends that the National Guard be regularly surveyed on its command climate, and that those results be made available to the governor, the Legislature, and — when appropriate — the public. She has also advised that two sexual assault cases be reopened, as well as a suspicious death.

Categories: Alaska News

Newspapers in Fairbanks, Kodiak for Sale

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 15:11

The chief executive officer for two Alaska newspapers says the publications are for sale.

William Dean Singleton says the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Kodiak Daily Mirror are both available. Employees were informed today.

The family trusts of Singleton and his media partner, Richard Scudder, bought the News-Miner from C.W. Snedden in 1992. The News-Miner owns the Kodiak newspaper.

Singleton and Scudder founded MediaNews Group, which once owned dozens of newspapers across the nation. Scudder died in 2012; Singleton retired a year later.

Singleton said in a letter to employees he and Scudder owned newspapers in Alaska for 23 years and grew to love the state. But no other family members chose newspapers as a career.

Singleton said if the right buyer isn’t found, the trust will continue to own the newspapers.

Categories: Alaska News

Tradition, fellowship, and the season’s first fish

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 12:29

Hjalmer ‘Ofi’ Olson
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Celebrating the first salmon of the season is a long and important tradition in Bristol Bay. Last Thursday, we turned Hannah Colton around on her way to work because we heard some boys had caught theirs on the beach and were going to take one to an elder. She followed along, and brought this report…

A text message from Robyn Chaney told me her boys had caught three kings on the morning tide. They and their grandpa were going to deliver them. Here’s Triston Cheney:

Yeah we caught three this morning… gave one to my mom, kept one, and then one to Ofi.

So why do you bring one to Ofi? — Cause we always give some of what we catch to elders. And then if you give some to elders then you’re gonna catch more. 

Hyalmer Ofi Olson is an elder who has left a mark on Bristol Bay as few have … he fished these waters for some five decades, starting as a kid in the sailboat days

Among other leadership roles, Ofi was longtime director, CEO, and president of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation,. But he’s retired from all that now.

Ofi is in bad health. His kidneys are failing … and these days it’s tough to get too far from the house.

He was sitting on the couch when the Chaney boys and his old friend Robin showed up with that king.

The boys caught you a king salmon! King Salmon? Yeah! Oh yeah, small one! We caught it this morning! Yeah yeah that’s alright…

The fishermen responsible for the first 12-lb king: brothers Graelin, Triston and Dillon Chaney
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

He sized up the boys who brought him the fish and gave Robin a nod.

 “Okay Ofi, enjoy! Bye! – thank you Robin, boy, that’s gonna be a treat and a half – good, good…”

Later that evening, some old friends and fishermen came together to eat that fish with Ofi. They gathered around a humble table at Jerry Liboff’s house, off Chuthmok Road, named for Liboff and his patchy clothes …

Dave Bendinger grilled the fish for an hour on top of a cedar plank … and Ofi again asked for the recipe:

 “So you put the plank on the grill, wet it first, let it cook maybe ten minutes, then flip it so it’s charred, put the salmon on top skin side down….lid down, let it cook”

Set netter and Russian Orthodox priest Father Victor Nick stopped by for a bite and gave a blessing

 “Okay before we eat too much more, why don’t you bless the meal? ….prayer… You don’t want any? Oh, maybe a little bit…”

Ofi said the fish was small – but there was plenty of to go around. And it was the best.

“The first king melts in your mouth. Yeah…”

Liboff asked Ofi about the first kings when he was a kid…

 “That first king salmon was a big deal even then right? Your mama and grandma, how’d they cook it? — Well the head and the tail, and the eggs, they make chowder out of it. And out of the collars. And then you fry the steaks, either fried or boiled. Good. Every bit of the king salmon was used, nothing left but the bones.”

The night went on and around the table they sat … They talked boats, they talked prices, they talked nets and canneries and can sizes.

They cracked jokes and talked about fishermen from the old days.

And they talked about getting older.

“The greying of the fleet. The last of the hardasses trying to hang on. – yeah – Him, Ofi put up the white flag a couple years ago. I’m hangin in there. — I don’t wanna be the richest man in the graveyard. *laughs* Maybe Skagerrack is bumpin somebody else for that position.”

That’s Ofi, giving Skagerrack skipper Paul Friis-Mikkelsen a hard time. Friis-Mikkelsen took a hard fall a few weeks back and may not fish this season.

“You know, at this point, it’s not really about the money so much. It’s just good being a part. You know, it’s a lifestyle… If I was well, I’d still be out there floatin’ around too. The thing I was trying to say is, it’s like bein part of this whole cycle.”

The whole Bay is a cycle…The fish run out and back, tides go out and in, and nets need mending year after year. And people gather around the table each summer to tell stories and to fellowship around the first king salmon.

What I miss, Dave, is when I was small, young guy, even my first few years in high school, I used to go with my dad and some older people and, say we went camping or something. And then when the light went out, you stay there and listen to stories. Boy, interesting. Lots of stories, hunting stories, stories about ghosts. Sometimes I felt a little scared, but I never seen anything in my life. Never heard anything.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Ofi had a captive audience… and we all kept nibbling on that fish for hours after it got cold.

Categories: Alaska News

Owner says 2 Alaska newspapers are for sale

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 12:25

The chief executive officer for two Alaska newspapers says the publications are for sale.

William Dean Singleton says the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Kodiak Daily Mirror are both available. Employees were informed Friday.

The family trusts of Singleton and his media partner, Richard Scudder, bought the News-Miner from C.W. Snedden in 1992. The News-Miner owns the Kodiak newspaper.

Singleton and Scudder founded MediaNews Group, which once owned dozens of newspapers across the nation. Scudder died in 2012; Singleton retired a year later.

Singleton said in a letter to employees he and Scudder owned newspapers in Alaska for 23 years and grew to love the state. But no other family members chose newspapers as a career.

Singleton said if the right buyer isn’t found, the trust will continue to own the newspapers.

Categories: Alaska News

Miners Bid Farewell To West Beach

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-15 12:24

Permanent structures, like the cabin owned by Ian Foster (above), on Nome’s West Beach constitute a hazard and liability according to city officials. Photo: Francesca Fenzi

Today marks the final deadline to vacate one of Nome’s more infamous housing projects.

“If you’re into indoor plumbing, and you’re into nice hot showers after work every day, and you’re into not ever being cold – then living on West Beach is definitely not for you,” said Ian Foster, who has lived in Nome for the past six years.

He spent three of those years living in one of the more comfortable-looking shelters on West Beach, a plywood cabin with propane heaters and two big picture windows. Foster has since upgraded to a place with running water, but says the cabin and its beach-front property — which he leases from Nome Gold Alaska — still holds a special place in his, and Nome’s, history.

“A hundred years ago this beach had 30,000 people on it,” he said. “In tents, much like the shacks that you see right now. Now it’s actually changing. It’s actually coming to an end, this part of current history that we were able to live and experience.”

The impromptu mining camp has existed, in one form or another, for several decades despite shifting land ownership, and varying degrees of approval for would-be tenants. The current property owner, Nome Gold, officially opened the beach — along with another tract of land near the defunct Dredge 6 — for two-year leases in 2013.

“Unfortunately, that area didn’t work out very well,” said Nome Gold general manager Randy Powelson. “Some of the people didn’t behave very well, there were sanitation issues out there, trash storage issues. Pretty much turned into a free for all.”

Two dredges mine off the coast of Nome’s West Beach in June 2015. Photo: Francesca Fenzi

Powelson said the company’s decision not to renew those leases was three-fold. First, the property was difficult to manage — a seasonal population and lack of identifiable house markers made distinguishing between leaseholders and squatters next to impossible.

Second, he says, Nome Gold plans to make “industrial use” of the area for mining as early as 2017. And third, the beach shelters fall within the city’s flood plane — a point that Nome city manager Josie Bahnke said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was quick to make with city officials during its last inspection.

“Basically, they were built kind of out-of-sight-out-of-mind,” said Bahnke of the cabins on West Beach. “The folks constructing them didn’t follow the city’s building permit [or] flood plain permit.”

Bahnke said FEMA warned the city that semi-permanent structures on West Beach were a liability, and an order trickled down: Get rid of them.

But for beach residents that may be easier said than done. Foster explained the camp on West Beach isn’t simply historic, it provides a crucial alternative for miners too cash-strapped for Nome’s expensive housing market.

“I’m paying a thousand bucks a month for a little studio. And it’s not that big, it’s not that fancy, it’s just a studio, and this isn’t New York. So why am I paying a thousand bucks? That’s just what housing costs up here,” he said.

Powelson acknowledged that Nome’s steep housing prices are a problem, but said that problem “isn’t really Nome Gold’s responsibility to solve.” Instead, he said, it’s going to take a group effort to find workable solutions.

“It’s also going to take the dredging community to, not only police themselves, but take personal responsibility that we wouldn’t be in this mess if there hadn’t been some unfortunate individuals who made it not work for everybody,” Powelson concluded.

Foster agrees that some may have taken advantage of the housing arrangement on West Beach, but he thinks finger pointing is counterproductive.

“If we categorize any population in Nome as partly destructive, therefore all destructive, therefore they shouldn’t be here — that argument is awful,” said Foster, who plans to focus on the positive aspects of West Beach’s legacy.

“West Beach was an awesome, awesome period of my life. It was a type of deliberate living that I was really seeking. And I loved it. And, you know, they can’t take that away. Because that’s experiential. It’s in me. It’s already there; it stuck,” he said.

As for what a move closer to town will do for others in the mining community, Foster laughs: “Hopefully it doesn’t civilize us too much. We’re a wild bunch.”

Categories: Alaska News

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