Alaska News

More Commercial Coho Fishing Coming to the Kuskokwim

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:10

There’s a sigh of relief on the middle Kuskokwim River as the silver salmon have arrived and smokehouses are firing up. The run appears to be looking good, and the Department of Fish and Game says the river is ready for more commercial fishing.

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group Tuesday heard from the middle river and beyond that people are beginning to meet their needs for winter. Barb Carlson gave a silver report from Sleetmute.

“They’re here and people are fishing them hard, and the weather is good. Right now we’re happy. They’re looking nice, they’re a little small, but they’re very shiny and very good quality,” said Carlson.

The Working Group had opposed some earlier commercial openings, but they voted unanimously Tuesday to support managers’ plans for another opening Thursday and possibly another early next week. Monday’s commercial opener, the first since July 21st, saw 187 permit holders deliver nearly 24-thousand coho salmon to Coastal Villages Seafoods.

Several people thanked the Department for waiting until now, when more than 60 percent of the coho run is thought to be past Bethel. Alice Kameroff in Lower Kalskag has begun to put fish away.

“I just wanted to thank the commercial fisherman for giving us a break up here,” said Kameroff.

What was expected to be a below average coho run is looking better. It’s above average at the Bethel Test Fishery and so far at the weirs tracking escapement to spawning grounds.

Managers won’t know for a while exactly how the entire river’s chinook salmon did, but several weirs are not looking good. Research biologist Kevin Shaberg contrasted the George River, which has made its escapement goal, and Kwethluk river, which didn’t.

“With that discrepancy at the two different weirs, it’s possible we achieved the whole river escapement goal, but right now it’s very uncertain whether we did or not, and if we did, it’s probably not by very much,” said Shaberg.

For several months, the Working Group and Department had been shooting for the middle of the drainage-wide goal 65-thousand to 120 thousand chinook. They say counts from airplanes reached those individual specific escapement goals, but they won’t know how many fish total this summer made it to spawn until later.

With that outlook on their mind, the group began discussion on the Department of Fish and Game’s upcoming review of escapement goals. There’s no exact timeline in place, but there will be public involvement over the winter.

In other action, the group will ask the Board of Fish to allow dip-nets to be used the entire fishing season, instead of just in times of chinook conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Rivals Question Sullivan’s Absence At Debate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 22:00

Republican Senate candidates Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell debated each other and an empty chair on Wednesday at Alaska Public Media’s Debate for the State.

On the issues, both said they believed that the science was “inconclusive” on man-made climate change, and that they would oppose an increase in the federal gasoline tax. They also reiterated their aversion to gun control measures.
Beyond the issues, they occasionally referenced that their fellow opponent Dan Sullivan’s absence at the debate.

“Dan Sullivan’s not here,” said Treadwell. “He missed a fisheries debate. He’s not here for the last debate that’s reaching the whole state, and I think it’s very important that you understand the needs of the entire state.”

After the debate, Treadwell suggested that Sullivan was “fatigued” from campaigning.

In a statement, the Sullivan campaign explained that the candidate was door-knocking in Eagle River and Anchorage in lieu of attending the debate. The campaign noted that Sullivan was participating in a dozen candidate forums and debates in the lead up to Tuesday’s primary, but would not offer comment on further questions.

Categories: Alaska News

FAA Advises Pilots on GPS Problems as Air Force Training Jams Signals

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:47

The Air Force is jamming Global Positioning System signals periodically around military airfields in Alaska during Red Flag training exercises now under way in and around Eielson Air Force Base. Officials say the GPS interference testing could affect other devices that rely on GPS.

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Air Force pilots will periodically be flying without the navigational help of a GPS system at times during Red Flag training exercises being conducted out of Eielson Air Force Base.

The Federal Aviation Administration is advising pilots flying around Eielson Air Force BaseFort Greely and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson over the next few days to expect unreliable or unavailable signals for their aircraft’s GPS set.

Air Force Lt. Col. Allen Knapp says it’s being done to prepare Air Force pilots to operate in environments in which GPS is not available.

“In a modern contested environments, most of the modern battlefields that our will face, the reception of GPS is definitely not guaranteed,” Knapp said. “It’s something that is going to be up for grabs. And it helps to have our airmen experience GPS being denied here in a training environment, like Red Flag, prior to an actual engagement where they lose their GPS reception.”

The FAA has issued several advisories in recent days informing pilots about the periodic GPS interference testing around the military airfields over the next 10 days, during Red Flag.

The agency says pilots may experience GPS problems at different times and at different altitudes. But the F-A-A says pilots should expect anomalies anywhere within 365 nautical miles from Fort Greely, up to 40,000 feet. Knapp says pilots should also expect GPS anomalies today through Friday within 150 nautical miles of Eielson, at 40,000 feet; and within 120 miles of JBER, at 40,000.

This week’s GPS interference testing around Eielson and Greely is being conducted from mid-morning to around 12:30 p.m. and again from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. daily. The schedule will vary beginning this weekend, with once-a-day testing scheduled for some days.

FAA officials ask pilots to report all GPS anomalies they encounter during the testing to the agency’s Anchorage Center to help them measure the extent of the problem.

Knapp says the Air Force jamming should not affect cellphones or other mobile devices. But he says motorists will encounter problems with their vehicle’s GPS sets is they’re near any of the three military air bases during the tests.

He says members of the public may also notice problems when using devices that rely on GPS for time calibration.

“I can’t tell you that we categorically we will not affect anything else,” Knapp said. “More and more, technologies are drawing upon that (GPS) and using that for the services they provide.”

The FAA says additional Notices to Airmen will be issued throughout the testing period to keep pilots apprised of any changes in plans for the testing.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Begich Courts Voters in Rural Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:46

Senator Mark Begich last week visited the three lower Yukon River villages of Marshall, Alakanak, and Emmonak. He heard from dozens of people about infrastructure needs, and issues such as the importance of subsistence and the need for local law enforcement.

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Welders at Yukon Marine Manufacturing, a subsidiary of the Yukon Fisheries Development Association, pose with Sen. Mark Begich. Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA.

Democrats have the majority in the U.S. Senate by just six seats. So the race for Senator Mark Begich’s spot is being closely watched across the country. And many rural Alaskans know he’s counting on their votes to win reelection. Here are two employees of the Yukon Fisheries Development Association chatting as they left a public meeting with Begich held in Alakanak, a village of about 700 people. Offshore Fisheries Director Eric Olson comments on the significance of the election to General Counsel Gerry Davis:
“It’s pretty interesting to think that the votes that could control, that could decide, control the U.S. Senate could have been in that room”… ”I know.”… ”It’s just amazing.”

At a community meeting in Emmonak, city administrator Martin Moore praised Begich for coming to hear about local concerns, while reminding him of the importance of addressing Emmonak voters’ concerns:

“There are over a thousand people here in Emmonak. Of those thousand people, we have four hundred people that will vote. That’s important for you and for me to know and to understand that. So your trip here is very important both for you and important for the people who believe in your work,” Moore says.

But even though Begich, and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, both serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Begich says because Congress no longer allows earmarks, it’s hard for the Alaska delegation to get funds inserted in the budget for specific projects. Plus, he says, Congress has tightened its purse strings:

The national deficit’s been so bad but in the past six years, we’ve gone down from 1.4 trillion dollar deficit per year down to about half a trillion, moving in the right direction. And the economy is much stronger now in the lower 48. So everybody is feeling better about budgets this year. We bumped them up a little bit, budgets overall. So now we’re having some window where we can probably look at these programs again and see what we can do.

As residents talked about the need for erosion control, ports, housing, and water and sewer projects, Begich said the Alaska delegation has been able to get some laws changed to set aside money for places like Alaska, and is working to do more:

You know when you go to a city like Seattle and there’s housing needs for thousands of people, and here we’re looking for 10-15-20 units, we get kind of lost in the mix. So what we want is to try and separate us out a little bit.

Begich outlined work he’s already done to reduce energy costs, increase job training, and help with projects such as roads, runways, and a rock quarry project in Marshall. He described his support for subsistence, and the Senators and Cabinet officials who are learning about Alaska’s special needs by visiting, at his invitation.

Still, the rural vote for Begich isn’t assured, as Robert Andrews, the head of a boat-building shop in Emmonak made clear. He told Begich he could do more to help fishermen, saying “If I vote for you, you better think about us back here.”

Sen. Mark Begich and Robert Andrews, head of a boat-building shop in Emmonak. Andrews told Begich, “You’re helping a little bit now and then. Sometimes you deny the CDQs, but sometimes you agree with them … If I vote for you, man, you better think of back here.” Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Residents Press City Council on Allegations of Police Brutality

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:43

Bethel citizens called for action from the City Council regarding allegations of police brutality at their regular meeting Tuesday evening.  The city says they are investigating and officials are keeping the details under wrap as they are evidently facing litigation.

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Public testimony was emotional at the Bethel City Council meeting where Agnes Gregory, the sister, of the man whom a witness says was violently arrested by a Bethel police officer spoke before the Council Tuesday evening.

Bethel residents concerned about police actions and members of Bethel Sportsmans Club who spoke about the shooting range attended Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

“People treat their animals better then what he did to my brother. People should be outraged,” said Gregory.

A police report and court documents show that Wassillie Gregory, an “Indian” male, was arrested near the AC story on July 12th by Bethel Police Officer, Andrew Reid. A witness told police and the media, that the officer used excessive force. Bethel’s tribe, ONC, in a press release Monday urged people to come forward to them about possible mistreatment of Alaska Natives by Bethel police. Among the people who spoke was Bethel resident Fritz Charles, who also hosts a call-in show for KYUK.

Agnes Gregory, the sister of Wassillie Gregory, the victim of alleged police brutality spoke before the Bethel City Council August 12th. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

“One message… I’d like to give advice to police [who] are accused of these things, there’s 10 flights a day out of Bethel. If you don’t like your job, there’s 10 flights a day out of Bethel. And up to this point, you guys are probably looking at legal issues. What now? What then? These are really tough situations, issues that the City of Bethel has to address and take action on immediately,” said Charles.

The city has opened an investigation and Interim City Manager Greg Moyer says it’s moving ahead quickly.

“And she should be wrapping up that investigation by Friday, we’re still looking for tapes, from the AC store, even though they’re doing construction, there’s a possibility, maybe a good possibility that tape is…”

City Attorney Patty Burley stopped Moyer mid-sentence, saying she had received notice that the city is facing litigation. She advised him to stop speaking on the matter. Moyer did tell KYUK that the investigation will be reviewed by a third party law enforcement group. He added the department will be putting cameras on police officers to record whenever they deal with the public.

Council member Mark Springer said the council feels as deeply about this as the rest of the community does and that the city is looking hard at the issue.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Releases Prioritization Report

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:42

The University of Alaska Anchorage released a comprehensive prioritization report Wednesday examining both academic and support functions.

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Two task forces were assembled to take an in-depth look at every program and function at the university.

One group focused on the academic side of things, while the other investigated support functions.

Their goal: to determine which programs align with UAA’s mission, which one’s don’t, and which ones need an even closer look.

Academic Task Force Report (PDF)

Programs like Alaska Native Studies, Art, English, and Women’s Studies are ranked high, while ones like Economics, Political Science, and Music landed in the lower categories.

UAA Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle says just because a program was identified as a low priority doesn’t necessarily mean it is facing imminent cuts.

“All it means if you’re in one of these lower categories is we’re gonna do further review,” Spindle said. “We may determine by the further review that my gosh, we keep you where you are, we need to add stuff to you.”

“We may realize that we can combine this with something else, but we’re gonna take a thorough look.”

Spindle says one thing the reports have made clear is the breadth of programs and functions offered at UAA.

“It’s like a small city,” he said. “We take care of everything here; from a police force, to a maintenance organization, to facilities, grounds keeping.”

“Everything you can think of that goes on in a municipality, we do here.”

Support Task Force Report (PDF)

The task forces reviewed over 300 academic programs and nearly 180 support functions.

Though the administration is still reviewing all of the information, Spindle says the task forces’ recommendations have given the university a good starting point.

“What this report has done for us is it gives us a clear mandate for change,” Spindle said. “We can look and see, where do we want to head from here?”

That’s the big question for the university. And Spindle says it’s one they can’t quite answer yet.

University officials expect to have a plan on how to move forward by December. And changes stemming from that plan could begin as soon as next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

New Student Fee to Help Cover UAF Budget Shortfall for Facility Upgrade

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:41

In June, Governor Sean Parnell signed Senate Bill 218 into law, paving the way for a $245 million dollar renovation and upgrade to the power plant at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  But the project is funded in part by revenue bonds that have to be paid back to the state.

According to a memorandum sent last week by University of Alaska System President Pat Gamble, the Board of Regents plans to implement a student fee to cover costs associated with the project.

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When the legislature approved funding for this year’s state budget, the money allocated for a new heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks came with this language:
“It is the intent of the legislature that the University of Alaska implement a utility surcharge or increase tuition in an amount not to exceed annual revenue of $2,000,000.”  

With the project currently under construction, the University is now on the hook to pay the state back.
That’s why UA President Pat Gamble’s endorsed a proposal to implement a new system-wide student fee. Kate Ripley is the UA system spokeswoman. “There is never enough money that we really need to keep pace with what we need to do so this is seen as a way to have an additional revenue stream,” says Ripley.

Beginning Spring semester, 2015, graduate and undergraduate students and those enrolled in distance education courses will pay two dollars per credit.  The fee will increase by two more dollars for the following two semesters. That means by January 2016, full-time students could see an increase of $90 dollars in fees added to their total bill. “We never like instituting new fees,” says Kate Ripley.  “It’s something that we have to look at very seriously and that we do reluctantly obviously because there is a financial impact to students.”

According to the Financial Aid Office at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, students already pay an average of $640 per year in fees for things like student government, athletics, technology, and transportation among others. An annual survey by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center shows University of Alaska students pay the second lowest tuition and fees in the nation behind Wyoming.

Kate Ripley says the money collected through the new facilities fee will stay at the campus where it is collected. “One of the things we heard from students is they didn’t think a tuition increase was fair,” she explains, “because in that kind of scenario, a student at the university of Alaska southeast in Ketchikan for example, would be paying higher tuition for a heat and power plant in Fairbanks.”

In Fairbanks, the money will go to help pay for the new heat and power plant. At other campuses, the money will be used for upgrades to classrooms, laboratories and residence halls. According to the President’s memo, the fees could bring in more than 3.6 million dollars in revenue over the course of three semesters. There is no sunset date and it’s unclear if the fee will continue to increase beyond fall 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau School District Brings In Attorney to Investigate Hazing Allegations

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:40

The Juneau School District is conducting an independent third party investigation into an alleged hazing incident that took place two days after school ended in May.

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At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, new superintendent Mark Miller says attorney John Sedor will talk to students and staff during the investigation. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

New school superintendent Mark Miller says he contacted Anchorage-based attorney John Sedor two weeks ago to help the district with a case involving high school students.

“There’s an allegation that some older students either kidnapped or in some way took some younger students out to a remote area and there was paddling or hitting involved,” Miller says.

He says Sedor has worked with the Juneau School District for years and is an expert in school investigations.

“He’ll be working with the school district, with our employees to determine whether or not our school rules or policies have been violated and ensuring that both the victims and the alleged perpetrators receive due process,” Miller says.

Hazing is considered one of the most severe violations of board policies and school rules. The student handbooks of Juneau Douglas High School and Thunder Mountain High School say the minimum penalty for hazing is up to 10 days of suspension. The maximum penalty is permanent expulsion.

Over the summer, principals from all three Juneau high schools looked into the alleged hazing incident. Miller says the Juneau Police Department completed its investigation without filing any charges. He says the district’s probe is different than the police’s.

“We’re not looking at criminal charges. We’re looking at whether our policies were violated, our rules, which is a different question than what the police were looking for. We also have a lower standard of proof, if you will,” Miller says.

School board president Sally Saddler says the board is not directly involved with the investigation. She says members can’t receive any advance knowledge of it in case any grievances are filed.

She says the board has strong concerns about the hazing culture in Juneau.

“We feel that it’s important to do what we can to change that culture so our kids feel safe because it’s going to be really difficult for our kids to be able to meet their academic responsibilities if they don’t feel safe and secure in our schools. And so it’s incumbent upon us as board members, as a district and as a community to remove those barriers,” Saddler says.

She says the district has a well written policy about bullying and hazing.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s in practice, right? And I think that’s where board and community and district administration concerns lay. We feel we’ve got a pretty strong policy in place but clearly it’s not working or there are ways in which we need to tweak them,” Saddler says.

The board policy on hazing was last revised in 2011.

Superintendent Miller expects the outside investigation to wrap up within the next two weeks. He says any student discipline that may result will have to remain confidential due to students’ privacy rights.

Categories: Alaska News

Cordova Hiker Mauled By Brown Bear

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:39

Alaska State Troopers say a 57-year-old woman drove herself to a hospital after she was mauled by a brown bear.

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Troopers were notified yesterday afternoon that Thea Thomas of Cordova was attacked by the bear while hiking on Heney Ridge Trail in the Cordova area.

Salmon were actively spawning in a nearby stream as Thomas hiked with two dogs. The dogs ran off, then returned shortly with the bear running after them.

Troopers say the bear noticed Thomas and attacked her multiple times. The dogs took off again.

After the attack, Thomas walked one and a half miles back to her truck. She found one of the dogs while walking back and the other dog was waiting at her vehicle.

Troopers say the trail is now closed for a week.

Categories: Alaska News

A Big Comeback For Kotzebue’s Commercial Fishery

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:38

The fishing fleet in Kotzebue Sound. Photo: Jim Menard, Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

Kotzebue is in the midst of one of its best commercial chum seasons ever. That’s due to an exceptionally strong run size.  And dockside economics are playing a role, as well.

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Seth Kantner has been commercial fishing since the 70s.

“We just could not have taken advantage of the number of fish that we’re getting this year without having three buyers. And all the buyers are quicker this year—just, competition.”

Not long ago, commercial fishing in Kotzebue was nearly dead.  And over the decades, Kantner has seen the fishery in Kotzebue Sound peak and crash.

“The 90s things just kept tapering down—less of us fishing, almost where it was embarrassing to say you were fishing, as people thought it was a waste of time. At that point the prices just kept going to 25, 23, and 19, 17 [cents a pound], and a lot of those years there weren’t that many fish, either.”

In 2002, with no local buyer, Kantner recalls having to pack and ship fish out himself. The total value of the fishery that year was just $7,572.

This year the commercial fleet is expected to pull in about $3 million. That, according to Nate Kotch, vice president of Maniilaq, is partly biology from a good brood year, but also the payoff from a five year branding campaign at food expos in Asia, Europe, and on the East Coast:

“These fish are being marketed. And the brand that we have, of course, is Arctic Circle Wild Salmon.”

Kotch and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game anticipate another two weeks or so of commercial openings that are likely to push this year’s harvest up to the third best on record.

Categories: Alaska News

Stream restoration on Kuiu Island nears completion

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-13 17:37

On a remote corner of the Tongass National Forest, a six-year-long stream restoration project is wrapping up. The cost: an estimated $1.2 million, funded largely from grants obtained by the Nature Conservancy. The project is intended to restore salmon streams damaged over 40 years ago on Kuiu Island.

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From the float plane, you can see turquoise water and patches of coastal islands. Then, Kuiu appears, swallowing up the landscape with dense forest. It’s nearly five times the size of Seattle with only a handful of residents. This is the site of the stream restoration project.

Heath Whittacre, from the U.S. Forest Service, drives us to the location in his mud splattered SUV. “I’m a water guy. A hydrologist study of water.” His job is basically quality control for nearby streams, rivers, and aquatic habitat. He’s been out here, sometimes for months at a time, overseeing the project. “We call it the Kuiu island resort and spa. It’s great. We have excellent accommodations, an infinity, pool, massage parlor,” Whitacre jokes.

Heath Whitacre, the U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist, leads a team to see the restoration. Photos by Elizabeth Jenkins.

The location is remote, but there’s electricity from a generator and basic housing. There’s also miles of unpaved logging roads to get around the island. To understand the necessity of the stream restoration, you first need to know the history of Kuiu. In the 60s and 70s, there were no regulated logging buffers along salmon streams. “So they able to cut all the streams immediately adjacent to stream banks as well it use the streams themselves as yarding corridors.”


The Forest Service anticipated that salmon spawning might be a problem. In 1970, along with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, they tested out a theory. They removed log jams from streams to increase water flow. “You get more stream power and with more stream power you get larger cobble size.” After that, sediment the size of a grapefruit was tumbling down the waterway–further eroding the channel. Whitacre says, almost 45 years later, we’re starting to see the effects. There are less deep, cool pools for salmon to spawn, declining populations of Coho and Chum. “I think that we’ve learned that when you manipulate the channel like that, there’s a lot more that needs to go into it when you’re thinking about how we’re going to fix something. Fix something that’s not broken. That’s a messy business sometimes.”

A puncheon road to access the stream

A study estimated that in streams logged in Southeast Alaska, it could take up to 250 years for habitat to recover. That is–if nothing is done about it. Norm Cohen, the Southeast Alaska Program Director for the Nature Conservancy, says, if we can take actions now “these streams will be as productive as possible for the years to come.”


From the float plane, it’s a long drive to Saginaw Creek–one of the four streams on Kuiu Island that’s being restored. After changing into waders, we slather on bug spray and walk down the channel to see the work. The restoration itself looks like a really hard game of giant pick up sticks: a tangled mass of young and old growth trees, some of the roots are still intact. “You know, you kind of look at what nature provides and try to emulate that, kinda like a big puzzle,” Whitacre says.

The structure is perpendicular to the stream. In this case, to trap a pool of water. Nature is copied for its functionality, but also its aesthetic. Whitacre points to the end of log that looks like it’s been chewed on. “We call it beaverizing where instead of a cut face on a log, we round out the tips with a chainsaw where it gives a beaverized effect.”

“Beaverized” logs along the Saginaw Creek

The project used about 1,100 trees, harvested from around the island. To move the heavy pieces, contractors used a helicopter and an excavator. Pathways were created out of old spur roads leftover from timber harvest. Whitacre says, initially, the scale seemed alarming. “It’s not something we’re used to seeing, heavy equipment in streams this size. It’s kinda one of those ‘whoa moments,’ but when you see the final product and see it coming together, this is the only way that could happen.”

Johnny Zutz, from Fish and Game, agrees. “It doesn’t look pretty and especially in the short term you’re wondering why they’re doing it.” He helped write the permit, authorizing heavy equipment in the stream. It’s his first time out at Kuiu to see the restoration. “They look like once you get a couple of flushing flows they’re going to look pretty nice.”

We walk down the middle of the Saginaw creek. Whitacre points to a shallow pool of water about a foot deep. “We’re looking at whole bunch of Coho fry. They look like they’re just hanging out but they’re in feeding lanes right now. They’re all pointed up stream. They get themselves in a pocket where they pop out and eat like that one did just now.” Whitacre says, as the stream restoration project nears its completion, he’s hoping for what every hydrologist wants: a flood.

The next stream to be restored is Luck Creek on Prince of Wales Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Referendum Ignites a Neighborly Sign War

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:47

On top of being the most expensive ballot measure in state history, next week’s referendum on oil taxes may also be one of the most contentious. The polling shows a tight race, with the state’s voters almost equally divided on the question. Which means that no matter which side you’re on, it’s almost inevitable you’l have to deal with someone who disagrees.

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Denise Roselle and Dan Anderson share a lot as neighbors. He plows her driveway; she lets him park his truck there. Their Spenard ranch homes are nearly identical save the paint jobs. But there’s one area where they’re clearly divided.

“I am voting yes on Proposition One,” referendum supporter Denise Roselle says.

“I am voting no on Proposition One,” Roselle’s neighbor, referendum opponent Dan Anderson says.

The neighbors have been waging a tiny battle of the yard signs. It started when Roselle put one up that said “Repeal the Oil Giveaway.” Anderson responded with a sign supporting the new tax structure, and he propped it up six feet high.

“Yeah, they gave me a shorter sign and I put it on a longer pole to get it above everybody else, I guess,” Anderson says.

So, Roselle raised hers, too, and stuck another ‘Yes on One’ sign to the side of her house. Then they started adding the candidate signs. Anderson was approached by the Mia Costello for Senate campaign, and Roselle put up signs for:

“Clare Ross, and then Matt Claman, and now I have a Begich sign up as well,” she adds.

By now, she thinks people have noticed the escalation.

“We just kind of talked about if our neighbors were laughing at our sign wars out there.”

The rivalry is friendly, but Roselle and Anderson see the referendum as a critical fight over Alaska’s future. Crude has brought in more than a hundred billion in state tax dollars since the North Slope fields were developed, but now less oil is being pumped out of them.

Roselle was one of nearly 50,000 voters who signed a petition to get the referendum on the ballot, and she doesn’t think capping the tax rate will stop that decline. As a teacher, she’s worried it will just mean less money for schools.
[Duration 00:07]

“Our state constitution says that we are an owner state. And it seems that we are giving away our resources to somebody else, to oil companies,” Roselle says.

Meanwhile, Anderson thinks that lower taxes will encourage industry to find new oil – which could be good for a contractor like him.

“My economy is based on me having a job. And in Alaska, more jobs come out of oil than almost anything,” Anderson says.

Both Roselle and Anderson have spent a lot of time thinking about the question and trying to approach it from good faith. For all their passion, they each acknowledge the global oil market is so unpredictable you can’t be certain how much each tax system will capture in the future,  and that how you vote depends on who you trust in a lot of ways.

But even though they feel strongly about referendum, they’re not talking about it with each other too much.

Roselle says that was a conscious decision on her part.

Not all sign wars are so civil. Recently, the Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway campaign has been posting photos on their Facebook page of handmade signs that have been smashed, and they say they have one report of a sign being set on fire. The Vote No on One campaign also says they’ve also had to deal with signs being stolen and vandalized.

Categories: Alaska News

Ad Claims Treadwell Company Erodes Privacy

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:39

With the Primary vote now one week away, most polls continue to show Dan Sullivan leading in the Republican contest for U.S. Senate. But a new negative ad is focused on his main Republican rival, Mead Treadwell. It says technology companies he founded are helping the government erode privacy. Treadwell calls the claim absurd.

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The ad is from Put Alaska First, an independent superPAC working to re-elect Democrat Mark Begich. It’s spent nearly $4 million running ads against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. The new ad takes a small swipe at Sullivan but aims at Treadwell.

“Mead Treadwell created a company that helped the government spy on people and launched another company that pushed a national ID card,” the ad says, over imagery of surveillance cameras.

Treadwell says one of his companies created the technology behind Google Street View and vehicle-mounted cameras that helped the military map Iraq and Afghanistan. Treadwell says the company doesn’t spy on Americans.

“The only surveillance that I was ever aware of that any of our cameras did is some guy threw — actually two guys at different times — threw grenades or IEDs at the Humvees carrying our camera,” Treadwell says.

Another company he founded, called Digimarc, makes identification cards, digital files and currency harder to counterfeit. It has, according to Senate records, lobbied for Real ID, which critics charge is a national ID program. Treadwell says he served as an officer of Digimarc for a year and later consulted for the company. He still owns shares worth up to $250,000. But he says he doesn’t control what the company lobbies for.

Treadwell, though, remains a director of another company he founded, called Venture Ad Astra. Treadwell acknowledges that company asked for and got a $2 million federal earmark, penned by Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010, even though Treadwell has been a critic of earmarks. Treadwell says an earmark wasn’t his first choice for funding. He says the company first won a competitive bid from the Air Force Research Lab for technology to enhance GPS.

“They came back to many of their contractors and said ‘We don’t have enough money in our budget. If you encourage the Congress to fund our budget at the appropriate level, the contract will go forward,’” Treadwell says.

He says the earmarking process that existed then forced companies like his into a disingenuous position.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Leaders Speak Out on Police Brutality Allegations

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:38

Bethel’s tribe, ONC, wants people to come forth regarding allegations of city police mistreating Native people. In addition, the Association of Village Council Presidents released a letter that they sent to Bethel mayor, Joe Klejka about the matter.

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In a press release, Gloria Simeon, president of Orutsararmiut Native Council, Bethel’s tribe, says the council is very disturbed by recent allegations of brutality by a City of Bethel Police Officer towards an inebriated quote “Indian” male. Simeon says the problem, she believes, is instability with the city administration.

“Going on what four, four city mangers, it’s been hard to set up meetings to deal directly with these problems and we’re hoping that by taking this action and making a press release that we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior and this, um, fear within the community of the Bethel Police Department and people that are in law enforcement that this must be addressed,” said Simeon.

Simeon says ONC’s Tribal Council met with the city of Bethel’s Acting City Manager, Greg Moyer and Police Chief Andre Achee during their regular monthly meeting on August 6th.They discussed allegations of police brutality made by

Linda Green through a letter to the editor of the Delta Discovery Newspaper on July 23rd. Simeon says the ONC Tribal Council has concerns about how the police are treating these categories of people:

“The stereotypical Native male who is targeted by authority figures. It seems to be a problem not only here but in other areas. Women alone at night on the streets are also very vulnerable. And of course, people who are inebriated and do not have control of their faculties are certainly the most vulnerable and those are the people that we need to protect,” said Simeon.

Simeon says the ONC Council hopes to work with the Bethel City Council to insure that there are not violations of basic human rights and to improve the relationship of the Bethel Police Department with the community they serve.

“I’m hoping that this, this is not so deeply engrained into the culture of the police department that they can’t rise above it. I’m hoping that we can work together and deal with this issue. It’s all in our best interest to make this community safe for everyone. And we all should be treated with dignity and respect no matter what our circumstances or condition,” said Simeon.In the release Simeon encouraged anyone, including those from nearby villages, with concerns regarding actions of the Bethel Police Department to call their office and report them. She says the reports will be collected and used to improve the situation for the community.

AVCP President Myron Naneng also released a letter that was sent to Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka on July 25th in which he encouraged the police force to follow the law and regulations. He also asked for assurances of mutual respect and dignity.

Naneng said he’s still waiting for a response from Klejka. City of Bethel officials repeatedly declined to talk with KYUK last week about the allegations and investigation.

Simeon says ONC representatives plan to speak at the beginning of the City Council Meeting Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

ANTHC Program To Monitor Toxicity in Subsistence Foods

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:36

For the first time in the United States, a technology traditionally used on humans is testing possible widespread threats to food security.

The technology is filter paper, and it is used to collect blood samples. Throughout the Bering Strait region, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is distributing the paper to subsistence hunters to collect blood specimens from subsistence mammals.

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Bearded seals are one of the subsistence species hunters will collect blood samples from using the new filter paper kits. Photo by NOAA.

James Berner is the Senior Director for Science at the Division of Community Health at ANTHC and is leading the project, which is funded by an $888,282 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’ll put kits together in a small plastic bag,” Berner explained, “and the kit has an envelope to mail the dried filter paper sample in and a form for the hunter to fill out that says what the animal is, the sex, where it was collected, and the date.”

The samples will test for metal contaminants like mercury, human-made contaminants like PCBs, and antibodies to pathogens an animal has previously been exposed to.

The researchers theorize contaminants and pathogens are escalating in the Arctic as climate change alters wind and ocean currents. If these substances are increasing, they could accumulate in the bodies of subsistence mammals, threatening food security for communities throughout Western Alaska.

“Right now,” Berner said, “we don’t know the magnitude and the actors in the food security threats. We only know what they might be and what we’ve found in a few animals over the years. And the way to deal with this is to be able to test the herds that you harvest from and find out what the prevalence of any given risk is.”

Berner said federal agencies like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association and the Fish and Wildlife Service are interested in the possible changes occurring in Arctic wildlife, but their limited number of scientists can only be in so many places at once to study those shifts. Subsistence hunters, on the other hand, cover a broad geographic area and collect hundreds of potential samples per community per year— hence the filter paper kits.

Filter paper is more convenient for hunters to use than traditional methods of sampling, such as syringes and vials. Berner said the kits can be carried in a coat pocket; they do not have to be kept frozen; and there is no regulation for mailing filter paper blood specimens like there is for mailing liquid blood.

Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shishmaref Environmental Program and underwent training with ANTHC on how to use the kits this summer. Kuzuguk said the lightweight portability of the filter paper increases the chances hunters will take the sampling kits with them on their hunts.

“Sometimes we travel 72 miles to a hunt area in the ocean,” Kuzuguk explained. “That would eliminate a lot of the weight that we carry back as far as our subsistence, because most of time, most hunters will think of the subsistence first then the sampling secondary.”

Kuzuguk will be part of a team distributing the kits to hunters in Shishmaref. Participation is voluntary, and Kuzuguk expects 70-percent of the community’s hunters to take part.

Kuzuguk said recent instances like the 2011 Unusual Mortality Event where hundreds of sick seals were reported throughout the Bering Sea is motivating hunters to participate in the sampling, and the community will focus on collecting specimens from bearded seals, Shishmaref’s primary food staple.

“We depend on bearded seal for a good portion of our diet year-round,” Kuzuguk said. “That area and concern with the health and safety with our subsistence food is a real high priority.”

The project’s grant is slated to run three years. To participate in the sampling, contact James Berner or Michael Brubaker at ANTHC.

Categories: Alaska News

Body of Wilderness Classic Racer Recovered From Tana River

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:35

A long time competitor in one of Alaska’s most famous and dangerous backcountry races has died.  Rob Kehrer was found dead while competing in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic over the weekend in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

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The body of 44-year-old Rob Kehrer, pictured here on the 2013 Wilderness Classic website, was found by search and rescue personnel after he was last seen in his pack raft on the Tana River. Photo from the 2013 Wilderness Classic website.

On Sunday morning, Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve officials received a call from the Rescue Coordination Center at Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson needing help locating Rob Kehrer.  Peter Christian is the Chief Ranger for Wrangell-St. Elias.  He said the 44-year-old was last seen Saturday afternoon by his partner in his pack raft on the Tana River, a tributary of the Chitina River.

Search efforts were based out of McCarthy.  Around 4 p.m., Kehrer’s body was located by an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter crew about two and a half miles downstream from where he was last seen.  Hs body was transported to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.

Kehrer, a Mat-Su resident, was a 10-year veteran of the race.  The race itself is 32 years old and has been held in various places such as the Brooks Range, Kenai Peninsula, and Talkeetna Mountains.  Since 2012, it has been held in Wrangell-St. Elias.

Christian says it is an unsanctioned event and is not permitted in the park.

Christian says park officials cannot stop the event because they don’t know when it’s held every year.  He says they plan to talk to the event organizers in order to prevent similar event from happening again.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Orders Review of A Controversial Fisheries Observer Program

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:34

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a newly-implemented fisheries observer program in the Gulf of Alaska may have become unreliable, and is sending federal managers back to the drawing board to fix it.

The decision by Judge H. Russel Holland is being hailed as a victory by Southeast Alaska’s longline fleet, who have chafed under the new system, which requires them to carry human observers on their relatively small vessels.

But federal fisheries managers see it as a win as well.

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Fishermen offload commercially-caught halibut in Juneau. The cost of an observer day has nearly doubled — to over $800 — from the inception of the program in 2010. (Flickr photo/Gillphoto)

The observer program is not going away. Instead, the court’s action may compel the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — or NOAA — to find a way to remodel it, which is what the small-boat fleet has wanted since the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopted the new plan in 2010.

Joel Hanson is the conservation director for The Boat Company, the non-profit regional cruise company-cum-environmental organization that brought the lawsuit.

“We don’t hesitate to speak our peace with federal agencies when we see them doing something awry.”

In this case, something awry meant redistributing observer coverage on Alaska’s trawlers — who drag huge nets along to ocean floor scooping up pollock — in order to create an observer program for the halibut fleet, generally smaller boats who use a type of gear called longlines, which catch fish on hooks.

Hanson says NOAA — acting under the direction of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council — just got it wrong. The observer program is intended to keep track of bycatch, or the number and kinds of fish being caught unintentionally. Restructuring the program was supposed to improve coverage of the fisheries, but Hanson believes its gotten worse.

“So this was an opportunity for us to look at what the outcome of the restructuring program was, where it should be, and how to make it more like what we think the public expected, and what we certainly expected. ”

And Judge H. Russel Holland agreed in part. In his 50-page ruling, Judge Holland says coverage under the new system risks dropping below a reliable threshold.

The government doesn’t necessarily dispute that finding.

“The analysis that the judge has asked us to do is actually very helpful.”

Martin Loefflad directs Fisheries Monitoring for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Judge Holland’s decision requires the agency to prepare another environmental analysis, to ensure that enough observers are on enough boats to gather reliable data on bycatch.

“And we’re certainly game to do that, because we too share the concern of the data quality issue.”

Read NOAA’s 2013 Observer Program Annual Report.

Unfortunately for fishermen, better coverage may mean an increase in costs. The fleet pays 1.25-percent of its gross sales to fund the observer program. The Magnuson-Stevens Act caps those fees at 2-percent, but there are still millions of dollars in play.

Loefflad says the decision validates the government’s efforts to expand observer coverage in the 25 years since it began.

“The court’s judgement on us is really quite a success story because it preserved many of the strides that we were able to get through with the restructured observer program, working through the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. So many of those things that didn’t occur in the past are present today.”

Foremost among those new things is coverage of the halibut longline fleet, which did not have to carry observers until last season. An organization calling itself The Fixed Gear Alliance intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of The Boat Company. Linda Behnken is the director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association — or ALFA — which is member of the Alliance.

“The main improvement we hope to see in the program is an increase in observer coverage on vessels where bycatch is an issue. So salmon bycatch is all in the trawl fishery. Halibut bycatch is primarily in the trawl fishery. To see better coverage.”

The Fixed Gear Alliance also wanted to see electronic monitoring (EM) addressed in NOAA’s new Environmental Analysis, but Judge Holland did not allow that argument to move forward. Still, the use of cameras to count fish instead of humans — especially in cramped quarters on boats under 60 feet in length — has its advocates. Really important advocates. Like Sen. Lisa Murkowski, recently speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

“We can be smarter in our technologies to allow for electronic monitoring that is accurate and reliable, and doesn’t get in the way of the operations. It’s been fascinating to me how much foot-dragging we have had from the agencies, Oh you know, we just don’t know, somebody might tamper with this, you can’t do that — Good heavens! Work with us.”

Linda Behnken at ALFA hopes that NOAA does just that when it reopens the environmental analysis — even though the judge didn’t spell it out. ALFA has been working for several years on an electronic monitoring pilot project. NOAA is piloting a program of its own with nine boats this season.

NOAA’s Loefflad says it’s a start.

“I think there is a future for electronic monitoring in Alaska. We’re doing the research right now, and we’ve been partnering to move that research forward.”

Still, electronic monitoring would have to be adopted by the North Pacific Management Fisheries Council — a process that is by no means fast. None of this is particularly fast. The Boat Company’s attorney, Paul Olson, filed this suit in 2012 with Earthjustice. Although the observer program isn’t going away, Olson considers the ruling a win anyway, since the government is going to have to take another hard look.

“Basically what the court said is that your NEPA analysis failed to consider whether you would acquire statistically reliable data at significantly reduced coverage rates, especially for the trawl fleet.”

NEPA stands for National Environmental Policy Act. In this case, a new NEPA analysis means — not necessarily starting from scratch — but a new document, and a new opportunity for the public, the small-boat halibut fleet, and US Senators to comment on the process.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 12, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 17:31

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

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Oil Tax Referendum Spurs a Neighborly Sign War

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

On top of being the most expensive ballot measure in state history, next week’s referendum on oil taxes may also be one of the most contentious. The polling shows a tight race, with the state’s voters almost equally divided on the question. But what do you do when you’re close to the opposition?

Ad Claims Treadwell’s Company Erodes Privacy

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

A new political ad is homing in on the technology companies U.S. Senate candidate Mead Treadwell founded, saying they’re helping the government erode privacy. Treadwell calls the claims absurd.

Bethel Tribal Leaders Speak Out on Police Brutality Allegations

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s tribe, ONC, wants people to come forth regarding allegations of city police mistreating Native people. In addition, the Association of Village Council Presidents released a letter that they sent to Bethel mayor, Joe Klejka about the matter.

Tribal Groups Disagree on B.C. Mine Projects

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Some Alaska tribal organizations say last week’s (Aug. 4th’s) dam break at a British Columbia mine shows what could happen closer to home. The groups say similar dams planned for several near-border mines could damage or destroy fish runs in both countries.

ANTHC Program To Monitor Toxicity in Subsistence Foods

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

For the first time in the U.S., a technology traditionally used on humans is testing possible widespread threats to food security. The technology is filter paper, and it is used to collect blood samples. Throughout the Bering Strait region, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is distributing the paper to subsistence hunters to collect blood specimens from subsistence mammals.

Body of Wilderness Classic Racer Recovered From Tana River

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

A long time competitor in one of Alaska’s most rugged backcountry races has died.  Rob Kehrer (kare-er) was found dead while competing in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic over the weekend in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Court Orders A Second Look At Controversial Fisheries Observer Program

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a newly-implemented fisheries observer program in the Gulf of Alaska may have become unreliable, and is sending federal managers back to the drawing board to fix it.



Categories: Alaska News

State Lacks Plans, Funds to Replace Steel Float in Gustavus

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 16:56

The million dollar steel float in Gustavus was less than two years old when a storm ripped it from its piling in January.

Seven months later, the state still doesn’t know what caused the failure and doesn’t have funds to replace it.

Without the steel float, Gustavus boaters are left with 350 feet of timber floats. In the winter, these are stored up the Salmon River. (Photo by Tod Sebens)


When the state installed the all-weather float in the fall of 2012, the purpose was to provide additional moorage opportunity for Gustavus boaters in the summer. The plan was to keep it in the water during the winter even though it wouldn’t be used then.

Kirk Miller supervises marine design in Southeast for the Alaska Department of Transportation. He says the 200-foot float was built to be easily removed from its piles.

“We knew from day one that this environment out here might not allow this float to survive,” Miller says.

He says his design team is very familiar with the severe storm weather at the Gustavus harbor facility. It’s in an exposed section of land that gets strong winds blowing from the west.

“The intent was to watch this closely and if it looked like we were going to have issues, we would unbolt this thing and put it up the Salmon River where we did the rest of the floats every year,” Miller says.

A storm in mid-December damaged five of the ten steel piles holding the float in place.

“After that first storm, we should’ve been out there unbolting it ourselves,” he says.

When the steel float dislodged in January, it swung into the timber floats, destroying two sections. The state paid $32,000 to replace them. (Photo courtesy of Pep Scott)

But the state didn’t move fast enough.

“While we were formulating a plan to replace the piles, the next storm came up. I wish we would’ve taken it out, but we didn’t,” Miller says.

He admits that was a mistake, but says the design of the float and the piling holding it in place was not.

Miller says DOT has done a lot of analysis since the January storm.

“We’ve also analyzed our original design calculations and we’ve determined that the loads of those two storms in December and January that were imposed on those piles were higher than we originally anticipated,” he says.

Data from a state weather gage at the harbor facility and statistical models have led Miller to believe waves were as high as 10 to 12 feet.

Still, he says, the piles should’ve survived.

“We still do not have a firm grasp on the actual failure mechanism,” Miller says.

The steel float was salvaged and is now anchored across Icy Passage near Pleasant Island. Miller says it’s in relatively good shape. The remains of the steel piles were removed

Without the steel float, commercial and recreational boaters have been sharing 350 feet of timber floats in the Gustavus harbor. The state paid about $30,000 to rebuild two timber sections that had been destroyed in the January storm. Those were just replaced in mid-July.

Gustavus tour operator Tod Sebens says without the steel float, space is tight.

“You really have to get in, get your people and get out,” he says.

Sebens runs a 50-foot whale watching boat, the TAZ, which can carry up to 28 passengers. He offers two trips daily.

“People have actually been working well together – the charter fishermen, some of the commercial fishermen and some of the individual tour operators, like myself. Everybody’s been really considerate this year,” Sebens says.

Mayor Sandi Marchbanks says Gustavus residents and business owners are used to making do with what’s available. But, she says, the town does need the steel float and hopes the state will replace it as soon as possible.

Miller says the state doesn’t have the funding to do that.

“It is our hope to bring that float back to the harbor, but nothing is certain,” he says.

The state does have close to $4.5 million in federal aid for a different Gustavus project. Miller says the state plans to replace the floating transfer bridge in the Alaska Marine Highway facility with a cable lift system.

“We may incorporate some elements to that steel float back into that project. But we don’t know if the federal government will participate in that, because they paid for it once and it broke loose and I don’t know if they’ll participate again,” Miller says.

If DOT does reinstate the steel float in Gustavus, it would be in a seasonal capacity only. Like the other harbor floats, it would have to be kept in the Salmon River during the winter and returned in the summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Groups Disagree on the Stakes of B.C. Mine Projects

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-12 15:28

Some Alaska tribal organizations say the August 4th dam break at a British Columbia mine shows what could happen at proposed near-border mines. But some B.C. tribal governments strongly support development.

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Northwest British Columbia’s Nisga’a Museum includes a display of legendary beings occupying the Nass River valley, about 20 miles from the Southeast Alaska border. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“Here you’ll see some of the types of ways that we use oolichans. They’re sun-dried as well as smoked.”

Kerry Small explains what’s in a display case in northwest British Columbia’s Nisga’a Museum. It’s a gleaming, glass-fronted building in a wide valley about 20 miles from the Alaska border.

The valley surrounds the Nass River, home to the Nisga’a Nation and its tribal government, which is at the forefront of Canada’s aboriginal rights movement.

Small points to a carved, rectangular, wooden dish used to process oolichans, also called hooligan or candlefish.

“The bottom’s laid with fern and you cook it down, and that’s how you create the grease. And this is oolichan grease. It’s like liquid gold. It’s one of the most valuable items still to this day,” she says.

Guide Kerry Small talks her people’s history at the Nisga’a Museum. The Nisga’a Government recently signed an agreement with the controversial KSM Mine project. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Kevin McKay, executive chairman of the Nisga’a Government’s legislature, says the Nisga’a people depend on the health of the Nass River to keep the oolichan coming, as well as salmon.

“The oolichan has been called the survival fish because it’s a very important part of our cycle of food that we get in abundance,” McKay says.

But they also need jobs.

That’s one of the reasons the tribal government signed an agreement this summer pledging support for the Kerr-Sulpherrets-Mitchell Mine, under development to the north.

“What we told our citizens … (is) we have taken every measure and every opportunity to mitigate those environmental impacts throughout the life of the project,” he says.

KSM will store its tailings–ground up rock leftover from ore processing–behind dams within the Naas River watershed.

“We had some concerns with the original design they had presented throughout the course of our negotiations,” he says.

The Nisga’a Lisims Government Building is the home of the Canadian First Nation’s government. Leaders say their environmental concerns have been answered by the developer of the KSM Mine. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

McKay says those changes will cost the developer a couple hundred million dollars. KSM says changes made to address aboriginal concerns bring the amount to $500 million.

“Now I dare say, without that significant move by the proponent, it may not have been possible for the parties to reach a mutual agreement.”

Total development costs are estimated at $5.3 billion.

McKay says the Nisga’a-KSM agreement also provides lump-sum payments, training, jobs and environmental protections.

“There are no 100 percent guarantees. We go into this with our eyes wide open,” he says.

The mine faces objections on this side of the border.

“I just firmly, firmly, firmly believe that this is a bad idea,” says Ketchikan’s Rob Sanderson Jr., who co-chairs the Southeast Alaska-based United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group. It’s backed by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, as well as several Southeast communities’ tribal governments.

All the groups say the KSM and other near-border mines could threaten the Unuk, the Stikine or the Taku rivers, which flow from Canada into Alaska.

“We live in a very seismic area of the world and one of the big concerns about the KSM is the scale,” he says.

And it’s not just when the mines are running. Sanderson and other critics worry about the decades–or centuries–after they close, when tailings dams fail.

“If they get up to capacity and production and we have a catastrophic event, that pretty much puts southern Southeast into a dead zone,” he says.

Those objections won the backing of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians this summer. It’s the nation’s largest Native organization. It’s urging Congress, the White House and the State Department to push Canadian officials to increase environmental scrutiny.

But the KSM’s environmental-protection plans are close to approval. And, the Red Chris Mine, owned by the same company that had the dam collapse, is already extracting ore within the Stikine River watershed.

KSM developers have also won support from the Gitxsan Nation, a British Columbia aboriginal government east of Nisga’a territory.

Gitanyow Fisheries Authority Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kevin Koch talks about mine impacts in a small park in Old Hazelton, B.C. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Another tribal government, the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, had opposed the project, but signed an agreement this summer.

“What we’re concerned about is the tailings facility that does drain into Gitanyow territory,” says Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kevin Koch, who works for the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority, a branch of that government.

He says mining’s impacts may not be immediately obvious.

“When some metal or element of some kind is released into water, it might not directly kill fish, but it might impair some part of their physiology or behavior. They might lose their ability to avoid predators, that sort of thing,” he says.

It might also hurt salmon’s sense of smell, which makes it hard to find their spawning grounds.

The Gitanyow’s KSM agreement is not a full endorsement. Rather, it sets some rules and guarantees the tribal government is part of environmental monitoring.

“For Gitanyow to feel that their territory’s protected, they need to be directly involved. They need to have people on the ground taking part in the work, analyzing the work, reporting directly to the chiefs rather than government or industry just reporting annually,” Koch says, speaking as a biologist, not as a tribal representative.

Gitanyow staff have done field work, studying salmon and moose habitat.

Another tribal government, the Tahltan Central Council, has also expressed concerns about transboundary mines.

Mine proponents say that’s part of the assessment process required by government regulators.

Brent Murphy is spokesman and top environmental official for Seabridge Gold, the Kerr-Sulpherrets-Mitchell Mine’s developer.

“The guiding principal behind the design of the KSM project was the protection of the downstream environments,” he says.

Other mine projects concerning tribal groups are Galore Creek and Schaft Creek in the Stikine River watershed, and Tulsequah Chief near the Taku River.


Categories: Alaska News