Almost two weeks ago, 27-year-old Alaskan Cody Dial was reported missing on a kayak trip in Costa Rica. Dial is the son of Roman Dial, a well-known outdoorsman and Alaska Pacific University professor.
In a call from Costa Rica yesterday, the elder Dial says the search for his son has turned up nothing so far, and that requests for help from the U.S. by the Costa Rican government have not been answered.
Dial has asked that Alaska’s Congressional delegation put pressure on U.S. officials to help. He says the process has stalled in bureaucratic – heavy Washington, DC
Dial says the Costa Rican Red Cross, which has been assisting in the search since August 1, decided to pull out of the rescue effort about a week ago. Dial says with a few experts in climbing and jungle living, he believes his son can be located
Dial thinks his son is in a dangerous area of Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. The area is so hazardous it’s off limits to tourists.
Roman Dial’s wife, Peggy says Cody left Anchorage in December, bound for Mexico and Central America. She says her son is cautious and capable, and kept in touch with his parents through regular email and phone updates until the messages stopped coming in mid July.
At KTNA radio in Talkeetna, the staff often has people contact it asking for help finding a ride. Normally, it’s someone needing to get to town for an appointment or looking for a ride to the airport. On Wednesday, a very different kind of ride-seeker walked through the doors.
So, you’re hitchhiking by plane, trying to reach all fifty states?
That’s Amber Nolan. She’s a travel writer who has been hitching rides on private aircraft for the better part of two years. Her goal for this leg of her journey is to make it from Key West, Florida, to Point Barrow, Alaska. Amber says her work has taken her all over the world, but she had not seen as much of America as she would like, so she decided to start traveling.
“One thing led to another, and this idea came up to hitchhike across the U.S. by general aviation,” she said. “I thought it would be an interesting viewpoint and perspective on the U.S., and also, when you’re landing at small airports, it gives you an entirely different angle to go at. You’re not flying into big cities. You get to see the small-town U.S. instead of just the major tourist points.”
Hitchhiking is relatively common in Alaska. For most people, it means standing along the side of the road with a thumb in the air and sometimes a sign with a destination on it. With airplanes, things work differently. Amber Nolan says the initial reaction she gets is often one of surprise:
“I usually just go in and tell whoever is working at the [fixed-base operator], or just in the airport, what I’m doing, and I usually get, ‘Wait, what? What are you doing?’ and then kind of the weird eyes of, ‘Are you crazy?’ Then, after a minute, they understand that I’m on this adventure.”
Word then spreads among the local pilot community, and when someone is willing to give Amber a ride in roughly the right direction, she hops on board. In small towns, where only a few planes come in and out on a given day, that can take awhile. Other times, Murphy’s Law rears its head and causes longer delays:
“In Texas, I got stuck for quite a few weeks, because one thing led to another: Rain came in, problems with an airplane,” she said. “So, it seemed like I had four different people offer to give me a ride, and something went wrong every time.”
Amber says some of her flights have been particularly memorable, including one in a former warplane:
“I got to hitchhike on a B-17, which was just epic. I couldn’t get the grin off my face the entire time.”
“Where was that?” she is asked.
“From Indiana, they were doing a barnstorming tour. They were going from town to town doing scenic flights. People would make reservations and do the flight. So, I said, ‘What about between towns? Do you have any room on those flights?’ And he says, ‘Well, the whole plane’s empty if you want to go.’”
With clouds in the forecast, Amber anticipates waiting a few days in Talkeetna. It probably won’t be long, though, until she is on her way north once more.>>
You can follow Amber Nolan’s journey at JetHiking.com, or on the Jet-Hiking Facebook page.
House District 12 was left without a representative when Bill Stoltze announced his bid for a Senate seat earlier this year. Now two candidates with strong Wasilla connections are seeking to fill that gap.
Ron Arvin, is sending a development message to the voters as the August 19 primary approaches. The two term Matanuska Susitna Borough Assemblyman has an extensive background that involves overseeing federal construction contracts, and work on export trade in Japan, Korea and the Phillipines. He points to his background in state and business trade relations:
“I think what I bring to this race is very unique. Alaska is an export business from minerals to oil to timber and I think that I have the skill set to bring those some of those intiatives further along.”
Cathy Tilton has worked for the city of Wasilla and as a staffer for Republican Mat Su legislator Mark Neuman. She points to her work in helping to build the state budget as a plus during belt-tightening times to come.
”The upcoming years are really crucial. If we don’t get a handle on our state’s budget, our state is going to be bankrupt. And there won’t be the capital that we need to do any of the projects that we need to be open for business.”
Both grew up in Alaska. Arvin, born in Sitka, has three daughters in Borough Schools. Tilton moved to the state as an infant with her military family. She has three sons.
Arvin has served on both the Alaska Industrial Development And Export Authority and Alaska Energy Authority boards and has worked with the Mat Su Borough’s port commission and transportation advisory board. He is an advocate of what he calls the “legacy” projects. He says its time to move forward on the Susitna Watana dam, the Knik Arm Bridge, the Alaska gasline and get going on trucking LNG from the North Slope to Fairbanks. He says all of those projects will help rural Alaskans beat high energy costs
“The state has an initiative to build a facility on the North Slope and to truck modules of LNG down to Interior Alaska, Fairbanks proper. Along with that, those containers could be situated on a barge and could be moved up and down the rivers and could provide alternative, less costly energy to rural Alaska, rather than just fuel oil. ”
He says when private industry gets involved in making energy available to rural villages, the new options will lower costs.
Tilton, for her part, says the state should have a stable tax structure for companies to help lower energy costs.
“I think what our state needs to do is to have a stable tax structure and a sensible regululatory environment so that the companies and the utilities that are creating these types of things are able to do that so that the cost can come down for the people.”
Tilton says her experience on the local government level involved working to help Wasilla grow into first class city status, in working on it’s sewer and transportation systems. But she points to her “over four years extensive work with the state budget ” as her biggest asset. She says she made recommendations and wrote pieces of legislation. She says the state budget needs to be a lot tighter.
“In the Health and Social Services budget alone there’s over 860 grants to all different sorts of programs. There’s lots and lots of good programs, but there are some that I don’t believe the state should be paying for. Maybe some of the repayment programs for different types of educational opportunities. ”
Arvin says his experience on state boards and Borough commissions is a valuable asset, and he has experience in introducing and vetting new legislation. He says that during his five years on the Mat Su Borough Assembly, the mill levy was reduced, saving Borough taxpayers about a million dollars. But he says, on a state level, he’ll focus on key services.
“The people expect government to provide three basic things: public education, EMS fire rescue, emergency services, and infrastructure, so we can move ourselves and commerce effectively. The fourth part of that is the social aspect of taking care of the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities. Everything else is on the table for me. We have to focus on those things first.”
Both candidates favor a ‘No’ position on Proposition 1. And both are against raising the minimum wage, but for different reasons. Cathy Tilton:
” I personally will vote against the minimum wage. I feel like that the private sector has control of the pay they want to pay their people. Clearly the intent and the idea is a good intent, but the effect has been on a federal level has been a loss of jobs nationwide and a significant in crease in consumer prices.”
But Arvin says:
“The issue should be, how do we create jobs that you can raise a family on, not a minimum wage job where you can just simply live, and just barely eke by a living. That’s not what entry level jobs are meant to be. I’m a no on raising the minimum wage. We need to focus our energy on creating sustainable, family wage jobs. ”
House 12 stretches between Anchorage bedroom communities and Butte farms, and the wide swath of attitudes in between the two poles could pose a challenge or any legislator.
At the end of the last reporting period, Arvin had contributed 15 thousand dollars to his own campaign, but Tilton’s self contribution dwarfs that. Tilton has pumped more than 35 thousand dollars into her own campaign, saying that her work as a legislative staffer kept her from campaigning until late May, and that she needs the money to build name recognition.
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.
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.
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.
Two very different men are running in the Republican primary for House District 16 in East Anchorage, but they have similar agendas. They both want to reduce the budget and fix the education system.
Seventy-two year old Don Hadley moved to the state 47 years ago with the military. He says he’s spent his entire life as a public servant, mostly as a public school teacher and an Alaska Air National Guardsman. He says he wants to continue giving back.
“We make a living by what we get. But we make life by what we give,” he says. “And I think that’s a perfect statement about how I feel about running for public office.”
Hadley ran and lost back in 2012. The retired school teacher is making education one of his primary issues. He says he’s not sure how much money the schools need, but he supports programs like early childhood education. He says a key to fixing the education system is getting parents involved.
His opponent, 44-year-old Kevin Kastner, agrees. Kastner’s experience differs greatly from his opponent’s. Most of his work has involved technology, marketing, and starting new businesses. He argues that to get parents to be active in their children’s schools, they first need to have secure jobs.
“Many of our social and civic issues that we deal with — which is not something I’m running on — but I think many of those problems can be solved when people are working, are happy, are earning a good living.”
Kastner says to do that, the state needs to look for long-term solutions, like promoting workforce development, renewable resources, and the diversification of Alaska’s economy.
“That 90% dependency on oil is something that is in a way, our weakest spot,” he says. “I think we all kind of know that. But I think as long as we have that dependency, we’re going to be continuously debating ‘How much should we get? Are they too greedy?’ So as long as we’re in that sort of dependency, we’re never going to solve our long term problems.”
Kastner says one potential solution is creating an operations fund to run the state government that works just like the Permanent Fund. He says the state needs to invest now in a consistent source of revenue that will remain strong, even if oil production continues to decline.
Hadley says maintaining a push for more resource development is a key to keeping Alaska’s budget healthy.
“And we as citizens and the legislature and the governor need to do all we can to responsibly develop oil and gas in Alaska.”
But Hadley says that shouldn’t be at the expense of other resources, like fisheries. He did not have any specific ideas for cutting the budget or improving resource development. He says he does have experience managing budgets for the flight services department of the Air National Guard.
Kastner touts his business and budget experience. He says that as the director for Iron Dog he has worked with people around the state to coordinate the race. He’s managed budgets for different sized businesses and also worked with the state legislature to change laws about advertising for fund raisers online.
Two political newcomers – and friends – are vying for the Republican nomination for House District 21 this month – Anand Dubey and Matt Fagnani. They met in 2012 when Dubey lost to Lindsay Holmes in the old District 19. Fagnani says he decided to run against his friend because he’s more in tune with Alaska, but Dubey says he offers innovations the legislature needs.
Watching Dubey and Fagnani in the KAKM studios, it’s clear they are comfortable together. They joke around and listen to each other.
“It’s been fun,” Fagnani says, smiling. “We see each other as we’re walking the neighborhood.”
But the messages they are delivering are quite different.
Dubey is pushing his background in technology. He ran the state’s Enterprise Technology Services for four years. Now he’s self-employed as an IT consultant and helps small businesses glean information from their data. He says his understanding of emerging technologies will help him pare down the budget and consolidate government services.
“So I think I’m the missing link. I think more and more as technology becomes prevalent, you’ll need guys like me in the legislative seat who understand business, understand technology, who are actual citizens. I call myself a big nobody.”
Fagnani promotes himself as a more conventional candidate. He’s lived and worked in Alaska for 30 years doing everything from running a halfway house in Bethel to managing a work safety and drug testing program for NANA. He was later the Vice President of Business Development for the Pebble Partnership.
“I’m an honest guy,” he states. “I’ve been able to turn difficult opportunities and turn them into profitable opportunities for the employers that I’ve worked for.”
And Fagnani says he sees great opportunities in the state for resource development, especially if some things change.
“So guiding resource development — I think you have to look at the permitting process. Why should it take 10 years for a project to come into permitting? I’d like to see if we could reduce that time,” he says. “We haven’t been able to so far. But as a guy with a business background, an entrepenur. I think I would look at this with a different set of eyes. I think we need to look at how do we maximize resource development in rural Alaska. That is what brings infrastructure to rural Alaska.”
Fagnani also supports the state’s current megaprojects, like the Wantana Susitna Dam and he supports pursuing both ideas to get natural gas off the North Slope — the LNG Project and the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline.
“Alaskans benefit greatly in that opportunity with either project. So I would support either project because I think it’s the right thing to do to bring our resource back or bring our resource into the market.”
Dubey, on the other hand, is more skeptical. He says he’s heard about the gasline since arriving in Alaska 15 years ago, but it still hasn’t been built. He calls the Knik Arm Bridge a great idea but says the execution of it has been a boondoggle.
“So whenever I see government undertaking these megaprojects, a part of me is like, the chances of a government agency succeeding? Their records are not perfect.”
Dubey says the economic growth of Alaska will depend on ideas from the entire community, not just the legislature.
“I think it’s the role of the government really to sort of just keep us out of trouble, but ultimately innovation, forward thinking, new thought, needs to all come from the people themselves. When was the last time the government did something fundamentally unique?”
So why is Dubey running for office? He says it’s to guard and change government from within. He says he also wants to try to put an end to partisan politics and help legislators listen to and understand each other’s ideas.
“You know, don’t vote for me because I’m a Republican. Don’t vote for me because you think I’m a conservative or I’m a liberal. Vote for me because of what I bring to the table.”
As for Fagnani, he says he brings to the table experience with business and non-profit boards, and optimism.
“I mean I look at problems and I see solutions, I don’t see problems. I look at opportunities and I see a new opportunity and then another opportunity. I don’t get discouraged very well.”
And so he’s not discouraged when he sees his friend walking through the neighborhoods, trying to round up votes, just like him.
The body of a man who went missing in the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks has been recovered.
Volunteers found Andrew John’s body Tuesday evening.
Sgt. Scott McCumby says the body has been positively identified and next-of-kin notified.
Efforts to find the body of the 35-year-old Arctic Village man have been underway since he was last seen under a bridge on the rain-swollen Chena River on Thursday
Authorities say he and another man, identified by police as Robert Francis, decided to go swimming to escape the heat.
Francis was able to get out of the water, but John was last seen under the Wendell Street bridge.
John’s body was found near the Carlson Center.
A logger from Washington state has died after being pinned by an uprooted tree near Ketchikan.
The victim was identified as 51-year-old Kenneth B. Butkovich of Castle Rock, Washington.
Alaska State Troopers say he was struck and pinned by the uprooted tree Tuesday afternoon on Cleveland Peninsula in southeast Alaska.
Troopers don’t suspect foul play. His next-of-kin have been notified, and the body was sent to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.
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.
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.
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.
The Federal Aviation Administration is advising pilots flying around Eielson Air Force Base, Fort 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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
The University of Alaska Anchorage released a comprehensive prioritization report Wednesday examining both academic and support functions.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alaska State Troopers say a 57-year-old woman drove herself to a hospital after she was mauled by a brown bear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.