Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, will soon be flying more often over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Soldiers assigned to the aircraft just tested out a new runway on the base earlier this month. Officials say it will allow more training on the remotely piloted aircraft in Anchorage.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Three, Nicholas Jones you’re not likely to see an Unmanned Aircraft or UA flying around, but you might hear it.
“It sounds like a very angry lawn mower,” Jones said.
That’s sound recorded from a UA flight at JBER earlier this month. Jones’s official title is Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Officer with the 4th Airborne Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The unmanned aircraft are like big remote control airplanes, but really, really smart, Jones says. It takes three people on the ground to operate one. The ones flying over JBER lately are called the Shadow. There are four of them at the base. They weigh about 375 pounds, are about 14 feet long with a 14 foot wingspan, with straight wings. The aircraft are unarmed and used for reconnaissance missions, Jones says.
“We just have a few cameras. We’re flying around for operator proficiency,” Jones said. “In combat we do use if for full motion video. In combat one of the catch phrases is ‘eye in the sky’ for the commander.”
In Afghanistan, Jones says the Shadow was used for scouting areas in front of and behind convoys. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the military’s request to train on the Shadow at JBER and the 27 person platoon assigned to operate the four aircraft tested them out for about 150 hours including landing it on a new runway. The base needed FAA approval because the flight path for takeoff and landing edges out of military air space.
“The way that that runways was built, means that we have to leave that restricted airspace for about 10 seconds on takeoff and landing,” Jones said.
Jones says the new $750,000 runway was needed because other on-base runways are difficult to land on. The new runway insures regular training at JBER into the future.
Jones says, now that the military is scaling back overseas, more and more training is needed at home so soldiers can maintain proficiency.
In Alaska, most of the UAS training used to take place at Donnelly Training Area near Fort Grealy in the town of Delta about two and half hours south of Fairbanks. But Jones says that’s costly, running around $30,000 several times a year. With the new runway at JBER, training will stay in Anchorage and, Jones says, save money over the long run.
Jones says there are lots of misconceptions about what the aircraft do.
“Well, especially here in Alaska, and near big population centers I think the misunderstanding or the tendency is to think that we are out spying on people,” Jones said. “That is not the case. We are simply out doing operator training.”
He also doesn’t like them being referred to as drones. He says that’s an outdated term with negative connotations that the military is trying to shake. He says drone is a word from the early days of the Air Force – they were remote control airplanes that they actually would use as targets and shoot down. And recently, Jones says it’s been used by the media and the public to refer to all remote controlled aircraft used by the military.
“They do refer to them as drones but I think drone has a bad connotation. That’s not what we are doing. We don’t have armament. We are there trying to find people,” Jones said. “We’ve been asked in the past to do search and rescue missions. We’re not flying around dropping bombs on people. So I think drones kind a harsh term for what we do.”
There are also more than a dozen smaller, handheld UA at the base, called Raven. They’re harder to see from the ground than the larger Shadow.
If you live in Eagle River, Jones says, you may catch a glimpse of the aircraft, or at least hear it, but not likely until spring. The Shadow can’t fly in really cold temperatures.
Governor Sean Parnell today appointed Nathaniel Peters to the Bethel District Court. Peters has experience in the local court system as he served in Bethel with the Alaska Public Defender Agency from 2003 to 2006.
After that he moved to Ireland, where he worked in a civil law practice before returning as an assistant public defender in Palmer. He has served in Palmer since 2008.
Peters is a member of the Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and volunteers with Mat-Su Youth Court, Fronteras Spanish Immersion School, and Mat-Su Project Homeless Connect. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a law degree with honors from Ohio Northern University.
Bethel’s District Court–as other district courts in Alaska–has jurisdiction over state misdemeanors and violations of city and borough ordinances. As a District Court judge, Peters can hold preliminary hearings in felony cases, try civil cases valued at less than $100,000 and small claims cases valued at less than $10,000. He can hear domestic violence cases, issue summonses, arrest warrants, and search warrants.
State officials were in Unalaska on Friday to talk about a proposal pre-authorizing the use of chemical dispersants on oil spills in Alaska waters.
Officials from the Alaska Regional Response Team spent four hours at City Hall taking public comment on the proposed changes.
They said the update to the state’s 25-year-old spill response plan wouldn’t guarantee that the controversial dispersants would be used — it would just make it easier to deploy them in the event of a crude oil spill from a tanker.
Mark Everett is the Coast Guard’s co-chair on the ARRT. He said they’re drawing on lessons from spills like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez, the only spill in Alaska where dispersants have been used. He said the main lesson is that it’s important to act quickly.
“A crisis is not the time to find the tool that you need,” he said. “The pre-spill environment, the planning environment is the time to do that collaboration and to receive the input you need to be able to make the best possible decision when you absolutely have to.”
The ARRT has been touring the proposed area where dispersants would be pre-authorized. That area stretches from the waters off Prince William Sound to the tip of the Aleutian chain. In the Aleutians, it begins off-shore and extends 100 nautical miles to the north and 200 nautical miles to the south. Officials say that’s where crude oil tankers travel, and where a spill would most likely occur. The zone has anchor points — narrow channels in to shore — at Cape Suckling and Cape Sarichef.
At the meeting, the ARRT officials went through a proposed checklist where officials could evaluate the environmental risks from an active spill and talk to federal, state, tribal and community stakeholders. The proposal also includes a process for identifying parts of the pre-authorization area where dispersants shouldn’t be used, like wildlife habitats or fishing grounds. And it lets officials designate areas outside the pre-authorized zone where they could use dispersants if they needed to — like closer to shore off Unalaska.
Chris Field of the Environmental Protection Agency noted that dispersants are already generally authorized in the state, but are very rarely used anywhere. They’re one of Alaska’s two options if mechanical oil recovery fails during a spill. The other is burning the oil on the surface.
Field said the pre-authorization proposal creates more streamlined checks and balances to put dispersants into action.
“If you have a pre-authorization plan, which we’re proposing as part of these dispersant guidelines, then the federal on-scene coordinator can initiate the use of dispersants without getting EPA and state approval because we’ve already agreed to the pre-authorization plan,” he said.
He also said this proposal could prompt the private companies that own the dispersants to put stocks of them closer to where spills can occur — within six to seven hours, maximum.
The ARRT members took comments from their Unalaska audience to help shape the plan. Some people were concerned about environmental impacts and local involvement in the decision-making process.
Unalaska natural resources analyst Frank Kelty asked if dispersants could seep into the water taken in by processing plants in Dutch Harbor.
Rick Bernhardt, the state’s spill preparedness coordinator, said dispersants could threaten processors, but that spilled oil would already pose a far greater threat.
“So if you’re sucking up dispersants, in reality, the fishery’s gonna be shut down,” he said. “You’re not going to get one without the other.”
Kelty said he recognized that, but he still wanted a way for seafood processors to be involved during a spill.
“I want to make sure the processing industry is part of your stakeholders that would be notified immediately,” he said.
Others wanted to know more about the research behind different brands of dispersants, and how toxic they can be to everything from seafood stocks and wildlife to the phytoplankton some of those animals eat.
Bernhardt said they’re considering those topics. He said they recognize that no dispersant is completely safe, and that dispersing the oil into the water column doesn’t completely solve the problem. But he emphasized that oil is damaging to the environment on its own if left untreated.
“Every decision that we’re going to make in the response community once that oil is in the water … has risks. It has potential to do further harm,” he said. “What we’re really talking about here in the process of decision-making for spill response is, what’s the greatest possible good that we can do and the least possible impact on the environment?”
And he noted that there are safer dispersants available now than there were during the Exxon Valdez spill.
Carl Wassilie represents the Center for Water Advocacy in Homer. He called in to the meeting and said he had concerns that tribal officials hadn’t been given enough time to weigh in. And he said he wants more assurances on toxicity.
“I’d like to see some of that documentation,” he said. “Is that something that’s going to be in the report, that’s part of this plan, that we can insure that we have a balanced approach to the use of dispersants? Decision-making that includes all available science?”
Bernhardt said they’re looking at that kind of research as part of the planning process.
The public can continue to comment on the pre-authorization proposal, which is posted online, until February 14, 2014.
The television station known statewide as Channel 2 will stay on the air in Juneau and Sitka through Dec. 6th, while the station andGCI Cable continue to negotiate carriage terms.
Channel 2 is the Anchorage NBC affiliate,KTUU, seen in Juneau on KATH and in Sitka on KSCT.
It was expected KTUU News would be taken off the Southeast stations Friday night if a deal wasn’t reached.
Now both companies say substantial progress toward a long-term agreement has been made, with the deadline extended to Dec. 6.
The two sides have been negotiating KTUU’s carriage on cable throughout the state since September. On November 8th, GCI pulled KTUU off cable in 21 rural Alaska communities, from Barrow to Skagway.
“We’ve heard from folks from rural Alaska as likely GCI has, who are upset about this, who want their programming back, who really just want to have access to a local news source that they’ve watched for years and years,” says KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hillwig.
He says the rural issue is back on the table as the companies look for a comprehensive agreement.
“The two sides are reporting substantial progress in talks on an overall agreement that would resolve issues in rural Alaska, Southeast Alaska and Anchorage for an extended period of time.”
KATH and KSCT television stations have been purchased by GCI. The Federal Communications Commission last month approved the license transfer to the cable company. At the time, GCI said Sitka and Juneau viewers would not see any changes in the short-term. But Channel 2 was still negotiating to keep its news on the stations.
If a long-term agreement is not reached, GCI Corporate Services Vice President David Morris says only Channel 2 News would be pulled from the Southeast stations.
He says the financial terms of carrying KTUU on the statewide cable has been one of the main sticking points.
“One of the sticking points also that we have is they’re wanting an exclusive arrangement to be the only NBC provider everywhere in Alaska outside of Juneau and Fairbanks,” Morris says.
If the two sides can reach a comprehensive agreement, Channel 2 News would remain on the Southeast stations, and about 7,000 rural cable subscribers would once again receive Channel 2 News and NBC programming.
Alaska fishermen want to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other monitoring devices in the federal government’s fishery observer program. Under the recently-revamped program, many more vessels, including smaller boats, can now be required to carry an observer at times. A new industry proposal is aimed at making electronic monitoring available as an alternative to carrying that extra person on the boat.
The federal government expanded its fishery observer program this past year. For the first time, that meant halibut boats and smaller vessels, 40 to 60 feet long, could be selected to carry an observer.
But according to Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association Director Linda Behnken, that’s not feasible for many. “There’s a lot of the small boat fleet that simply cannot accommodate another person,” she said.
“They don’t have a bunk. They don’t have the safety equipment. They just don’t have space for that. So, we saw a number of people apply for a release to observer coverage on those grounds. Actually 65 percent of the boats selected in the first three quarters of the year, which is the data I’ve seen so far, those 65 percent of the boats that were selected applied for a release and were granted a release.”
Behnken credits Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Cora Campbell for helping to make sure that relief was available. Behnken thinks the releases were needed to lessen the burden of the expanded program.
However, she said it also meant that the National Marine Fisheries Service fell short of its goals for observer coverage. “So, to our mind, you’re not getting representative data if you’re not hitting those target coverage levels which can mean some problems with extrapolating that data to the remainder of the fleet,” she said.
Behnken said the situation shifted more of the observer burden to boats that were able to accommodate them. Also, she said some fishermen chose not to use their own small boats and instead opted to fish with other skippers who had bigger vessels. She said a few others chose to sell their fishing quotas because of the new regulations.
So, Behnken said ALFA is working with other fishing groups to pursue electronic monitoring or EM as an alternative to carrying observers on small boats. In October, they applied for a federal permit to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other electronic monitoring equipment.
“We all recognize there will continue to be a need for some,” she said.
“For observers on the water but that there are places, there are times, there is a significant portion of the fleet that is better served by having electronic monitoring to insure you get representative data and you get it in a cost effective way. So, we’re looking to integrate EM, to use it where you can get the data that managers need, and to use it in a way that’s less intrusive and less costly than deploying human observers.”
Federal fishery managers are taking a slower approach to the issue than the industry would like. NMFS has a small-scale EM pilot program that involved just a handful of participants this past year. ALFA wants to incorporate that into the broader, industry-backed project to test technology on more boats. 60 vessels would be the goal for the first year of a five-year effort.
NMFS has been considering the proposal according to Martin Loefflad who is director of the agency’s Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division.
While he won’t comment on the industry application while it’s still under review. Loefflad said NMFS is also trying to advance electronic monitoring.
“What we’re trying to do is improve the quality of imagery we are getting from vessels” he said.
“There’s a lot of hype on this EM stuff going on worldwide right now and what we’ve seen is that a lot of work has been done all over the world that has been duplicating the same sorts of things. We want to get out of duplication and actually move this stuff forward. I personally think EM has massive potential and could revolutionize the way we sample, if we do it right.”
Observers record catch data and other information for use in fishery management and research. Loefflad said electronic monitoring will never do exactly what a person does.
“People can do a variety of things,”Loefflad said. “EM can do some things very, very well and we want to figure out what things it does well and then so we can use that potentially as a tool to supplement those areas where putting a person on a boat is not a feasible process.”
Together, NMFS and the industry may be able to make some progress on moving electronic monitoring forward, Loefflad said.
The agency has told the North Pacific Council that it will have the capacity to deploy EM equipment on 14 vessels in its pilot project next year. As an incentive for participation, NMFS proposed that volunteers would avoid the possibility of being selected to carry an observer. That would also be the case for the industry proposal.
National Marine Fisheries Service Staff will be in Petersburg to hold an informational meeting about the fishery observer program in general on Tuesday, December 3rd from 4 to 6 pm in the new Library’s large conference room.
Most Sealaska shareholders will get a $713 check or direct deposit in about two weeks.
This year’s winter distribution to stockholders totals $11.7 million. The Juneau-headquartered regional Native corporation has nearly 22,000 tribal members. Most live in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.
Sealaska Board Chair Albert Kookesh says the twice-a-year distributions strengthen regional communities.
“Since inception, Sealaska has paid more than a half billion dollars total to shareholders and village corporations,” he says.
The majority of stockholders own 100 shares. Payments differ due to status.
Those also enrolled in an urban Native corporation, such as Juneau’s Goldbelt Inc., receive $713. So are those only enrolled in Sealaska.
Shareholders also enrolled in a village corporation, such as Prince of Wales Island’s Klawock Heenya, will get $71.
The difference is income from a pool of regional Native corporations’ natural-resource earnings.
Sealaska pays that directly to urban shareholders, as part of their dividends. But it pays the resource revenues to village corporations, which decide whether to pass them on to shareholders.
Descendents of original shareholders also only get $71 per 100 shares.
And elders in any category receive an extra $71.
Sealaska will mail or direct-deposit dividends beginning December 6th.
Some shareholders say the dividends are too small. They point to the fact that only about 10 percent of the payments come from Sealaska operations and investments.
“Let us not fight of the tiny piece of pie Sealaska chooses to distribute; let us work together to elect a board interested in growing the pie,” said critic Brad Fluetsch on a shareholders Facebook page.
Freezing rain created hazardous driving conditions across Southcentral Alaska today and the roads aren’t much better tonight.
Freezing rain began coating snow at around 9 a.m. By noon cars were stranded across Anchorage and the People Mover Bus system shut down.
Anchorage Police Department Spokesperson Anita Shell says icy road conditions caused traffic problems.
“The majority of our crashes were occurring in the morning hours up until about 2 o’clock. It seems like it’s tapered off right now for the moment,” Shell said. “We’ve had reported 30 accidents today. Three additional accidents that had minor injuries and then 46 vehicles in distress. Most of those ended up in the ditch or some other method of breakdown.”
People Mover buses resumed their regular schedules around 3 o’clock after suspending service for more than three hours. Officials say riders should expect significant delays and reroutes and they urge riders to be careful walking to and from bus stops.
Icy conditions stretch beyond Anchorage from Seward to as far North as Talkeetna. The Valley Mover Bus system in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley is operating on a delayed schedule and plans to make evening runs to help people get back home from work in Anchorage.
Some 65 road incidents in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley were called into Alaska State Troopers by 1 p.m. today, according to a spokesperson for Alaska State Troopers.
The Matsu Borough says there were at least three separate school bus accidents this morning, including one where the bus slid onto its side off a road. There were 14 students on board. Three students reportedly suffered minor injuries.
After school activities are canceled in the Mat-Su School District and in Anchorage. Both districts advise delays are likely for school busses transporting students home.
University of Alaska Anchorage closed at noon.
Matanuska Electric Association reports 500 members are without power in Butte, Meadow Lakes, and the area from Sutton to Matanuska Glacier. Officials say the outage was a combination of icy and windy weather and they are working to get the power back on.
A winter weather advisory remains in effect for snow in Anchorage overnight and for snow and freezing rain in Wasilla and Glenn Allen.
// Anchorage School District:
- Classes will continue as normal.
- All after-school activities are canceled.
University of Alaska Anchorage:
- Anchorage, Eagle River and JBER campuses of UAA will be closing at 12:45 p.m. today due to icy road conditions.
- Classes beginning after 12:45 p.m. are canceled.
- UAA hockey game this evening at Sullivan arena will continue to be played as scheduled.
Alaska Pacific University
- Closing at 1:30 PM today Friday, Nov. 22.
- All classes, activities, and performances are cancelled for the remainder of the day.
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson:
- JBER has instituted an early release, allowing non-essential personnel to go home.
- Road Condition: Red – Drivers will exercise caution and reduce speeds by 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.
- Alaska Special Olympics bowling has been cancelled for TODAY. Weather permitting, events will continue tomorrow and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- The National American Indian Heritage event that was scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Talkeetna Theater on JBER-Elmendorf, has been cancelled due to weather.
- People Mover buses have resumed operation as of 2:50pm.
- AnchorRIDES has canceled service except for life sustaining trips and returning riders transported this morning, back to their home locations. All other trips are canceled, including Eagle River Connect and Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
- Aiming to have 4:30pm and 6:30pm buses to pick up passengers in Anchorage. Subject to change.
Mat-Su Borough School District:
- All after school and Saturday activities are canceled due to weather.
- Anchorage and Mat-Su state offices Will close at 2:00pm due to inclement weather.
- Will be open, but parents need to get children picked up as early as possible from Camp Fire given the deteriorating road conditions.
Team Rubicon, the disaster-relief NGO made up of retired military personnel, is heading to Kotlik on Monday. The same group has sent volunteers to Haiti, Pakistan, Chile, and, most recently, the Philippines. It’s part of the multi-agency effort to help communities in Western Alaska clean-up after powerful storms two weeks ago.
As energy bills are rising for most people across the state, the Alaska SeaLife Center’s are actually dropping. That’s because they’re using the cold waters of Resurrection Bay to heat their building.
Agnes is a seven-month-old sea otter pup who was rescued and sent to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. She’s swimming around a pool with another orphaned otter.
The center’s marine mammal curator Derek Woodie says the otters don’t have any blubber, they rely on their thick coats of hair to stay warm.
“What they do is groom themselves and they’ll blow air into that fur and they create like a little bubble of air, almost like a wet suit, and it keeps them warm in that 40 degree water,” Woodie said.
That same chilly water rushing into Agnes’ pool is also being used to heat most of the building.
“It’s hard to explain, it doesn’t actually seem logical,” Tara Reimer Jones, president of the SeaLife Center, said. “I’m actually trained as an engineer and it still doesn’t quite make sense to me, but essentially we’re running reverse refrigerators.”
The SeaLife Center converted to the seawater-heat pump system to save money – tons of money.
In 2008, the center heated with oil and their energy bill was $1.2 million. Last year they spent less than half that amount. With savings like that, the entire system will be paid off in eight and a half years.
“Being able to reduce our energy costs as much as we have has enabled us to stay successful and be open to the public and keep our costs under control,” she said.
So how does it work? Facilities Director Darryl Schaefermeyer takes me to see the system.
First, they pump seawater into the building. They already do this to fill tanks and pools for the animals.
“Right now we’re probably pumping about 3,000 gallons per minute of sea water constantly through the building,” Schaefermeyer said.
Some of that seawater goes into a tall, thin metal box called a heat exchanger. You know when you open your window in winter and all of your heat rushes outside? It’s trying to warm up the cold air. The same thing happens inside of the heat exchanger. The seawater runs on one side of a titanium plate. On the other side is basically water and antifreeze. The heat from the seawater rushes into the antifreeze mix, warming it up to the same temperature. Schaefermeyer says it then goes to the heat pump, which is run by electricity.
“The refrigerant comes into contact with that 47 degree water temperature, causes it to boil, turns it into a vapor,” Schaefermeyer said. “Then there’s compressors in the heat pump that compress that vapor and it gets very hot.”
That compressed vapor produces the 120-degree water that heats the building and the pavement. Then the antifreeze loops back to the seawater to start the process all over again. Schaefermeyer says for every unit of energy added to the system, you get out three units of heat. And it’s more efficient with higher loads. He hopes the technology will be used beyond the SeaLife Center.
“We want to be able to ultimately see this technology exported into areas where we can heat downtown business districts, communities, literally with this heat,” he said.
And it is possible. Andy Baker, the consultant who helped design the Center’s system, says ocean heat pump technology is already widely used in Norway and Sweden. You just need community buy-in – and cheap electricity.
“If you’ve got low cost hydropower and expensive heating oil or propane, that’s where you’re going to see the heating pumps going in first,” Baker said.
Baker says people are even starting to install small-scale projects that work on the same concept but draw heat from the ground or lakes instead. But the technology isn’t useful in some of the communities that need it most.
“Its tougher because the cost of power is usually a lot higher. The cost of power, for example in Dutch Harbor, is about 42 cents per kilowatt hour,” Baker said. “That’s more than twice what it is in Seward, so the economics aren’t nearly as favorable there because of the high cost of power because it’s made from diesel fuel.”
But in Seward, where electricity is supplied by Chugach in Anchorage and runs about 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the innovation helps keep Agnes the otter happily swimming and squeaking.
“Agnes is a very vocal animal. It just happens that way.”
The Department of Defense released a 16 page Arctic Strategy document on Friday.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel talked about it at an event in Nova Scotia. The report states the arctic is at a “strategic inflection point,” transforming from a region of relative isolation to one of increasing access to resource extraction, fishing and tourism as sea ice recedes faster than projected.
The Pentagon’s desired outcome states it wants an arctic that is, “A secure and stable region where U.S. national interests are safeguarded, the U.S. homeland is protected and nations work cooperatively to address challenges.”
The document mentions twice the need to work with the Arctic Council, stating the council has a demonstrated ability to address a range of “soft security” issues, such as search and rescue and oil spill response.
Alaska Natives are referenced in a sentence stating consultation and coordination with them on policy will take place when appropriate.
The document identifies challenges such as funding cuts to DOD that may impact future infrastructure and response needs and taking care to not appear too aggressive in addressing anticipated security risks to avoid the perception that the arctic is being militarized, which could cause friction with other nations.
The State Department of Transportation begun changing speed limit signs this week along the Richardson Highway between Delta Junction and Valdez from 55 to 65 miles per hour.
Fifty years ago when news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy spread around the world, Alaska’s connection to the lower 48 was limited by technology. Listen to how how Fairbanks’ newly created public radio station covered the story.
Icy roads are creating hazardous driving conditions in Southcentral Alaska today.
Freezing rain began coating snow at around 9am. By noon cars were stranded across Anchorage and the People Mover bus system had shut down.
Anchorage Public Transportation Director, Lance Wilbur, says buses have been pulled off roads until sanding is completed.
“Right now the road conditions as many people know, they’re deteriorating in bad shape. Our current schedules are way down due to other vehicular accidents. We’ve got one bus in distress. And so I’ve halted all the service effective immediately, except for those busses that are on route,” Wilbur said. “We’ve asked them to stop until further notice and hopefully the conditions will improve later this evening so we can pick people up and bring them home later tonight.”
Icy conditions stretch beyond Anchorage from Seward to as far north as Talkeetna. The Valley Mover Bus system in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley is operating on a delayed schedule this afternoon but plans to make evening runs to help people get back home from work in Anchorage.
The Mat-Su Borough says there were at least three separate school bus accidents this morning, and in Wasilla near Knik Goose Bay Road one accident the bus slid onto its side off of the road. There were 14 students on board. The Mat-Su School District reports three students and one driver were transported to Matsu Regional Hospital with minor injuries. They were reportedly released.
After school activities are canceled in the Matsu School District and in Anchorage. Both districts advise delays are likely for school busses transporting students home.
University of Alaska Anchorage closed at noon.
Chugach Electric reports that the entire Kenai Peninsula from Girdwood South is without power, but Sarah Wiggers, a spokesperson for Chugach, says they don’t think it’s related to the storm.
“At approximately 11:30 a.m. Homer Electric Association had two units trip at Nikiski which in turn caused Bradley Lake and Cooper Lake units to trip offline,” Wiggers said. “Chugach customers from Girdwood South are included in this outage. Chugach and Homer are working to get all units back online.”
Wiggers says Chugach happens to be in the process of repairing the line that they would normally use to ship power from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. She says they’re hoping to have the repair done soon so that they can ship power down if needed.
Matanuska Electric Association is also reporting that 500 members are without power in Butte, Meadow Lakes, and the area from Sutton to Matanuska Glacier.
A recent report by the Tribal Law and Order Commission is the seventh study to call for more effective administration of justice in rural Alaska to address pressing problems of family violence, alcohol abuse, and high rates of recidivism and suicide. Now the state Attorney General says he’s looking for better ways to co-operate with tribes. What about the state Supreme Court?
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- The Honorable Dana Fabe, Chief Justice, Alaska Supreme Court
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
This week we travel to southwest Alaska where Chris Carr and his wife, Leona, are the entire year-round population of Portage Creek, a speck on the map about 30 air miles southeast of Dillingham. The Carrs run a general store and a bush guiding service.
“My name is Chris Carr, I live in Portage Creek, Alaska with my wife. We run the Portage Creek General Store and Lodge and I’m a registered big game guide. Yeah, currently it’s just my wife and I that live here.
The main significance of Portage Creek in this day and age is the king salmon fish. We have the number one running king salmon run going up the Nushagak [River] right in front of the house.
The moose season, that’s kind of a rat race. We get hundreds and hundreds of people during the moose season. I tend to forget about that.
If the caribou come through we’ll see people from Dillingham come through. The price of living out here is way up there. Everything we make goes in to surviving the winter – basically fuel and food. I think gas in the town of Dillingham there is like $6.30 or so. People don’t travel as much as they used to. We’re pretty isolated, but we like it. We have lots of wildlife that roam through the yard, got a couple of cows, calves in the yard right now.
You know, we were kind of a vibrant village, oh, 10 years ago. We had a school, one classroom school – and it was pretty nice. The kids got a great education. But the kids grew up, and the village council moved to Anchorage and so…we got stranded.”
You know it’s peaceful, it’s quiet, lots of wildlife. We like it that way, you know, like I say, we’re not really into the rat race.”
In the back of most Sitkans’ mind is this question: When the big wave comes, will my house be under water? Researchers at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center have an answer, of sorts. This month, they released a new map outlining which parts of Sitka would be affected by a major tsunami.
On January 4, 2013, just before midnight, Sitkans woke up to feel the ground shaking beneath them. Then came the tsunami siren, warning everyone to get to high ground.
Fire Chief Dave Miller is responsible for setting off the tsunami siren.
“The thing that got people excited about it was that we actually felt the quake, and we heard the siren,” Miller said. “And we hadn’t heard the siren in probably 20 years.”
In the end, there was no wave. But for many people, it was a wake-up call – what would happen if a big wave did come?
This month, researchers released a new map that tries to answer that question. It shows the state’s best estimate for how far inland the water would reach, and how deep it would be, in a worst-case-scenario tsunami.
“Lincoln Street seems to be the dividing line through town,” he said. “Everything on the water side would have, eh, 3-6 feet of water.”
So Centennial Hall, in downtown Sitka, is under water. Crescent Harbor is swamped.
But the good news is that most of Sitka is above the high water line.
“[At] the Fire Department – we’d be fine,” Miller said. “We’d be sitting high and dry and wouldn’t have our fishing poles out yet.”
And it’s not just the Fire Hall. Some places that seem very low – like the airport, and SeaMart supermarket– are above the inundation line. Most of Sitka’s main roadways – like Sawmill Creek Road and Halibut Point Road – are also above the high water mark, protected by steep bedrock along the coast.
Elena Suleimani is a tsunami modeler at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, and it’s her model that the new map is based on.
“I’ve been studying tsunamis all my life,” she said.
According to Suleimani, the worst-case-scenario for Sitka – the scenario on which the map is based – would be a big earthquake on the subduction fault that stretches from Kodiak to Prince William Sound. That fault produced the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, the second largest quake ever recorded anywhere.
Closer to home, the Queen Charlotte Fault – which got Sitkans out of bed in January – is a strike-slip fault: the plates are sliding past each other, instead of colliding head-on, and during earthquakes, they don’t produce the kind of vertical motion that makes for big waves.
They can, however, cause landslides, both on land and on the continental shelf, under water. These landslides can cause their own waves – and it’s almost impossible to model them. That’s, in part, because they occur along smaller faults that haven’t been studied.
Rich Koehler works with Suleimani.
“We haven’t looked at these,” he said. “Nobody has. Partially because they’re covered in – it’s rugged terrain, covered in forest, it’s hard to get to. Anyway. There’s nothing known about these faults, how often earthquakes happen, how big they could be, nothing.”
Still, Suleimani and Koehler said that the largest wave caused by a landslide would still be smaller than the worst-case-scenario plotted on the map.
So, at the end of the day, what’s the takeaway? According to Suleimani, no matter what the map says, if you feel the ground shake, go uphill:
“If you are in a coastal area and you feel the ground shaking, just get uphill immediately,” she said.”Don’t wait for any official announcement, don’t wait for sirens. Just go uphill. And stay there for 24 hours.”
Sitka Fire Chief Miller says the key point is to know ahead of time where you’re going, and be ready to head there on a moment’s notice – something many Sitkan’s weren’t prepared for in January.
“You get 9,000 people trying to move all at one time, it’s a zoo at best.” Miller said. “There’s a lot of cars, there were cars going hither and yon at any given time on the street in front of the fire hall.”
Miller thinks people should take a close look at the map. He also thinks they should take it with a grain of salt.
“The thing that you’ve got to remember is, this is a computer generated map,” Miller said “In Japan they had the same thing, they did the same studies, had the same results…and then they had the earthquake and Mother Nature said, get ready. I’m coming!”
New court documents were filed in Alaska’s Appeals Court arguing why the convictions against Yup’ik subsistence fishermen should be overturned. The case goes back to June of 2012 when the Kuskokwim River was closed to King salmon fishing for 12 days, longer than ever before. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game called the closure to get more Kings to the spawning grounds because the runs had diminished in recent years.
Fishermen and their families were anxious to get fish hung up and smoked while the dry weather lasted. Some villages organized a kind of fishing protest where dozens of fishermen threw their nets in the river anyway.
State and federal managers responded by citing about three dozen people in one day. The fishermen were found guilty and fined in the Bethel District Court and now about a dozen of them are taking the case through the appeals process.
James Davis Jr. is their lawyer.
“Subsistence is so essential to Yup’ik people and the way they see themselves in the world and their sense of how the universe operates, that needs to be protected just as if it were a more orthodox religion such as Catholicism or Judaism,” Davis said.
The trial court found that the fishermen had a spiritual connection to King salmon and fishing for them was a religious practice but that the State’s obligation to protect the run supersedes that.
Three groups have filed friends of the court briefs supporting the fishermen in the appeals court: The Alaska Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Sky Starkey is an attorney representing AFN and AVCP. He said their brief has two points. The first supports the lower court ruling that subsistence fishing is a religious practice.
“The second part of the Amicus brief focuses in on the actions that the state could have taken that would have allowed some fishing that could accommodate this spiritual, religious aspect of fishing while also preserving the Chinook runs on the Kuskokwim,” Starkey said.
That could have included restricting the Pollock fleet or other non-Yup’ik fishermen on the river.
The State still has to file its appeals brief responding to the fishermen’s. A request for an extension was filed meaning it won’t be turned in until January 4th.
Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox said the state will argue that the court of appeals should uphold the convictions. She said the Fish and Game Department tries its best to manage and protect the salmon runs which is not an easy task.
“Sometimes the Department of Fish and Game has to restrict fishing to make sure enough King salmon can make it up the river to spawn and it’s important that the state be able to enforce its fishing restrictions to protect the sustainability of the King salmon run for future generations,” Fox said.
The whole appeals process will likely take months including more briefs being filed, oral arguments, and then eventually the court’s decision.
For the past year, legislators have been required to treat their office accounts as income. They got a lump sum from the state, and were expected to spend that money on stationery and mailers under the honor system. Now, they’re moving back to a policy where they have to submit receipts for those expenditures. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
There were a few big problems with the old system.
For one, the public couldn’t track how legislators were spending their office money. But voters could be sure that not all of it was going to newsletters and pens. Since the money was treated as income, at least part of it went into lawmakers retirement funds. An even larger chunk went to the federal government, in the form of income taxes.
“So much is taken out for taxes, and so you don’t have as much. It’s not the full amount by a long shot,” said Rep. Peggy Wilson, a Petersburg Republican, at a Legislative Council meeting on Thursday.
If any legislator did have money left over after spending and taxes, there wasn’t a mechanism for them to give it back to the state. It was kept as their income.
For all these reasons, the Legislative Council — a 12-person committee that sets office policy for the rest of the Legislature — revisited how to handle these funds. Representatives each get $16,000 annually, and senators receive $20,000. Added up, it amount to $1 million in discretionary funds for the whole Legislature.
Most lawmakers at the meeting supported switching to a system where they have to apply for reimbursements. That way money from their office accounts wouldn’t be taxed, wouldn’t end up in their own pockets, and would go back to the state if any remained.
But there was discussion of how that system could inconvenience people who represent rural districts, where costs are higher and receipts aren’t always available.
“[The reimbursement process] causes me somewhat of an undue hardship because I’ve got to go ahead and start putting all these receipts together and send them on in. Because of my remote location, there’s a time for reimbursement and my credit card starts to accumulate up to the amount of the limit,” said Sen. Donny Olson, who represents the state’s largest district.
Olson, a Democrat from Golovin, does not serve on the council, but attended the meeting to speak in favor of legislators administering their own accounts.
Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the council, responded that if the legislature were a corporation, it would be appropriate for people to manage their own office funds. But since they were dealing with public money, reimbursements made more sense.
“I want to be crystal clear, absolutely accountable, and within the letter of the law,” said Hawker.
The motion ended up passing unanimously. A group of mostly Democratic lawmakers had filed bills to switch to a reimbursement system earlier this year, but their legislation was never heard.
“Transparency for the public is more important than keeping things from the public because it saves effort. That’s the wrong way to go,” said Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat who co-sponsored reimbursement legislation in February. He said he supported the policy adopted by the Legislative Council, but wish it had been enacted sooner.
The reimbursement policy go into effect in 2014.
A JBER soldier was awarded the highest military honor for an act of heroism in a non-war setting today.
Sergeant 1st Class John Kerns recieved the Soldier’s Medal for pulling a man from a burning car after it crashed and before it exploded a few moments later.
A paratrooper with the 4th Infantry Brigade combat team, 25th infantry division, Kerns was driving on interstate 95 near the Virginia/North Carolina state line in 2011, when he saw a car veer off the highway and crash into trees.
Kerns ran to the upside down vehicle. He says the doors were locked but most of the glass was broken out of the burning, but still running, mangled car. The driver was incapacitated and the seat belts would not release.
“I had to physically cut his seat belt off and pull him from the front seats of the car, into the back of the car to pull him out,” Kerns said.
Kerns says he doesn’t remember making any deliberate decisions about what he should do. But it was clear the car was going to explode.
When I was pulling him out the flames were already coming around the side of the hood, the front of the car was already engulfed. And when I opened the other door to pull him out, I was asking for help from some of the other people there,” Kerns said. ”There was a Federal Express employee and there was another person approached. When the tires started to pop, that was the end of my help, they disbursed.”
The last thing Kerns did before getting clear of the burning car, was grab the man’s cell phone.
“I remember thinking to myself, this guy’s had a pretty bad day, the only thing that’s going to make it worse was to lose all those phone numbers,” Kerns said.
Kerns says the man was convulsing when he reached the car and he suspects that he was having a seizure that probably caused the crash. But it’s unlikely that he’ll ever know for sure. He found out from the hospital that the man was recovering, but he never found out who he had saved.
The Soldier’s Medal is awarded only for saving a life without regard to losing your own.