Strong earthquake activity continues near Noatak, with a strong aftershock recorded last week that has become the third powerful temblor in what is now a series of strong quakes and potent aftershocks in just the last two months.
Natasha Ruppert, a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks, said Thursday’s 4.6 magnitude aftershock struck just before 10:30 p.m. about 18 miles northeast of Noatak.
“This one [is] in almost exactly the same area, so this one was another large aftershock,” Ruppert said—a lingering jolt in the wake of the powerful 5.6 magnitude rumble felt April 18, the strongest quake in the region in more than 30 years.
“They all are in the same area, but basically the main shock was … in April 18,” Ruppert said. “There was another large magnitude 5.5 earthquake [on May 3.]” The April quake was followed by nearly 100 aftershocks (represented by blue circles in the above image), five of which were magnitude 4.0 or stronger and one that registered a 5.3 magnitude. The early May quake, though slightly weaker than its April predecessor, was similarly followed by strong aftershocks, seven of which were of magnitude 4.0 or more.
After that earlier May quake, the Earthquake Information Center traveled to Kotzebue and Noatak to install sensors closer to the activity.
“We are able to tell, now with new equipment, we are actually seeing that these events are a little bit more shallower, closer to the surface, than what we thought before,” Ruppert said. “We are able actually to compute locations for these earthquakes much more accurately,” as a result of the new sensors, she added.
Ruppert said the remote nature of the far western Brooks Range means there’s still no firm scientific consensus for what faults are causing earthquakes and other tectonic activity in that region of western Alaska.
More accurate readings on these quakes and aftershocks, she said, could help build that consensus.
“This particular earthquake sequence is just another piece of the tectonic puzzle that we are trying to build for that region,” she said.
As part of their summer fieldwork, Ruppert said a team from the Earthquake Center will be visiting Nome this July for continued work in western Alaska.
The new Alaska State Trooper unit began operations on January 1, and made it’s first arrests that same day, when a pair of 22 year olds smashed into a business and tried to grab an ATM machine. So called “Smash and dash” thefts are escalating in the Valley : thefts of tv’s, snomachines, computers.. and guns
The thefts involve home break -ins. What is sparking the crime wave? Trooper Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn [weg zen ] says it’s drugs
“If we can link a theft to a person, normally that person is a known drug user. Very seldom do we find a person who’s just stealing to steal, normally, they steal to support a habit of some sort. “
Sgt. Wegrzyn is part of the four man crime unit. He says Troopers are linking the thefts to the increased use of heroin in the Mat Su
“Heroin is becoming more popular in the Valley. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have found heroin. Today, it’s everywhere.”
Vicki Walner is one Palmer homeowner who is taking the offensive against the thefts.
“If you fight property crime, you have to fight the drugs. And the heroin usage out here in the Valley is astronomical.”
She is fighting back using a tool that young Alaskans know well: social media
Walner settles into a chair in her comfortable kitchen, Springer spaniel Charlie at her feet . Her house, on a two lane blacktop outside of town, is in a peaceful setting. Horses graze in nearby paddocks, and chickens cluck in the midafternoon sun. But crime is spreading a shadow over this bucolic scene. She says crime and drugs go hand in hand. Walner says she’s seen the effects of heroin addiction written all over her neighborhood.
“We had the neighbors over behind us on the next street had their door kicked in. And they were burglarized. And I thought, why don’t people in the neighborhood know, why don’t we tell each other what’s going on so we can watch out for each other. So I started this web page for a few friends, and it just blew up. We have over 5700 members now.”
She says she’s trying to make some changes using Facebook
”So this is our main page, here. And this is a vehicle.. stole a gas can out of sombody’s yard, and they got a picture of em.”
She toggles down the page full of photos, comments, – typical social media stuff. Only all of it is directed toward locating stolen property. Photos of snomachines, cars, trucks, televisions, even pets crowd the page. People are posting them in hopes that someone, somewhere, has information on the stolen property.
”We even recovered a semi that has been missing for four months. It’s amazing when you have that many people, that many eyes and ears out looking for things. “
Don Bennice, executive director of Alaska Family Services in Palmer, is looking at the social costs of heroin addiction – a drug he says that wasn’t even on the counseling service’s radar ten years ago.
“Alcohol far and away is our largest area, and then marijuana certainly is number two. But the one that has really changed over the last few years is herion use. Heroin use has dramatically increased.”
When Troopers shut down the meth labs in the Valley, drug users turned to the prescription drug, oxycontin to stay high. But the expensive opiate oxycontin led to heroin in short order. *According to the online Daily Beast, a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that heroin use in the US has jumped 80 percent between 2007 and 2012, and that three quarters of users live in non – urban locations.
Bennice says a lot of people are moving into the Valley “and they are bringing their baggage with them.”
He says his counselors are also noting “an influx of girls from stable families” coming in for help. He says that the heroin in the Valley is “cheap”, he suspects, purposely so, “to get young people involved. ” But the drug seems to cross all social borders
”Both sexes, we see it in middle income families. We see it across the board. “
He says there are not enough counseling centers in the Valley to cover the growing number of cases.
”Clearly right now there’s not. That is one of the things we are very concerned about, and right now, we have about ten or eleven providers in the Valley that do behavioral health services. And we are working very hard to coordinate those services to try and meet the new demand.”
According to a health scan released last year by the Mat Su Health Foundation, 36 percent of Valley high school students have tried marijuana, and 3 percent have tried heroin, according to 2011 statistics. But close to 43 percent have tried drugs of various kinds, including meth, oxycontin, spice and cocaine.
Recently state Troopers arrested a 20 year old Wasilla man,Clay Katzmarek, who was providing heroin to juveniles as young as 15. Bennice says, teens simply can’t handle it.
“It affects their brain differently. Their brains aren’t totally formed like an adult’s would be, and it has a much more severe impact on them.”
Where are they getting it? Often, in the mail. A year ago, a drug-sniffing dog at an Anchorage post office led Troopers to a 37 year old Palmer woman, Amber ODell, who was receiving heroin shipments from California at her Palmer post office box.
In Houston not long ago, two men, Barretta Faatafuga and James Gwaltney, both 37, were charged with possession and intent to distribute almost four pounds of heroin shipped to their street address from California.
The disturbing trend goes beyond personal property losses. For example, a Wasilla gunshop was robbed last winter. Sgt. Wegrzyn says those arms were recovered
“We are heavily interested in recovering stolen firearms. The other part of it is, if they fall into the wrong hands, and then those guns are then involved in other crimes. In like in the first quarter, we recovered 24 stolen guns. And, I’m positive, that a large number of those would have never been recovered without this unit being formed. Because we had the time to go out and track those guns down.”
Meanwhile, Vicki Walner continues her crusade to track down stolen property.
“Nobody used to like a nosey Nora, but nosey Nora is going to be the one that keeps your house from being broken into, “ she laughs.
Walner says her site provides the oversight to track stolen property quickly, and tells this story about two snomachiners who stopped in Wasilla for a bite after a run. But when they finished eating:
“The trailer and snomachines are gone. So they immediately put it on our group. Well immediately, reports of it start coming in. ..’ I saw them pulling out of the restaurant , and this is the direction they were going’ .. ‘ i saw them on Knik-GooseBay road,’ .. and this went on for about two hours. Next thing we know, someone calls in and say ‘someone just dumped a trailer and two snomachines off on my street’. It got so hot, they just dumped it. “
She says the thieves are keeping up with her Facebook page too, although they probably don’t like what they see there.
Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed industrial road that would pass through the region.
Even getting there presented some challenges, however. Lesley Lepley works with Dowl HKM, the company contracted by the state to handle logistics for moving the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road project along. Lepley said days of rain and seasonal runoff left the Kobuk River swollen, with soft ground making the Ambler runway unusable.
“We had charter flights arranged to bring people from Ambler, and unfortunately both runways got shut down in Ambler,” Leplet said. “Our Caravans couldn’t land, so we had to rely on people boating.”
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, organized the meeting. Leaders from all three communities came together first for a question and answer session with AIDEA representatives. Afterwards, the public gathered in chairs and bleachers for a presentation on the road’s development status, first in English, then translated into Inupiaq.
Perspectives on the proposed road continue to be mixed. Many who spoke at the meeting support the potential for jobs from road work and at the eventual mining district.
Miles Cleveland lives in Ambler, and said the region needs jobs to survive. “We need jobs to continue to pay for our light bills, our water and sewer—those take money.”
Like many other aspects of the proposed road, however, there is very little hard data on just how many jobs it would bring, and to whom.
AIDEA is currently selecting a contractor to begin work on the massive Environmental Impact Study that’s an essential part of the Federal approval process for any road project. Fred Sun, from Shugnak, is on the board of directors for the NANA regional corporation. He spoke at the presentation’s close about the need to wait until environmental data is collected to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with the road.
“Whether or not your decision is to support this road or go against it, I think it’s just as important you support the EIS process,” he said, “because not only is it going to be helpful for the construction of this road, but it’ll be helpful for other projects in the future.”
While a complete environmental impact study wouldn’t be a green light for the road, others feel like the project is advancing toward a point of no return. It’s not clear how frequently AIDEA or the state’s different permitting agencies have shut down development projects after conducting the EIS process.
Jill Yordy is in charge of mining and clean water programs at the Northern Center in Fairbanks. She said even at this point, the rhetoric from the state is shifting.
“One of my big concerns related to that, is that the conversation will then be framed to be ‘what route should the road take,’ not ‘whether or not there should be a road.’ And I think that’s a really important conversation to have. We need to decide whether or not a road in this region is really acceptable before we try to figure out what route it should take.”
AIDEA is hoping to start the EIS process this summer. They’re holding a public board meeting in Anchorage on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The public is encouraged to call in with comments.
A link to AIDEA’s public board meeting agenda, and instructions for submitting public comment, can be found on on their website.
There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.
Kaila Del Rosario is looking through the window of an observation deck at the shipyard. She watches as workers slowly reel an Alaska Marine Highway ferry onto the dry dock for maintenance.
Right now, Del Rosario is here as an observer. In about a year, she’ll probably be here as an employee.
“That’s the plan so far and I’m just going along with it and I find it really, really cool and exciting,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario is 17 years old, a high school junior. Her interest in a career at the shipyard started when she signed up for welding at Kayhi, because she wanted to have a class with her best friend.
“When that class started, I actually started liking welding and I started getting really good at it,” Del Rosario said. “My hands were steady. And I did research on how it’s a good skill and a job and it pays well. Cause I kinda live on my own. I moved out when I was 16.”
Del Rosario was born in the Phillipines. She was raised by her aunt and uncle, who moved to Ketchikan when she was 5 years old. She says she was always pretty independent — she started working at 14 and paid for some of her own expenses. When she was 16, her aunt and uncle agreed to let her live on her own. Del Rosario says it helped her take responsibility.
“When I was with my auntie and uncle, I was like I don’t have to worry about this, I was more interested in hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Something about paying bills and getting school done kind of did the trick for me to mature up.”
Del Rosario says when she was younger, she would skip out on school to drink or smoke with her friends. When she started living on her own, she focused more on school and her part-time job at a tour company. But she didn’t really have a plan for the future.
“When I was younger, freshman year, I didn’t really care about a lot of things, all of a sudden bam this happened,” Del Rosario said. “And I didn’t really know what to do with myself after high school, and now this is happening, and it’s just like I’m gonna take this opportunity and go for it.”
Let’s talk more about that “bam this happened moment.” Del Rosario signed up for welding and loved it. Then, she went to a career day at the shipyard last October. There, she talked to Doug Ward, who works in Business Development at Vigor. She told him about her interest in welding and said she’d like to learn more about working at the shipyard.
“She certainly was the one…we just kept thinking about her,” Ward said. “What can we do to get high school kids into the workplace and get them exposed to all of the shipbuilding processes that we do down here.”
Del Rosario’s interest is one of the reasons the shipyard put this 8-week program together. Here’s the way it works: the high school students come to the shipyard for two hours, two days a week. And they actually get paid $10 an hour. Each week, they shadow someone in a different department.
“That was beauty of the program, it would show us the shipyard and all the different departments so we could find out what we’re interested in,” said Stone Reily, one of the other Kayhi students in the program.
“My plan was welding and so far it’s welding,” Del Rosario said. “But I do feel like I want to do different kind of departments, like I actually am interested in mechanic now.”
Del Rosario is planning on taking a math class and auto shop at Kayhi next year — two courses she wouldn’t have been interested in before. And then next May, when she graduates?
“I mean I can’t think of anything why we wouldn’t want to hire someone who is so focused so young in life and knows what she wants to do,” Ward said.
When Del Rosario thinks about where she was her freshman year of high school compared to where she is now…
“I’m actually proud of myself for the first time that I got myself out of that life that I used to do,” she says. “And into wanting to do what I been searching for, something I’m actually passionate about. Cause I was never passionate about a lot of things.”
Vigor is hoping to find more people like Del Rosario. They plan to continue the work experience program next year.
Anchorage Assembly members met Tuesday to continue the conversation about the municipality’s controversial labor law, AO-37. The labor subcommittee and community members debated Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston’s proposed revisions of the municipality’s old labor laws.
In her version, unlike in AO-37, unions would still have the right to binding arbitration and the right to strike.
However, her amended version of the labor law does give the administration more control over things like scheduling employees and equipment. But Johnston said the regulations could be negotiated.
“And maybe the unions might know best,” she said, explaining that her version allows flexibility. “And if they know best they can plead their case and make their case. And if it’s a good case it should be probably accepted. And if at some point there was a mayor who didn’t accept their good case, that mayor and that administration has the full liability if something went wrong. Which, I’m sorry, but the union doesn’t have that liability. It doesn’t have that accountability.”
Johnston said she wants to discuss the nuts and bolts of the labor laws with the community before bringing it to the Assembly.
The president of the Anchorage Central Labor Council, Daniel Repasky said he appreciates Johnston’s attempt to fix the problems caused by AO-37.
“There are some flaws in it, but I suspect that because of the make up of the assembly right now that if her ordinance goes forward, her changes, that they would be addressed by amendments from the assembly. So I could deal with that. But again I would prefer that AO-37 just disappear.”
And it still could. Assembly member Dick Traini is proposing a motion to repeal AO-37 completely at the next Assembly meeting. Public comments will be taken on June 24.
The city is also working with the state’s Division of Elections to determine how much it would cost to add the repeal vote to the November statewide ballot. If it does not go on the statewide ballot, the vote would be delayed until next April’s municipal elections. They’ll make the decision by July 7.
Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan
Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.
Pavlof Volcano Eruption Sends Ash Toward Cold Bay
Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska
Pavlof Volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, sending a haze of ash out above nearby towns.
Unusual Seismic Activity Continues Near Noatak
Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome
Strong earthquake activity continued in the far northwest corner of the Brooks Range on Tuesday after a powerful 4.6 jolt was recorded
Thursday and was followed by more seismic activity this week.
Increased Mat-Su Property Crimes May Be Linked To Increased Drug Use
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
A jump in property thefts in Matanuska Valley communities spurred the Alaska State Troopers to start a new Crime Suppression Unit in Palmer this year. Property crimes in the Valley may be linked to the increased use of drugs, like heroin, and the trend upward – of both drug use and property crimes has social costs that have yet to be tallied.
Kobuk Meeting on State-backed Ambler Mining Road Weighs Promise of Jobs against Local Concerns
Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome
Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed
industrial road that would pass through the region.
Anchorage Ranks Among Nation’s Top Bike Commuting Cities
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage is celebrating its 10th annual Bike to Work Day, on Wednesday – the event is aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says bike commuting in Anchorage is up more than 150 percent since 1990, making it one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.
Shipyard Program Sets Students On Career Path
Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan
There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.
Officials are not speaking about the recent referral of the Bethel City Council’s investigation into contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues to the District Attorney’s office.
The document has not been released to the public in the month since the council received it back from attorney Michael Gatti, but it has been passed onto the District Attorney’s office.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney June Stein says no charges have been filed and did not have a timeline for when their review would finish. She declined to speak to any specifics on any potential investigation. Bethel City Attorney Patty Burley had no comment about referring the investigation to the authorities.
KYUK and six other news organizations, including the Anchorage Daily News and the Associated Press are seeking release of the document. The city clerk cited attorney client privilege in the initial rejection of the records request.
The Bethel City Council on Tuesday in a special meeting will go into executive session to discuss that records request.
In other business, the city is getting closer to hiring an interim city manager. They interviewed candidates last week and in Tuesday’s special meeting will look at background checks and could move forward on establishing the contract position.
Port Director Pete Williams has been the Acting City Manager since the council fired Lee Foley last month following the investigation.
In the executive session, the council will also discuss the collective bargaining agreement.
The candidate filing deadline was 5 p.m. Monday.
George McGuan, 33, filed as a Democrat to run against Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz for House District 34 in November. Munoz currently represents House District 31, which encompasses the Mendenhall Valley and out the road. With redistricting, the number has changed, but not the geography.
Peter Dukowitz, 44, plans to run in November as a Republican against Democrat Sam Kito III for House District 33 (now HD 32). Kito was appointed in February to fill out the term of Beth Kerttula, who resigned her seat in January to take a fellowship at Stanford University. Kito’s new House district will include Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus.
Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat, will be challenged by Republican Tom Williams. Egan’s Senate District P will change to district Q in November, also encompassing Haines, Skagway, Gustavus and Juneau.
The primary is August 19. With no primary contest, the candidates can concentrate on the general election campaign.
Alaska Volcano Observatory spokesmen say a low-level eruption of a volcano about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage is escalating, with pilots reporting that ash clouds are getting bigger.
U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Power said Monday in a statement that pilots have recently reported ash clouds from the Pavlof Volcano rising to 22,000 feet above sea level.
Scientist Robert McGinsey says the current eruption began Saturday and lava has reached the surface. Asked how long the eruption might last, he replied, “hours, days or weeks.” On Saturday, a pilot reported a gas and ash plume about 8,000 feet above sea level.
McGinsey says aircraft flying below 25,000 feet should avoid the area. He says the ash cloud is currently a narrow plume streaming about 50 miles to the east.
The 8,262-foot volcano is one of the state’s most active.
An eruption last year prompted regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities.
Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.
Golden Valley Electric Association customers can expect a rate hike to pay for new federally required pollution controls. The EPA’s emissions control requirements announced today, will be phased in over coming years in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The EPA hadn’t released details of the new rule on Friday, and the agency’s spokesperson in Seattle didn’t respond to a request for comment. But GVEA’s C-E-O Cory Borgeson says all of the co-op’s coal-fired powerplants, and at least some of the other fossil-fuel fired plants, will not meet the stringent standards of the new rule.
“We think it’s very possible that the limitations would affect not only our coal plants, but also our plants fired with naphtha, diesel, …” he said.
About 60 percent of GVEA’s electricity is generated by coal and oil, including diesel. So, Borgeson says, the utility will be required to spend money to bring its powerplants into compliance with the new rule. And more rate hikes will be required to cover those costs. How much, he can’t yet say.
But Borgeson cited as an example the $92 million that GVEA is now paying on emissions controls for the coal-fired 50-megawatt Healy 2 powerplant. That work is required under a deal the co-op cut last year with EPA and the state. Those controls, however, will not remove carbon dioxide or CO2 from the plant’s emissions. So Healy 2 will be out of compliance with the new rules when it’s fired-up in about a year. And Borgeson says it’s not known how much the additional emissions controls for the plant will cost.
“So, you go in and put in additional controls to take out CO2, or limit those emissions, and – it’s just hard to speculate on the cost,” he said. “But, ultimately, it’s a big cost.”
Environmentalists counter that ratepayers nationwide already are paying for the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Colin O’Brien, an attorney with the environmental-advocacy groupEarthjustice, said in November interview that those so-called “hidden costs” come in the form of, for example, increased insurance and medical payments to repair damage from extreme-weather events or health costs associated with poor air quality.
“People pay the cost of energy in several different ways,” O’Brien said. “One is the bill that they get from the utility. Another might be the money that they pay to their healthcare provider, if they have asthma or another lung or heart condition that’s a consequence of the air pollution that comes from coal production or coal combustion.”
The new CO2 rule is intended to encourage utilities to convert from coal, which provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity, to natural gas. Borgeson says that’s not an option here.
“That’s something that will still don’t have in the Interior,” he said. “And even if we do get it, it’s going to be at a much higher cost than the rest of the nation.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the proposed rule is scheduled to go into effect in 2016.
Between now and then, Borgeson says GVEA will be making its case to EPA that the co-op should be granted exceptions and/or extensions for compliance.
He says GVEA will support litigation that he expects the utility industry, among others, will be filing in opposition to the new rule in the coming months.
Firefighters on the Kenai Peninsula made a disturbing discovery over the weekend.
Alaska State Troopers say human remains have been found near Sterling.
Troopers say they were notified Sunday that a fire crew found the remains.
According to troopers, the remains appear to have been there for several years. There were no identifying items found and the identity of the remains is unknown.
The state medical examiner’s office has been notified.
On the Kenai Peninsula, rain over the weekend helped further knock down the Funny River fire, but in Interior Alaska, a wild fire in the Delta Junction area gained major acreage over the weekend. The 100 Mile Creek Fire, sparked by an earlier prescribed burn on military land, went from about 700 acres to more than 6,000, as high winds fanned flames.
KTUU channel two news is reporting State Senator Lesil McGuire says she will not run for Lieutenant Governor. McGuire says she would be “more effective” remaining a policy maker.
A pathologist who has been working as an assistant Alaska medical examiner has been named the state’s chief medical examiner.
Gary Zientek has worked for the Alaska Division of Public Health since 2009. Gov. Sean Parnell approved Zientek’s promotion in January.
The Anchorage Daily News reports Zientek’s medical license was suspended for four years in Virginia because of alcohol and drug abuse. His Virginia license was restored in late 2007.
Zientek says he has been sober for 10 years. He says his is a story about redemption.
The Department of Administration says Zientek was the only person interviewed for the job, which pays about $225,000 a year.
On Saturday, two Athabascan men completed a 375-mile trek honoring their mother Katie John, and her cause – subsistence rights. Dozens of people joined them for the last few miles, and about 200 celebrated the walk’s end at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
This year, more than a thousand people will try to climb Denali. Some of those will be making the attempt as part of a “seven summits” expedition, which involves reaching the highest point on all seven continents. One family expedition, named Top to Top, is attempting the seven summits in a way that has never been done before.
For most climbers coming to Denali from outside of Alaska, the trip involves long hours of travel via planes and road vehicles. For Dario and Sabine Schwörer and their children, it meant years of travel by very different means, as Dario explains.
“Just sail from one continent to the other, and then climb the highest peak in each of the seven continents…Denali was actually our second-last.”
To get to Denali, the Schwörer family sailed through the Panama Canal and up the coast to Whittier before cycling their way to Cordova and spending the winter there. In the spring, they began the trip north to Talkeetna, where local climbing experts Willi Prittie, Brian Okonek, and Roger Robinson provided insight on the terrain and the best way to get in and out of the Alaska Range without an engine. Dario says the feeling of true wilderness on the way in and out is part of what appeals to him.
“It was a little bit [of] an adventure to get through the willows on the moraine to get to the Kahiltna Glacier, and then it was straight forward. It was so nice, no people, this wonderful mountain surrounding you…”
Once the expedition reached base camp, they begin seeing other people again, and on the way down, there were hundreds of climbers on the mountain. Martin Schuster grew up in Alaska and was part of the Denali climb. He also says that the parts of the trip that were off the beaten path were the most memorable.
“From Petersville up to base camp and from base camp down to Talkeetna, we didn’t see anybody. That really made the trip for me. It was really cool just being out in the middle of nowhere without one hundred, two hundred people doing the exact same thing you are.”
The Denali climb was successful, but for Dario and Sabine, that’s not the most important part of the expedition.
“In Top to Top, on this global climate expedition, we really try to volunteer as much as possible for a good cause and then teach the children and inspire them with all the positive examples we encounter on our journey. That’s actually really filling our batteries.”
Sabine Schwörer did not climb Denali, since the family’s children are too young for the harsh environment. Instead, she stayed behind and conducted homeschooling and other aspects of the expedition. She has been part of the expedition since the first day, back in 2002. She jokes that Dario told her it would only take four years to finish the journey. Twelve years and four children later, she says she is still enjoying the trip.
“I really, really enjoy the time in the classrooms, and working with the children, and how amazing [the] ideas they have [about] what we could do better with our planet. I think it’s really important to invest in the children. They are so open, and they still have lots of the future in their hands.”
In all, the Top to Top expedition has sailed more than 70,000 nautical miles, and Dario and Sabine have shared their journey with more than 70,000 students in a hundred countries. Their work in local initiatives has helped clean up more than 50,000 tons of waste. They have one continent and one peak left to do, Mount Vinson in Antarctica. They aren’t in any particular hurry to get there, though.
“Our idea is to go through the Northwest Passage, so we go again out to the Aleutians and up to Cape Barrow, then through the Arctic to Greenland, then make it down the East Coast of the U.S., through Panama, then to Patagonia again and Antarctica. So what we’re trying to do is a figure-eight around the two Americas.”
Obviously, that route takes much longer then sailing straight back down the West Coast of North and South America. Dario estimates another three or four years ought to do it. No doubt thousands more children will share in the Schwörer family’s one-of-a-kind journey by the time it’s over.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation started handing out pink slips on Monday.
YKHC officials announced the layoffs in May.
Officials said the reduction was necessary due to an $11.7 million budget shortfall. They say the shortfall is due to several factors: sequester cuts to Indian Health Service funding, not meeting revenue collection goals and hefty investments in a new elders home and a new medical records system.
It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year. Last fall around 50 positions were cut.
110 employees will be let go across departments and 50 more vacant positions will not be filled. Officials say village clinics will be impacted, but no doctors will be cut.
YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.
Officials say the layoffs will continue this week and they’ll release more information Friday.
One Alaska Native woman is putting a new spin on the traditional qaspeq. Michelle Konig uses stretchy fabric and a unique pattern to make the modern qaspeqs. With a label under her own name, the designer can barely keep up with orders and is now traveling around the state teaching others to make her designs.
At the last minute, Michelle Konig decided to sew a batch of qaspeqs to sell at Camai Dance festival to make a little extra money for a trip to California.
“I made the traditional qaskpek a little bit too small for an adult and I decided to add, I called it stretchy fabric at the time, but it’s jersey knit.”
She ripped side seams out and added a panel of the jersey material. She also made some other alterations.
“Instead of using qaspeq fabric for the sleeves I decided to also use the jersey knit for the sleeves along with the waistband and instead of hood, I decided to make a cowl.”
A qaspeq is a lightweight parka or over shirt worn by Alaska Native women and men, usually a cotton tunic with an oversized pocket and a hood. The garment was originally made of animal skin or gut and was worn over a fur parka to keep it clean.
As stores became more common in remote bush villages Natives began making them out of calico grain sacks. They are now generally made from cotton material.
Konig often uses batik material and heathered knits and embroiders instead of using rickrack trim, creating a more tailored silhouette than a traditional qaspeq.
Konig grew up in Bethel but now lives in Kenai. She balances her designer qaspeq business with raising three kids. She learned to sew at a young age and remembers drawing clothes as a child. But she wasn’t always a pro.
“My first time makin’ a qaspeq was probably in the 3rd grade with my Yup’ik teacher. And I thought I’d be quick. It was a torso piece and she wanted us to sew the top and the sides but leave the hole opening for the arms, which I didn’t do. Instead, I made (laughs) a tube so … She looked at my sewing and started laughing and said, ‘how are you gonna put your arms through!’”
But with practice she got better. And then one day when she was 21 and her grandmother was teaching her to make qaspeq something happened.
“It never really came to me that making clothing would be my career until I had my grandmother teach me the first time using a sewing machine and making a qaspeq.”
Her grandmother wanted to do it the traditional way, but Konig had other ideas. Lots of them. Those ideas coalesced under pressure as she created her modern day qaspek prototype that day at the Camai craft sale.
Once people started seeing her original designer qaspeq around her hometown of Bethel, word spread and orders started trickling in. She says she doesn’t really had to advertise and does a lot of custom orders through facebook. Since starting her business last fall, she she’s had around a hundred orders and had to hire another seamstress to keep up. She hopes her story encourages other women to start their own businesses.
“I feel like I’m inspiring other women to experiment with their crafts, also to get their name out there because of their unique idea.”
Konig is now in the process of patenting her modern qaspeq pattern and she’s developing her own clothing line. She’s working on a website with hopes to eventually have a storefront in Anchorage. Konig is now touring around Alaska teaching people to make her modern qaspeq.
A laptop computer with donors’ financial information has been stolen from the Anchorage office of the Byron Mallott gubernatorial campaign.
The laptop was discovered missing about 7 p.m. Wednesday, as volunteers were wrapping up their day.
Campaign advisor Bruce Botelho says the laptop was in a restricted area at the back of the office.
“What we believe may have happened was the back door had not latched properly. Someone had come in through the back door while volunteers were working in the front public area of the campaign and it was removed.”
Botelho says nothing else was taken.
PDF copies of checks and credit cards were on the computer, including each contributor’s name, mailing address, phone number, bank account, or credit card and security code numbers, as well as occupation and employer.
A letter went out Thursday to more than a thousand Mallott contributors, recommending they verify and monitor their bank and credit card accounts. State law requires immediate notification of lost or stolen personal information, unless a criminal investigation calls for delay.
“Important to this entire incident is the fact that the computer was password protected and was shut down at the time,” Botelho says. “In that respect that lessens the risk, I think, to any of our donors. But nevertheless, there still is a risk.”
Botelho believes it was a random theft and not targeted at the Democrat’s campaign for governor.
Anchorage police are investigating the incident.